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Masai Ujiri talks Raptors’ Toronto return, Siakam rumours, roster confidence – Sportsnet.ca

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Masai Ujiri, the newly appointed vice-chairman and president of the Toronto Raptors, made his first public comments Wednesday since it was announced that he was returning to the club that he’s helped define on a new contract – and that new shiny title – back near the beginning of August.

For about 45 minutes, Ujiri held court with an assembled group of media at Hotel X by the exhibition grounds in downtown Toronto.

Over the course of that time, Ujiri touched on a number of topics including what his new title means, exactly, the outgoing Kyle Lowry, the competitive future of the club and the question of if the Raptors will be able to play games in Toronto this coming season.

Here are a few highlights from Ujiri’s media availability on Wednesday.

Raptors want to play in Toronto and don’t have plans for any alternative

Front of mind heading into the rapidly-coming 2021-22 season is whether or not they’ll be allowed to play their home games in Toronto again next season.

Seeing other Toronto pro sports teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto FC hosting games from the friendly confines of Rogers Centre and BMO Field, respectively, is an encouraging sign that Scotiabank Arena will be hosting Raptors basketball games next season, but that’s still to be determined.

Though nothing is settled on that front yet, Ujiri was emphatic Wednesday in his desire to play back home in Toronto.

“We continue to have lot of discussions about this and our hope is that we’re playing at home,” Ujiri said. “We have no interest, we have not looked elsewhere, we are not going to look elsewhere, we’re playing at home; we’re trying to play at home. That’s the goal for us.

“I told Larry [Tanenbaum] and Adam [Silver] and even Prime Minister Trudeau that playing away set us back a couple of years and we know that, we are ready for that challenge. Playing another year somewhere else will set us back five years. We are not trying to do that.

“We understand all the public health concerns, issues, we’re taking measures. As you saw, we came up with our policy with MLSE on how we intend to even fill out our arenas as we go forward here, as we try to play at home.

“To your question, we’ve talked to the league, we’ve talked to public health officials, we’ve talked obviously with ownership, we’re all together on how we want to get back to at least being safe and trying to get back to a little bit of normal.”

On Tuesday, MLSE, the ownership group of the Raptors, issued a statement (LINK: https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/mlse-introduce-updated-covid-19-protocols-buildings-september/) saying that they’ll require any employees, event staff or guests entering a venue owned by the organization to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or that they had tested negative for the disease come mid September.

This appears to be an indication from MLSE that they’re preparing to host guests at Scotiabank Arena for Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors games and given how adamant Ujiri was about the matter, surely this means we’ll have live NBA hoops in Toronto again doesn’t it?

“Kyle is the best Raptor”

The Raptors’ off-season has been headline by two gigantic moves for the franchise. Ujiri staying on long-term with the club was, of course, one, and the other was the departure of iconic Raptors point guard Lowry after nine seasons in Toronto where he built up what’s likely a Hall-of-Fame résumé and became known as the best player to ever play for the franchise in many an observer’s eyes, including his now-former boss’s.

“I want to talk about Kyle and it’s been really tough for us to see an incredible player like that go,” Ujiri said. “I had really extensive conversations with Kyle and it was great to spend a lot of time with him in last year in Tampa. And we knew this was coming. The direction of our team was kind of going younger and Kyle still has his incredible goals. Kyle wanted to be here, too, if that was what we were trying to do. We saw our team as kind of being in the middle ground a little bit and wanted to go a little younger so we can start to grow, almost like when Kyle was here in the beginning.

“What that guy has done for this organization, what he has done for this community, his participation in everything that we can ask for. I mean, Kyle had, we had ups and downs here, but I’m telling but even the measure of it when you look at it, the downs were this much. It was great to grow with him here.

“We wish him all the best where he is. He’s in great hands in Miami and that organization. We know their standards and what they want to do. We just hope we beat them four times a year and we’ll be good that way.

“We can’t wait to have him back when we play them here. Yes, we compete in this business and Kyle is part of this family and he’ll be part of this family forever. And I know people ask, I know Larry has already mentioned his jersey, he’s going to get all of everything and some. Is Kyle the greatest Raptor that ever played the game here? Yes, he is. I’m saying it here. Kyle is the best Raptor to play the game over the course of his time.

“It’s incredible what he achieved here, what he took on, growing as a man, his family, Ayahna, the kids, we love them, they are part of us, and they’ll be part of us for a long time. So I know we’ll talk about this for a long time, we’ll talk about this during the year, but I wanted to pay particular attention to what Kyle Lowry has done for us. We owe it to him. He takes so much pride. I know the pride that he took in this organization, this city, and the people of Toronto and Canada as a whole.”

That’s about as effusive praise as you’ll likely ever hear from an executive talking about a player who left the organization, and, as Ujiri said, is well earned given all that Lowry did for the Raptors as an organization.

Ujiri is confident in the roster he’s building

So, as you may have noticed, the Raptors have apparently narrowed in on a specific type of player they like this off-season and have added a bunch of them.

This type being a player who’s about six-foot-eight or six-foot-nine with a seven-foot-plus wingspan, blessed with tremendous athleticism and capable of defending multiple positions.

On paper it doesn’t seem all that bad, but it has been met with some skepticism whether or not this stratagem will work – including from this very author.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of what the roster might look like as long as the boss is happy with it and Ujiri seemed quite confident that the team he, Bobby Webster and their staff is building will be championship quality at some point in the future.

“First of all, we are going to create our own direction,” said Ujiri. “We don’t have to go with the wave of what the NBA is doing, we are such a copycat league … and we have to, I think, right now, ride opportunities and for now our opportunities are I think building around the young players that we have.

“We have very young veterans, they are almost at the same age when we had Kyle and DeMar [DeRozan], there’s Fred [VanVleet], there’s OG [Anunoby], there’s Pascal [Siakam]. We want to build around these guys, and the [Chris] Bouchers, the Khem Birches.

“All these players, they have a level that they need to get to and then there’s the young crop. You guys saw coming up, we just drafted Scottie Barnes and Dalano [Banton], we just got Precious [Achiuwa] in a trade, Malachi [Flynn]. All these guys we want to really develop in some kind of way and I think we have some kind of good history from doing that.

“Our three main players come from our development program, I said it here when I sat here eight years ago, ‘We are going to develop players and we are going to build on that.’ [Now] I’m saying it again: We are going to continue to develop these players and we’re going to find a way to win a championship here based on our development of our players.

“And whatever comes from that, sometimes trades, sometimes you acquire through free agency, we just are not going to sit here and cry that players are not coming here. That’s not what we’re about. I think we’ve gone past that.”

And to that point about development, Ujiri appeared about the potential that No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes presents for this Raptors team.

“He was just a player that excited all of us. Knock on wood he has an incredible career ahead of him, But the passion for the game, the levels he’s played at on USA Basketball, U-16, U-18, he’s won at every level,” Ujiri said of Barnes. “It’s crazy when you interview a guy like that and he mentions winning or win 34 times in one interview. All he talks about is winning. This is what we wanted to bring.

“And also, one day we want to play big and long. You look at him, you look at Pascal, you look at OG you look at Boucher, you look at all these players and you look at the feistiness of Fred, of all of them, there is something exciting about these kind of players.”

Certainly doesn’t sound like Siakam is being shopped any time soon

And while on the topic of the roster as constructed now, despite noise during the off-season that Siakam might be on the trading block, to hear it from Ujiri it seems that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“I know the fanbase, I know people are being hard on him, but trust me, Pascal is a prideful man,” Ujiri said. “Pascal is an unbelievable basketball player. Maybe because he wasn’t playing well, people come up with all this stuff. Pascal is here. Pascal is a Raptor and he’s gonna play with us.”

To add to this, Ujiri also said that he knows that “him and Nick [Nurse] have got to a much, much better place,” referencing the apparent tiff between the Raptors coach and their star forward last season when Siakam reportedly got in a verbal altercation with Nurse after a March game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So while it may have seemed logical that the Raptors might consider moving Siakam, especially after they drafted Barnes, Ujiri has indicated otherwise and we should now probably expect to see how a Raptors team led by both Siakam and Barnes might look.

A tampering investigation update

A couple days after the Raptors’ sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat that sent Lowry to South Beach and Achiuwa and Goran Dragic to Toronto was made official, the NBA launched an investigation for tampering violations in the transaction.

So far there hasn’t been much that the Raptors have been able to say about the ongoing investigation except that they’re cooperating with it, but on Wednesday Ujiri provided a small update on how things are proceeding.

“It’s incredible how every NBA team had a deal done by 6:02, no? I don’t know how it happened but all I know is I gave my phone for the investigation. Yeah, I have no comment.”

An update, no matter how minuscule, is still an update.

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Ticats list Watford as starting QB vs. Stampeders – TSN

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David Watford has been listed as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats starting quarterback for Friday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders.

The move comes after Watford took the majority of snaps in practice this week with Jeremiah Masoli limited due to a rib injury. Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer told said Thursday the decision would be based on how Masoli was feeling.

Watford has completed six passes this season for 78 yards.

Masoli opened the season as the team’s starting quarterback, but was replaced by Dane Evans. Evans was ruled out for four-to-six weeks with an Oblique injury on Monday.

Masoli, 33, has completed 41 of 66 passes this season for 371 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

The Tiger-Cats will be looking to get back to .500 with a win Friday against the Stampeders (2-4).

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AC Leonard receives an additional one-game suspension; six players fined – CFL.ca

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TORONTO — The Canadian Football League announced the following on Thursday:

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman A.C. Leonard has been suspended for one additional game due to a verbal abuse and unacceptable behaviour towards the doping control officers. Leonard was previously suspended for two games for failing to provide a sample for drug testing.

Fines from Week 6:

  • Saskatchewan Roughriders safety Mike Edem was fined for a tourist hit on Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Nic Demski.
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris was fined for grabbing Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Christian Campbell’s facemask in a reckless and unsafe manner.
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais was fined for his involvement in instigating the altercation between the two teams.
  • Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Justin Lawrence was fined for a chop-block on Edmonton Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna.
  • Edmonton Elks linebacker Nyles Morgan was fined for kicking Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Bryce Bell.

An additional fine from Week 5:

  • Toronto Argonauts defensive back Shaquille Richardson was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct in the Labour Day Classic against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

As per league policy, the amounts of the player fines were not disclosed.

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Hopkins converts second chance to give Washington wild win over Giants – Sportsnet.ca

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LANDOVER, Md. — Taylor Heinicke and Dustin Hopkins made the most of their second chances.

Washington needed every last second — and then some — to earn a long-awaited win over the New York Giants.

Hopkins made a 43-yard field goal on an untimed down — after a penalty negated his miss seconds earlier — and Washington beat New York 30-29 on Thursday night, snapping a five-game win streak for the Giants in the series.

It also gave Heinicke another moment in the sun after he cost Washington dearly with a late interception. The 28-year-old quarterback was making his second career start in the regular season and first since 2018 with Carolina. He became a bit of a sensation when Washington had to use him in last season’s playoffs against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay, but his team lost that game.

“It’s amazing,” Heinicke said. “The first start was what, two or three years ago in Carolina? Threw three picks, tore my tricep, it was just a brutal thing — and that was my last start until last year (against) Tampa. Come in to Tampa last year, had a good game, but ultimately fell up short. And finally get that first win.”

Heinicke, playing because of an injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick, threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns.

His interception set up Graham Gano’s fifth field goal of the game, which gave the Giants a 29-27 lead with 2:00 remaining. Heinicke then guided Washington back into field goal range.

“He does have the ability to throw the ball and make all the throws. We’ve seen that,” coach Ron Rivera said. “And he’s got a lot of confidence.”

Hopkins missed his first attempt to win the game, but he was given a reprieve when Dexter Lawrence was flagged for being offside. His next attempt was good, giving Washington (1-1) a wild victory.

“Somebody out there check on my mother,” Hopkins said. “She’s probably had a heart attack.”

Daniel Jones threw for 249 yards and a touchdown for the Giants (0-2). He also ran for 95 yards and a TD.

For most of the night, it was Washington’s highly touted defense that wasn’t pulling its weight. New York scored on its first four possessions of the second half, but after the Giants went up 26-20, Heinicke needed just 17 seconds to put Washington ahead.

J.D. McKissic slipped downfield for a 56-yard reception, and then Ricky Seals-Jones outjumped Adoree’ Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard TD that put Washington up 27-26.

The Giants had to punt after that, but as Washington was trying to run out the clock, James Bradberry picked off a pass by Heinicke, giving the Giants the ball at the Washington 20.

Washington’s defense forced a field goal, giving Heinicke another chance. Then the penalty on Lawrence gave Hopkins his extra opportunity.

“It’s going to be a tough lesson,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “I’m not going to put this on Dexter.”

After struggling to stop Justin Herbert and the Chargers last weekend, Washington’s defense had its problems again at the start of this game. New York went 79 yards in 11 plays the first time it had the ball, taking a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard run by Jones.

After Washington tied it on Heinicke’s 11-yard scoring pass to Terry McLaurin, Jones broke free for what initially looked like a 58-yard touchdown run. That play was shortened by a holding penalty, however, and the Giants settled for a field goal.

Washington took a 14-10 lead on a 2-yard TD run by McKissic in the final minute of the half.

Jones found Darius Slayton for a 33-yard TD in the third quarter that put New York ahead 20-14.

MISSED CHANCES

Washington’s biggest defensive breakdown wasn’t punished. With the Giants up 23-20 in the fourth quarter, Slayton was all alone behind the defense, but the pass bounced off his outstretched hands.

That play — and the penalties on the final field goal and the long run by Jones — will likely haunt the Giants during their long break before the next game.

“It’s a pretty tough one. You give it your all and fight and it comes down the tail end,” Giants receiver Sterling Shepard said. “See that first one miss and you see those flags it’s not a fun feeling at all.”

The Giants had 11 penalties for 81 yards. Washington had nine for 80 — and some of those were costly, too.

PERFECT AGAIN

Gano has now made 35 consecutive field goals, the longest active streak in the NFL. His five field goals Thursday included kicks from 47, 52 and 55 yards.

INJURIES

Giants: OL Nick Gates was carted off with a broken leg in the first quarter. Gates, normally a center, played guard Thursday after New York put Shane Lemieux on injured reserve.

Daniel Jones threw for 249 yards and a touchdown for the Giants (0-2). He also ran for 95 yards and a TD.

For most of the night, it was Washington’s highly touted defense that wasn’t pulling its weight. New York scored on its first four possessions of the second half, but after the Giants went up 26-20, Heinicke needed just 17 seconds to put Washington ahead.

J.D. McKissic slipped downfield for a 56-yard reception, and then Ricky Seals-Jones outjumped Adoree’ Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard TD that put Washington up 27-26.

The Giants had to punt after that, but as Washington was trying to run out the clock, James Bradberry picked off a pass by Heinicke, giving the Giants the ball at the Washington 20.

Washington’s defense forced a field goal, giving Heinicke another chance. Then the penalty on Lawrence gave Hopkins his second chance.

Washington: DT Matt Ioannidis left in the first half with a knee injury but returned to the game.

UP NEXT

Giants: New York returns home to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 26.

Washington: Two straight road games await Washington, with the first coming Sept. 26 against the Buffalo Bills.

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