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Blue Jays surprised, but ‘ecstatic’ to land Austin Martin

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TORONTO – The chatter started late last week, with suggestions that the Baltimore Orioles might go off the draft board with the second pick.

“There’s a smokescreen there,” one agent said.

Still, as Wednesday night’s first round approached, the consensus among experts remained that the Orioles would take Austin Martin from Vanderbilt, a predominantly third baseman/outfielder widely considered the best pure hitter available. “His profile is as complete as it gets in the 2020 class,” Baseball America wrote of him in their rankings.

But at the moment of truth, the Orioles defied the predictions and chose Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, possibly to create room in their signing bonus pool for use on later picks.

The Miami Marlins offered up another surprise when they chose Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer at No. 3, taking the flamethrower pegged by some to land with the Blue Jays. The Kansas City Royals then chose Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy, who was expected to land in South Beach.

Then it was the Blue Jays’ turn, the unexpected windfall of Martin staring them in the face, and there was little hesitation for amateur scouting director Shane Farrell, who 10 years ago was Toronto’s 46th-round pick and on Wednesday was running a draft for the first time.

“We were a little surprised (that Martin was available),” Farrell admitted on a conference call. “Obviously we’re keeping an eye on the mock drafts as they come out throughout the week and are aware of industry consensus, but it really started to shake up at picks two and three and we were surprised a bit but certainly prepared to make that selection.

“We were ecstatic to have the chance to pick Austin.”

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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Latin America’s resurgent left and Caribbean spurn U.S. policy on Cuba

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The United States doubled down on its tough stance and sanctions on Cuba after historic protests in the Communist-run island last month and said it would seek to support protesters.

But many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region which is still scarred by Washington’s backing of coups during the Cold War and has shifted leftwards in recent years, are asking it to back off instead.

President Joe Biden branded Cuba a “failed state” in the wake of the July 11-12 protests over an economic crisis and curbs on freedoms. His administration imposed new sanctions on those who cracked down on protesters and promised the politically important Cuban-American community more actions were coming, like efforts to help Cubans circumvent “censorship”.

While the fresh sanctions are largely symbolic, they suggest a return to a period of detente under former President Barack Obama is not forthcoming.

The right-wing governments of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras joined the United States last week in issuing a statement condemning mass arrests and calling for full restoration of disrupted internet access.

Yet only 20 foreign ministers worldwide joined in signing the letter, signalling how relatively isolated Washington is on its Cuba policy, analysts said. Even U.S. allies like Canada who have condemned the Cuban crackdown and supported protesters’ right to freedom of expression did not sign.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s leftist allies in Latin America and fellow Caribbean island nations have focused their reaction on the contribution of the U.S. embargo to the country’s current humanitarian crisis, urging Washington to lift sanctions. Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have sent aid.

Some countries in the region have also warned against U.S. meddling in Cuba’s domestic matters.

These regional divisions came to the fore last week when the Organization of American States had to postpone a meeting on the human rights situation in Cuba due to objections by more than a dozen member states.

“Any discussion could only satisfy political hawks with an eye on U.S. mid-term elections where winning South Florida with the backing of Cuban exiles would be a prize,” wrote Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the OAS, Ronald Sanders, in a column published on digital platform Caribbean News Global.

“The task of the OAS should be to promote peaceful and cooperative relations in the hemisphere, not to feed division and conflict.”

He had sent a letter on behalf of 13 countries from the Caribbean Community or CARICOM – which though small, represents a significant voting block in the OAS – urging the body to reconsider the “unproductive” meeting, while other countries sent similar missives.

REJECTION OF OAS, FOREIGN MEDDLING

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last month the OAS should be replaced “by a body that is truly autonomous, not anybody’s lackey”, sentiments echoed by Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez.

He also said he thought Biden must make a decision about the embargo against Cuba given that “almost all countries of the world” are against it, while Fernandez said it was up to no other country to decide what Cubans should do.

Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia all shifted left in recent years, while Peru last month voted in a socialist leader and Chile and Brazil appear poised to move to the left in elections due this year and next.

“We appreciate countries that defended the Latin American and Caribbean dignity,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who has accused U.S.-backed counterrevolutionaries of being behind the protests following years of open U.S. funding of democracy programs on the island.

The Chair of the OAS Permanent Council described the objections to the Cuba meeting as particularly unusual.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said it was “deeply disappointed” the OAS meeting did not take place, adding: “The people of the Americas have a right to hear from the Inter-American Commission on Human rights about the situation in Cuba”.

“We will continue to work within the OAS to press for democracy and human rights in Cuba and throughout the Americas and are confident this informational meeting will indeed take place in the coming days.”

William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University in Washington, said the problem was the OAS had under Secretary-General Luis Almagro “adopted a strident partisan stance totally aligned with U.S. policy”.

Biden was inheriting a regional foreign policy from former U.S. President Donald Trump focused mainly on Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, that had alienated much of Latin America, said LeoGrande, pointing out the Latinbarometer opinion poll showed a sharp decline in the image of the United States.

The OAS General Secretariat declined to comment while the State Department spokesperson said “Almagro’s leadership in supporting democracy and respect for human rights in the Americas” had returned the OAS to its original purpose.

Biden, a Democrat, had vowed during his presidential campaign to ease some of the sanctions on Cuba tightened by his predecessor Donald Trump, a Republican, raising hopes of a return to the Obama-era detente.

But analysts say the protests have complicated his leeway to do so, especially after he made a poorer-than-expected showing with voters in south Florida’s anti-communist Cuban-American community, which backed Trump’s tough policies toward Havana and helped him win the presidential election battleground state.

The Democratic National Committee last week launched a digital ad campaign in Florida highlighting Biden’s “commitment to the Cuban people and condemnation of communism as a failed system.”

 

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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Kyle Lowry Signs With Miami Heat Leaves Toronto – HYPEBEAST

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Kyle Lowry is bidding farewell to the city of Toronto after nine years to join the Miami Heat. For many years, Lowry has been the face of the Toronto Raptors, bringing in an immeasurable impact to not only the franchise but the Canadian community worldwide.

It is hard to quantify Lowry’s effect on the team, the city and the country but Lowry did definitely had a hand in shifting the franchise from being an underdog to an NBA champion. As Lowry departs the Raptors for South Beach, fans are possibly calling him the greatest player of the Canadian NBA franchise. Lowry holds the most assists (4,277), steals (873), three-pointers (1,518) and triple-doubles (18) in Raptors history.

Lowry is set to join the Miami Heat in free agency and is expected to sign a three-year sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors. Sources have reported that Lowry prefers a three-year deal with no options. The specific terms of the deal have yet to be announced, but Lowry took to Instagram and Twitter to seemingly confirm his move to Miami.

The 35-year-old NBA veteran averaged 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. His move to Miami will give him the opportunity to play with Heat’s star Jimmy Butler.

In other sports news, Simone Biles announced she is competing in the balance beam event at the Tokyo Olympics.


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Kyle Lowry joining Heat after nine seasons with Raptors – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Raptors star guard Kyle Lowry is headed to the Miami Heat.

Lowry put out a social media post to his more than 907,000 Twitter followers saying “Miami Heat X Kyle Lowry” and “Let’s Goo!!” followed by five fire emojis.

The post came less than 45 minutes after free agency officially kicked off Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Deals will not be considered official until noon Friday, with the Raptors saying they would have nothing to say until then.

Citing a source, The Associated Press reported Lowry had agreed to a three-year deal worth an estimated US$90 million in a sign-and-trade with Toronto that will send veteran point guard Goran Dragic and power forward Precious Achiuwa to the Raptors. There was no immediate word whether those players will stick in Toronto or head elsewhere in another thread to the deal.

A 15-year NBA veteran, the 35-year-old Lowry has spent the last nine seasons as a Raptor.

Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, the New York Knicks and Philadelphia had been seen as possible suitors come free agency. The debate over Lowry’s future had started prior to the trade deadline but he remained a Raptor, finishing out a difficult 27-45 season played in Tampa due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Lowry was seen as a key player in the free-agent guard sweepstakes, one of the first dominoes to drop and set the stage for future signings.

Several outlets reported that guard/forward Gary Trent Jr., is remaining with the Raptors after agreeing to a $54-million, three-year deal, with the third year a player option. The 22-year-old restricted free agent came to Toronto at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Norm Powell to Portland.

With Lowry’s contract expiring, it was the long goodbye for the star guard. In February, there were reports Lowry — who was in Tampa with the rest of the Raptors due to pandemic-relayed travel restrictions — had put his Toronto home on the market.

Then the March 25 trade deadline came and went.

As free agency approached, the Heat appeared to be making moves to pave the way to acquire Lowry in a sign-and-trade. They picked up the option on Dragic’s $19.4-million contract for the 2021-2022 season, which would help to make the numbers work in a deal.

Lowry is also said to be close to Heat star Jimmy Butler, who reportedly was nearing a contract extension with Miami.

“To be honest with you, my family will be a major factor in this,” Lowry said in his end-of-season media meeting in May, when asked about what will shape his decision on what’s next. “And also money talks and years talk and all that stuff. Let’s be real.

“I play this game for the love for the game. But at the end of the day I want to make sure my family is still taken care of for generations and for time to come. Even though they are now, I want to continue to be able to do that for my family.”

But the six-time all-star made it clear he is not ready to walk away from the game.

“Until that time comes, I still have a lot more to give, I have a ton of basketball left in me,” he said.

He also made it clear he wanted to play for a contender.

“I want championships, That’s always been the goal. Money comes with that and you get paid, but championships are a big key into why I play this game,” he said.

The Raptors will look to Fred VanVleet to take over as floor general.

Toronto drafted guard Malachi Flynn in the first round (29th overall) of the 2020 draft and last week took Canadian Dalano Banton (Nebraska, 46th) and fellow guard David Johnson (Louisville, 47th).

Lowry became the face of the Toronto franchise, a gritty combative guard who helped lead the team to the promised land in 2019 when it dispatched the Golden State Warriors in six games. He has made a career out of proving people wrong.

“I enjoy the challenge of people counting me out, counting the team out,” he said in May.

Scotiabank Arena became Lowry’s house. His two young sons were often in the Raptors dressing room, playing video games or just hanging out with dad.

On the court, Lowry was the Raptors’ conductor.

He averaged 17.2 points and 7.3 assists a game last season, when he was restricted to 46 games due to injury. Toronto finished out of the playoffs, in 12th spot in the East.

Listed at six foot and 196 pounds, Lowry makes his living in a land of giants. And he is willing to put his body on the line, with a league-leading 166 charges taken over the last five seasons.

Lowry was acquired by Toronto in a July 2012 trade with Houston that sent Gary Forbes and a protected future first-round draft pick (the Rockets eventually moved to the pick to Oklahoma City which used it to select centre Steven Adams) the other way.

“We feel we’ve added a solid starting-calibre point guard to our team who will bring toughness, grit and playmaking at a very important position,” then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said at the time. “At (26 years old), I would say Kyle represents what I would characterize as the future of the position.”

He was selected in the first round (24th overall) by Memphis in the 2006 NBA draft. Three years later he was dealt to Houston in a three-team trade that also involved Orlando.

Lowry is Toronto’s franchise leader in triple-doubles (16), three-points goals (1,518), assists (4,277) and steals (873). And with 10,540 points, he ranks second to good friend DeMar DeRozan (13,296) in the Raptors record book.

With 601 games and 20,813 minutes played in Toronto colours, Lowry is also second to DeRozan.

In January 2019, he added to his legacy by joining a select group with 5,000 career assists. Lowry found Serge Ibaka on a pick-and-roll and the big man beat Deandre Ayton to the hoop for a dunk in a 111-109 win over the Phoenix Suns.

“He’s been in the league a long time and he’s had the ball in his hands and got it to a lot of people,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said at the time.” Since I came here five-and-a-half years ago, it was the first thing I noticed — how he’d find the right guys to get the ball to. He really commands the offence and knows where to get it.”

Lowry’s pay was $30.5 million last season. According to HoopsHype, the Villanova University product has earned more than $190 million over his playing career.

Lowry is the latest member of the Raptors’ 2019 championship team to leave the fold. Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Norm Powell and Ibaka are among those who have already moved on.

Toronto Mayor John Tory paid tribute to Lowry, calling him “the greatest Raptor of all time.”

“He showed our city who we want to be. The fighter. The leader,” Tory said in a statement. “The player who’s got your back and leads the charge. Who takes the charge. Who falls down and gets back up. Again and again.”

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