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7 biggest takeaways from Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s press conference – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Holding court with an assembled group of media over a Zoom call late Saturday morning, a day before his team begins training camp practices in full, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri touched on a number of topics.

Most pertinently, Ujiri updated the contractual status of his staff, including general manager Bobby Webster, whose contract is set to expire at the end of this season and would preferably be extended.

“My staff is pretty much done,” Ujiri said. “I think Bobby was the last one. I think we are sealing it. There’s no issues. I would consider that done soon enough.”

Ujiri’s deal with the Raptors is also set to expire at the end of this coming season, but in regard to getting a deal done himself, he was far less forthcoming.

“I don’t know what the timeframe will be,” he said. “I go into this thing with a very positive mind and attitude. And we hope it goes that way.”

Ujiri’s situation, as cut-and-dry as it might seem, is actually a little more complicated than you may think. Sportsnet’s Michael Grange took a deep dive into all the factors in play in his latest column — so if you’re looking for a better understanding of what the hold up might be, that’s probably the best place to start.

But while word of Ujiri and his front office staff’s contract statuses was probably the biggest headline of his near-40-minute discussion with media, that certainly wasn’t the only noteworthy topic he opened up about.

Here are some other highlights from Ujiri’s session:

Moving on from Ibaka and Gasol

The Raptors lost a couple of key cogs from their 2019 championship run when both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left in free agency.

Ibaka, in particular, was a surprising departure, as it seemed there was mutual interest on both sides to get a deal done and bring the big man back. But, as things played out, it seems the direction the Raptors were going didn’t align with Ibaka and they ended up splitting.

“I think, first of all, those two guys were incredible for us,” Ujiri said. “You know, I have even a personal closeness to Serge from way back. These things become difficult, and we had to look at a lot about the future on our team, so we were very restrictive with term and years, or limited with term and years, because I think we have to look at sometimes a bigger picture with the team.

“… Marc and Serge were incredible for our organization, and all of us have the same exact feelings about them. Our staff, our front office, our coaches. Hard to see but, you know, sometimes we have to move on from these things. That’s the way it works.”

In place of Ibaka and Gasol, the Raptors ended up signing Aron Baynes and Alex Len, players without the same kind of name recognition as the club’s previous centre duo, but big men who, Ujiri believes, will get the job done regardless.

“We followed them for a while, whether it’s draft or free agency. I know our scouting team and our personnel team have done a lot of work on these guys,” Ujiri said of Baynes and Len. “We know Aron Baynes brings toughness and now those shooting abilities … He’s one guy that you don’t like on the other team and you love on your team.”

And speaking specifically about Len, Ujiri sees a player with a lot of potential to become much better than he already is.

“I think he still has plenty of good basketball ahead of him with great size and good skills,” he said. “We look forward to it, we believe in our developmental program and getting players better so we look forward to it.”

Confidence in Siakam

Pascal Siakam had a rough time in the post-season, failing to live up to expectations thrust upon him as the team’s No. 1 option. And with his four-year, $130-million max extension now kicking in this season, the pressure to perform will likely be even greater than before.

Earlier this week, Siakam was very introspective about his experience during the playoffs and his bubble experience in Disney World, in general, saying that playing in an isolated environment sucked the joy out of playing basketball, something that directly impacted his play.

Now, however, Siakam said the fun of the game has returned and he’s spent time during the off-season getting right mentally again — something that Ujiri has the utmost confidence in as well.

“I’ll say it up front, Pascal didn’t enjoy the game in the bubble,” Ujiri said. “Pascal, I don’t think he was himself. He said it to you guys, and honestly just seeing Pascal the past couple days here, I know it’s going to be different.

“… I’m confident we’ll get our old Pascal back. We know there’s things, we all have friends, we all have family, we all know people, people have dealt with this whole pandemic and this whole tough times differently. The bubble was not Pascal’s favourite place or favourite experience but I think he’s learned from it and I think he’ll come out of this fine.”

Big leap for OG coming?

Heading into his fourth season in the league and as a Raptor, OG Anunoby looks poised to have a bigger role this coming season as both a leader and contributor — particularly on the offensive end.

There’s likely some pressure that will come with this expectation, and despite flashes, Anunoby has never really shown the kind of offensive consistency you’d like to see from a player with his physical tools. But Ujiri believes that was just because of circumstances out of the still-only-23-year-old’s control and this could be the season where it all finally comes together.

“To be honest, the year before, not many people know what OG went through,” Ujiri said. “I know he wouldn’t want me saying this, but OG and his dad are close to my heart. He went through a very real hard time with the death of his dad and then he comes back and has, I think, an ankle sprain or a bad ankle injury. Then he gets through that and then has a busted appendix that keeps him out totally. Three things that really take him out of a significant part of the year.

“I think when he started to make progress last year, it was some sort of a surprise to everybody, but if you go back to his rookie year and all the excitement OG was starting. There was plenty of excitement coming out of that, and [then] he had this year, [where] many things happened, but he comes back strong last year.

“I believe the progress is going to continue. He’ll continue to grow as a player.”

This sign of confidence from Ujiri is good news for Anunoby, who has until Dec. 21 to try to negotiate a contract extension of his own with the Raptors or else he’ll become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

But whether an extension gets done or not by the deadline, it sounds like Ujiri considers Anunoby to be a big part of the team’s future.

“We’ll have conversations with his agent and I think there are talks to be had and they know of the abilities that we want so we’ll keep having those conversations,” Ujiri said. “I think the most important thing is we’re excited about OG and the progress that he can make and the jump he can make as a player. We saw him coming into his own in the bubble and one of the reasons too that we’re excited about this is it’s going to give OG, Pascal, Fred [VanVleet], the room to grow as leaders and feature on our basketball team with the leadership of Kyle [Lowry].”

Nothing but respect for Lowry

And speaking of Lowry, Ujiri spoke glowingly of the Raptors’ undisputed leader.

By the time this season ends, Lowry will be a 35-year-old unrestricted free agent. It’s unclear what the future has in store for him, but he’ll always have a big fan in Ujiri, at least.

“That boy is grand, man. That boy is, I don’t want to push his retirement, but he’s, in my opinion, a Hall of Famer,” Ujiri said. “What Kyle has done in this organization, the growth I’ve seen, you guys know. You know what we’ve all gone through the last six years.

“I will say this of Kyle, he’s been incredibly respectful to the organization and we will have that same incredible respect for Kyle anytime, every day. There’s no doubt about that. We’re proud of him. We’re proud that he’s lifted us like this, he’s lifted himself like this, and we’ll continue to support as much as we can with our basketball team winning.

“Kyle is a winner. Kyle wants to win. And even the times when we’ve gone through hard times, there was never a question of trying or not trying. He’s always given it his best. He has our full support.”

Ujiri, Raptors waiting on NBA before deciding what to do with Davis

A point of contention within the Raptors is the presence of Terence Davis on the roster after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.

Davis’s contract for the season was guaranteed on Nov.29. He’s with the team in camp and will have a court appearance on Dec. 11.

Additionally, Davis is under active investigation by the NBA under its domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy, something Ujiri said he and the team
are waiting on before making any kind of decision with Davis.

The 23-year-old had a strong rookie season last year, making the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, and he appears to be Toronto’s best long-term prospect.

With that said, despite the optics, Ujiri said the team isn’t keeping Davis around just for performance reasons — but rather because the club has information that leaves it confident in keeping him around.

“We made a decision as an organization with all the information we had with us,” Ujiri said. “We really tried to see this thing from a certain point of view. I will say this: We don’t condone anything that resembles what was alleged to have happened. We would not do that in our organization. What we have is a certain amount of information where we have to wait until the NBA is done with the investigation. We feel comfortable.

“I’ll say this: We’ve done as much due diligence [as we can] in talking to Terence, in talking to our organization. We went as far as even talking to all the women in our organization and getting their point of view from this. This is very important for us because we don’t want to say one thing and go do another thing.”

Ujiri wants to keep the message of social justice going

One of the biggest aspects of the Disney bubble was the league’s emphasis on social justice messaging, an effort that involved players wearing messages on jerseys and the “Black Lives Matter” slogan prominently painted on the court.

The Raptors followed suit, first arriving in Orlando on buses with “Black Lives Matter” boldly emblazoned on the side.

Now, entering a new season, Ujiri doesn’t want this momentum to stop.

“We’ll continue it,” he said of social justice messaging. “We all have to speak with ourselves, speak for ourselves, we have to speak collectively. I believe the bubble was a really good and special circumstance for us to really stand up and that was, at that time, we had to really make that the focus at that time. Now, we have to continue this conversation as we get back to our normal lives, we have to continue this conversation.”

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Canadiens @ Canucks Top Six Minutes: Toffoli’s hat trick earns a point – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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For our new readers and members, the Top Six Minutes is a continuation of the discussion in the game thread. We try to keep it light and entertaining. Full recaps are up the morning after every game.

First Period

  • I would love if the Habs won convincingly tonight, but I really fear that that won’t be the case.
  • Are they really trying to call Weber and Chiarot the twin towers? Maybe don’t?
  • Already on the penalty kill? Really? You couldn’t wait a minute?
  • Elias Pettersson is now guaranteed to score.
  • I’d be ok with a Suzuki short-handed goal. Make it happen, please.
  • That was an extremely high high-stick. But also maybe don’t let them do that again.
  • ….hold on… VAN was on the power play, but the only shots in the game belong to the Habs? Yes please.
  • That was a fun shift from the Gallagher crew.
  • Why do the hockey gods hate Artturi Lehkonen and Tyler Toffoli.
  • Please don’t do this again.
  • Apparently the Habs have decided that the NHL season is too easy so far, so they’ve decided to make it harder for themselves BY TAKING ENTIRELY TOO MANY PENALTIES.
  • And that’s why you really shouldn’t have taken a penalty.
  • Lol, whoops, skate malfunction.
  • Pretty sure Price didn’t even blink making that save.
  • Please go stay in the offensive zone for a while, Montreal.
  • One of these days Toffoli will actually hit the net, and it will be glorious.
  • Exactly no one is surprised that the probably-for-the-best crackdown on cross-checks in front of the net doesn’t apply to crosschecks on Brendan Gallagher.
  • Too many odd-man rushes against. Way too many odd-man rushes against.
  • *sigh*
  • Dang, Carey looks really good tonight.

Second Period

  • THERE IT IS. TOFFOLI WITH THE GOAL.
  • Not to be that person, but SHOOOOOOOOT.
  • Oh Jeff…
  • Wait….is that…a power play!?? Oh my goodness, it is!
  • Oh look. There are all the Toffoli goals! (Also, that Suzuki pass!!)
  • Also… THE HABS CAN ACTUAL SCORE ON THE POWER PLAY!
  • Oh geeze. Please go play on the other side of the rink.
  • The things that are and aren’t penalties in this game are perplexing.
  • siiiiiiigh
  • Oh Paul.
  • Montreal, please tidy things up. This is not gonna cut it.
  • Another post.
  • Shouldn’t that have been a Montreal penalty?
  • WAIT, NOT *THAT* THOUGH. WTF.
  • GALLY GOALS ARE THE BEST GOALS.
  • It is known.

Third Period

  • The plays Nick Suzuki sets up are just delightful. Eventually his teammates will start getting used to it, and he’s going to rack up a tremendous amount of assists.
  • Meanwhile, Habs, please go play in the offensive zone.
  • AGAIN? sigh
  • Habs. Habs stop this. At once.
  • You know that thing I said earlier about crosschecks and Gallagher? It’s relevant again.
  • Apparently pulling someone down by the face isn’t a penalty.
  • JESPERIIIIIIII.
  • That little kick to the stick, fake and shoot was just *chef’s kiss*.
  • You know that thing where usually eventually the calls start swinging back the other way? How about some of that.
  • Joel Armia is pretty good. Just saying.
  • The Habs definitely look like they have more in the tank than Vancouver right now. That whole rolling four good lines thing is already paying off.
  • How was that icing. Seriously.
  • TOFFOLI TIMEEEEEEE.
  • BRING ON THE (virtual) HATS!!!
  • MONTREAL WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
  • I just want to sleep.
  • Gallagher was SO close. I’m going to cry.

OT

  • Well, time for aaaaaall the heart attacks.
  • Suzuki in OT is pretty fun.
  • However, just because it’s fun doesn’t mean I want to keep having this happen.
  • Romanov is also very fun in OT.
  • THAT WAS LESS FUN.
  • Please not the shootout.
  • I hate shootouts.

Shootout

  • I hate shootouts BUT NICK SUZUKI DOESN’T.
  • They really are just gonna drag this shoot out as long as possible aren’t they.
  • I still hate this.
  • Habs lose 6-5 in the shootout.

EOTP 3 Stars

3. Gotta love a good rhyme

2. Those were the days

1. He certainly does!

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Hazel Mae, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and more reported Michael Brantley to Toronto – Awful Announcing

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Baseball transactions have often seen some unexpected people breaking news, whether that’s wetbutt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole or Brendon Kuhn and Joey Vendetta. But Wednesday provided a remarkable reversal there, with TV host Hazel Mae and multiple U.S. baseball insiders (including Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic and Jon Heyman of MLB Network) reporting that outfielder Michael Brantley was headed to the Toronto Blue Jays before the eventual confirmation that he was instead returning to the Houston Astros (where he played last year, as shown above). Here are those initial reports:

And here are some of the later corrections and rebuttals from those who didn’t initially report that:

As noted Tuesday, baseball is a sport where local sources can sometimes break national news before the national insiders get it. But in this case, the initial reports appear to have been premature. And that led to some awkward tweets Wednesday for those who reported that the Brantley deal was done in Toronto before the actual news of that deal being done in Houston emerged.

[Photo from Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports]

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Canucks earn cathartic win over Canadiens after roller-coaster affair – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER – It was a game screaming out for fans. And a game that would have had coaches screaming.

But Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green’s mood at least would have been helped by his team’s 6-5 shootout win Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canucks’ home-opener at Rogers Arena, played in front of 18,000 seats kept empty by COVID, was a mistake-filled thrill ride whose surprise ending – a Vancouver win – was desperately needed by the team that had limped home after a 1-3 road trip to start its season.

Captain Bo Horvat scored twice on the power play, as the Canucks man-advantage unit finally put some pucks in the net after a 0-for-15 start, and then beat Montreal goalie Carey Price between the pads in the fourth round of the shootout.

Vancouver, wobbling on defence with veteran Alex Edler injured and other blue-liners struggling, appeared to be headed towards its fourth straight loss when former Canuck Tyler Toffoli – who else would it be? – completed his hat trick with a deflection to give the Canadiens their first lead with only 3:49 remaining in regulation time.

But after losing a one-goal advantage four times, the Canucks displayed some resilience by making it 5-5 just 32 seconds later when Brock Boeser wired a shot from the high slot after a setup by J.T. Miller.

“It was really important,” Horvat said of a victory that was like shelter during a January gale. “We needed that win. Obviously, for standings-wise, but also for confidence. It definitely feels good to get the two points, but at the same time I think we can be better.

“We can’t be satisfied with that. We’ve just got to keep building with that, keep our confidence and come ready to play tomorrow night.”

The Canadiens, now 2-0-2 and two points clear of the Canucks in the North Division, play in Vancouver on Thursday and again Saturday.

There were some glaring faults to the Canucks performance, especially in their half of the ice.

But it was vitally important for their struggling top players to break out. Boeser matched Horvat’s two goals, Miller had three assists and defenceman Quinn Hughes had two. And although Elias Pettersson failed to register a point for a fourth straight game – double his longest “slump” from last season – he was a key part of a power play that finished 3-for-6.

And, as Horvat said, there was a huge psychological lift for a team that for the first time under Green, appeared to be slipping backwards with its surprisingly poor start.

“It definitely feels good to get finally rewarded for it,” Horvat said of a power play that was fourth in the NHL last season and expects to be at least that good again. “It was just a matter of time before one went in. Thankfully, we got it off to a good start and we just kept building from there.

“Obviously, we can’t think that’s going to be good enough. We’ve got to hold ourselves to a high standard and do it again tomorrow night.”

The power play gave the Canucks their first of four leads, scoring at 11:07 of the first with quick passing that teed up Horvat in the slot, a play that would be repeated on Horvat’s other goal early in the third.

The power play and offensive outburst, plus some timely saves by Braden Holtby in overtime, were enough to overcome the Canucks’ defensive problems.

New first-pairing defenceman Nate Schmidt conceded last weekend in Calgary that the transition from playing in Vegas has been challenging, and Travis Hamonic hasn’t looked any more comfortable than Schmidt so far in Vancouver after spending the last three seasons with the Flames.

It didn’t help Wednesday that Edler nearly stopped playing in the second period before disappearing from the bench in the third, and that rookie Jalen Chatfield was making his NHL debut for the Canucks.

Even Hughes looked suspect medically, labouring at times while being constantly targeted by the Canadiens.

The lack of cohesiveness on defence was especially evident in the second period, when the Canucks blew the lead three times on goals that were far too easy for the Canadiens.

Hamonic wandered out of position to throw a hit after Hughes had been knocked over by Joel Armia, leaving the right half of the Vancouver zone open for Toffoli to walk in on a breakaway and pick his spot over Holtby’s catching hand to tie it 1-1 at 1:37 of the middle period.

A few shifts later, Schmidt gambled and lost on an intercept in the neutral zone, giving Jeff Petry a free pass to the net. But when the Canadiens defenceman zipped the puck wide, it caromed around the boards to Tyler Motte and gave the Canucks a two-on-one.

Motte looked to pass before fooling Price with a low shot through him to restore the Vancouver lead at 4:25.

But just 62 seconds later, with Schmidt and Hamonic now paired together, the Canadiens took advantage of more poor defending and Nick Suzuki set up Toffoli for a tap-in that capped a power-play three-on-one.

The Canucks power play made it 3-2 at 11:13 when Boeser collected a rebound from his skates and scored on a quick backhand.

And still Vancouver couldn’t get out of the period with the lead. With Chatfield looking to change and caught out of position and Schmidt’s check against behind him, Tomas Tatar lasered a goalmouth pass for Brendan Gallagher to tie it again, 3-3, at 18:25.

The Canucks were ahead, then tied and eventually behind before winning. Against the Montreal Canadiens. The crowd would have loved it, faults and all.

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