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Examining the possibilities of life after Lowry – Raptors Republic



Martin the Warrior was probably the most important mouse in the history of Redwall. It was his memory that inspired Matthias in the original, eponymous Redwall. It was his efforts that resulted in the building of Redwall itself in the novel Martin the Warrior. The series, however, had to continue after Martin’s departure. By the time the 2000s rolled around, Martin’s name didn’t even appear in The Taggerung, the series’s 14th entry. Redwall had evolved beyond Martin, just as the Toronto Raptors will one day evolve beyond Kyle Lowry.

Kyle Lowry is on the final year of a three-year, $100 million contract. He is extended into 2020-21, for which year he will be paid $30 million. He is also 33 years old and has played the 10th-most minutes in the league since he joined the Raptors 2012-13, accumulating a huge 18,647. And Lowry has scrapped and clawed and fought for every single one of those 18,647 minutes; for example, his 186 charges drawn over that time period ranks third in the entire NBA, behind only Ersan Ilysova and DeMarcus Cousins. Lowry is physical while chasing rebounds, or driving, or shooting, or playing defense, or standing near the rim, or running around the perimeter, or really doing any task involved in playing the game of basketball. 

This makes Lowry excellent. But it also means that at some point his physicality will decline. It must. This is hateful, spiteful reality. An important question, though, is whether the inevitable decline will happen while Lowry is a Raptor.

There are really only three options for what could happen next year between Toronto and Lowry. Toronto could trade him; he will be an extremely good player on an expiring contract. He could fetch a hefty price. Toronto could extend him and keep him for the future, potentially for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career. Or Toronto could simply let the relationship dissolve and melt into air when the season ends. 

Which is the most likely?

It seems farfetched that the Raptors will trade Lowry. There are really two types of players who fetch massive bounties in trades, and Lowry falls right in the middle. There are stars for whom teams will mortgage their futures, and Lowry is a star, but he is too old and expensive for teams to trade multiple assets and hope for long-term value. Teams wouldn’t part with a blue-chip youngster and a draft pick for one year of play from a point guard near retirement. 

The other type of player who fetches a bounty is a short-term rental, someone who boosts a team by a huge margin in the playoff chase. Think Robert Covington for the Houston Rockets. But Lowry makes too much money for that. Also: it’s impossible to match $30 million with promising players on rookie deals, and Toronto has no need to take on dead money and picks in exchange for Lowry. He’s already expiring. 

That all adds up to Lowry being worth more to Toronto as a player than as an asset. 

It is also questionable as to whether the Raptors extend Lowry beyond 2020-21. Toronto has an exceptionally clean cap sheet at the moment, with a vast swathe of space opening in the 2021 offseason with which Toronto can play. They will use it, of course, to chase Giannis Antetokounmpo. Pascal Siakam will of course remain in Toronto then, and Toronto will try to develop OG Anunoby into another dominant two-way wing by that time. Fred VanVleet, too, looks to be a major part of Toronto’s core. 

VanVleet is only 25 years old, and he has plenty of room to grow into his game. He already bears a huge resemblance to Lowry on the court.

“I do see super closeness and a real similarity in who they are, how they are, how they play, that inner drive, that inner characteristic of leadership, toughness, competitiveness, making big plays, making big shots, super high IQ, and I think that naturally draws them right together,” said Nick Nurse. “They are very similar, and we’re lucky to have them both because they’re both very special players.”

VanVleet is currently not close to Lowry’s level of play, but he has years to get there. Lowry, at 25, was not quite as good as Lowry now. Lowry didn’t develop his current level of awareness as a finisher or passer until later in his career; VanVleet remains on the Lowry trajectory. VanVleet will command a massive payday this offseason, and Toronto has to hope that he will grow into a Lowryian role as leader on and off the court. He may never be quite as good as Lowry, but he will play at a very high level for eight more years or so, while Lowry probably only has two or three left. The math is obvious, and Toronto can’t keep both at the money they deserve. They work so well together, and compliment each other, because they are always whirring around both ends of the court, like the two wings on a bee’s back, in-sync, buzzing together, minds bent together in labour and joy. Unfortunately, that sameness, on top of the age gap, is what makes Lowry expendable to the on-court future of the Raptors. VanVleet’s current skill-set and promise of future ability means Toronto already has a ready-made Lowry replacement.

In fact, the Raptors haven’t been this successful with Lowry off the court since he came to Toronto. Toronto’s net rating with Lowry off the court this year is 7.2, better than the teams’s 5.3 rating with him on the court; 2019-20 is the first time ever that Lowry’s off-rating has been better than his on-rating. It’s not that Lowry is ineffective — he’s been brilliant — but simply that Toronto no longer relies on him to the extent that it used to. The initial sketching of a post-Lowry image is starting to take shape in Toronto.

VanVleet is a huge part of that, and he’s a huge reason why the Raptors may fail to offer Lowry another contract worth $30 million a year. It is technically possible that Lowry takes a discount to stay in Toronto, but the team will only be able to offer a pittance, perhaps the full scope of whatever mid-level exception the team owns. It’s questionable whether that would appeal to Lowry — a player permanently slighted by those discounting his value — to keep him in town. 

No, more likely is that Lowry and Toronto part ways amicably. This is the third option, but it’s also the most likely option. 

By all accounts, Lowry was amenable to leaving Toronto the last time he was a free agent. He would have been happy to join the San Antonio Spurs, as he told the Express News in 2017, but Toronto threw $100 million dollars in his direction, and the rest, as they say, is the history of a champion. Lowry and Toronto have long been perfect one another, so perfect as to engender love letters, but it’s possible to imagine scenarios in which each exists without the other. Lowry has. So, too, has Masai Ujiri. That’s life, when life is a billion-dollar business.  

During the off-season of 2021-22, there will probably be at least one franchise who covets Lowry and offers him far more money than the Raptors. Lowry would be an ideal complement to Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, Jimmy Butler in Miami, or really any other star in the league. His game is tailored to fit anywhere. If Toronto can’t offer Lowry a towering stack of money, unlike last time he was a free agent, Lowry will have no shortage of suitors, and this time no Godfather offer to remain in Toronto. If Lowry left, he would instantly boost his new team’s championship aspirations, remain very good for a few years, and then probably retire. Perhaps he could seven sign a one-day deal with Toronto on the way out for good feelings.

It’s conceivable that heading into 2021-22 Toronto doesn’t lure Antetokounmpo away from Milwaukee, or any other superstar, and instead has oodles of cap space and few actual players on the roster. Perhaps, in that scenario, the Raptors do re-sign Lowry to another big-money deal. Perhaps he fades gracefully, first ceding the job of team MVP to Siakam before eventually ceding the job of starting point guard to VanVleet. Those things have already begun. It would be a gentle fade-out, a pleasant one, complete with the allure of nostalgia, increasingly occasional flashes of dominance, and consistent team chemistry.

That scenario would not necessarily be the most competitive road for Toronto, but who knows? Lowry has made a career of overcoming unlikely odds. 

Regardless of which road Lowry and the Raptors take moving forward, it’s important to remember the value of Lowry in the present. Lowry is the real point god, the malevolent fire hydrant, the mouse upon which the entire abbey rests. Lowry is about to represent the Toronto Raptors at the All-Star game for the sixth consecutive year. That’s monumental. No matter which way you slice the pie, Lowry is the greatest Raptor of all time.

Lowry will have a statue outside of Scotiabank Arena. It could display him yelling at a ref, or him taking a charge, or him hitting a jumper, or perhaps him passing the ball to a fortunate teammate. But there will be a Lowry statue. Before then, Lowry could conceivably play for another franchise. If he does, it will be because he and Toronto outgrew each other, because their needs — ever aligned for the greater part of the last decade — traveled in separate directions.

Redwall survived long after Martin the Warrior walked the halls. It thrived, even, with many more best-sellers featuring new and exciting protagonists. Even without Martin himself, Martin’s spirit guided Redwall’s future heroes. The Toronto Raptors will soon be in a similar situation. The team will, one way or another, grow beyond Lowry. He will remain a Raptor, of course, forever. And no matter what the future holds, we should continue to appreciate Lowry for his nightly displays of sports heroism in the meantime.

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Toffoli acquisition shows Canucks believe in mounting playoff run – Sportsnet.ca



VANCOUVER – If you didn’t understand the Tyler Toffoli trade when it was first reported, it made a lot more sense at 6:04 p.m. PT on Monday.

That’s when Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, after confirming he had surrendered Tim Schaller, a solid prospect in Tyler Madden and a second-round pick to get Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings, announced in a press release that heavy forward Micheal Ferland is out for the season with a concussion and first-line winger Brock Boeser will miss another three weeks – minimum – with fractured rib cartilage.

The Canucks may need Toffoli to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Benning, who will explain the trade at a press conference Tuesday morning, told Sportsnet in December that he hoped to add another top-six winger this season. That search became a little more urgent when Boeser’s injury on Feb. 8 against Calgary was followed six days later by another failed comeback by Ferland, who lasted only one period of an AHL game before going back to the injured list with concussion symptoms that have limited him to just 14 NHL games this season.

Boeser has played 56 games — without any goals in the last 11 of them — and there is no way to know when he will play his 57th.

Toffoli was always one of the Canucks’ preferred options because he is a proven supporting scorer who plays the fast, direct, heavy game that Vancouver coach Travis Green preaches, and should fit instantly alongside Bo Horvat and former Kings linemate Tanner Pearson.

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After enduring his worst season last year in the NHL, with just 13 goals and 34 points in 82 games, Toffoli is having a bounce-back campaign. His hat trick in his final game with the Kings, Saturday’s 3-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche, gave the 27-year-old 18 goals and 34 points in 58 games.

His 18 goals would be third on the Canucks, one ahead of Horvat and Pearson.

Toffoli has been among the NHL’s most active shooters the last 10 weeks and led the Kings with an even-strength shots-for percentage of 57.4, which is backed up by an expected-goals-for percentage of 57.3.

Toffoli is on an expiring contract paying him $4.6 million, which is why it was important for the Canucks to pass on to the Kings depth forward Tim Schaller and his bloated $1.9-million cap hit. But the newest Canuck is young enough to re-sign, and the team hopes that if Toffoli is successful with Horvat and his old buddy, Pearson, he will want to stay in Vancouver.

The Canucks, however, need to re-sign starting goalie Jacob Markstrom and would like to re-sign defenceman Chris Tanev, another potential unrestricted free agent, so it would be naïve for now to think of Toffoli as anything but a rental.

He should make the Canucks better, and he could prove vital if Boeser stays on the injured list. Green has replaced Boeser on the first power-play unit with checking centre Brandon Sutter. We’re pretty sure Toffoli is an upgrade.

But unless you win the Stanley Cup, all rental trades must be gauged by costs in the future.

After all, Derek Roy for a second-round pick and Kevin Connauton seemed like a reasonable idea for the Canucks as a deadline rental back in 2013.

Madden, a 2018 third-round pick who is having an outstanding sophomore season at Northeastern University, is a good prospect. But he is also a 160-pound centre who wasn’t going to play ahead of Horvat, Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette anytime in the next several years.

If you listed the Canucks’ top-five prospects, Madden doesn’t make it. Vancouver is keeping Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind and Mike DiPietro. There are probably at least another couple of prospects ahead of Madden.

The real cost to the Canucks is that second-round pick, which was not expected to be in play this deadline because Benning surrendered his first-rounder to get J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning last June. Miller has merely been one of the best three Canucks all season, so no one is asking for a do-over on that one.

Toffoli was one of the better rental wingers available and Benning and his staff obviously felt in the wake of Boeser’s injury that this was a deal the Canucks needed and could afford.

The right winger is expected to practise with the Canucks on Tuesday. Vancouver plays the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and is just 2-4-1 in its last seven games.

The Canucks were passed in the Pacific Division by the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday. Vancouver’s playoff cushion has deflated to just four points, which may be another reason Benning was motivated to move for Toffoli now rather than waiting until nearer Monday’s trade deadline to check on NHL inventory and prices.

But beyond the Canucks’ present scuffling, remember they are still further ahead in their evolution than most people expected them to be with 23 games to go. They led their division for a month, boast a potent attack driven by rising stars in Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, and still have a goalie in Markstrom under contract who should be a Vezina Trophy candidate this season.

They’ve also beaten nearly every top team in a Western Conference that is without a formidable giant. No team is fearful of what they’ll find should they make the playoffs. They just need to get there. The Canucks believe they have as a good a chance as anyone. And on Tuesday they got a little bit better.

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Astros’ Francis Martes suspended for 2020 season following drug test – Sportsnet.ca



NEW YORK — Houston Astros pitcher Francis Martes was suspended for the 2020 season following his second positive test for a performance-enhancing substance under baseball’s major league drug program.

Martes tested positive for Boldenone, the commissioner’s office said Monday. Boldenone is sold under the brand name Equipose and is used commonly on horses.

A 24-year-old right-hander, Martes is on the Astros’ 40-man major league roster but hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2017.

He was suspended last March 12 for 80 games following a positive test for Clomiphene, a women’s fertility drug that has been used by some athletes to counter side effects of steroids use. Martes returned Aug. 21 and made two starts for the rookie level Gulf Coast Astros and one for Quad Cities of the Class A Midwest League. He was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in 5 1/3 innings.

Martes’ ban isn’t quite the Houston-related cheating punishment fans and players have clamoured for around baseball. The Astros have been pummeled via the press by opposing teams since opening spring training, with many expressing disappointment that no players were suspended for their sign-stealing scam.

Martes did not have a statement, the players’ association said.

“Throughout our system, players are educated through MLB’s drug prevention and treatment programs,” the Astros said in a statement. “We hope that Francis will learn from this experience moving forward.”

He is the second player suspended this year under the big league program. Colorado pitcher Justin Lawrence was suspended for 80 games following a positive test for the performance-enhancing substance Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT). Lawrence also has yet to make his big league debut.

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Ryan Newman hospitalized after fiery crash at Daytona 500 – CBC.ca



Ryan Newman flipped across the finish line, his Ford planted upside down and engulfed in flames, a grim reminder of a sport steeped in danger that has stretched nearly two decades without a fatality.

At the finish line, Denny Hamlin made history with a second straight Daytona 500 victory in an an overtime photo-finish over Ryan Blaney, a celebration that quickly became muted as word of Newman’s wreck spread.

“I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are,” Hamlin said. “But number one, we are praying for Ryan.”

Roughly two hours after the crash, NASCAR read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing that said Newman is in “serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life threatening.”

WATCH | Ryan Newman involved in terrifying crash at Daytona 500:

Ryan Newman was leading the race when he was involved in a crash that sent his car spinning before it caught on fire. 2:08

NASCAR scrapped the traditional victory lane party for Hamlin’s third Daytona 500 victory, rocked by Newman’s accident 19 years after Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt was the last driver killed in a NASCAR Cup Series race.

Newman had surged into the lead on the final lap when Blaney’s bumper caught the back of his Ford and sent Newman hard right into the wall. His car flipped, rolled, was hit on the driver’s side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line in flames.

It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken directly to a hospital, and the damage to his Mustang was extensive. It appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved.

Drivers were stricken with concern, including a rattled Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman’s car as it was flipping.

“Dang, I hope Newman is ok,” he posted on Twitter. “That is [the] worst case scenario and I had nowhere to go but [into the] smoke.”

Hamlin is the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win consecutive Daytona 500s, but his celebration in victory lane was subdued.

Hamlin said he was unaware of Newman’s situation when he initially began his celebration. It wasn’t until Fox Sports told him they would not interview him on the frontstretch after his burnouts that Hamlin learned Newman’s incident was bad.

“It’s a weird balance of excitement and happiness for yourself, but someone’s health and their family is bigger than any win in any sport,” he said. “We are just hoping for the best.”

Team owner Joe Gibbs apologized after the race for the winning team celebration.

“We didn’t know until victory lane,” Gibbs said. “I know that for a lot of us, participating in sports and being in things where there are some risks, in a way, that’s what they get excited about. Racing, we know what can happen, we just dream it doesn’t happen. We are all just praying now for the outcome on this.”

Runner-up Blaney said the way the final lap shook out, with Newman surging ahead of Hamlin, that Blaney got a push from Hamlin that locked him in behind Newman in a move of brand alliance for Ford.

“We pushed Newman there to the lead and then we got a push from the 11 … I was committed to just pushing him to the win and having a Ford win it and got the bumpers hooked up wrong,” he said. “It looked bad.”

Track workers attend to Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Koch Industries Ford, following a crash during the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Hamlin had eight Ford drivers lined up behind him as the leader on the second overtime shootout without a single fellow Toyota driver in the vicinity to help him. It allowed Newman to get past him for the lead, but the bumping in the pack led to Newman’s hard turn right into the wall, followed by multiple rolls and a long skid across the finish line.

Hamlin’s win last year was a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing and kicked off a yearlong company celebration in which Gibbs drivers won a record 19 races and the Cup championship. Now his third Daytona 500 win puts him alongside six Hall of Fame drivers as winners of three or more Daytona 500s. He tied Dale Jarrett — who gave JGR its first Daytona 500 win in 1993 — Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trails Cale Yarborough’s four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.

This victory came after just the second rain postponement in 62 years, a visit from President Donald Trump, a pair of red flag stoppages and two overtimes. The 0.014 margin of victory was the second closest in race history, and Hamlin’s win over Martin Truex Jr. in 2016 was the closest finish in race history.

That margin of victory was 0.01 seconds. The win in “The Great American Race” is the third for Toyota, all won by Hamlin. Gibbs has four Daytona 500 victories as an owner.

“I just feel like I’m a student to the game. I never stop learning and trying to figure out where I need to put myself at the right time,” Hamlin said. “It doesn’t always work. We’ve defied odds here in the last eight years or so in the Daytona 500, but just trust my instincts, and so far they’ve been good for me.”

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