A Comprehensive Examination of the Culture Reset

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


Aside from the expected conversations regarding acquiring free agents and making trades during the off-season, a lot of the chatter surrounding the Raptors has to do with what Masai Ujiri described as a "culture reset." Specifically, the talk of a refinement in the operations for the Raptors as a result of being swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs. However, what was - and still is not - immediately clear is what exactly Ujiri meant when he proclaimed that the Raptors are in need of such a change and how it will be implemented.

When talking about culture, it seems intuitive that it doesn't begin and end with the style of play on the court or how the team develops its chemistry during game-time. Culture, it seems, is something that needs to be monitored and constructed on and off the court as it involves how people interact on not just a professional level, but also a personal one as well. Ujiri is very selective with his phraseology and wouldn't toss out a word like "culture" if it simply meant pushing towards a new style of play that meshes more with the direction the NBA is trending towards in terms of spacing the floor and utilizing the 3 more than we've traditionally seen. This is certainly part of a culture shift, but it's fair to say that there's a lot more than involved. The question are, are the Raptors in the position where they can actually undergo such a change and how will they enforce it?

This was talked about in some detail on the most recent SOT6 Podcast with myself and DeMar Grant of TipOfTheTower.com. Any talk regarding a culture reset or change must first start with some sort of introspection from each individual player and coach in the hopes of finding what direction he wishes the franchise to go towards and, if/when all parties can find the similarities, build on it. In an ideal scenario, the process would be simple and it would only take a group conversation to figure this out. Once this happens, they would just apply the similarities to their scheming and it would come naturally. However, since nothing is ever ideal, it seems that it's going to take a lot more than just a simple conversation. 

Whenever you hear of any type of reset when it comes to a sports organization, it's fair to assume that it means there will be some elimination of talent or personalities that aren't conducive with the new direction the franchise wishes to go. Very rarely do you see a call for a refresh while maintaining the vast majority of those that have been on the team that we assume led to such a call. This is what makes the situation the Raptors are in a bit of an anomaly. With the exception of Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, PJ Tucker, and DeMarre Carroll, the main core group of players have either remained or have been reacquired. Not only has the main core remained, but the coaching staff is also set to return, leaving the entire team to undergo a quick change and perhaps force themselves to move away from what they are used to; something that is easier said than done.

As mentioned, when approaching the task of a culture reset it involves both on and off the court changes. It's perhaps better to address the on the court changes first, as they are easier to pinpoint and discuss as there's tangible evidence that can be used to back it up.

For quite awhile now, the Raptors have been playing a sort of 90's style of basketball during a time where ball movement, the ability to be quick in transition, floor spacing, and three-point shooting is driving the league and enabling teams to win in a much more dominant fashion. The Raptors have been playing a predictable antiquated style, with the high pick-and-roll being the main focus on offense, while relying on isolation during close-game situations. Such a style will only get you so far in the NBA and certainly won't allow them to surpass teams that stand on top of the mountain, like Cleveland (for now), Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio. To put it bluntly, the Raptors put themselves in positions where it's easy for their weaknesses to become exposed and prevents them from taking that necessary next step to really cement themselves as a top-tier team. Thus, a culture change on the court is necessary if they wish to be able to find themselves in the same position as the aforementioned teams. Adaptation on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball is what will drive such a change and being able to trust their teammates will be absolutely crucial for the Raptors in their efforts of solidifying it.

This is all well and good but, unfortunately, way easier said than done. It's easy to simplify these types of situations and ignore the fact that each individual on the floor and sideline is human like you and I. It's unfair to expect these individuals to be able to change on a dime and jump into the season with a brand new approach. Like most humans, when it comes to utilizing a new skill-set that you aren't quite confident in or used to during challenging situations, it's real tempting to resort back to what is comfortable in order to ease yourself into the difficult circumstances that face you. This is my biggest fear when it comes to the Raptors and their efforts of a culture shift on the floor. Not only do I fear that the players will find that old habits do indeed die hard, but I also fear that Dwane Casey will lean towards doing the same in close-game situations. Thus, therein lies the difficulty in calling for a change yet keeping the same individuals. The Raptors have been so used to playing the style we have seen year-in and year-out that expecting them to stick to something new may be a bit overambitious. The scheming that the NBA is trending towards may be contrary to the philosophy that Casey is used to, perhaps leading to a bit of a cluster and frustration within the organization. In a way, I suppose I can sympathize to what DeMarre Carroll was saying during his interview Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun when he claimed -

“But once adversity hits and stuff starts going wrong, guys are going to go back to ISO basketball, that’s how it is. You’ve got to trust it. It’s one of those things you’ve got to build, you’ve just got to trust each other. This year, I feel like a lot of guys didn’t trust each other and a lot of guys, they didn’t feel like other guys could produce or (be) given the opportunity, so there was a lot of lack of trust on our team, so that’s what hindered us from going (as far as they wanted to go).”

Although I don't agree with the tone or even the reason for Carroll to speak out against how his former team operated the offense, what he is saying isn't necessarily wrong and at least deserves some consideration. 

However, it's important to note that I am by no means saying that it's an impossible task and the Raptors are doomed to allow history to repeat itself. What I am saying is that expecting such a change to occur quickly may be asking for a bit much. The majority of this team has been playing together for quite some time now and has been utilizing a certain style of play almost exclusively; it's what they are used to. Obviously there are certain times where adaptation is necessary and this is especially true during this "three-year window" in which the core group of players (DeRozan, Lowry, and Ibaka) will be leading the pack. Becoming a more fluid and selfless offense will be something that the Raptors will have to work on in order for them to achieve the goal of a culture reset if they want to persevere in the NBA. It starts from the top, and if Casey is able to game-plan based on this, while the main core is able to utilize it correctly on the floor, then it ought to trend to the bench and the role-players and creating a well-oiled machine. Basically, everyone has to be all-in with the shift and can't revert back to what even Ujiri has described as unsuccessful. To boot - 

"Because we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked," Ujiri said. "It’s easy to defend in my opinion when you play one-on-one. It’s predictable, we feel we have to go in another direction. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it will be the new thing in the league that wins.
"We’re trying to be progressive thinkers, and not just continue to pound, pound, pound on something that hasn’t worked."

Things get a little bit more murky when we get into the off-the-court culture changes. Going back to Carroll's comments, trust amongst teammates is crucial, and it's something that will bleed onto their off-the-court relationships. Further, when we examine Ujiri's comments from the end of the season presser and dig into the details, it certainly seems that the culture reset covers this area as well. Specifically,

"We have done things here for four years and we have had a level of success but how do you take it to another level is what I’m talking about. We have to dig deep into everything we do. And I’m talking scouting, I’m talking our medical department, I’m talking everything,"

Maybe I'm over-analyzing what he means by the term "everything," but it wouldn't shock me if the way the team interacts and/or handles challenging issues (in a word: trust) may be part of this reset, as well.

Full Disclosure: I'll be the first to admit that I don't know how the players interact off the floor because I am not around them. I'm not in the locker room for post-game interviews or statements, I don't mingle with the players or coaches when they're in town, and I don't know any of them on a personal level. I'd like to think that the players have a good relationship with each other and there's no animosity or tension. I'd be hard-pressed to point fingers and call out individuals and claim that they are in need of any sort of change in attitude. Doing so would be irresponsible and provocative. 

However, there is some evidence that there was some dissatisfaction within the locker room last season. Specifically, earlier in February when the Raptors had lost their 10th game out of a 14 game stretch, when asked how the Raptors can fix the funk that they were in, Lowry gave the calculated and vague response of "I have an idea, but [I'm going to] keep my mouth shut, keep it professional." It was widely assumed that his response was aimed towards a coaching change, but it's important to note that this was never confirmed and was a result of pure speculation. A further example can be found in aforementioned comments made by Carroll about the Raptors. Although he is no longer on the team, Carroll has not been shy when voicing his displeasure with how the Raptors have operated their offense and how he never felt comfortable in it. It's safe to assume that this isn't the first time that Carroll has vocalized his displeasure with the scheming the Raptors have been utilizing, but perhaps it is the way it was communicated. Like Lowry's comments, if Carroll's way of vocalizing it was vague, it doesn't help the team grow and learn from their mistakes. Maybe this is key to the off-the-court culture change.

Communication is crucial when dealing with the same people in a group setting on an almost everyday basis. Being opened-minded and receptive to constructive criticisms allows one to grow as both a talent and person in professional sports. Perhaps showing that you are willing to branch outside your comfort zone by being open to new ideas is how one is able to evolve on a personal level; in a word, trust. This is what I think is part of the culture reset that will be implemented for the Raptors. Maybe this discussed during the meeting that Lowry had with Casey, Powell, and DeRozan earlier in the off-season and it wasn't just an attempt to sell him on the organization. Further, perhaps Casey's efforts to bring the aforementioned players together to watch one of the games during the NBA Finals in order to have his players experience the Finals atmosphere is all part of the growth and culture shift that the team wishes to enforce. Perhaps this is evidence that Casey is aware that he too needs to evolve and be more receptive to the new ideas and changes. I mean, no one wants to be Phil Jackson, am I right? (Too soon?)

The point is, calling for a change in culture is incredible ambiguous, especially when Ujiri claims that "everything" needs to be reexamined. This won't be an easy task for the Raptors, but it's certainly not an unattainable goal. In fact, by implementing such a change, perhaps it will allow them to grow and persevere, leading them to be able to take that next step in taking down the monster known as Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. Ujiri is keen in his examination of the Raptors' flaws and I have no doubt that the effort will at least be there. There is no individual or set of individuals that need to be highlighted in order for the culture reset to be successful, as it will depend on the entirety of the staff. If the entire wheel is able to spin smoothly to start the season, the team should be able to build on it and these changes will just become natural. 

All we can do is trust the proce... task. 


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SOT6 Podcast - Episode 16 (Part 2)

Episode 16 (Part 2) of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. I am joined by Demar Grant (@DemarJGrant) of TipOfTheTower.com and we discuss all the latest regarding the Toronto Raptors. Topics are:

  • DeMarre Carroll's salty comments.
  • Where JV fits on the team and the NBA.
  • The "Culture Change."
  • A little Game of Thrones talk.

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, Harry's Shave Club, Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, and/or Stitcher by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the respective icon. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued by visiting the Contact section of the site. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

 

BREAKING: Raptors & Pacers In Agreement For Joseph-Miles Swap

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


In the article I wrote today examining the DeMarre Carroll trade, I finished it with this - 

"I mean, this can't be it, right?

...right?"

Turns out, the answer was, indeed, "right." To boot - 

So, the specifics - as I know them to be right now - are that CJ Miles has accepted a 3-year sign-and-trade deal that is worth $25 million. with a player option in year three In exchange, the Pacers will receive Cory Jospeh.

Miles, far from a dominant defensive presence, will fill in the role that the Raptors were hoping to have in Carroll. Also, this gives Toronto an uptick in three-point production, as Miles shot approximately 41% beyond the arch last season for the Pacers, which is slightly above his career average of 36%. Having a veteran in the lineup that can help balance out the Raptors on both sides of the ball is something that was much needed after the announcement of the Carroll trade. 

Further, this opens the door for Delon Wright to step up as he will serve as Kyle Lowry's backup at point guard. Much like how we viewed Norman Powell to be the shooting guard/small forward of the future for the Raptors, Wright's was drafted to be the point guard for the next wave of Raptor players when the DeRozan/Lowry/Ibaka era ends. Also, it's hard to forget about how Fred VanVleet will take on a bigger role compared to last year, manning third-string duties behind Wright. In short, the Raptors will look for their younger stars to take a necessary step further.

Speaking of Powell, this will subsequently mean that he will be sharing minutes with Miles and his starting role may not be as set-in-stone as we thought when the Carroll news broke. However, the minutes between the two will more than likely be shared, and they will also be able to flip-flop with each other on the court seamlessly. 

The deal won't be complete until the Carroll/Brooklyn deal is finalized, and is also contingent on the Wizards matching the Nets' offer-sheet for Otto Porter (they said that they will). So it may take time for this to become official. But, in principle, it is.

I'll be sure to update this post once the details are ironed out a bit more, but this will surely help ease the worries that came about after the Carroll trade. Although the future in terms of draft picks are still up in the air, it's a testament that Ujiri wasn't - and still isn't - done improving this team.


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Examination Of The DeMarre Carroll Trade

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


Late last night it was announced that the Toronto Raptors had made a salary dump by trading DeMarre Carroll and the entirety of his contract, along with both their 1st and 2nd round 2018 draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets for center Justin Hamilton. 

Before we can really break down this deal, we must first understand that a move such as this was expected and necessary in order to be below the luxury-tax territory. Carroll's contract calls for him to be paid just slightly north of $30 million over the next two years, so the salary dump makes sense; especially when realizing that Norman Powell will enter next off-season as a restricted free agent. Simply put, cap space was needed. Thus, in terms of being able to relieve the pressure of the salary demands that the Raptors were undergoing, it makes sense that they would try to find a team willing to take on the salary of a player that did not meet expectations.

Arguably one of the biggest new Raptors to be signed on as a free agent, there was the expectation that Carroll would act as a defensive presence similar to what we saw in PJ Tucker earlier this year. However, injuries plagued him and we never got to see our expectations met as Carroll was never quite right after recovering from a right knee injury. Further, with how poorly he performed in this year's post-season, - and hindsight being what it is - it seemed like the writing was on the wall that the Raptors would make an effort to move him. So in terms of creating cap space to make the signings of Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka financially easier, this makes sense. 

However, trading away the Raptors' 1st and 2nd round draft picks is something that I think a lot of fans will be discouraged with, and it's easy to see why. On face value, one could argue that this is the price of doing business. When trading away a declining asset, there had to be something that the Nets needed in addition that would make the deal more palpable. Yet, leaving the cupboards completely bare for the 2018 draft, in terms of picks, will surely lead Raptors fans to have an uneasy feeling in their stomachs. Is it worth having the salary relief if it means not having a single draft pick next year? Is it worth not having Carroll, with all of his warts, if it means sacrificing any sort of potential for the future?

It's easy to say "no" to both questions, especially given how top heavy the Raptors are as a result of this trade. As it stands, the Raptors have 4 centers in Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, and Hamilton. Also, with the loss of Carroll - although not the defensive presence that he once was - in combination with the loss of Tucker, it leaves the Raptors extremely thin on the defensive side of the ball. Moreover, with how much of an emphasis the Raptors management has put on development and recruiting young stars to stabilize the future of the organization, this seems like a major shift in philosophy. Sure, you could argue that the Raptors have enough depth for the future in players like Powell, Delon Wright, Poeltl, Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, and Nogueira. But sacrificing the opportunity to add additional pieces in the draft that has the potential to make a major difference is hard to swallow (even though there's also the chance that the players they would have drafted may not have contributed on a significant level. I get it.). 

However, when taking a step back and looking at the longterm play, the deal makes sense. As it stands, the Raptors absorb Hamilton's $3 million contract, which as a result gives them about $27 million in relief from Carroll's contract. There's still the opportunity that the Raptors could move on from players like JV, Joseph, or even flip Hamilton in a subsequent move to both free up more cap space and/or accrue pieces to fill in the gaps. With Hamilton being behind the curve in terms of knowing the Raptors' plays, he seems to be the most dispensable asset that won't lead to an even bigger sacrifice of the future (such as dealing one or both of Nogueira and Poeltl). Hamilton's favorable contract may seem intriguing for a team in need a young solid center for depth. As it stands right now, though, the Raptors aren't one of those teams. Thus, there's little reason to doubt that Masai Ujiri is done making moves and strengthening the team, but it's going to be a bit challenging.

Moreover, this pretty much solidifies Powell taking Carroll's place in the starting lineup, thereby further proving that he is a big part of the future for the Raptors. Fans have been salivating over the thought of Powell taking on a bigger role for the Raptors and with this move, it almost guarantees him just that. Assuming that the Raptors don't attain a better, more experienced and reliable piece via trade or free agency, we may be able to finally see what we have in Powell. With a full season as a starter under his belt, it will also give the organization a solid look as to what they will be willing to offer in terms of a contact or a match-sheet when his restricted free agency hits next off-season. 

So yes, the price is crazy steep and it's difficult to grasp the notion that the Raptors, currently, do not have a singe draft pick for 2018. It's easy to have the knee-jerk reaction that Ujiri may be on the losing end of this deal, but that's only when you look at it in a vacuum. There has to be a subsequent move via trade or free agency that will either balance out the roster more, or create even more cap space, thereby allowing them to sign multiple, yet cheaper, pieces. We should be able to say with confidence that the roster, as it currently stands, more than likely won't be what the Raptors trot out for the start of the 2017-18 season, so let's exercise some patience. Most people have assumed that it would be Valanciunas that would be moved over anyone else, but as I mentioned during the latest SOT6 Podcast in talking to Adian and May of ThePostUp.net/Pass The Rock Podcast, the days of the limited yet dominating big-man may be numbered in the NBA. Perhaps other organizations feel the same way and, unfortunately, there's little to know interest in acquiring a $16 million dollar center. Thus, we have to hold on to the hope that the off-season moves and signings aren't over and the gaps will be filled.

I mean, this can't be it, right?

...right?


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SOT6 Podcast- Episode 15

Episode 15 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. I am joined by Adian and May (@zharitamay) of ThePostUp.net and the Pass The Rock Podcast. We discuss the latest happenings surround the Toronto Raptors. Topics are:

  • Signing Serge Ibaka.
  • Bye-Bye JV?
  • Signing Kyle Lowry.
  • Are the Celtics a threat?
  • The "3-year window".
  • What is this "Culture Reset?"

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Blue Jays: "Transmissions" by Tab & Anitek
Intermission: "Hookie" by The Mellowtones
Blue Jays: "Equestrian" by Tab & Anitek
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, Harry's Shave Club, Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, and/or Stitcher by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the respective icon. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued by visiting the Contact section of the site. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

Let's Talk About Kyle

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


As the dust settles from the third part of the trilogy known as the Cavaliers/Warriors NBA Finals, the basketball community has now turned its attention to the rumor-mill (or rumour-mill for my friends up North). Fans are anxiously waiting to see if their favorite teams will push their chips in to make moves that will, in turn, transform the franchise into contenders or one that embraces the rebuild. With so much information pouring out by the minute, it’s hard to keep track of what is accurate or what is just mere speculation. One minute, Jimmy Butler is enticed by the idea of joining LeBron James in Cleveland. The next, Butler emphasizes how much he loves the city of Chicago and makes it clear he has no desire to play for the Cavaliers. With a high volume of uncertainty experienced by fans, compounded by the back and forth and often times contradictory information coming at them, it becomes increasingly harder to evaluate. Thus, it ultimately leaves us in either a state of panic, excitement, disappointment, or often times all of the above. What should we invest our emotional stock in?

Although I’d like to say that all is gravy when it comes to the Toronto Raptors, fans of the #WeTheNorth franchise are experiencing the aforementioned emotional rollercoaster as each day passes. Although the season didn’t quite end as we would have liked it to, we were hopeful that Raptors President, Masai Ujiri, could work his magic with ownership - MLSE - and convince them to give him the financial resources to hold on to their key assets, thereby maintaining their contender status. Of the three core group of players, only one is guaranteed to return to lead the Raptors, and that is DeMar DeRozan (barring any trades from out of nowhere like a Randy Orton RKO). The remaining two - Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka - have chosen to explore free agency, leaving their future in Toronto up in the air. Now, it should be noted that despite what you read by any writer (reputable or not), it would be wise to approach it with skepticism, as nothing is set and stone and things change by the day. I mean no disrespect to any writer that covers the Raptors; I respect them all. However, what it all boils down to is whether or not you’re willing to take the word of someone who heard something from somewhere or the player himself. Admittedly, of the aforementioned two players, I have fallen into the trap of comfort by assuming Ibaka is coming back, based on what little reports that have been floated out on the inter-webs .

Earlier in May, Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders reported that a deal between the Raptors and Ibaka was “pretty much done,” and was in the neighborhood of $20MM a year. Since then, a recent article by Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun suggests that the Raptors are confident in their ability to bring Ibaka back. With nothing out there to dispute either of these claims, Raptors fans have put their faith in the reports and assume Ibaka will return. After all, he hasn’t been attached to any other rumor regarding an interest in joining another team, so we blindly put our eggs in this basket and anticipate a reunion. Seems easy enough, right? No contrary news is good news and, once teams are legitimately able to sign players to a deal, we expect to hop on to HoopsRumors.com and see the “Ibaka Signs with Toronto” headline. Simple. But what about the third member of the trio that makes up the core of the Raptors? Well… apparently not so simple.

When it comes to Kyle Lowry - a player that has helped propel the Raptors into a consistent and legitimate playoff contender in the Eastern Conference - it’s hard to envision him signing elsewhere. It’s during this time in the NBA off-season that we find ourselves going through that emotional rollercoaster, being bombarded with rumors that contradicts our expectations. Toronto fans experienced this first hand this week. 

There were times during the regular season that we noticed a bit of pushback from Lowry; sometimes even subtly expressing displeasure with the team's coaching and direction. However, with the ability to sign him to the most years and most dollars, fans figure that although things may have been bit a rocky, Lowry would take the money and remain a Raptor. After all, money talks and… well, yeah… that other stuff walks. Once the Raptors put the contract that was around the $200MM range in front of him, Lowry would come to his senses, realize how much he loves Toronto and how good the city has been to him, the Raptors would be able to work out their issues, and continue build a contending team. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, not so fast.

Earlier this week, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star wrote an article claiming that word had been going around to other teams that Lowry had “zero interest” in signing a contract with the Raptors, even if were to be for the maximum amount of years and dollars that only they could offer. Lowry was determined to play for a team that gave him a better chance of winning a ring. If not, he desired to play for his hometown team - the 76ers. Nothing the Raptors could do could wash away the bitter taste left in Lowry's mouth from being swept by the Cavaliers, and a change of scenery was reportedly desired. 

It should be noted that no direct quotes from Lowry supported this claim by Arthur. In fact, the quotes made by Lowry that Arthur did mention were ones that spoke highly of the city of Toronto. Specifically, he referenced a recent radio appearance by Lowry on Toronto’s TSN 1050 in which Lowry stated that “everything about Toronto has been positive or better than other NBA cities.” Further, Arthur concludes his article with a glimmer of hope, making fans of the Raptors aware that “Things can change,” as these types of things are as fluid as ever during this time in free agency. In other words, nothing is set in stone and we should be hard pressed to put all our eggs in the basket that stem from mere rumors. This includes the most recent rumor of the Houston Rockets being interested in putting together a super (duper!) team consisting of Lowry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Paul Millsap to join James Harden in the battle against the Warriors for the West. If you ask me, what I recommend is examining the facts, as well as the statements made by the source/player himself. Which leads me to this.

I mean, that’s pretty straight-forward, is it not?

With this type of pushback from the source itself, compounded by the moves made by his hometown team of Philadelphia by trading up to acquire the number one pick in the draft, it certainly seems like Lowry is keeping his options open and has not shut the door on a return to Toronto. Perhaps Lowry was legitimately interested in playing for his hometown of Philadelphia, but as Arthur notes - things change. It's no secret that with the aforementioned move by the 76ers, Lowry's market got a little smaller, and he'd be wise to keep all his options on the table.

Moreover, with the recent comments made by Masai Ujiri who flat-out said that Kyle “wants to come back,” it may be best to not invest in every article that speculates on a destination for the All-Star point guard. Toronto fans, more than any other fans, should be weary of such rumors, as they surrounded DeRozan last year in terms of a desire to join his hometown team he idolized growing up - the Lakers. Recall that Stephen A. Smith went so far as saying, without hesitation, that DeRozan had “made it very, very clear that he wants to be in L.A….” Fans got caught up in the hype and started to envision a life without DeRozan, because… well, because Stephen A. Smith said so! It must be true, right? He said "very" twice

Yeah, about that. DeRozan only met with one team: Toronto. 

Further, we should keep in mind that Lowry is an emotional player. Often times this works to his advantage, but sometimes it backfires. I don't discount the possibility that Lowry did state that he had zero interest in returning to Toronto at the wake of being swept by the Cavaliers. He is human, after all, and the aspect of Lowry making comments about the Raptors out of anger and frustration after an embarrassing effort against Cleveland is something I think we can forgive. However, this doesn't mean that Lowry has necessarily maintained this attitude towards a return, as cooler heads tend to prevail. Recall, Dwane Casey, DeRozan, and Norman Powell met with Lowry earlier this month in order to be exposed to the atmosphere of an NBA Finals. If Lowry legitimately had zero interest in a return to Toronto, it seems rather odd that he'd meet with them at all. Yet, it also doesn't mean he's a lock to return, either.

The point is, Lowry is going to evaluate all the circumstances that surround any team that offers him a deal. This isn't to say that he’s destined to sign a new deal with Toronto, but I’d like to believe that of all the teams that are reported to have an interest in signing him, the Raptors have the most leverage. This doesn't necessitate a reunion - it merely means the Raptors have an advantage that no other team has. The aspect of a professional athlete gravitating towards the most money and longest term shouldn’t surprise anyone. Given Lowry’s tweet, coupled with the comments made by Ujiri, Raptors fans should look ahead with cautious optimism. Like the fear we had that surrounded DeRozan's free agency, until a deal is done all reports of interest or disinterest regarding Lowry and him signing with another team should be taken with a grain of salt. One must hope that Ujiri is able to work his wizardry and provide enough evidence that the game planning, culture, and scheming within the organization will not be the same episode that we've watched on repeat for the past four years. 

I don't know about you, but I'm confident that he'll be able to.


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SOT6 Podcast - Episode 14

Episode 14 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • DeMar & Casey vist Kyle.
  • Amir Johnson rumors.

Music:
Intro: "Welcome" by Anitek
Raptors: "Kerouac" by Tab & Anitek
Intermission: "Lonely Spider" by Cullah
Blue Jays: "City Breeze" by Tab & Anitek
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, Harry's Shave Club, Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, and/or Stitcher by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the respective icon. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued by visiting the Contact section of the site. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

SOT6 Podcast - Episode 13

Episode 13 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Serge deal "basically" done?
  • Casey confirms return.
  • What does this mean for Kyle?

Music:
Intro: "Welcome" by Anitek
Raptors: "Rolla" by Drake Stafford
Intermission: "Casets" by Drake Stafford
Blue Jays: "Faded" by Drake Stafford
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

SOT6 Podcast - Episode 12

Episode 12 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Raps get swept by Cleveland.
  • End of Year Awards.
  • Re-sign Kyle Lowry?
  • Previewing Raptors' Off-Season.

Music:
Intro: "Welcome" by Anitek
Raptors: "Black Lung" by Broke For Free
Intermission: "As Colorful As Ever" by Broke For Free
Blue Jays: "Pipes" by Anitek
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

 

An Interesting Off-Season Awaits

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


As much as we pretty much knew that the Raptors would fall to Cleveland, I don't think anyone thought it would be in the form of a sweep. Even without Kyle Lowry, I was under the assumption that Toronto would be able to at least take one game against the Cavs, given how this team was structured for this very purpose at the trade deadline. On paper, the Raptors looked better than the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year; a team that was able to push Cleveland to 6 games. The addition of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker transformed this team from one that heavily relied on its offense, to a much more balanced team that valued and prioritized defense during the regular season. However, if you questioned the polarities of the regular season and the post season before, this may have been a very rude awakening.

The loss of Kyle Lowry due to an ankle injury was the straw that broke the camel's back and the Raptors simply couldn't match the depth and abilities that the Cavaliers possess. "Trading 2's for 3's" was a phrase that was drilled into the audience during the brief series against Cleveland, and it has become more apparent than ever that the NBA has gone in a completely different direction that the Raptors have yet to catch up to. The game has become one that is predicated on the success of shooting beyond the arc compared to having a balanced lineup of players that fit the traditional "1 through 5" vessels on the floor. The days of the dominate big man whose job is exclusive to dominating the glass with rebounds and put-backs are fading, as the league is moving towards the direction of stretching out the power-forwards and centers to spread the floor and create space in order for more opportunities to shoot threes with success. This is a key reason for the Raptors' failure against Cleveland, though it is not the only reason. Lack of intensity, Casey's loyalty to a fault towards a regular season starting lineup, and playing against the very best player in the NBA all factor into the Raptors' collapse in the playoffs as well. When looking at it in hindsight, it's easy to call a spade a spade.

We, as fans, are not blind to this. At times it's frustrating to even have to watch a team that is not Cleveland and Golden State during the playoffs, and that is because we pretty much know where every series begins and ends - with the exception of the inevitable rematch between those two teams. Like I've said in the past, the rest of the teams in the NBA are fighting for their respective conference's Intercontinental Championship - aka, 2nd place. With the rise of the "super team" formula becoming more of a means to win an NBA championship, rather than building a core group of game changers from within, it's become harder and harder to combat this trend and we're left with our hands in the air, shrugging as we say, "What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to compete with that?!" I'm with you.

However, if there's one thing that we - as Raptors fans - have that should leave us encouraged is the fact that Masai Ujiri is also not blind to this and will do whatever he can to put the Raptors in a position to compete. Given his track record of success when it comes to evaluating talent (DeMarre Carroll aside) and acquiring pieces that have allowed the Raptors to inch closer and closer towards the ultimate goal (albeit, not close enough, yet), he has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating the future of the organization. His end-of-season press conference indicated this in an honest and somewhat hopeful manner that should leave Raptors fans with the ability to sleep soundly, regardless of which direction Ujiri decides to go. Whether it be surrounding the current core with better weapons, resigning some of the team's key free agents (Lowry, Ibaka, Patterson, & Tucker), allocating those dollars on younger players with a higher ceiling, or hitting the reset button, we ought to trust that the organization is in good hands, as there is very little to doubt in terms of Ujiri's vision. However, it is clear that the decision to sign Kyle Lowry will be at the forefront of attention for all Raptors fans.

I offered my support for the decision to resign Kyle Lowry before, as I pointed out the flaws in Donnovan Bennett's popular (or unpopular, depending on how you look it at) piece which offers 9 reasons for the Raptors to sign-and-trade Kyle Lowry (a piece which he has since updated. Things that make you go "hmmm..."). The main premise against the idea of resigning Kyle Lowry is how much it will cost the Raptors given his age and injury history. At 31 years old, it is fair to suggest that it could be a bit overambitious for the Raptors to offer Lowry a contract worth about $200 million dollars that lasts about 5 years. Since writing my response to Bennett's piece, Lowry has dealt with two injuries during the playoffs - his back and his ankle; the former he battled through, to his credit. Lowry has also been vocal regarding his intention to decline his player option in order to attain a more lucrative contract, which he will certainly receive whether it be from Toronto or another team. Already, rumors of mutual interest between Lowry and his hometown team - the 76ers - have surfaced, as they are said to be willing to make a "competitive" offer to the All-Star point guard. The Spurs and Timberwolves have been floated out as being suitors for Lowry's services, although nothing more than speculation has been offered to support this. The bottom line in, there won't be any shortage of teams looking to acquire Lowry during the off-season.

Although Toronto has the advantage as they are able to sign him to a longer deal worth more money than any other team in the league, their ability to resign Lowry may largely depend on their ability to keep the current core together. If Ujiri is unable to sign Serge Ibaka, for instance, Lowry may decide it is better for him to play for his hometown team. On the other hand, if Ujiri is able to allocate some of that $200 million that would theoretically go to Lowry on a younger and less expensive player instead, it may give the team more flexibility while maintaining the ability to compete at the same time. This is the dilemma.

If Ujiri decides to offer Lowry a max contract, it's an indication that he has no intention of hitting the reset button - assuming Lowry accepts. Offering a 31 year old point guard (a position that there is no shortage of) that has been injured more often than we'd like him to be is a huge risk and has "all-in" written all over it. While I don't wish to ignore all the positives that Lowry has done for the Raptors, I'm sort of starting to see why this isn't as cut-and-dry as I once did (i.e. my aforementioned response to Bennett). Prior to this playoff series, it felt like a no-brainer for the Raptors to resign Lowry as keeping the current core was essential for building success. Whereas now, I've become warmer towards the idea of letting him walk while allocating those dollars to spend on a player(s) that still puts the Raptors in a position to compete. Sometimes it is best to shake up and change a roster when the same core players have been unable to get it done. DeRozan is already locked up and the team has made the commitment for him to be the face of the franchise (barring a trade, of course). I'd feel a lot more comfortable with the Raptors building around DeRozan than bringing back Lowry to see the same episode over and over. If Ujiri is genuine in his desire to shift towards the new style of play the NBA is adopting, perhaps resigning Ibaka should be more of a priority than Lowry. 

That thing I mentioned about allocating those dollars to spend on other players? Serge is one of those players. Although it has been said that Ibaka will base his decision of where to play on his daughter's wishes, there's little reason to believe he wouldn't want to return, and the Raptors should make it a priority to resign him. Ibaka is one of those players that fits in to the mold of the new style of play in the NBA that I described previously. He can protect the rim, while at the same time is able to stretch the floor and act as a decent three-point threat. Not since Chris Bosh have the Raptors had a reliable and adequate power-forward, so it's not hard to recognize the value Ibaka possesses. His ability to protect the rim and adequately switch from the 4 and 5 spots when needed is something that is not easy to find and something the Raptors must maintain. With youth, size, and versatility in his favor, Ibaka will be crucial for the Raptors if they still wish to compete in the East. 

However, should the Raptors go a totally different route and decide to not sign both Lowry and Ibaka, thereby leading to somewhat of a "rebuild," Raptors fans should not be discouraged. There's something eerily exciting about a reset or a rebuild under the vision of Masai Ujiri, simply because we have yet to see it. We are all aware that it was on the horizon once the Raptors parted ways with Rudy Gay in 2013, but it never materialized as the team instead showed quick signs of strength and proved capable of being a force in the East. If I was a betting man (which I sometimes am), I would be willing to bet that Ujiri wouldn't be willing to blow it up entirely and waste the prime years that DeRozan possess, leaving the team in a Brooklyn Nets/76ers-esq state. Instead, I see the team taking a brief step back in order to evaluate the young talent that they already have (Powell, Wright, Poeltl, Nogueira, and even VanVleet) to get a more adequate picture as to how they can improve. Yes, this may necessitate a down year or two, but by no means do I think this will lead to a complete collapse. Powell and Wright have shown some signs of growth throughout the course of both the regular season and playoffs during Lowry's absence, so we have reason to believe that they both may be able to become pivotal pieces for the Raptors' future. 

Regardless, the off-season should be more than interesting and we should feel encouraged by the fact that Ujiri has acknowledged what is obvious in order for the Raptors to succeed. Raptors fans should hold their heads up high with pride over how well the team played throughout the entire season, given their injury woes. Time and time again, the team has picked itself up when things looked grim, and proved that this may have been the best Raptors team that has ever been assembled, when they were all healthy. We should not find ourselves in a state of a recency bias and evaluate the entire season based on the final four games that this team has played. This is a Raptors team that we will never forget and will surely be one that we will be thankful that we had the opportunity to see. With that said, this will surely be a time that we will mark as a turning point for the Raptors that will dictate its success or failure in the years that follow.


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)

 


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 11

Episode 11 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Round 2 of the Playoffs.
  • Series 3-Count.
  • Kyle Lowry injury.
  • Previewing Game 4.

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Raptors: "Darker" by Coolzey
Intermission: "Life & Times of 40 Year Rhymes" by The Impossebulls
Blue Jays: "FedUp" by Coolzey
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

SOT6 Podcast - Episode 10

Episode 10 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Advance to Round 2
  • Series 3-Count
  • Norman Powell - Series MVP
  • Previewing Cleveland

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Raptors: "Calling" by Anitek
Intermission: "Menacer" by Ghost Town Riot
Blue Jays: "Separate Ways Remix" by Willbe
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

My Fellow Americans... Just Stop!

Article Written by Adam Corsair  (@ACorsair21)


I'm going to post this in both the Blue Jays and Raptors sections, as it applies to both. After watching the Raptors' Game 6 playoff game last night, coupled with some early season Jays games, this absolutely needs to be addressed. 

Where I was born and where I live, it's considered not only strange but also taboo to cheer for non-New England based sports teams, let alone cheering for a team that is based outside of the country that I live in. Seriously, I'll have a Blue Jays or Raptors flag hanging from my house and my neighbors are like, "....what?" But make no mistake, I'm proud of my country and how good I have it. I understand the privilege and beauty of living in a country which I can even be allowed to cheer for a Canadian based team. I don't take the freedoms that are available to me for granted and understand the value they possess. However, I'm by no means a chauvinist as I'm not the stereotypical "RAH RAH! AMERICA!!!" kind of guy. Actually, I find extreme patriotism to be off-putting and sort of cult-ish. I don't need to broadcast or display the love and appreciation I have for my country as evidence that I do. It's a personal preference.

Having said all of that, for the life of me I cannot understand why any American would think it's appropriate, necessary, or logical to chant "USA! USA! USA!" like a bunch of ignorant zealots in a failed attempt to prove some sort of point when they are playing (read: losing) to a team from Canada. It literally makes absolutely no sense and it makes you look like imbeciles.

Let's take last night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks as proof of how stupid this is. During the Bucks' outstanding comeback (which ended up in a loss. But that's none of my business ::sips Liptons::), the crowd decided to put their brains away and go for the ol' "USA!" chant. I suppose, since the Raptors are from Toronto, these idiots believe that every single member of the Raptors roster were born and raised in Canada, and none of them are American. They must have forgotten that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan PLAYED FOR TEAM USA AT THE OLYMPICS AND WON GOLD MEDALS FOR AMERICA! Or, if they were trying to drive in some sort of anti-Canadian sentiment, they must not have realized that out of the entire Raptors roster, it consists of ONE Canadian: Cory Joseph. That's it. Just one. Poor Cory Joseph. He's a good guy.

Oh, and let's not forget that the best player on the team that they are cheering "USA!" for IS NOT EVEN FROM AMERICA! Do they forget that Giannis Antetokounmpo is from Athens, Greece? Probably. Do they forget that Thon Maker is from Wau, South Sudan? Probably. Do they forget that Mirza Teletović is from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina? Probably. Do they understand how absolutely hypocritical and moronic it is to chant "USA!" to build up some American pride for no reason whatsoever when members of the team they are chanting this for are not even from here? Definitely not. Or, ya know what? I know - They must really appreciate how great DeMar DeRozan was during the game and chanting "USA!" in appreciation. That had to be it.

And don't think baseball is free from this, either. It's actually even worse. There is a huge amount of non-American baseball players that are on every team in the MLB. However, much like those morons in Milwaukee last night, when the Jays come to visit, fans of the respective home team find it appropriate to chant "USA!" because... ya know, a Canadian-based team is in America! Baltimore fans chanted "USA!" during the first series of the 2017 season. They must still be pissed at Ubaldo Jiménez for serving a meatball to Edwin last year in the Wild Card game. Or they must not really like Hyun-soo Kim for some unknown reason. Or Pedro Álvarez must have said something to really make them want to chant "USA!" at him. Wait, I know. They must be chanting it in appreciation for when Marcus Stroman (ya know, that guy that plays for that Canadian team) was absolute nails for Team USA during the WBC - practically winning the championship for them and attaining WBC MVP. That's gotta be it.

Do they see a pattern here? When you chant "USA!" against the Jays or Raptors, you're also cheering for the American athletes that play on those teams! At the same time, you're also cheering against the non-American athletes that play for the team you are rooting for! How anyone cannot understand this simple concept is a mystery to me. Honestly, it's pathetic.

Don't get me wrong - there are appropriate times for chanting for the country you live in and displaying patriotism. Olympics? Go nuts! WBC? Have at it! World Cup of Hockey? Absolutely. These types of tournaments make complete sense to cheer for your country because the team you are cheering for (typically) consists of people that are from thereand/or they represent their respective country. Whereas, professional sports teams are made up of a cocktail of backgrounds, rendering the whole "USA!" chants pointless and illogical. It's because of the diversity of backgrounds that make up a professional team that lead them to be special. When you try to make this a border war that doesn't even exist, you just look dumb. So don't be dumb.

A lot of American readers will take this as an "anti-American" sentiment, and it's not. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be proud of the country you live in. I'm all for it. Whether it be Canada or the United States, be proud of your country. There's value in that, for sure. But when it comes down to it, and when you rrreeeeaaaalllllyyyy look at it, there isn't much separating or differentiating Americans and Canadians at all. I don't want to make this a "We Are The World" article, but seriously guys, we aren't that different.

Think about it, do you hear fans at the Rogers Centre or the Air Canada Centre chanting "CANADA!" when the Jays and Raptors are winning games? No. Know why? Because a) it doesn't make any sense to do this, and b) they have class. Chanting for your country during a professional sports game is pointless simply because it doesn't call for it. This isn't a Canada vs. the US sports outing, it's an MLB or NBA outing. It's the Blue Jays or Raptors vs. whatever team you root for that also happen to be based in America. When it comes to professional sports, we should be celebrating expansion beyond borders by erasing them rather than drawing them. Diversity is a wonderful thing, and any league that encourages this multicultural basket of athletes to make up a team ought to be embraced. Chanting "USA!" during professional sports games that are done - let's face it - mostly in arrogance towards the Canadian based team is mindless. It basically spits in the face of what we should be celebrating and something that is so beautiful. Rejecting this is baseless and disgusting. I'm sure it goes something like this:

Guy #1: "Man our team is losing and the Jays/Raptors are killing us!"
Guy#2: "Yeah man... what should we do?"
Guy#1: I don't know... um... uhh..uhhhhh...ummmmmUSA! USA! USA!"

So dumb.

So as a guy who was born, raised, and currently resides in the United States that is also a fan of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Canada (GASP!), can we just stop this nonsense? 

Thanks! 

(Hey Canada, I may need asylum. I'll keep in touch.)


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 9

Episode 9 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptorss that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • 3- Count on the Playoffs.
  • Can they bounce back?
  • Lineup Change!

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Raptors: "A Story To Tell" by Audiobinger
Intermission: "Intruder" by Ghost Town Riot
Blue Jays: "Nothin' Down' 1.3" by Ari de Niro
Outro: "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

5 Keys For Success In Round 1

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


So here we are. The Raptors have made it to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in a row. This time as the number three seed in the Eastern Conference. Their first task is to face the sixth seeded Milwaukee Bucks; a team that the Raptors have gotten the better of 3 out of their 4 encounters this season. This ought to give Raptors fans some confidence for the chance of a 2nd round playoff opportunity, but nothing should be taken for granted in any playoff series (looking at you, Boston). "Anything can happen" is a phrase we hear quite often during the postseason, and recent history has shown that the Raptors have an uncomfortable tendency to stretch these series out to a full seven games. Moreover, the Bucks aren't a team to be taken lightly. They were my underdog pick to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season, constantly telling my friends "Don't sleep on the Bucks." This won't be an easy task for the Raptors, by any means, however it should be a series they ought to take. Given the depth of the roster, the new found defensive toughness they have exhibited, and DeMar DeRozan's continuos efforts to redefine himself as a player year after year, it's fairly easy to label this Raptors team as the "favorites" for Round 1. This isn't last year's Raptors squad. I like to call this team "Diet Cleveland," as I fully believe Toronto is the second best team in the Eastern Conference.

That being said, nothing comes easy in the postseason, and the Raptors need to be mindful of the lessons they have learned from past playoff experiences in order to capitalize on the warts Milwaukee has. Thus, these are what I consider to be the five keys for winning Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the Raptors.

1. Win Game 1

Simple right?

Well, not so much.

Appearing in eleven playoff series, the Raptors have only won the first game of any playoff series... once (against the 76ers in 2001). Setting the tone and kicking things off with momentum by winning the first game of any series is critical, and the Raptors should know this especially. Falling behind 0-1 out of the gate is discouraging, as it subsequently puts the Raptors in an immediate hole from the get-go. We are now in "every game matters" mode - big time - and the Raptors cannot afford to be put in a position where they have to immediately battle back and chase wins in the first round. This team wasn't built for that, but that's not to say they won't be able to overcome it should it happen. Having finished as the third seed, the Raptors were able to snag home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and it shouldn't be overlooked how important this will be for them. The Toronto crowd - as it has been well documented - is extremely vocal and involved, to put it mildly. It should not be overlooked how a home crowd is able to shift the momentum for a team, and the ACC is notorious for how loud it can get. If the Raptors are able to play with the toughness and aggression that they have been able to develop since the acquisition of both Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker (MY MAN, PJ!) with the addition of the intensity of the home crowd behind them, they should be able to win the first game of the series this Saturday. When asked what he had learned throughout the entirety of the playoffs last year, I believe it was Kyle Lowry who simply said "Win Game 1." 16 years is far too long. Win game 1.

2. Shut Down Antetokounmpo

Honestly, I want to type out his last name as much as possible so I can stop Googling it. Seriously, this guy is Mr. Copy/Paste. Anyway...

Antetokounmpo is the primary scorer for the Bucks and his stats prove this. This season, the Greek Freak led Milwaukee in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks... so almost everything. The success of the Bucks in the playoffs is going to heavily rely on the shoulders of Antetokounmpo and if the Raptors don't want to extend this series to 7 games, they must prevent him from being the player that he was during the regular season. Of course, this is much easier said than done and I don't want to minimize how special of a player Giannis is. For a player his size, he's able to play almost - if not literally - any position on the court, making him extremely versatile and difficult to cover. This versatility allows the Bucks to open up the court, creating space for Giannis to be the team leader in practically every category. Couple this with how he is in transition, he's beyond deadly. Yet, as I briefly touched on in the previous point, the Raptors have discovered a toughness through their defense that has transformed them from an offensive-minded team to an all-around solid one. Perhaps "shutting down" Giannis is a bit of a tall order. If we're being realistic here, shutting him down may not be possible, as he's an endless supply of energy and puts himself in a position to dominate. But, if Tucker can continue to do what he does best, which is play tight and aggressive defense, thereby forcing Giannis to make hasty decisions with the ball, the Raptors can at least contain him and limit his productivity. Let's not discount how important the defense from Patterson and Carroll will be, as well. All three will more than likely be tasked with restricting Antetokounmpo throughout this series.

By no means is this a simple task. But the Raptors are going to need to bring their A-Game when it comes to defending the Greek Freak.

3. A Productive Kyle Lowry

Coming fresh off an injury that sidelined him for 21 regular season games, the Raptors are going to need a productive Kyle Lowry right out of the gate. We shouldn't have any reason to believe that Lowry will be limited, as his production since returning has been very good - albeit, only 4 games (one of which was against a Cleveland squad void of Irving, James, and Love). Having played approximately 42 minutes in his first game since being sidelined, we shouldn't be concerned with Lowry having his legs under him, and he should be able to keep up the what should be a high-paced playoff series against the Bucks. 

Yet, what is difficult to erase from the back of our minds was Lowry's performance in last year's playoffs, specifically against Miami. However, the difference between this year's Raptors team and last year's is the amount of depth behind Lowry that they can go to. Cory Joseph was able to pick up the slack during Lowry's absence this year, shooting 48% from the field, averaging 11.2 points, 5 assists,  and 1 steal. Sure, they aren't numbers that are blowing you away, but couple that with how Delon Wright has developed (and is still developing) into a serviceable off-the-bench guard, we shouldn't be worried. Should Lowry find himself in a playoff funk again, the Raptors have reinforcements.

Ideally, though, we'd like this to be avoided entirely and have the Lowry we have seen throughout the majority of the year. I'm not at all concerned with the chemistry between Lowry and Ibaka, as many fans are. Professional players have a way of figuring things out, and I'm sure a simple conversation and some practice between the two is all it will take to be able to be on the same page (and I assume this has already happened). We can expect Lowry to come out swinging with all the intensity, swagger, and confidence he can muster. This will be vital for the Raptors' success. Although I mentioned that Joseph was able to fill-in nicely, he's still not Kyle Lowry and the Raptors would be better off being in a position where they don't have to lean on CoJo or Wright for long stretches. Thus, a productive Lowry is much needed if the Raptors are going to be successful during the first round of the playoffs, and beyond.

4. Get Big

This year, Jonas Valanciunas has been like night and day. For a large portion of the regular season, coach Dwane Casey was reluctant (if not completely adamant) to not have JV play more than a handful of minutes in the 4th quarter, if at all. Yet, in the past 10 games, he's been showing signs of life - averaging just south of 26 minutes, shooting 63%, and almost averaging a double-double with 12.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. If JV continues to be productive, the Raptors ought to have a beneficial edge.

Milwaukee lacks any real rebounding threat and this should be advantageous for the Raptors. Toronto finished as a top 10 team in rebounds, whereas the Bucks are dead last in the same category since the All-Star break. If Jonas can be aggressive under the boards and be that physical force that's able to finish under the rim, he may be that wild card we've envisioned him to be. Oh, and this...

Get ready...

A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Couple the production from JV with the type of rim protection we have seen from Ibaka all year, Toronto should be in great shape. Since joining the Raptors, Ibaka has averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 boards, 1.4 blocks, shooting about 46% from the field, and about 40% from deep. Consider Ibaka's playoff role to mimic Biyombo's from last year, but on a much higher level because Ibaka is a far better and versatile player. When you have a true power forward that's able to act as a center when the Raptors need to give JV a rest, as well as the versatility that Ibaka has, it's not hard to see how the Raptors ought to be able to capitalize on the size advantage they have. 

Get big, boys. 

5. Stay In The Moment

Look, it's easy to hand on to what the Raptors have been doing in the regular season and apply it to the postseason. As you have clearly seen within this article, I have done the same throughout. However, it can't be overstated how things can change on a dime and how the playoffs sort of recharges players, shifting them to a higher level. The Raptors need to ignore the noise of their past playoff hiccups, ignore their present woes (like their inconsistency from deep), and not worry about what happens if/when they see Cleveland in Round 2. They will be better served if they stay in the present and worry about these games as they come. 

This is not to say that they are worried about any of the things I've listed; they probably aren't. This may be the best Raptors squad ever assembled, and I don't have a lot of worries regarding their chances of advancing. They just need to take care of business as it comes to them and they'll be fine. I expect this series to go 6 games, tops. After that, anything can happen.

If the Raptors can do all of these things (easier said than done, I know), then this series should be no problem. Again, don't underestimate Giannis, Middleton, and Dellavedola and the damage they can inflict on teams. But with the combination of a healthy Kyle Lowry, a dominate DeMar DeRozan, dominate bigs like JV and Ibaka, and the defensive toughness Tucker has brought with him and integrated throughout the roster, I'll take the Raptors all day.

Raptors in 6. 


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 8

Episode 8 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Kyle Lowry Returns!
  • Review of the game against Miami.
  • 3-Count
  • Playoff seeding and scenarios.

Music:
Intro: "Cash Rules" by Ari de Niro
Raptors Background: "Air" by Tab & Anitek
Intermission: "Light-Year" by Anitek
Blue Jays Background: "The Girl" by Roulet

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

 

Lowry Update - Proceed With Patience

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


Yesterday (Monday), Kyle Lowry was a partial "participant" in the Raptors' practice session at the BioSteel Centre. The details regarding how much work he put in, whether or not he is progressing, if he suffered any setbacks, or if he's closer to a return is still a giant unknown to us, as both Lowry and coach Dwane Casey were beyond reluctant to give concrete information. Courtesy of Josh Lewenberg of TSN1050 - 

Lowry was also interviewed following the practice. You can view that here -

There are three ways one can look at this type of behavior. Either A) Lowry and Casey literally have no idea when he'll return; B) they're getting tired of being asked how the recovery process is going and have resorted to full blow-off mode; or C) both. Now, before exploring what I think is the more likely case, I do want to stress that Lowry and the rest of the Raptors personnel (be it coach or player) are free to handle and divulge as much or as little information regarding anything as they please. It is simply their prerogative and up to them in regards to how they handle information. They don't owe anything to anyone and we, as fans, shouldn't feel contrary to this. In situations such as these, it's best to deal with what we know rather than speculate on what we don't. 

What We Know: 

Look, I can understand why a player and coach would be tired of answering the same question, ad nauseum. Having to be asked if there are any updates when you, yourself, haven't been given any solid updates by the medical staff is understandably annoying. Moreover, when a player is taking the subjective approach and basing his progress on whether or not he can do certain things - full range of motion, dribble, shoot, etc. - while being unable to quantify how long it will take to rejoin the team can be even more irritating. I get all of this. Further, it's not like he hasn't given any updates with his injury - I mean, he did say his wrist feels "good," so that's something! He just hasn't given us the updates that we want to hear - i.e. "I'll be back in X amount of days!" or "I'll be ready to go in a week!" You have to believe that if this was known to anyone, we would have a better idea by now, too.

Playing it safe and not being aggressive with Lowry's return is probably what is best for the team if they want to make another Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Lowry's goal is to be 100% for the playoffs. Considering the kind of offense he provided for the Raptors prior to his injury, how well they have been playing in his absence, and how the East is ostensibly any team's to take, having a fully-healthy Lowry will give the Raptors an advantage for a strong playoff push. Should they rush it, he runs the risk of suffering a major setback, rendering the Raptors a bit more vulnerable to elimination than I'm sure we feel comfortable with. Considering the Raptors have won 14 of 20 games without Lowry, there's absolutely no reason to rush it and we ought to have complete confidence that the entire team feels optimistic with how and where they will finish come playoff time.

We all know Lowry is a tough cat and certainly doesn't want to be sitting down towards the ending stretch of the regular season. He holds his fate in his own hands, and made this crystal clear as he more than suggested that it would be his decision as to when he returns - 

If we are to believe this, and there's no reason why we shouldn't, I think it's fair to expect Lowry to make an appearance for the final game or two of the regular season. Moreover, if it's solely based on how Lowry is feeling, that means his return (probably) won't be based on future x-rays or clearance from the team's physician. It's simply a matter of whether or not Lowry says that Lowry is good to go. Knowing his aggressive nature, we should expect him sooner rather than later. 

Thus, I believe that Lowry and the rest of the Raptors staff do not know when he will make his return and are probably getting a bit annoyed with being asked. Of course, it's fair to wonder how the All-Star point guard of your team is feeling after seeing him participate in practice (in any capacity) for the first time since being sidelined. But a little bit of secrecy doesn't mean it's a dark and gloomy cloud. On the contrary, it may be a sign of things about to be getting much brighter. I don't want to blindly point to a date to anticipate Lowry's return, but considering that he has, at the very least, begun to practice in some way, I think it's fair to expect him sooner rather than later. 

Remember, there are only 5 regular season games remaining, which includes tonight's game in Indiana. Lowry has already been ruled out for this contest, and considering it kicks off a back-to-back with the Raptors heading to Detroit tomorrow, I wouldn't expect to see him in either of these contests. However, Friday they host Miami for their final game in Toronto, so it's possible that Lowry could be good to go for that one. If not, playing in both contests against the Knicks and Cavaliers, respectively, is a real possibility.

But hey! Even if we don't see Lowry play in any of the remaining regular season games, it's not the biggest of deals. The team is playing very well, and DeRozan has been nothing short of phenomenal! Couple that with JV having a resurgence, Ibaka protecting the rim and contributing on offense, and Tucker being literally everywhere on the floor when it comes to defense, there's no reason to push it with Lowry. I mean, if having a completely healthy Lowry with absolutely no set-backs for the playoffs meant we wouldn't see him for the remainder of the regular season, wouldn't we take that?

I would. All day.


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter @SouthOfThe6ix


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 7

Episode 7 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • Recapping last night's game against Indiana.
  • 3-Count! JV! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!?!
  • Raptors taking over the 3rd place spot!
  • Playoff positioning right now. Can they beat Cleveland?
  • Congrats to T-Mac and the HOF!

Music:
Intro - "Cash Rules" by Ari De Niro
Raptors Background - "Gnats" by Anitek
Bump - "Hookie" by The Mellowtones
Blue Jays Background - "Pipes" by Anitek
Outro - "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

You can subscribe on iTunes by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking the iTunes icon. Or, you can subscribe on SoundCloud by following the same instructions, just with the SoundCloud icon (obviously). Whatever's easier for you. Any suggestions, criticisms, or compliments can be issued in the comment section of this page. Or, hit me up on Twitter @ACorsair21, or @SouthOfThe6ix (or both!). I'm always looking to improve and cater to you guys, the audience. 

Thanks for listening!

Breaking Down Donnovan Bennett's "9 Reasons"

Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)


(Note: I started this piece earlier in the week and literally just finished listening to this week's Free Association. Some of my concerns that I had already laid out prior to listening were addressed on the show by JD Bunkis. I apologize if it seems redundant, but I explain it a bit differently while adding in my own points. No plagiarism or ripping off was intended, at all!)

Earlier last weekend, Donnovan Bennett wrote an article on SportsNet laying out 9 reasons why the Raptors ought to sign and trade Kyle Lowry in the off-season. Since then, many other beat writers, bloggers, and a few other reputable writers have commented on Bennett's piece, most of which opposed his argument. Seeing as though I consider myself nothing more than a blogger that commentates on the happenings of the Raptors, I figured I'd give my two cents. 

Before I get into this, I want to say that I like Bennett's work and I appreciate his contributions on SportsNet, specifically Free Association. Moreover, I appreciate how he doesn't back down from his position, regardless of the negative reactions amongst fellow Raptors fans on Twitter. Producing such a controversial piece takes balls, and backing it up calmly and proudly takes even bigger balls. However, challenging each point in order to deduce a solid conclusion would be beneficial in order to get a better understanding as to what the Raptors ought to do with Lowry. I'm not sure that I agree or disagree with Bennett's reasoning, so it's best to see if any of his points can be challenged, if not all of them. So let's try.

(Note: Before we get into the minutia, if you haven't read the article and have no idea what I'm referring to, I encourage you to do so. It's linked in the first paragraph of this piece.)

Most of the disagreement from the fanbase with Bennett's piece is centered around the love for their All-Star point guard. As I've mentioned in other articles, Toronto sports fans are possessive when it comes to their favorite players of their sports teams and loathe the thought of seeing them in another team's jersey (Edwin, anybody?). Emotion is a tricky thing and I don't think it should ever be used as a basis to reach a conclusion when dealing with an analytical challenge. Our love and appreciation for Kyle Lowry is completely irrelevant as to whether or not the Raptors should sign and retain him, rather than trade or not re-sign him at all. Therefore, it's best if we leave that component out of this entirely. Bennett didn't reference our love for Lowry in the least, but based on some of the articles that I have read that oppose Bennett's position, it's based a lot on what Lowry has meant to us as fans. I cannot stress enough how important it is to ignore this. GM's and Presidents that represent their sports team hardly ever put a lot of stock into this, as their job is to put together a team that gives them the best chance of winning games. Not who's loved the most. Is it something we can acknowledge and appreciate? Sure. But it's not the be-all-end-all.

Having said that, let's get into what Bennett actually did say. What I found interesting is that Bennett didn't need to make this entire list, as each point comes back to one key point - given Lowry's age, he's too expensive. This is pretty much Bennett's "...yeah, but!" to anything that can be used to challenge each of his other points. Consider his first point - 

1. The Raptors have internal options that can replace Lowry.

I urge you not to make the hasty conclusion that Bennett is suggesting that the internal options the Raptors (currently) have - Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet - are capable of playing like Lowry; he's not. In fact, he flat out states that they aren't as "spectacular" as Lowry from the get-go. What he is arguing are that this trio is a suitable replacement for Lowry, as a whole. Basically, he's suggesting that these three players combined can produce almost as well as Lowry can. Thing is, it's sort of hard to compare one player (Lowry) to those three when only one of them can play at a time. Lowry is consistently productive when he's on the floor, not to mention one of the most reliable to close out games next to DeRozan. Suggesting that Joseph, Wright, and VanVleet as a group can string together that kind of production during the course of 48 minutes is overambitious. Joseph has proven to be nothing more than a replacement level point guard. In other words, he wouldn't be the first option for starting point guard on a fully healthy team that's really contending in the playoffs. It's fair to say that Joseph has probably reached his peak and is what we have seen. You could say the same for VanVleet, as he's more than likely not going to bloom into a star player that a team can build around. Wright, on the other hand, is interesting because he has a boatload of potential and is just beginning to blossom. However, practically going all in on Wright and hoping that in the future he can produce like Lowry makes me a bit uncomfortable. I'm not saying that he won't or can't become that kind of player, but dealing with an unknown like that is too risky. Personally, I'd much rather re-sign Lowry to a max deal spanning over 5 years than keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Wright meets high expectations. It's sort of "the devil you know" kind of thing. When laid out like this, Lowry is the better option, all things being equal. However, what Bennett wants to say here is all things are not equal, and that those three are younger and cheaper than Lowry. You'll notice that it'll always come back to this.

2. His second point is what I consider his weakest and is pretty much irrelevant. Bennett suggests that Raptors fans should look at the recent players that the fans wanted to be re-signed, like Biyombo (his example, not mine). Aren't we glad we didn't re-sign him for the crazy amount of $72MM like the Magic did? Well, yeah... I am glad that we didn't re-sign Biyombo for that much, but this has nothing to do with Lowry. It's simply a false equivalency. Biyombo doesn't provide the same type of impact like Lowry does, which is why Lowry is more of a priority. I take nothing away from Biyombo's contributions in the playoffs last year. But, was Bismack a 3-time All-Star? No. Was he the anchor of this team? No. The comparison of the circumstances regarding the decision to re-sign or not re-sign Biyombo to Lowry is a bad one as it completely ignores the variables that make them two completely different issues. Bennett attempts to offer further evidence of an equivalency for this by suggesting that the Raptors have been better off giving minutes to Nogueira and developing Poeltl than re-signing Biyombo and, therefore, ought to have the same outlook with Lowry. The problem is, this completely ignores the addition of Ibaka and the rim protection he's provided as a replacement for Biz, as well as how Nogueira really isn't seeing these minutes as a result. The circumstances are simply not analogous and ought to be treated as such. Yet, again, what Bennett wants to say here is that Lowry is different than Biyombo (although he inadvertently regards them as the same....?) because he's older and more expensive. 

3. Bennett's third point is that a team does not need an All-Star [point]guard to win. 

This one is a bit tougher to argue, because for the most part it's true. Last year, although an all-around great player, Kyrie Irving was not an NBA All-Star. However, in 2015 Stephen Curry was, and in 2014 Tony Parker was as well. Giving his due, Bennett is correct, as the next point guard that was an All-Star and also won an NBA Championship was... Tony Parker in 2007. It's a fair point to make, but I think at this point he's arguing over semantics. Although a team doesn't need an All-Star point guard to win, they must have a guard that is both capable of moving the ball around to open up the floor and, by today's NBA standards, hitting threes on a consistent basis. Kyle Lowry provides this and more for the Raptors. Moreover, even though Irving wasn't an All-Star last season, he certainly played like one in the playoffs and, if he was a free agent coming into this season, he'd be paid the max; regardless of his absence at the All-Star Game. Further, Bennett's example that he laid out was of the 2004 Dallas Mavericks, as they let Steve Nash walk and explore free agency, as they had complete trust in Dirk Nowitzki as their primary scorer. Bennett suggests that, like how Nowitzki was the guy who got the ball when it mattered, the Raptors have that in DeRozan. Moreover, the Mavericks would end up winning an NBA Championship without Nash, so it all worked out, right? Yeah sure, but this isn't analogous. First of all, what Bennett failed to mention is that it took Dallas 7 years to win that NBA title without Nash. If we're trying to draw parallels here, are we sure that DeRozan can both be this same player he is now towards the end of his contract and do it 7 years from now (assuming he's still even on the team)? Second of all, Nowitzki was close to Lowry's age when he won an NBA title. How old you ask? Nowitzki was 32. Lowry is freshly 31. Let me ask you - if the Mavericks were able to offer a 31 year-old Dirk a max contract worth as much as what the Raptors need to give Lowry to keep him, don't you think that they would? Isn't that a no brainer?

I'll let that simmer. 

4. Bennett's fourth point is that Lowry A) isn't getting any younger and B) keeps getting hurt. Let's put aside B for a second. Had Bennett just wrote an entire article simply based on how Lowry is 31 and shouldn't be offered a max deal, he wouldn't need all of this other contestable stuff. It's hard to ignore how much the game of basketball wears a player down; specifically one that plays as many minutes as Lowry has. It's true that Lowry is getting up there in age (in terms of a basketball sense. 31 isn't old, I should know), but let's not forget that it took quite a while for him to find his stride and play to the level that he is. Lowry is a late bloomer, for sure, and you could argue that he's a "young" 31, in terms of where he is in his career. Thus, I'm confident giving him a max 5-year deal that will likely finish out his career. However, what I'm not confident in - and what I think Bennett and I can agree on - is that Lowry's age will end up catching up with him and he probably will play fewer and fewer games as each season passes. I think this can be expected, but I also think that when offering someone a max contract at 31, you are doing so knowing that you're going to be paying for about 3 years of solid production, while maybe eating the last two. If it means keeping this unit together and keeping the chemistry as it is, isn't it worth it?

In regards to this "keeps getting hurt" part, Bennett only sites three examples out of Lowry's injury history and only during his tenure as a Toronto Raptor. He states that Lowry has only played 82 games once throughout the course of his 11 year career, but failed to acknowledge that he wasn't nearly the point guard he is today while playing for Memphis and Houston, so there was no need to play him that much. Moreover, during his Raptors tenure, the amount of respective games he has played is 68, 79, 70, 77, & 56. Further, he only missed substantial time due to injury his first year with Toronto (2012) and this year. Yes, he did have elbow problems last year that prevented him from playing at the level he was capable of during last year's post-season, but to say he "keeps on getting hurt" is a bit of a stretch. 

5. His fifth point is the Lowry's playoff numbers are poor. I can't deny this and really have no basis to argue against it. The numbers are pretty bad, so I'm just going to give it to Bennett. If anything - and I admit this may be a stretch - I don't necessarily think that having poor playoff numbers only is a reason not to re-sign an important player that makes up your core. But I'd understand if the Raptors didn't because Lowry can't - or rather, hasn't - produce when it matters. I'll give this one to Donnovan. 

6. Bennett's sixth point is the point guard market is oversaturated, leaving the Raptors with plenty of options should things not work out with Lowry. Again, while this is true, do I really need to remind you all of how hard it is to sign stud players to a Toronto team? Quite often we hear how players don't want to play for Toronto because they have to deal with customs, or the currency, or moving their families, or it's too cold, etc. While I'm sure there will end up being some point guard that is willing to play for the Raptors, it's hard to imagine one that plays at the level of Lowry (but younger, right Donnovan?) would be willing to come to Toronto. I think this one is a layup (hahaha, silly basketball pun, hahahaha). Thus, while Bennett is right about the market, I think he's a bit overambitious of the Raptors' ability to acquire a point guard that will still allow them to compete.

7. His seventh point is that the Raptors need salary cap space. 

Bennett's main point of contention here is that the Raptors ought to prioritize re-signing Ibaka, as he presents more of a rare skill set that the Raptors have been lacking since Bosh. While I can agree with this, who's to say that they can't do both? Bennett assumes this will be a "one-or-the-other" type of situation. This is where he goes wrong, but I can understand why. The Raptors have yet to go into the luxury tax, so if history is the best indicator of the future, there's no reason to believe that they will. However, I think the Raptors front office understands the circumstances of keeping this core group together. The reason they haven't spent this much before is because they've never had anything that was worth spending this much for. Now they do. Knowing this isn't something I can prove or have any evidence for, my gut tells me that the Raptors would be willing to move forward with paying both Lowry and Ibaka. Call it a hunch.

8. His eighth point is the other half of the basis of his argument that couples with the age problem - there are cheaper options available. Again, while this is true, are they cheaper and capable of playing as well as Lowry? Or are they just cheaper? The latter option is much more likely to be the case, and I'm not sure how acquiring one of these cheaper options makes the Raptors any better off, in terms of contending for the playoffs. Bennett argues that there are three stud guards entering the upcoming draft, but will certainly be taken within the first 10 picks of the draft (and that's being generous!). While yes, these rookies will only cost the Raptors $3-5MM, Bennett assumes the Raptors will be able to acquire a pick high enough to land one of them. This, obviously, would involve a trade. Which leads me to...

9. Bennett's final point is that there could be a willing trade partner. He focuses mostly on the 76ers, as they've been rumored to want to aggressively pursue the Philadelphia native this off-season. My question is, why would Lowry agree to a sign-and-trade when he could just sign with the 76ers after opting out? If he knows the Sixers want him that bad (which, do we know this?), why wouldn't he just explore his options with them on his own? Sure, you could say that he'd do it to help out the Raptors - an organization that has been good to him and one that he has spent a lot of his time developing into the player he has become. But this is business. In the world of business, favors are rare and loyalty is even rarer. Bennett assumes that Lowry would be 100% willing to participate in a sign-and-trade and do the Raptors a favor. I am not. Moreover, we're also assuming that the Sixers would want to trade away a top 5 pick (I'm assuming it will be, granted) for Lowry. Why would we assume this? Based on a rumor? Isn't it Bennett who keeps pounding into us how Lowry's old and approaching the decline? If he "knows" this, surely Philadelphia does, too.  Further, the Sixers would end up giving up more than the Raptors would if they simply just signed him! The Sixers would not only be taking on that contract, but they'd also be giving up a draft pick for potentially one of these "stud" guards. Why wouldn't they just sign the stud guard? I don't see a scenario where there would be a sign-and-trade. 

Bennett's main point is simple - Lowry is too old for that much money. I don't agree. Bennett assumes that if the Raptors go forward with a Lowry deal, it will tie their hands in terms of spending ability on free agents in the future, but why worry about that now? It's hard to deal with unknowns, but all signs point to the salary cap continuing to rise. Right now, Lowry is the single best and realistic option for the Raptors moving forward, so signing him is almost imperative. If they want to continue to progress with what they've been able to build, the Raptors would need to bring back the co-anchor to this team next to DeRozan.

Further, holding on the Lowry provides the Raptors with much needed insurance. A big reason why the Raptors are winning games without Lowry is because DeRozan has taken over and played at an extremely high level. Flat out, this is his team. However, imagine what would happen if both DeRozan and Lowry were absent since the All-Star break. Where do you think the Raptors would be? We've seen who was heavily relied on when DeRozan missed time earlier this season - Lowry. Should the Raptors move on from Lowry, they'd be taking a huge gamble and would put an incredible amount of pressure on DeRozan as their main scorer. Should anything happen to DeRozan, who would be that scorer? Who would be the play maker? Who would the Raptors rely on to close out games? It would put them in a massive hole and having this tandem of Lowry and DeRozan is crucial for their success.

Don't be silly. Re-sign Kyle.


Follow South of the 6ix on Twitter (@SouthOfThe6ix)


SOT6 Podcast - Episode 6

Episode 6 of the SOT6 Podcast is now up. In it, I expand on the news regarding the Toronto Raptors that has occurred this past week. Topics are:

  • VICTORY OVER CHICAGO! THE STREAK IS OVER!
  • 3-Count for all 4 games this week.
  • DeMar DeRozan the best Raptors of all time?
  • Should the Raptors prioritize signing PJ Tucker over Serge Ibaka?

Music:
Intro - "Cash Rules" by Ari De Niro
Raptors Background - "Roy" by JBlanked
Bump - "The Question" by JBlanked
Blue Jays Background - "Calling by Anitek
Outro - "Blue Bloods" by Aulx Studio

As always, I appreciate your ears and your word of mouth for this podcast and website. Honestly, sharing is the best thing you can do for any independent blogger/podcaster, so I am in your debt if you do this for me. I'm trying my best to keep this podcast completely ad-free, as I know how annoying it is to constantly hear ads about Square Space, or Harry's Shave Club, or Blue Apron, or whatever. I'm not about that life. I do this completely out of my own pocket. I do this for fun, enjoyment, and the opportunity to connect with fellow fans, such as yourself.

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