TORONTO – Kyle Lowry’s nine-year relationship with the Toronto Raptors is fascinating for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is the sheer number of times it has almost come to an end.
He’s nearly been traded on multiple occasions since his tenure began just short of a decade ago. He’s nearly left in free agency on multiple occasions, too. They’ve squabbled, damn near broken up more times than either side can count, but somehow, someway, something always seems to keep them together, and it’s worked out pretty well for both parties.
But with Thursday’s NBA trade deadline approaching and Lowry rumoured to be on the block, the time to go their separate ways had finally arrived, or so many thought.
Don’t write Lowry’s Raptors eulogy just yet, though. The most important player in franchise history isn’t done adding to his legacy.
Toronto took it down to the wire, reviewing offers from three interested teams – Miami, Philadelphia and the Lakers – right until the buzzer, but in the end nothing materialized, and none of the parties involved were unhappy about that.
Up until recently, the Raptors had not seriously considered moving the veteran point guard. Even in recent days, as they started listening to offers, they were never aggressive in soliciting them.
Lowry and his representatives, who were consulted throughout the process, made it clear that they would be content with playing out the rest of the season before hitting free agency in the summer. As such, the Raptors felt no pressure to send him elsewhere. They always insisted that they would be more than comfortable hanging onto him past the deadline unless somebody met their lofty asking price. They weren’t bluffing, as teams would ultimately find out.
The offers on the table for Lowry were underwhelming, according to multiple sources. There was a lot of posturing from some savvy front offices, but even in those final moments before the clock struck 3 p.m. ET nobody blinked, and neither did Raptors president Masai Ujiri or general manager Bobby Webster.
“There are one million things we talk about and you do one, and sometimes you do none,” Ujiri said on Thursday evening. “Did we come close to doing something? Maybe in my mind I might say yes, but maybe on the other team it wasn’t so close, so you don’t even know… There are a couple things that seemed like [they] could get done, but we’ve learned that a lot of times these things, a lot of them don’t happen, too.”
The Raptors held strong and opted not to give a franchise icon away for pennies on the dollar, which should be applauded, but it also made for an unusual deadline day.
In many ways Wednesday’s dominant win over the Denver Nuggets, which snapped a nine-game losing skid, felt like an appropriate send off for Lowry. Even he wondered if it might have been his final game in a Raptors uniform – although that thought had crossed his mind before.
What many anticipated to be a transformative deadline day for the organization turned out to be relatively quiet, all things considered. The Raptors did make three moves; sending their second-longest tenured player, Norman Powell, to Portland for third-year wing Gary Trent Jr. and veteran journeyman Rodney Hood, and swapping a couple depth pieces – guards Matt Thomas and Terence Davis – for second-round picks. Good business, but somewhat uninspiring relative to expectations.
The sense was that this would be a crossroads for the team – a chance to choose and commit to one path or the other. Either they’d declare themselves sellers, turning the page and ostensibly bringing an end to the golden era of Raptors basketball, or they’d look to buy and improve their chances of making a run this season. They didn’t really do either, but that’s a reflection of the market as much as it’s an indictment of them.
What’s important to remember is that you can’t wish an offer or a trade into existence. The Raptors were willing to move Lowry, as difficult as that decision would have been, if they could replenish their developmental pipeline with the assets – picks and prospects – they believed he was worth. That opportunity never presented itself, though.
The two concerns that kept coming up in talks with other teams, according to sources, were Lowry’s age – he turned 35 on deadline day – and his contractual situation. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, he’s not eligible for an extension during the campaign, and any attempt to discuss his next deal prior to the off-season would be deemed tampering, so teams were flying blind on his plans for the future.
The Sixers and Lakers feared the possibility of giving up key assets for a rental. Feeling like they’ll have a good shot at signing him outright in free agency this summer, the Heat were reluctant to increase their offer and include sophomore guard Tyler Herro.
It seems like a miscalculation, particularly on the part of the Sixers and Heat, who intend on chasing a championship but are a piece away from separating themselves in a tight Eastern Conference race. It might be a case of overvaluing their own assets, or undervaluing Lowry, or some combination of the two. Regardless of age or contract, Lowry is the type of player that’s valuable enough to shift the balance of power in the NBA, and clearly the Raptors were surprised that nobody was willing to pay up for him.
“We’re going to be biased in some kind of way, you always are with your players but for Kyle we’re extremely, extremely biased because of what he does and what he stands for,” said Ujiri. “When you look at what’s out there, it’s difficult sometimes, even for those teams, to see his value.”
“If we were going to do something we were honestly going to do [it] right by Kyle, so you are limited in what you can do that way with the teams that you can do something with. That’s the respect we have for him, and we’ve come a long way and I think we owe him that respect as a player, as a person.”
Moving Powell was not unexpected and always seemed more likely than finding a deal for Lowry, if for no other reason than the market was bigger.
Powell essentially priced himself out of the Raptors’ long-term plans with his excellent season. He’s going to decline the player option on the final year of his deal and become a free agent in the summer, at which point he’ll command an annual salary upwards of $20 million. Somebody will pay it but it wasn’t going to be the Raptors.
It would have been hard to justify spending that kind of money, especially with what they already have invested in their core of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, and the need for flexibility to build around them. For all of Powell’s offensive gifts – he’s turned himself into one of the league’s best and most efficient scorers at his position – he’s not a two-way player like those other three. The Raptors were determined to turn him into an asset instead of losing him for nothing.
Trent is somebody that they like and see fitting better on their timeline and alongside their core. He’s 22, five years younger than Powell, and while he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, the cost to re-sign him should be lower. Trent emerged for the Blazers in the bubble last season and he’s carried it over into his third campaign, averaging 15.0 points in 41 games.
He can shoot the three (40 per cent this season) and score in transition. Offensively, he’s nowhere close to Powell’s level, not at this stage of his career anyway, but he projects to be an above average defender.
It’s a smart move – trading a player just as he’s about to become expensive for a younger and cheaper player that fits into the system – but it’s not one that’s going to make them better in the short term. They also didn’t address their glaring hole at the centre position or add to their depth.
This team wanted a chance to prove that they could salvage the campaign, and given everything they’ve faced – namely the relocation to Tampa and a COVID-19 outbreak that derailed their mid-season progress – Ujiri felt he owed it to them.
“They fight together, you see they like to play together and, yeah, there’s been ups and downs, you guys have seen it, there’s been challenges, but at the end of the day, when you come into our locker room with these guys… all of them really come together,” Ujiri said. “We’re lucky, we’re blessed that we’ve been a winning organization and hopefully we can continue that in some way or another. There may be stops along the way and adversity along the way but I think the overall culture we need to keep going and these players are a huge part of it.”
Despite their 18-26 record, good for 11th place in the East, they’re still in the race. They’re 1.5 games out of 10th, which is where they’d need to finish to guarantee a spot in the play-in tournament, and a tough but manageable four games out of sixth. They showed what they’re capable of in the win over Denver, but the same issues that have plagued them all year remain – the centre position, the lack of depth, inconsistency on defence, among others – and now they’re going to have to do it without Powell, their third-leading scorer.
It’s hard to feel any better about the present or any differently about the future. However, if you’re looking for a silver lining to an otherwise underwhelming day, it means the Lowry era continues for at least another few months.
Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now
The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.
The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 12, 2021
The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.
After acquiring Hall @ 50% & Lazar for Bjork, the #NHLBruins added $772K Cap Hit for remainder of year.
They have $24K of Projected Cap Space; $100K Annual Cap Hit that can be added, w/ 24 Active on Roster. Sending players to taxi would create more room.https://t.co/2o0hsHzUIy https://t.co/rXiRKKk3lt pic.twitter.com/I7ZRUSmSQp
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 12, 2021
The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.
The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.
Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.
The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.
Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.
Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca
It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.
“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.
It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.
But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.
It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.
“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”
Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.
Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.
“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”
But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.
When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.
Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.
“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.
Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?
It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.
“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.
“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”
It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.
But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.
You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.
What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.
“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?
“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”
Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.
Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics
(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.
For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.
The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.
Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.
“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”
The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.
Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)