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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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Sabres select Owen Power with No. 1 pick in 2021 NHL Draft –



The NHL draft turned Michigan maize and blue Friday night. And there’s a Hughes sibling reunion set to happen in New Jersey.

The Buffalo Sabres opened the draft by selecting Wolverines defenceman Owen Power with the top pick, and were immediately followed by the expansion Seattle Kraken choosing Michigan centre Matthew Beniers at No. 2. It marked the first time since 1969 that teammates went with the first two selections.

Three picks later, the Wolverines became college hockey’s first program to have three teammates go in the first round after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Michigan winger Kent Johnson fifth.

“Extremely excited for Owen, Matty and their families. Its’ already a great night for Michigan Hockey. Go Blue,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson texted to The Associated Press after the Kraken made their selection.

That’s not all, however. Luke Hughes, who is committed to playing at Michigan, was chosen fourth overall by the the Devils, where the defenceman is united with brother Jack, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.

Hughes watched the draft on his family’s living room couch with both of his NHL-playing brothers, rounded out by Quinn, who was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in 2018. Jack Hughes immediately jumped up and began hugging Luke upon hearing Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald announce the pick.

Ontario junior centre Mason McTavish was the only player without Michigan ties to round out the top five, after he was selected third overall by Anahiem.

The draft was held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Gary Bettman hosting the draft in New Jersey, where he introduced teams to make their selections from their home arenas.

On a day the Sabres traded Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers, general manager Kevyn Adams continued his offseason bid to overhaul a struggling franchise by choosing the stalwart defenceman’s heir apparent. Power is listed at six-foot-six and 213 pounds and was the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American prospect. After scoring three goals and adding 13 assists in 26 games during his freshman season at Michigan, the 18-year-old Power cemented his draft stock by helping Canada win the world hockey championships.

From Mississauga, Ontario, Power is leaning toward returning to school for his sophomore season, something Adams has said would not play a factor into his selection.

“Not thinking about it too much right now, trying to enjoy the night. That’s something I’ll worry about later,” Power said of his future, while surrounded by his family and friends in his backyard.

As for a message to Sabres fans, he said: “I’m super excited to be part of the franchise and ready to get going.”

Power was the third player drafted first directly out of college, joining Michigan State forward Joe Murphy in 1986 and Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro in 2000. And he became the 16th defenceman to go No. 1 since 1970, and first since the Sabres chose Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1 in 2018.

Power and Dahlin have similar two-way, play-making skills, and will have the opportunity to form the backbone of a retooled defensive unit for years to come.

Beniers was ranked sixth overall among North American prospects. He had 14 goals and 24 points in 24 games for the Wolverines.

In 1969, Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were Montreal Junior Canadiens teammates, who were selected with the first two picks by Montreal. In 1963, Garry Monahan and St. Michael’s Juveniles teammate Peter Mahovlich were selected first and second.

The Sabres made a splash earlier by adding a second first-round pick, 14th overall, and defenceman Robert Hagg in dealing Ristolainen to Philadelphia.

The trade is part of Adams’ bid to rebuild through youth after Buffalo finished last in the overall standings for a fourth time in eight seasons and extended its playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th year.

The acquired pick from Philadelphia is actually 13th in the draft order after the NHL stripped the Arizona Coyotes of their first-round pick, 11th overall, for testing players in violation of league’s combine policy.

The Coyotes, however, moved back into the first round by acquiring the Canucks’ pick, ninth overall, in a five-player trade that sent Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver earlier in the day.

The first European players selected were from Sweden in back to back selections. Defenceman Simon Edvinsson went sixth to the Detroit Red Wings, followed by under-sized forward William Eklund, who was chosen seventh by the San Jose Sharks.

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More people watched Seattle NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 than Cubs-Cards on ESPN – Awful Announcing



In the grand scheme of things, 637,000 viewers nationally is not a huge number for a cable channel with any level of significant distribution. Most things on broadcast TV not only beat that, but beat it by quite a bit, and that kind of number isn’t usually even amongst the top cable broadcasts. However, the news that ESPN2 pulled that number in for its (NHL-produced, but featuring ESPN figures) coverage of the NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken Wednesday night was certainly interesting, especially as so much of the actual news around that draft was reported in advance, and also given that their main-network coverage of the MLB game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals drew fewer viewers. Here’s a comparison of Wednesday night sporting events from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:

On the negative side, that draft didn’t even draw the numbers of studio show Pardon The Interruption (however, that airs on ESPN rather than ESPN2; they’re similar in distribution, but many people turn on main ESPN first). It also didn’t draw the numbers of early Olympic programming from NBCSN. On the positive side, it outdrew a national MLB game. And it drew more than the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft five years ago (595,000 on NBCSN for a combined broadcast of that draft and the NHL Awards). And it’s a good sign for ESPN, as this is their first big NHL event they aired under their new deal.

And yes, as Ourand noted in a follow-up tweet, that Cubs-Cards game didn’t have regional sports network blackouts, so Cubs and Cardinals fans could still watch it on their local RSNs. And most probably did, so it likely primarily pulled the national audience that didn’t have those RSNs. But it’s still interesting to see an ESPN2 event outdraw an ESPN event, especially when the ESPN event is a live game and the ESPN2 event is a one-team expansion draft (and one where most of the information was previously available to the public).

If ESPN versus ESPN2 programming decisions were made strictly from a standpoint of what they thought would draw more viewers, this result would go against that. That’s not entirely the case here, as the MLB on ESPN package comes with some restrictions on where games can air. But it’s still interesting to see the NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 outdraw a live MLB game between two prominent teams.

That is also perhaps further evidence that draft “spoilers” don’t always damage the ratings that much. That’s long been a debate, from the NFL’s heavy pushes against pick-tipping to the NBA’s more moderate approach (which sees pick-tipping still happen with some different language, and which hasn’t really led to obvious ratings losses).

In the case of this draft, figures who don’t work for expansion draft rightsholders Sportsnet (Canada) and ESPN (U.S.) reported many of the picks early, with Frank Seravalli (formerly of TSN, now of Daily Faceoff) and Pierre LeBrun (TSN/The Athletic) getting many of those, other national figures getting some more, and local reporters getting some others. So a mostly-full picture was available before the broadcast for those who wanted to find it. But that didn’t stop a significant amount of people from watching this, and that maybe shows that the league pushes against pick-tipping aren’t always that impactful.

[John Ourand on Twitter]

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Cleveland changes MLB team nickname to Guardians after months of discussion –



Known as the Indians since 1915, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will be called Guardians.

The ball club announced the name change Friday with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names that are considered racist.

The choice of Guardians will undoubtedly be criticized by many of the club’s die-hard fans.

The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process quickly accelerated and the club landed on Guardians.

Social unrest spurred name change

Team owner Paul Dolan said last summer’s social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the name.

Dolan is expected to provide more details on the choice and background on the change at a news conference at Progressive Field before Cleveland hosts the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dolan said the new name mirrors the city and its people.

“Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders. ‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us.”

In 2018, the team stopped wearing the contentious Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that was protested for decades by Native American groups.

The name change has sparked lively debate among the city’s passionate sports fans. Other names, including the Spiders, which is what the team was once called, were pushed by supporters on social media platforms.

But Guardians does seem to fit the team’s objective to find a name that embodies Cleveland’s ethos while preserving the team’s history and uniting the community.

Not far from the downtown ballpark, there are two large landmark stone edifices — referred to as guardians — on the Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River.

The team’s colours will remain the same, and the new Guardians’ new logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.

The change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. The franchise dropped its name before the 2020 season and said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.

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