TORONTO – Fresh off an impressive season that came to a disappointing end last week, the Toronto Raptors can officially shift their focus to an important off-season that will set them up for whatever comes next.
The first step was an obvious one, and perhaps the easiest decision they’ll have to make over the coming months.
Just days after being eliminated from the playoff, the Raptors signed head coach Nick Nurse – the NBA’s Coach of the Year – to a multi-year contract extension Tuesday morning. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“My family and I will always be appreciative of Larry Tanenbaum and MLSE ownership for this opportunity,” Nurse said in the team’s press release. “I’m grateful to [team president] Masai [Ujiri], [general manager] Bobby [Webster], and the players for their trust and their hard work. Toronto has been my home for the past seven years, and I look forward to it being home for many more. I’ve watched this franchise grow and reach the pinnacle, and I look forward to the challenge of helping us win another championship.”
Nurse had one year left on his previous deal. Given the success he’s enjoyed in his first two seasons at the helm, there’s no way Toronto was going to let him go into the 2020-21 campaign as a lame-duck coach. This was a no-brainer for the organization and well-deserved recognition for the 53-year-old, who has a career record of 111-43 – good for the highest winning percentage in NBA history (.721).
After more than two decades of coaching around the world and in the G League, formally the D-League, and five years of serving as an assistant on Dwane Casey’s Raptors staff, Nurse finally got his first opportunity to lead an NBA team ahead of the 2018-19 season.
In his debut campaign, he became the ninth rookie head coach to guide his team to an NBA title. That’s a tough act to follow, but the sequel was arguably more impressive.
Despite losing the player most responsible for delivering Toronto its first championship – finals MVP Kawhi Leonard – and dealing with a seemingly endless string of injuries, Nurse led the Raptors to an improbable 53-19 record this past season. It was the second-best mark in the NBA and the highest winning percentage (.736) in franchise history, earning him Coach of the Year honours.
One of Nurse’s great qualities, on and off the court, is his adaptability. He’s proven that he can win with different types of teams. Given the unusual circumstances of the recent season, he’s also shown that he can lead through adversity. Regardless of what the future holds for the roster, the Raptors believe Nurse is somebody that can get the most out of it.
“Our confidence in Nick just continues to grow, and part of that comes from what we’ve experienced together,” said Ujiri. “The past two seasons have been unlike any other in our team’s history – first, winning our championship, and then navigating a global pandemic and committing long-term to the fight against racism and for social justice. Nick has proved that he can coach on the court and lead in life, and we’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the future.”
For the Raptors, much of this off-season will be about setting themselves up for the summer of 2021, when they could have the cap space to chase a big-name free agent in a loaded marketplace that might include reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. It will influence every move they make over the coming months, at least to some degree.
But before the can make important personnel decisions this fall, and certainly before they can pitch Antetokounmpo or another star in less than a year from now, they need to solidify their foundation. Extending Nurse – who is already one of the most well-regarded coaches in the league – was the logical first step.
Now, the attention shifts to the front office, where Ujiri and Webster are also in need of new deals. Both execs are going into the final season of their contracts. Locking them up long-term will be the next big priority for MLSE and the Raptors.
UFC 253 video: Cold open with Ron Perlman released – MMA Fighting
It’s a rare meeting of two fighters undefeated in MMA, and it’s the top-billed attraction on a fight card that features a second title fight: a battle between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight belt vacated by Jon Jones.
Narrated by the longtime voice of UFC promos, Ron Perlman, check out the feature above as the hours tick toward the fight card Saturday on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Jays beat Orioles to keep momentum going – TSN
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cavan Biggio broke up a no-hit bid with a solo home run in the sixth inning, Randal Grichuk added a three-run shot and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 Saturday night.
The Blue Jays need another victory in Sunday’s regular-season finale, and a Miami win over the Yankees in New York, to move up to second place in the AL East and the fifth seed in the league. If not, Toronto will remain in eighth place and get a first-round playoff meeting with the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays.
“Regardless of what happens tomorrow, we’re ready to go,” Biggio said.
Toronto has won four straight and six of seven following a season-worst six-game losing streak.
Baltimore’s John Means (2-4) held the Blue Jays hitless until Biggio broke a scoreless tie with his eighth homer.
Means walked infielder Jonathan Villar, the second batter of the game, and didn’t allow another baserunner until Biggio connected on a 1-0 pitch.
Biggio credited Jonathan Davis, who lined out to end a 10-pitch at bat immediately beforehand, for wearing Means down.
“He really made him work for that out, something that we weren’t doing the whole game,” Biggio said. “I can probably say confidently that (Means) doesn’t hang me a slider there if he isn’t worn out from facing JD.
“Hats off to him, he pitched a great game,” Biggio added. “He made one mistake and that’s what the run was.”
Biggio’s drive to right ended a streak of 16 consecutive outs by Means, including five straight strikeouts at one stretch. The left-hander struck out nine and walked one in six innings.
Means has a 1.52 ERA over his past four starts, giving up just a single run each time. Given how well he’s been pitching, Means isn’t quite ready for end of the season.
“I wish there was 100 games left,” he said.
Grichuk connected on the first pitch he saw from Hunter Harvey in the seventh. It was his 12th homer of the season and the 19th of his career against the Orioles, more than he’s hit against any other opponent. His seven homers against Baltimore this season are the most by one player against a single opponent. Grichuk also homered in Toronto’s 10-5 win Friday.
The Blue Jays scratched right-hander Matt Shoemaker, the scheduled starter, and turned to right-hander T.J. Zeuch. Shoemaker threw a side session before the game, meaning he could be used in the opening round of the playoffs.
Zeuch allowed five hits in five scoreless innings.
Chase Anderson (1-2) got the win, striking out the first four batters he faced in a two-inning relief stint. Anthony Bass got the final four outs for his seventh save in nine chances.
Blue Jays outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. yelped in pain after he fouled a pitch off his left foot in the second inning. Gurriel batted again in the fifth, but was replaced by Grichuk in the top of the sixth. The Blue Jays said Gurriel had a contusion on his foot.
He wasn’t the only Blue Jays player to leave injured. Right-hander Ross Stripling was replaced by Bass after being hit on the right shin by DJ Stewart’s comebacker in the eighth.
“They’re both fine, which is great,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said.
Austin Hays had three hits and José Iglesias had two doubles and drove in a run, but the Orioles lost for the eighth time in 10 games. Baltimore has lost 14 of 18 overall following a 20-21 start.
“There’s been some ups and downs this year,” Hays said, “but I think we showed early on what this team is capable of doing.”
Blue Jays: Montoyo said LHP Hyun Jin Ryu is not hurt, but would not commit to starting Ryu in Game 1 of the playoffs. Montoyo said Friday that Ryu was “a little sore” after throwing a season-high 100 pitches over seven innings against the Yankees on Thursday. … INF Rowdy Tellez (right knee) ran the bases and hit on the field before the game.
Orioles: GM Mike Elias confirmed that RHP Michael Baumann was shut down after straining a flexor muscle in his elbow at the team’s alternate training site. One of Baltimore’s top prospects, Baumann is expected to be healthy by spring training. … Elias also said he is optimistic OF Trey Mancini will be able to play next season. Mancini missed this season while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Mancini completed chemotherapy treatment last Tuesday.
Villar stole third base on catcher Pedro Severino’s throw back to the pitcher in the eighth.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS
Hernandez made a strong throw to catch Ryan Mountcastle trying to stretch out a double in the eighth. It was his seventh outfield assist of the season, matching Boston’s Alex Verdugo for most in the majors.
Baltimore LHP Keegan Akin (1-2, 3.57) starts Sunday’s season finale against Blue Jays RHP Tanner Roark (2-3, 7.01). Akin has struck out 24 batters over 15 innings in September.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Paulo Costa open to competing in two divisions, would move up for Jon Jones – MMA Fighting
Paulo Costa has no issues making the middleweight limit, but if the right opportunity comes along, he’ll gladly jump up a division.
While it’s obvious Costa is one of the larger fighters competing at 185 pounds, his first concern is conquering his current weight class as he challenges champ Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 253 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
At media day on Wednesday, Costa told reporters his weight cut is on point for the official weigh-ins, which take place Friday. His weight has been a topic of conversation in the past; he was one of several fighters advised by the California State Athletic Commission to potentially move up a division. The recommendation was made following Costa’s unanimous decision win over Yoel Romero at UFC 241 in August 2019.
Because Costa’s fight night weight (213.8 pounds) was 15 percent higher than his weigh-in day weight (186 pounds), he just came in at the threshold where the CSAC asked a fighter to consider a change in divisions.
Costa, 29, doesn’t expect this to be an issue going forward, and if he ever moves up to light heavyweight, it will be by choice, not necessity.
“Every time that I come here to fight at 185 pounds, it’s been more easy to me,” Costa said. “I don’t know what happened, maybe my body’s getting mature. But as I told before, I could fight at light heavyweight anytime.
“So it depends if I have a very good opponent, a big challenge at light heavyweight or at middleweight, it depends. I have both possibilities to move in both divisions.”
A reporter asked if Costa would be interested in fighting a returning Anthony Johnson, to which he answered, “I think so.” But were he given the option to fight an even bigger fish, one that currently has plans to change divisions himself, that’s a target that Costa couldn’t pass up on.
“If Jon Jones was still there, then I’d definitely want to move up to fight him, but we’ll have to wait for this weekend to see how that fight plays out,” Costa said via a Portugues translator. “But maybe stay at middleweight if it’s interesting.”
Though Costa is 13-0 as a professional with wins in all five of his UFC fights, Adesanya has questioned the resume of his unbeaten challenger. The two have on shared opponent, Romero, with Romero also having notable victories against middleweight veteran Uriah Hall and former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks.
Costa likes how his conquests stack up against those of the champion.
“Israel said that I don’t have a good enough resume, I haven’t fought high-caliber fighters,” Costa said via a Portuguese translator. “I fought Johny Hendricks. Johny Hendricks might have been at the end of his career, but back then people said, ‘Hey, he’s not gonna get through him.’ And I did, and I fought Romero, almost knocked him out, so it doesn’t make too much sense.
“Adesanya was afraid of fighting Romero.”
Costa shied away from anointing his matchup with Adesanya as the greatest middleweight fight in UFC history, saying that he’d leave it to the media to work that angle. He did concede that it is a “rare moment” in MMA to have two undefeated fighters fighting for a world title.
In terms of legacy, though, Costa knows what the middleweight championship means to Brazil given its most well-known titleholder is Anderson Silva, arguably the country’s most beloved fighter. Before making any light heavyweight overtures, Costa is determined to do right by the standard set by Silva.
“It’s continuing the legacy for Brazil,” Costa said via a translator when asked what it means to fight for a title so strongly associated with Silva. “Holding that belt.”
“I’m proud to be a Brazilian,” he continued. “I’m a patriot and I hope that people can value me and realize that I’m the new champion.”
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