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Josh Lewenberg: Toronto Raptors improvise on bench with protocols keeping Nick Nurse and staff out – TSN



TORONTO – When Raptors general manager Bobby Webster learned that his team could be without more than half of its coaching staff for Friday’s game, including head coach Nick Nurse, one of the first calls he made was to the franchise’s longest-tenured player, Kyle Lowry.

In a different world, one in which the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement still permitted the use of player-coaches in the league, that may have been a very different conversation.

Despite his wealth of knowledge and experience, and despite the fact that he already does half of the job as a leader on the floor, anyway, the 34-year-old point guard has always insisted that he’s too impatient to ever be a coach. As fun as it would have been to see him try his hand at it – hitting threes and taking charges on the court, while drawing up plays and making substitutions off of it – unfortunately, it was not to be, at least not officially.

“I don’t know if we have the budget to add that to his resume,” Webster joked, before clarifying that, by rule, the league doesn’t allow teams to pay a player to do anything outside of their contract, including filling in as acting coach.

“I’d be a tough coach and I wouldn’t want to coach somebody like me,” Lowry said afterwards, admitting that he would’ve been somewhat intrigued if it were actually a possibility. “So, I’ll pass on that.”

Even still, with Nurse and five of his assistants unavailable due to the health and safety protocols, they knew they could lean on Lowry to bring some stability amidst a chaotic 24 hours for Toronto.

It was late afternoon on Thursday – a rare day off for the Raptors following back-to-back games – when, according to sources, one of the coaches tested positive for COVID-19. With the NBA overseeing the contact tracing process, all of the team’s front-of-the-bench coaches went into quarantine.

By Friday morning, the decision was made. Nurse and five members of his staff would have to miss that evening’s game against Houston, and while they’d be able to continue contributing remotely, the timeline for their return was uncertain. Pascal Siakam, who returned an inconclusive test on Friday, was also a late scratch.

For years, they’ve been a team that’s embodied a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s generally pertained to the roster – one player, or multiple players, stepping up when somebody else has left the organization or gotten hurt. Recently, though, it’s been more like ‘next coach up’.

When this unusual and unprecedented season began a couple months ago, Nurse had seven assistants and four player development coaches on staff. Earlier this week, he lost one of those assistants – and his long-time friend – Chris Finch, who took the head-coaching gig in Minnesota. They’ve also had to manage without Sergio Scariolo, who was away from the club coaching the Spanish National Team in the FIBA qualifiers. Fortunately, that meant Scariolo wasn’t subject to the Raptors’ recent contact tracing.

Last weekend, Scariolo was in Poland coaching Spain to a couple of wins. He returned to Tampa on Monday and spent most of the week in isolation. After returning negative tests throughout his quarantine, he was cleared on Friday morning – lucky timing, as it allowed him to step in and help the Raptors out of their bind.

“I think this is a subject for a book more than for an answer,” the 59-year-old Italian said of this past week, following a 122-111 win over the Rockets – his first as an NBA head coach.

“Of course it was different, especially because everything happened so fast today. So we had to readjust tasks, timing, schedule. We had to go a little bit on the fly.”

Scariolo was the natural choice – a veteran in coaching with more than three decades of experience leading teams overseas and internationally, winning Olympic medals and World Cup gold with Spain in 2019.

They also didn’t have many options. Scariolo only had three coaches next to him on Friday – assistants Jim Sann and Jamaal Magloire, who moved up a row from their usual seats behind the bench, and assistant video coordinator Mark Tyndale. Had Scariolo not cleared quarantine in time, Sann would have likely gotten the call, or perhaps they would’ve been more inclined to bring Raptors 905 head coach Patrick Mutombo up from the G League bubble in Orlando, even though his team also played on Friday.

For the Raptors, the bench didn’t feel as empty as it appeared, though.

Even from home, Nurse directed most of the game preparation – he, Scariolo and the rest of the staff had multiple Zoom meetings throughout the day. Adrian Griffin was in charge of scouting the Rockets – the assistants rotate these assignments throughout the season – and made sure Scariolo and company were all caught up. Jama Mahlalela and Jon Goodwillie, who both recently moved up to the front row after Finch left and with Scariolo away, each chipped in.

Then there were the two floor generals, Lowry and Fred VanVleet – a nice luxury for any staff to have in its corner, especially one that’s in flux. Even without the mantle of player-coach, the rest of the team looked to them on Friday, as they do on most days.

“We make jokes about it, but [Lowry] does so much out on the court and he takes on a little bit bigger role [with the bench thinned out],” Webster said. “I’ve spoken to him a number of times, spoke to him this morning, put it in his head, he knew this was a possibility. Obviously with Fred, as well. Those guys are in many ways the de facto coaches out there, so just trying to get it in their head as early as possibly so they could think about it.”

It’s hard to imagine Lowry doing more than he did to propel his team to Friday’s win, which evened its record at 17-17 on the season. With 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, he recorded his 16th triple-double as a member of the Raptors and the 18th of his 15-year career. He needed just nine shots to do it, becoming the 11th player in NBA history to post a 20-plus point triple-double on fewer than 10 field goal attempts. Toronto outscored Houston by 22 points in his 33 minutes and was bested by 11 points when he was on the bench.

“I think that for me, and for Freddy and our organization and everybody, we kind of just we understood the situation,” Lowry said. “We didn’t want to make it over-complicated with everyone wanting to coach and everybody talking and this and that. They kept a semblance of what we usually do, and myself and Freddy you know we’re always coaching the floor anyway.”

“It was about being a professional. We understand what we have to do. We understand the game plan. It’s about doing it right. You learn in this league that you have to be a professional a lot more than anything else. You go in there and you got to prepare yourself. This is our job and this is our lifestyle. This is why we get paid and how we provide for our families, so you have to go out there and be a professional… Wall knew that we had to step up a little bit more and just make sure that we all stay composed and understand what the situation was going to be.”

The Raptors are one of only four teams that still haven’t had a game postponed, but that doesn’t mean their season hasn’t been impacted by the protocols. They’re playing their home games in a different country because of health and safety, after all. They had three members of the organization test positive for the virus in training camp, Norman Powell was questionable for the opener after somebody in his inner circle returned an inconclusive test, and there was that bizarre scene in Brooklyn, when Kevin Durant was out, then in, then ruled out again as a result of contact tracing.

But just when you think you’ve seen it all around the association – the league has already postponed 30 games this season – another curveball is thrown your way. The Raptors are the first team to have their coaching staff decimated by the protocols, and with three games left to play before next weekend’s all-star break, it’s unclear when they’ll get everybody back.

What is clear, though – in Lowry, they have somebody that can help steer them through it.

“This is the situation that we’re in,” said the veteran point guard. “I’m going to be honest with you, I have no stress at all. I don’t stress. There’s no stress. Why would I be stressed for? Things are going to happen, some things you can control, so you control what you can control.”​

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Doping raises its head as BMX marred by crashes



American swimmer Ryan Murphy stoked controversy at the Tokyo Games on Friday when he raised the spectre of doping after losing his second Olympic title to Russian rival Evgeny Rylov.

Murphy, who won three gold medals at the 2016 Rio Games, said his 200 metre backstroke final was “probably not clean” after he lost to Rylov, competing as part of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).

The comments threw an unwelcome spotlight on doping for Tokyo 2020 organisers as the blue riband athletics competition got under way, on a day further marred by accidents on the BMX track, including a horrendous spill that saw 28-year-old American favourite Connor Fields rushed to hospital.

Held in Tokyo without spectators and after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been characterised by tumult and scandals from the get-go.

With China and Japan jostling for top spot in the medal tally ahead of the United States, it hasn’t been a ratings boon for global broadcasters either.

Data from the opening ceremony and the first few nights show the Tokyo Games are so far the least watched Olympics in recent history across Europe and in the United States.

TV viewership is up in Australia and Japan, however.

COVID-19 infections have also risen, totalling 3,300 in Tokyo on Friday, after hitting a record 3,865 a day earlier, adding to the strain on the medical system.

The government broadened a state of emergency to four more prefectures and extended Tokyo’s until the end of August from Aug. 22.


Murphy, who won gold in the 100 metre and 200 metre Rio finals, surrendered both titles to Rylov in Tokyo.

“I’ve got 15 thoughts, 13 of them would get me into a lot of trouble,” he said when asked by a reporter if he had any doping concerns about his races, subsequently suggesting the 200m had been tainted.

Later, said he had no intention of making an allegation against his opponent. Rylov said Murphy was entitled to his thoughts given that there had been scandals.

The World Anti-Doping Agency handed Russia a four-year ban from top sporting events in 2019. Those sanctions were then lessened by a sports arbitration court.

More than 300 Russian athletes are competing at the Tokyo Games as part of the ROC. While they are not allowed to compete under their own flag, they can wear their tri-colour uniforms.

In other swimming events, the medals were again spread between countries other than traditional powerhouses.

South African Tatjana Schoenmaker won the women’s 200 metre breaststroke in a world record time, while China won their first men’s swimming gold in Tokyo with Wang Shun’s victory in the 200 metre medley.

Emma McKeon won the 100 freestyle for Australia’s sixth gold in the pool, holding off Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey down the final straight to win by 0.31 seconds.


In gymnastics, Zhu Xueying led China to the top two podium positions in the women’s trampoline as Canada‘s Rosie MacLennan was denied a golden hat-trick.

That sport has also been overshadowed by drama around U.S. star Simone Biles. On Friday, she spelled out her struggles to perform, days after pulling of competitions, but shed no clear light on whether she would take part in further events.

In fencing, the top four teams in the men’s team epee crashed out in the quarter-finals. One of the day’s biggest surprises, Japan, ranked eighth, defeated top-ranked France, who will miss out on a medal for the first time since 1992.

In badminton, world number three Nozomi Okuhara was beaten by number nine China’s He Bing Jiao. Another surprise was the entry of world number 59, Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon, into the men’s quarter-finals.

The final day of Olympic rowing also delivered thrills when Greece’s Stefanos Ntouskos upset the favourites in the men’s single sculls and Canada ended U.S. dominance of the women’s eights. Four-time Olympian Emma Twigg, of New Zealand, ensured her country kept a grip on the sport with another gold in the women’s single sculls.

Athletics exploded into life with the women’s 100 metres round-one heats. Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou roared across the finish line with a blistering 10.78 seconds at a hot and spectator-less Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Defending Olympic champion Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah ran a scorching 10.82 seconds to advance, while compatriot Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce posted 10.84 seconds.


Reigning BMX champion Fields, who crashed heavily in the third run of his semi-final, was “awake” in hospital awaiting further checks to determine the extent of his injuries, an American team spokesperson said.

He was close to the front heading into the first steeply-banked corner at the Ariake Urban Sports Park and appeared to tangle with another rider, crashing heavily.

The semi-finals were marred by other crashes after a 45-minute rain delay, although the course was dry and did not appear to be a factor.

“I don’t think that the track or the weather had anything to do with the crashes,” Dutch rider Merel Smulders, who took bronze in the women’s race after her sister Laura also crashed in the semi-finals, told Reuters.

“I feel like there were a lot more crashes in Rio. But there were some bad crashes today and no one wants to see that.”

(Reporting by David Dolan and Mari Saito; Writing by Leela de Kretser and David Dolan; Editing by Stephen Coates and John Stonestreet)

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Pistons select Cade Cunningham with No. 1 overall pick in 2021 NBA Draft –



The Detroit Pistons selected Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.

Cunningham had been widely expected to be the first name called in New York, though Pistons general manager Troy Weaver wouldn’t reveal plans earlier this week and said the team would look at every scenario, including trades.

In the end, Detroit stuck with the 19-year-old mentioned as a potential top pick before ever stepping foot on the Oklahoma State campus.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound point guard from Arlington, Texas, lived up to expectations with his size and fluid game to become a first-team Associated Press All-American. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists with a game that allowed him to hit from 3-point range, score off the dribble or find teammates out of traps.

Cunningham — the first player in Oklahoma State history to be picked No. 1 overall — joins a Pistons franchise that has won 20 games for two straight seasons and hasn’t finished better than .500 for five straight years.

Cunningham was the headliner of a class that included scorers, playmakers and potentially elite defenders at the top. That group included Southern California freshman big man Evan Mobley, Gonzaga freshman point guard Jalen Suggs and Florida State freshman forward Scottie Barnes.

There are also a pair of preps-to-pros prospects in guard Jalen Green and forward Jonathan Kuminga, both of whom bypassed college basketball to play in the G League.

The draft is later than its traditional late-June slot for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted the 2019-20 season. The 2021-22 season is scheduled to return to its normal schedule, with next year’s draft set for June again.

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NBA Draft 2021: Toronto Raptors select Scottie Barnes with the 4th overall pick – RaptorsHQ



The Raptors have upended consensus in the 2021 NBA Draft, opting to select Florida State forward Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick. To say this was a complete shock is not entirely true — there was buzz the Raptors were at least somewhat intrigued by Barnes’ potential — but it also felt like Toronto would not take the gamble (e.g. it felt like Jalen Suggs at no. 4 was a lock).

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Barnes joins the Raptors just before his 20th birthday. He’s listed at 6’9” and 227 pounds, which puts him in the small forward category, by my math. Barnes spent one season at Florida State during which he averaged 10.3 points, 4.1 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game across 24 contests. Admittedly, the numbers don’t exactly pop — Barnes only started seven games — but Toronto must love his potential.

Said potential is what our guy JD got at in his column here. Barnes has serious defensive skills, a player who can already guard almost every position via his strength, speed and know-how. The broadcast compared him to Draymond Green, which is not a bad place to be — particularly for a Raptors team that obviously values defensive ability and versatility. Like Green, Barnes has flashed an advanced play-making game for a forward, and he also has a limited offensive arsenal. Few are looking at Barnes, who shot 28 percent from three and 62 percent from the free-throw line, to be a lights-out gunner. Maybe he gets there in time, or maybe his skill-set is less dependent on his shot.

So then the risk: did the Raptors just get a player who can’t start for the current squad with OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam locked in at the small and power forward position? Could it be that Barnes only tracks as another second or third-ranked player on a championship calibre team? (If that; some are worried he’s the next Stanley Johnson.) In all, the question remains: will Toronto regret missing on Suggs?

Or do the Raptors have something else planned with regards to their roster construction? Right now it’s unclear, but we do know one thing for now: Toronto has selected Scottie Barnes in the 2021 NBA Draft.

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