The San Antonio Spurs are lucky to have him. He proved it again on Saturday night in a Boxing Day clash against his old team that the Raptors dropped 119-114 to fall to 0-2 on the season.
Toronto surrendered a 9-0 run after a controversial offensive foul on Pascal Siakam with 1:20 to play, which proved to be the pivot point.
But DeRozan was a big reason the Spurs (2-0) got over the hump after the Raptors stalled out, as he scored 10 points on four shots in the final 4:35 and kept an offensive rebound alive that led to the Spurs’ go-ahead basket by LaMarcus Aldridge with 30 seconds left.
DeRozan did a bit of everything to improve to 3-2 against the team he spent the first 10 years of his career with.
“He played his butt off. He pretty much won the game for them — 27 points and eight assists and he kinda picked us apart,” said Kyle Lowry, his old teammate and close friend. “I think throughout the years I’ve known him, played with him, played against him in the last couple, I think he just continues [to grow] … he’s become more of a playmaker, and I think that’s his strength right now, is still being able to score but he’s able to play make for everybody else and make life easier for the other guys, like role players, and getting guys the ball where they need it and getting them open looks and giving them confidence to be good.”
Forget James Harden — the disgruntled Houston Rockets star that some corners of the Raptors fan base dream Toronto could somehow swing a deal for.
DeRozan would be a smoother fit on and off the floor and far cheaper to acquire, given he’s in the final season of his contract. Matching salaries might be a problem — DeRozan makes $27.7 million this year — so making a trade without surrendering one of Toronto’s core pieces would be nearly impossible.
If not an in-season trade maybe, DeRozan becomes a target in free agency. But the point stands: this version of DeRozan would fit the Raptors’ needs well.
No regrets about trading him in the first place, obviously. The rules of engagement are such that a championship justifies the means, and dealing the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer (not to mention Jacob Poeltl, who accompanied DeRozan to San Antonio) for Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2018 will never stop making sense as long as that banner hangs in the rafters of Scotiabank Arena.
But with Leonard taking off for the Los Angeles Clippers at first chance, and the championship core getting whittled away further this past summer with the departure of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors are trying to win with a roster that has some holes and some unfamiliar pieces.
“I think it’s an adjustment for the new faces,” said Lowry, who finished with 16 points and 10 assists but missed a wide-open elbow jumper that would have put the Raptors ahead with 22 seconds left. “I think it’s more than one thing. I think it’s two games, [a short] pre-season, I think it’s a lot of things that goes into that, everybody making adjustments trying to figure it out.
“Your defence should be a little bit more ahead of your offence right now, and we’re just kind of even right now with everything, and it’s a brand new situation for everybody, but we’re 0-and-2 and I haven’t been this record in a long [expletive] time … so, we’ve got to figure it out sooner or later for our team.”
The Raptors struggle to get to the paint and struggle to get to the free-throw line and, as a result, they struggle at times to score in the half-court. Last season they ranked firmly in the middle of the pack in half-court offence, and it came back to haunt them when the Boston Celtics took away their No. 1-ranked transition offence in the second round of the playoffs.
DeRozan can play fast or he can play slow, and he showed his stuff early against his old team in a game that got off to a blazing pace.
By the time the track meet paused at the end of the first quarter, Toronto was leading 39-33 — but DeRozan had scored 16 points on seven shots while assisting on a pair of Spurs threes. He was able to access the Raptors’ paint at will and either twist his way into an old-fashioned three-point play or rocket the ball out to the perimeter for open looks as he collapsed the defence.
The Raptors are hoping to get more similar savvy offence from, say, Pascal Siakam, who is showing signs. Siakam finished with 16 points, eight assists and 15 rebounds against San Antonio — but also five turnovers.
He’ll continue to improve in his second season as a primary option, and the Raptors have upside elsewhere: OG Anunoby chipped with some key triples in the second half, and late-blooming Chris Boucher showed the Raptors rewarding him with a $6.5 million contract for this season might have had merit as he exploded for 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots, while Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 27 points.
But this version of DeRozan is the finished product. He may not take threes, but he converts twos at a high rate – 51 per cent last season – because he’s learned how to back off on tough shots in the name of getting the ball to teammates for easier looks.
“I’ve been impressed with a couple of things,” Nurse said of DeRozan. “I think he goes to the basket with a lot more speed, I think he goes right and left much more equally distributed than he used to; he’s quick going left now too … But I think that the other thing is he is a really good passer; he’s really become a better passer year in and year out so he doesn’t have settle for too many of those tough, tough mid-range shots, but he can score man. He’s always going to score 20-plus for a season, per game, and that’s not easy to do.”
DeRozan’s high-water mark as a scorer was the 2016-17 season, when he put up 27.3 points a game. His assist total jumped from 3.9 a game to 5.2 the next season (as his scoring average fell to 23 points a game) and then 6.2 in his first season in San Antonio.
He’s one of four players to average at least 22 points, five assists and five free throws made over the past three full seasons with 200 games played. The others are James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.
“He should get a lot of credit for that, for being able to adapt and going from a guy, 27, 28 a game down to what, 22, 23ish range now, and getting that assists up there,” said VanVleet, who saw a potentially game-winning three rattle out with two seconds left.
VanVleet was a rookie when DeRozan put up 27.3 points per game – the second-highest in franchise history. “Some guys in the league you know you can send a lot of help ’cause they’re not gonna pass unless they absolutely have to. DeMar is not one of those guys.”
The culture fit would be easy, too. Harden loves the nightlife and has put partying without masks ahead of his professional responsibilities twice already, getting himself fined and contributing to the postponement of a game — and the season isn’t even a week old.
DeRozan trained in Montana this past summer precisely because he didn’t know anyone there and had no parties to go to.
He helped set the tone for a culture the Raptors have continued to benefit from.
“He’s one of those pivotal guys in my career, on and off the court,” VanVleet said. “Gave a lot of game and wisdom and tough love, and taught me a lot, just from watching him, watching him prepare every day, watching him practice every day, watching him work out every day, and then seeing him perform on a night-in, night-out basis. He’s really, really, really high on my list, just as a friend and guy that I’ve grown close to over the last few years. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Anyone who’s ever met him does. And he can play, too, as he’s showing no sign of slowing down at age 31. On the contrary, his game is still evolving and even improving.
Player grades: McDavid's brilliance not quite enough as Edmonton Oilers drop a tight one in T.O. – Edmonton Journal
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#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 7. Robbed by Andersen in the early going off a great Draisaitl feed, though if he could have found the upper half of the net it likely would have been a different story. Was all over the puck again, winning an important shorthanded puck battle against Morgan Rielly to feed the disc into Draisaitl’s territory and earn his fifth point of the young season. Had a few other chances of his own but failed to hit the target. Blocked 4 shots at the other end, which is to say 3 more than all the other forwards combined. Has been like a dog on a bone around the puck all season.
#63 Tyler Ennis, 6. His standout moment was a great stretch pass to send Puljujarvi in on a breakaway. A couple of shots of his own. Drew a penalty.
#74 Ethan Bear, 6. A solid night on the back end, though his ice time was down a tad at 18:12. Earned an assist, firing a point shot that McDavid was able to deflect home from the slot. 3 hits and some decent puck movement.
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 7. A key part of the dominant McDavid unit, which had the puck on a string for much of the night. Earned an assist with a good puck recovery and pass that led to the McDavid tally early in the third. Involved in 5 Oilers Grade A chances and was clean at the other end, unless you want to consider a lost battle at centre ice that led to Marner’s empty netter with under a second on the clock. Played 22:39 but an unusual 0:00 on the penalty kill, which in retrospect may have been a mistake.
#97 Connor McDavid, 8.Best player on the ice for either team. Had one early issue when he was caught puckwatching as Wayne Simmonds swooped in for an early chance, but more than made up for that by later contributing to 11 (eleven) of Edmonton’s 17 chances on the night, with 7 of those Grade A shots coming off his own stick. Indeed his 7 shots were 3 more than any other player on either team. Burst around the defence for one close in jam shot and a behind-the-back rebound. Robbed by a superb Andersen glove grab when he pounced on Koekkoek’s rebound that had the Oilers’ ace smiling in disbelief. Hammered a one-timer from centre slot that the Leafs netminder rejected, Oilers’ best powerplay chance of the night. Scored the 2-2 goal on a superb mid-air deflection. 9/17=53% on the dot. Edmonton dominated the shot clock to the tune of 16-4 during his 19 minutes at 5v5.
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Jets trading Laine, Roslovic to Blue Jackets for Dubois in blockbuster – Sportsnet.ca
Two teams with disgruntled superstars have completed one of the more significant blockbusters in recent NHL history.
On Saturday morning, the Winnipeg Jets traded star winger Patrik Laine and centre Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets for star centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in 2022. Laine, Roslovic and Dubois had all requested a trade in recent months.
“Pierre-Luc has been an important part of our team the past four seasons, but this was the right time for both parties to move in a different direction,” said Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a statement. “Strengthening our lineup offensively has been a priority for us and the additions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic accomplish just that.”
#NHLJets have acquired forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 #NHLDraft in exchange for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.
DETAILS https://t.co/nh9a2XK00Z pic.twitter.com/xQAYVAysWb
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) January 23, 2021
It’s no exaggeration to say this trade will define these franchises for years to come. In Laine, the Blue Jackets get a perennial 40-goal scorer still coming into his prime while Dubois gives the Jets one of the best one-two punches down the middle behind Mark Scheifele.
The 22-year-old Dubois requested a trade shortly after signing a two-year, $10-million bridge contract just days before the season started and teams have been aggressive in their pursuit of him. Trade negotiations hit a fever pitch on Friday after Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella benched Dubois in Thursday’s overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens were some of the other teams who pitched trade offers to Blue Jackets GM Kekalainen.
In Dubois, the Jets get a six-foot-three centre with smooth hands and a nose for the net. Originally drafted third overall in 2016, Dubois has yet to hit his prime but still managed to score at least 48 points in each of his first three NHL seasons. His best season came in 2018-19, when he had 27 goals and 61 points.
Laine, also 22, had a long contract negotiation before the 2019-20 season and then found himself playing much of the season on the second line. Entering this season, the final year on his current contract, Laine’s representatives floated the idea that a change of scenery might be mutually beneficial.
When a trade didn’t come together during the off-season, Laine reported to the Jets and had a massive performance in the season opener, scoring twice – including the overtime winner – and adding an assist. Since breaking into the league in 2016-17, only eight players have more than Laine’s 140 goals.
Laine and Dubois were the second and third picks, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft. The Jets will retain 26 per cent of Laine’s contract to balance the money with Dubois’s salary.
Roslovic, 23, was a restricted free agent who agreed to a two-year contract with the Blue Jackets on Saturday. A native of Columbus, Roslovic returns home seeking a bigger opportunity after not being able to crack the top-two lines in Winnipeg over the past two-and-a-half seasons.
Buffalo hopes rising as Bills turn back clock – The Globe and Mail
On Saturday morning, Terry and Kim Pegula will board the Bills’ charter flight to Kansas City, he with lucky socks and her with cookies she baked for players and coaches. This has become a routine for the couple who own Buffalo’s beloved football franchise.
Terry has worn the same argyle socks every game day since Nov. 29 and since then the Bills have won eight straight. Kim started baking on Sunday mornings to burn off nervous energy, posting pictures on social media. Since this is Buffalo, hundreds of others began to do the same, sending her photos of their own pregame Oreo truffles, Snickerdoodles and white chocolate blondies.
This is something you have to understand about Bills fans. There is almost nothing they won’t do to celebrate their team, even leaping onto flaming folding tables after drinking too much beer.
The devotion is born from a few things. Buffalo exudes the closeness of a small town, and is also a place where sports teams have mostly failed. The Bills last won a league championship in 1965 when they were in the old American Football League. Does that count? The Sabres have been in the NHL a half-century but haven’t won a Stanley Cup. Buffalo was also home to an NBA team that never won there or in the other two cities to which it has moved.
So it is understandable that the city and the NFL team’s followers – they call themselves the Bills Mafia – are delirious. With a victory over Kansas City on Sunday night, they will be the nearest they have been to winning a Super Bowl since January, 1994, when they lost a fourth consecutive NFL championship game. Most infamously when the field-goal kicker missed what would have been the game-winner with eight seconds left.
The Pegulas, who also own the Sabres, two professional lacrosse teams and an American Hockey League franchise, have lived in Buffalo since 1993 and bought the Bills in October, 2014. Kim was installed as their president.
“When you own a team, there is no manual,” she says cheerfully. “What we were taking on was completely unknown. We owned the Sabres, but with the NFL we were elevated to such a bigger stage.”
The season had already begun, so for the first year she went to games and tried to learn the inner workings of the league. She has since taken a more active approach, even sitting in on the pre-draft interview the team conducted with its star quarterback, Josh Allen.
Ms. Pegula has spent the past two weeks making plans in the event the Bills reach the Super Bowl. It has heightened her anxiety. All she wants is for Sunday’s game to be over, and for the city to be rocking afterward.
The Bills Mafia formed in 2011, when three friends started a fan club as a joke. There are legions of followers now, but since this is Buffalo, they are no ordinary fans.
When quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother died late last year, they raised $675,000 and donated it to a children’s hospital in her name. A week ago, when Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a concussion during a loss to the Bills, one Mafia member started a movement to donate to a charity of Jackson’s choice. Almost $500,000 has already been raised.
Dan Kanopski, the fellow who chipped in the first $25, says if he hadn’t done it someone else would have. He lives in Niagara Falls, and lost his job last year as part of the fallout from COVID-19.
“For the last year, the shining light for me has been the Bills,” Kanopski says.
Win or lose, Bills fans are irrepressible. Wolf Blitzer, the CNN anchor, grew up in Buffalo. On Jan. 6, the night of the elections in Georgia, he opened a segment with, “This just in. Go Bills!” Last week, he appeared on a Buffalo sports radio talk show and talked about the perils of being a fan.
“We have known some winning, but we have known a lot of losing, too,” he said.
Dan Mitchell grew up Buffalo, but has lived in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the past 26 years. He recalls having his heart ripped out by the Bills when he was a kid. And later as an adult, too.
Last year after a few drinks he started a Bills fan podcast that now has more than 11,000 subscribers.
“No matter how hard the Bills are performing, my PTSD from them kicks in and I wonder when everything is going to go down the drain,” he says. “This is the culmination of everything I wanted this team to be. It’s a swan song of my fantasy.”
Greg Tranter was eight years old when he went to his first Bills game on Oct. 24, 1965. As he and his father watched from Row 28 in Section 14 at War Memorial Stadium, Jack Kemp threw two touchdowns and Wray Carlton ran for two others in a 31-13 romp over the Denver Broncos.
The youngster went home with a bobblehead and a program that day, his romance with the team under way. He is 64 now and has been a Bills season-ticket holder since 1984, even though he’s lived in Boston the past 35 years.
In that time he’s missed three home games – one when his mother had cancer surgery, another when his wife had pneumonia, and the last for an important business meeting.
A former insurance executive, Tranter donated more than 100,000 Bills artifacts he had collected since childhood to the Buffalo History Museum, for which he serves as president of the board of managers. An appraiser estimated the items’ combined value at more than US$1-million.
It includes the bobblehead and $4.50 ticket stub from that first game, the helmet that Scott Norwood wore when he missed the 47-yard field goal that would have won Super Bowl XXV, a box of Doug Flutie Flakes, a garden gnome, hand puppets, a snow blower and lapel pins shaped like footballs that Secret Service agents wore during the 1996 presidential campaign while protecting Kemp, the vice-presidential nominee to Robert Dole.
Tranter has programs from every Bills game played dating from their inaugural campaign in 1960 in the AFL and says he caused a ruckus watching from home this season as the Bills won 15 of 18 games.
“I am so excited, I am just blown away,” he says.
Tranter has been to every Bills Super Bowl, and he and three friends have tickets to the game on Feb. 7 in Tampa.They bought them early, without knowing if the Bills will be there, just in case.
If the Bills lose on Sunday, Tranter says he will probably sell his ticket, which cost him upward of US$7,000. The matchup he dreams about is Buffalo against Tampa Bay.
“If we beat Tom Brady, it would make up for 20 years of misery,” Tranter says.
Blockbuster Laine-Dubois deal draws mixed reviews on social media – Sportsnet.ca
Player grades: McDavid's brilliance not quite enough as Edmonton Oilers drop a tight one in T.O. – Edmonton Journal
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