It’s no secret that the Toronto Raptors‘ season hasn’t gone according to plan so far.
Heading into its New Year’s Eve game against the New York Knicks, the team sat 0-3, its worst start in 15 years. Given the condensed nature of this pandemic-shortened season, a slow start could derail a whole campaign.
Pair that with the team’s recent blockbuster trade history, and a disgruntled Houston Rockets superstar being on the market, and it’s no surprise NBA insiders have linked Toronto to James Harden. The latest to do so was ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
“The Raptors are almost in the same spot that they were two years ago [when they made the Leonard trade],” Windhorst said during an appearance on The Lowe Post podcast. “They have good players. They’re a good team. There’s probably seven teams in the Eastern Conference who could get the whiteboard out and convince themselves that they’re getting to the Conference Finals.
“…I actually think the Raptors are a strong candidate to do this again. Whether or not they could execute it, whether or not they could bring themselves to do it [we’ll see].”
A factor that may deter the Raptors from pulling the trigger on a Harden trade, Windhorst mused, was the contractual situation of Toronto’s president of basketball operation Masai Ujiri.
Ujiri, a former executive of the year, was an architect of the trade that brought Leonard to Toronto — a move that culminated in the team’s first-ever championship. However, his long-term future with the team remains unclear, as he has yet to sign a contract extension that would keep him making decisions for the Raptors beyond this year.
“The one thing I would say about the Raptors is Masai is unsigned,” Windhorst said. “Going forward, it is still a murky reason as to why he is unsigned — whether it is his choice or the Raptors’ choice, I wish I had more information but I don’t.
“If you’re going to trade for James Harden, you’re likely going to have to give multiple lightly protected or unprotected future first-round picks. If I was Raptors ownership, I would say, ‘Well, you want to trade for James Harden, let’s figure out who is running this team when these picks are being traded.'”
Harden, whose season has been marred by multiple COVID-19 safety protocol violations that have delayed his joining the Rockets and caused him to miss games, has been as impactful as ever when he does play.
In two appearances prior to New year’s Eve, Harden averaged 39 points, 12.5 assists and five rebounds.
Charles Barkley, Shaq react to James Harden's trade to the Nets during 'NBA on TNT' – Yahoo Canada Sports
The Canadian Press
Canadian international Mark-Anthony Kaye has been elected to the Major League Soccer Players Association executive board. The 26-year-old Los Angeles FC midfielder, along with Jalil Anibaba (Nashville SC) and Victor Ulloa (Inter Miami CF), was elected to a three-year term. The executive board serves as the decision- and policy-making body of the Players Association with its members serving as the MLSPA’s chief officers. “The leadership and hard work of our executive board members, both past and present, has made the MLSPA into what it is today,” MLSPA executive director Bob Foose said in a statement. “I want to congratulate our newest board members, and those who are returning, and thank them for their commitment to serving their fellow players and continuing to grow and improve the MLSPA.” Foose thanked departing board members Jeff Larentowicz and Luis Robles. Other current members of the executive board are Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution), Ethan Finlay (Minnesota United), Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids), Eric Miller (Nashville) and Patrick Mullins (Toronto FC). The MLS and MLSPA are currently at loggerheads over the league’s decision to trigger a “force majeure” clause in the collective bargaining agreement to reopen negotiations on the CBA signed in January 2019. The league has said it lost nearly US$1 billion last season due to the global pandemic. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15. 2021 The Canadian Press
Laine 'pissed' to miss Gordie Howe hat trick – TSN
Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine had a productive opening game of the season, scoring the overtime winner as part of a three-point night in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.
Laine, however, was not happy to wind up with only a minor penalty for roughing after dropping the gloves with Matthew Tkachuk as part of a skirmish late in the second period.
“I was pissed off because that would have been a Gordie Howe hat trick,” Laine said after the win. “That one time when I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing.”
Laine went after Noah Hanifin after the Flames defenceman cross-checked Jets forward Kyle Connor behind the Calgary net, with Tkachuk jumping in soon after.
Hanifin received a minor penalty for cross-checking on the play, while Laine and Tkachuk both picked up roughing minors. Laine has never been assessed a fighting major.
“It gets the team fired up,” Jets forward Nik Ehlers said of Laine’s actions. “I’ve maybe been a little bit in his head in the last week, saying he hasn’t fought yet and when is it going to happen? I think he took that a little personal. He stood up for his teammate. It fires the guys up. Patty’s a big boy, and he went in there today and showed that. It’s exciting, it gets the boys going, it always does. And he got himself buzzing, too. It’s exciting for us.”
The Jets won’t face the Flames again until Feb. 1, when they will play the first of four consecutive games against Calgary – three of which will be on home ice.
Laine winner caps sparkling performance as Jets extinguish Flames in overtime – CBC.ca
Patrik Laine let his play on the ice speak volumes Thursday night with a three-point performance that should squash questions about his committment to the Winnipeg Jets.
“Hopefully I can just build off that game,” Laine said after the victory. “There’s a lot of things I need to look at. The three points isn’t going to tell the whole truth of the game. But it’s a good start.”
His big night comes after Laine’s agent made comments during the off-season suggesting that both the powerful forward and the Jets could benefit from his being traded. Laine ducked questions on the subject as training camp opened.
WATCH | Laine’s 3-point night helps Jets beat Flames:
His commitment to the team seemed clear Thursday as Laine not only lit up the scoreboard, but stood up for his teammate.
With less than a minute to go in the second period, Calgary’s Noah Hanifin cross-checked Laine’s linemate Kyle Connor into the boards.
Laine responded by going after Hanifin and a scuffle ensued, with Laine and Flames left-winger Matthew Tkachuk exchanging blows.
“That’s just the type of guy he is. He’ll go to battle for his teammates,” Connor said. “He’s a pretty selfless guy and I think you can see that. I have his back out there and vice versa. He’s just an all-around great teammate, I’d say.”
Hanifin was called for cross-checking, and Laine and Tkachuk were each sent to the box for roughing.
It was somewhat of a disappointing result for Laine, who rarely drops the gloves and was hoping he’d register a Gordie Howe hat trick — a goal, an assist and a fight.
“The one time I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing,” he said.
WATCH | NHL season begins amid rising COVID-19 cases:
The tussle helped ignite a Winnipeg (1-0-0) side that was tepid at times on Thursday.
Calgary (0-0-1) dominated play through much of the first period, starting just 4:28 in when Tkachuk scored on the second shot of the game with a deflection in front of the Jets’ net.
Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm added goals before the end of the first frame, and the Flames held a 3-1 lead heading into the break.
During the intermission, Jets coach Paul Maurice went into the locker room and told his group to relax. His words changed the way the group played heading into the second period, said Paul Stastny.
“Sometimes when you’re kind of thinking too much, your feet are in quicksand, you’re looking around too much. Everyone was kind of hoping for things to happen,” he said. “The first game of the season it always kind of happens like that. I think it’s just nerves, in a sense.”
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo breaks down 9 NHL talking points:
Thirty-four seconds into the second period, Nikolaj Ehlers took a shot from the slot and, while Jacob Markstrom made the stop, he couldn’t control the rebound. The puck squirted out to Mark Schiefele who popped it in from the side of the net to make it 3-2.
Connor’s power-play goal evened the score at 3-3, and Laine buried the winner 1:18 into overtime, streaking from deep in his own end all the way past the Calgary blue line. He fanned on his first shot but quickly recovered and beat Markstrom on his second attempt.
Laine has worked harder in training camp than any other time during his career in Winnipeg, and is bigger, stronger and more mature than ever before, Maurice said.
“He’s a very driven young man. He wants to be great. And sometimes you have to learn how that unfolds,” the coach said. “What he got tonight he earned. He didn’t get lucky, he didn’t have a bunch of bounces go for him. He just worked and worked.”
Markstrom was making his debut for Calgary after signing a six-year, $36-million US deal in free agency and stopped 30-of-34 shots Thursday.
Connor Hellebuyck, the NHL’s reigning Vezina winner, had 23 saves for Winnipeg.
The game was a rematch of last year’s playoff series where the Flames dispatched with the Jets in four games in the qualifying round.
It was also the first of nine meetings between the two clubs in the pandemic-condensed 56-game season.
The Flames will host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, and the Jets are set to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
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