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Raptors at fork in road with Lowry, Powell but will only sell on their terms –



The Toronto Raptors have arrived at their fork in the road, though it hasn’t come suddenly.

But they have a choice to make by 3:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, the NBA’s trade deadline. It’s unavoidable.

They’ve been moving steadily toward it ever since Kawhi Leonard opted to head to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency in the post-championship summer of 2019 and Danny Green signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. The pace accelerated when the Raptors wouldn’t give either Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol a second year on their deals this past off-season, in part so Toronto could keep their powder dry in the summer of 2021 to take a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Ibaka and Gasol signed with the Clippers and Lakers, respectively, leaving the Raptors undermanned at centre and with nothing gained when Antetokounmpo opted to sign his lucrative extension with the Milwaukee Bucks before the season, taking him off the free agency market and scuttling years of careful planning by Toronto (among other teams) to put themselves in position to sign a two-time MVP as franchise centrepiece before he turned 27.

In that context, their current predicament – a 17-26 record and a nine-game losing streak – is only noise. Nothing they do before Thursday or after will be driven by an uncharacteristic slump driven by injuries, luck and dislocation. They remain confident that when healthy the team they can put on the floor even now is more like a top-four club in the Eastern Conference, rather than the bottom four they’ve been scraping along in for weeks now. They believe that if it were not for COVID-19 they would have been Eastern Conference finalists, and quite likely NBA finalists, a year ago and they’d be comfortably among the top four in the East again this year.

So now that they’re in 11th place and 2.5 games out of the play-in tournament, that won’t inform any decision they make on their future.

But teams in 11th place with two pending free agents in Kyle Lowry and Norm Powell are inevitably going to be looked upon by the rest of the league as potential sellers and the Raptors have been in the centre of trade speculation for weeks now.

The best intel I can offer is that anything is possible. The Raptors want to get better and will make choices driven by what steps they can take to enhance what they deem as their existing core in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, though rookie Malachi Flynn and late bloomer Chris Boucher are part of the equation. And there are those in the organization that still see considerable untapped potential in Terence Davis, whose second year has been less than ideal, on and off the court.

But that doesn’t mean they are desperate to get any kind of return for Lowry and Powell.

VanVleet just turned 27 and Siakam turns 27 next month; Boucher is 28; Anunoby, 23, is just entering his early prime. The Raptors aren’t looking to start from scratch. Far from it.

There is a universe in which the Raptors re-sign both Powell (who turns 28 in May) and Lowry (35 on Thursday) and go hunting for an impactful big who can fill the glaring void left by the departures of Ibaka and Gasol.

Building on what they have with players who have been with the organization and that love Toronto is hardly the worst option. And while re-upping with Lowry and Powell – along with $78 million on the books for VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby, Flynn and Boucher – could easily push the Raptors near the luxury tax threshold when the rest of the roster is filled out. Money is not considered to be an issue, say insiders.

Starting from that point and figuring out how to improve while getting another couple of quality years from Lowry and Powell is a surer path to contending in the East than breaking the enterprise up and selling for parts of uncertain value.

And if there’s course correction required at some point after that? Lowry’s value isn’t going to fall off a cliff and Powell – presuming he continues shooting at the elite level he has the past two seasons – will always be movable and might be easier to trade while under contract without the uncertainty of free agency clouding the picture.

So not trading Lowry or Powell, or both, on Thursday isn’t out of the realm of possibility and might even be desirable, depending on what happens as the market firms up.

The key message here: the Raptors know they’re on a losing streak, they just aren’t making any decisions based off it.

All that said, Toronto hasn’t closed any doors.

As the losses have mounted, the usual suspects have circled back on Lowry with the likely destinations remaining the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat, who each view him as someone who could help them get over the top in a highly competitive Eastern Conference.

The Raptors haven’t been shopping him, but they’ve been listening. They had a management meeting Monday night to share intel internally. Opinions are forming. Similarly, Lowry hasn’t been pushing for a trade, but understands that getting moved could offer him not only a chance to win another title – cementing his legacy and likely solidifying his case as a Hall of Famer – but since his Bird rights would travel with him, allow his new team to sign him even while over the salary cap. That detail would give him the best chance to sign a contract somewhere in the ballpark of the $30 million annually he’s earning now. If he stays in Toronto and decides to leave in free agency, he would be relying on teams that have cap space to set the market, a much less certain proposition.

In that scenario, the Raptors could end up as the best option, just as they were in 2017 when Lowry explored free agency only to see the market shrink quickly. He was fortunate that the Raptors were waiting with a three-year deal for $100 million that far outstripped anything that was otherwise available to him, although easily proved good value on that deal.

But finding a fit is tougher than most might think. The Sixers have the requisite expiring contracts to flesh out a deal, and more draft capital than the Heat, but are light on difference-making prospects that complement the Raptors’ existing core. Tyrese Maxey is intriguing, but the Raptors have VanVleet and Flynn at the same position. Does adding a 20-year-old point guard and a future late first-round draft pick make the Raptors better? Is it fair return for Lowry, who may still be Toronto’s best player, saying nothing of his iconic status? Does the Sixers’ Matisse Thybulle (4.3 points per game career average over two seasons) really move any needles?

I can see why Philly would be in a rush to make that trade, I’m not sure why Toronto would.

The Heat have different challenges. As things stand, Miami won’t have a first-round pick they can trade until 2028 as all they’ve all been dealt or are tied up with pick protections. Teams aren’t allowed to trade picks in consecutive years and not further out than seven seasons. In theory, Miami could acquire a pick from another team, but that would mean dipping into their pool of prospects that a team like the Raptors might be interested in.

The fit with Miami includes Lowry’s willingness to sign there and the possibility of acquiring some collection of the Heat’s younger core. Certainly, adding 21-year-old Tyler Herro, who played well as a rookie in the playoffs last season, would pique the Raptors’ interest, as would pending restricted free agent Duncan Robinson. The soon-to-be 27-year-old is one of the best shooters in the league and would fit well alongside the Raptors’ core. And given Toronto’s lack of bigs, rookie centre Precious Achiuwa would be a nice piece, too.

But all those players are on rookie deals that hardly make a dent in the roughly $25 million Miami would have to send out to match Lowry’s incoming salary, and they are each part of the Heat’s existing rotation. To make the money work, the Heat would likely need to include pending free agent Kelly Olynyk ($12.6 million), who is starting for them, and one of either Goran Dragic ($18 million), who is their leading bench scorer and a fixture in closing lineups, or Andre Iguodala ($15 million), who is still a prominent part of their rotation and remains an elite defender with a bottomless well of smarts and experience.

When the Heat traded Meyers Leonard and his $10-million expiring contract to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Trevor Ariza, a Lowry deal got a little harder.

Might Lowry be traded before Thursday at 3 p.m.? He might be, if the deal is right, but even as their season spirals, there is good reason why the Raptors don’t view themselves as motivated sellers. They will deal only on their terms.

Still, of the two, Powell may be more likely to be traded, and league sources suggest the Raptors have been more aggressive in soliciting offers for Powell, who will almost certainly opt out of the last year of his deal, looking for a big raise from the $11.6 million he would otherwise make.

He’s proven himself one of the NBA’s best shooters and has a slashing element that most of the league’s elite marksmen don’t have.

But what is his trade value?

His contract status complicates things – teams that view him as a starter might want to surrender less because they might have to pay Powell something in the range of $72 million – the expectation being that the Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris might provide a benchmark for the Raptors wing. Teams that view him as a rotation piece for a playoff push might want to surrender less because Powell might be less likely to sign going forward in that role.

“He’s been really good and shoots it a high clip. I just don’t know if he’s a starter in the NBA,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “And when you’re putting up those kinds of numbers and he gets to free agency, you have to pay him, so maybe that’s why they’re looking at capitalizing on him right now because his value is what it is.”

Would Powell be enough to pry a starter-level big and maybe a future second-round pick?

Could he provide the means to get the Raptors in on deals for John Collins in Atlanta – a pending restricted free agent – or Richaun Holmes, a pending free agent big in Sacramento with chops as a rebounder and rim protector, two of Toronto’s most glaring weaknesses?

The Raptors are going to work the Powell angle hard, is my guess, and I think it’s more likely he gets moved than he doesn’t.

I’m less sure about Lowry for the reasons I’ve been saying all along: He’s not pushing to go and the obstacles to a proper return for a player of his stature remain significant.

Whatever path they take brings no guarantee. But the Raptors could look considerably different over the next 24 hours.

If they do, chances are the changes are just beginning.

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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.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

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.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



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.

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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)

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