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Raptors secure foundation for their future



TORONTO – What separates the NBA’s great organizations from the good ones?

There are numerous factors, of course, but a big differentiator is how they transition from one era to the next. Can they do it seamlessly without having to hit the reset button or endure a long and painful rebuild?

It’s a rare ability that requires pristine drafting and player development, savvy asset management, and a little bit of luck – occasionally a lot of luck. But it can be done, as teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, among others, have shown.

The Spurs are probably the best example – the gold standard in the league and throughout professional sports for more than two decades. Prior to this past season, they had a record-tying run of 22 straight playoff appearances, resulting in six trips to the Finals and five championships.

Head coach Gregg Popovich and chief executive R.C. Buford were the constants, but their run – which came to an end when they went 32-39 and missed the post-season in 2019-20 – was a credit to the way they passed the torch between prominent players.

David Robinson helped groom Tim Duncan, who mentored Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who paid it forward to Kawhi Leonard. Whenever a franchise cornerstone was nearing the end of his career, there always seemed to be another waiting in the wings and ready to inherit the reigns.

The Toronto Raptors have aimed to emulate that approach, and while they still have a long way to go in order to reach that almost unprecedented level of sustained success, they’re on the right track.

Their seven consecutive playoff appearances are tied (with Portland and behind Houston) for the NBA’s second-longest active streak. They’ve won at least one post-season series five years in a row, which is tops in the league. There aren’t many clubs that are held in higher esteem for their body of work over the past decade.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey – along with the architect Masai Ujiri – were the faces of their unlikely rise. While the core has undergone changes over the years – most notable with Nick Nurse replacing Casey and DeRozan being sent to San Antonio for one memorable year of Leonard – Lowry remains at the forefront of the team’s identity.

The six-time all-star is turning 35 in March and will be a free agent following this season. Even if he remains a Raptor beyond that point – and many are hoping he will – he can only defy the aging process for so long, you would think. Eventually, it will come time to pass the torch.

The Raptors have been good enough for long enough that they’ve had to consider and plan for what comes next. That’s what this past year has been about for Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster – setting the Raptors down a path that ensures they’ll be competitive for the foreseeable future.

The foundation they’ve built, and recently secured, features the promising young trio of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby.

In the fall of 2019, the Raptors signed Siakam to a maximum salary contract extension worth more than $130 million over the next four years, beginning this season. Last month, they gave VanVleet a new four-year, $85 million deal. On Monday, just ahead of the deadline, they agreed to extend Anunoby for four years at $72 million. His deal will kick in next season.

All three players are home grown, having been drafted – or, in the case of VanVleet, signed as an undrafted free agent – by Toronto. They’ve come up together through the Raptors’ system, learning from veterans of the previous regime and sharing in the team’s recent success, including the championship run in 2019.

They’re all under the age of 27, yet to or just about to reach their prime years. They’ve each taken meaningful steps early in their professional careers and shown there’s still another level that they can reach. And now, they’re all under contract through 2023-24.

“They were second-year players when I was a rookie, so we all started off the same and we’ve all just been growing,” Anunoby said. “It’s been cool to see. We all work really hard, we’ve all been happy for each other. So it’s cool to see and I’m excited for the future.”

“I think it’s really been fun and interesting to watch them all grow,” said Nurse. “I think it’s a real credit first of all to them individually and to our organization – coaching staff, player development, all that stuff that we’ve been able to grow these guys to this point.”

“I don’t think any of them were real sure-fire high draft picks or whatever. Freddy’s undrafted and [Siakam and Anunoby were] late first-round picks, and they go out there and they compete with the best.”

For the Raptors, that’s been the key to carrying over their success, as it was for the Spurs. As a winning team that’s routinely selecting from the bottom of the first round, if they even have a pick at all, scouting and drafting well are paramount.

Sure, San Antonio was fortunate to end up with the first-overall pick in a class that happened to feature a generational talent like Duncan, but from there, they found Ginobili with the 57th pick and Parker at pick No. 28. Even Leonard, who they acquired on draft night, was a steal at 15.

A surprise 27th-overall pick in 2016, Siakam has blossomed into an all-star and all-NBA talent. VanVleet was passed over 60 times in that same draft and has become one of the league’s best success stories. Anunoby, who was recovering from a serious knee injury at the time of the draft in 2017 and fell to the Raptors at No. 23, may have the highest upside of the trio.

“He hopefully understands he can become one of the league’s elite defenders,” Nurse said of Anunoby on Tuesday. “And then the rest of it, I just think continues to develop. He certainly shoots the ball well. His other skill work – what is he gonna do in transition, what’s he gonna do on the block, what’s he gonna do starting and ending drives, what kind of passer is he gonna become – all those things, I think, are accelerating I would say at probably a faster rate than expected. He’s certainly more than just a play defence and stand in the corner guy. He’s becoming a more active member of the offence because his skills are improving.”

“I definitely think I’m capable of more than I’ve shown [offensively],” said the 23-year-old forward. “I work really hard at this stuff. Especially with what my role’s been, I think I’m definitely capable of more, for sure.”

With an expanded role in the team’s offence, many are expecting Anunoby to take a big step forward in his fourth campaign, but the spotlight will be on all three of the young Raptors when they tip off the new season in Tampa on Wednesday. Siakam’s fourth year, and first as a primary option, was a success – or at least it would have been if not for his disappointing showing in the bubble. He’ll be on a mission to prove that, at 26 years of age, it was merely a small setback and his best is yet to come. VanVleet showed that he can be a full-time starter, but with the big contract people will want to see him continue to evolve as a lead guard.

“I think Fred is certainly a leader of the team, he’s kind of a natural leader anyway and [with] the departures of Serge [Ibaka] and Marc [Gasol] he probably takes a bigger role,” Nurse said. “And as far as Pascal and OG, I think this is the opportunity for them to grow into this a little bit. I think Pascal’s doing so, maybe his status in the locker room or status on the team helps that and OG’s coming along. He still seems like the young one of the group, not quite into that leadership role yet, but I think the chemistry between them has developed nicely.”

To compete for championships in the NBA you need a superstar, and the Raptors know that more than most – it’s the reason they traded the popular DeRozan for what turned out to be a rental in Leonard.

It’s why they were crossing their fingers in the hopes that Giannis Antetokounmpo would pass on signing his extension with Milwaukee, giving them a shot – even if it would have been a long one – at landing him next summer. It’s also why they’ve reportedly kicked the tires on the disgruntled James Harden, even though he would be a questionable fit in Toronto, both on and off the court.

Those types of players are hard to get your hands on, and unless one of their young foundational pieces takes an unexpected leap into that stratosphere, the Raptors will always be in the market for one of those elite talents.

But with the trio of Siakam, VanVleet and Anunoby – three all-star calibre players, or guys with all-star potential – under long-term control, the Raptors are virtually a lock to remain competitive as they transition to the next era. And with assets, and the willingness to spend them, they’re well positioned to make the move that would take them to the next level, if and
Source:- TSN

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In Maple Leafs' talks with Oilers about Hyman, Dubas isn't bending the knee –



Kyle Dubas is in no mood to be doing favours.

Still smarting after a difficult first-round loss by his Toronto Maple Leafs, and limited in the ways he can reshape the roster by cap space and a lack of draft capital, the generally affable general manager took a firm stance when approached over the weekend about facilitating a sign-and-trade agreement involving Zach Hyman.

The benefits of the arrangement were clear for two of the parties at the table — it would have allowed Hyman to add an eighth year to his rich free-agent contract while giving the Edmonton Oilers a chance to lower the winger’s annual cap hit by more than $400,000 per season.

As for the Leafs?

Well, Dubas didn’t view the late-round pick Edmonton was offering as being worth the trouble. Cap space is king in this league. And there’s a cost to wriggling free of cap obligations even if it’s part of a sign-and-trade scenario rather than a more common contract dump.

“We’ve been in that situation before at the trade deadline and when you’re in that spot the other GM’s aren’t helping you out. They’re pulling the pin from the grenade and they’re throwing it to you,” Dubas said Saturday. “I know that there’s a narrative that we should just get something, but when you’re saving a team significant dollars on the salary cap that comes with a cost and we’re not going to bend on that.”

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We’re starting to see a hardened public edge forming around a man who has watched his organization take a lot of bullets since squandering a 3-1 series lead against Montreal in May. The Leafs were even roundly mocked during Wednesday’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft, the brunt of jokes about the long gaps since they’ve last won a playoff series and Stanley Cup.

Dubas is meeting the criticism head-on.

He’s started speaking openly about attaching his own job security to the core of players he refuses to break up and even acknowledged that those players are guilty of being too passive in elimination games: “We’ve been in those moments now the last five seasons and we’ve fallen short in those moments.”

It had been his hope to keep Hyman in Toronto, extending a max term eight-year offer after the season. But he couldn’t get close to the kind of money on the table in Edmonton. That prompted Dubas to grant Hyman’s agent, Todd Reynolds, permission to speak to other teams and set the table for the possibility of the NHL’s first ever sign-and-trade agreement.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The Leafs understand the value of cap flexibility as well as anyone — having surrendered the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft to Carolina to rid themselves of the final year of Patrick Marleau’s $6.25-million annual contract and sent fourth-round picks to both San Jose and Columbus for double salary retention on Nick Foligno at the trade deadline.

They also added a 2020 fifth-round selection as a go-between in the Robin Lehner deadline day trade with Chicago and Vegas, absorbing $1.1-million of the goalie’s cap commitment.

What Edmonton stood to gain in a potential Hyman sign-and-trade eclipsed each of those precedent-setting trades in total value. The pending unrestricted free agent is believed to be in line to receive $5.075-million annually on an eight-year deal or $5.5-million per on a seven-year contract from Edmonton should he get to the open market.

“In terms of compensation, I think it’s fairly simple,” said Dubas. “There’s a big benefit to me of adding the eighth year on in terms of the cap savings to the team that’s going to sign him. … So we know what the value is of that retention, of going to the eighth year, the cap savings, and so if there’s a fair deal to be made to do that we’ll do that.”

The challenges of the cap system are one of the main reasons why Dubas had only three selections to make during the NHL Draft — taking forward Matthew Knies at No. 57, forward Ty Voit at No. 153 and goaltender Vyacheslav Peksa at No. 185.

He mentioned that his lack of draft capital and cap space also kept him out of the rampant trade discussions during a wild weekend of activity across the league.

The impending Hyman departure only adds to the challenge of getting his group over the hump, but Dubas trudges forward: “It’s a loss, but we have to pick up and move on and do all that we can to put the team in the best position possible for next season.”

They will be looking for a depth defenceman or two that can play with snarl and won’t break the bank when free agency opens Wednesday. They also need a goaltender to play alongside Jack Campbell and another left-winger to fill out their lineup.

Ideally, those needs will be addressed on the open market but Dubas isn’t boxing himself in if it doesn’t happen. He remains open to trades.

“We’ve got our high picks next year and our prospect pool, plus players on our roster that teams are always circling around and asking about,” said Dubas. “We’ll get to work here on Wednesday or prior to Wednesday and see what’s available. We’ll try to use every avenue we can to improve the team.”

That could still involve a sign-and-trade for Hyman if the Oilers come around to his way of viewing the situation. But there doesn’t appear to be a compromise.

Right now Dubas isn’t bending the knee for anyone.

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Canadian divers Abel, Citrini-Beaulieu win silver in women's 3m synchro – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



The Canadian Press

Published Sunday, July 25, 2021 6:59AM EDT

Last Updated Sunday, July 25, 2021 7:06AM EDT

TOKYO — Jennifer Abel did everything she could to ensure the Tokyo Olympics were not a repeat of Rio.

The 29-year-old from Laval, Que., spent a lot of time over the past five years going over her two fourth-place finishes at those 2016 Summer Games.

Sunday’s Olympic silver medal in the women’s three-metre synchronized springboard, alongside teammate Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu, was like a weight off her shoulders.

“Actually, I think I may have added a weight, because this thing is really heavy,” said a laughing Abel, holding up her silver medal moments after the medal ceremony.

“Today we accomplished everything we wanted. We thought about the present moment, not the future or the past. We lived the moment together. I find it beautiful what we have achieved together.”

Added Citrini-Beaulieu: “It’s been a dream since I was young. I kept believing I could do it and now I’m by Jenn’s side and we won a silver medal at the Olympics. I am proud of what we achieved.”

Abel had saidthat she had experienced a certain “identity crisis” after Rio. Because she set the bar so high for herself, she says she left Brazil with a sense of failure. And while she’s since made peace with that moment in her life, the pressure was still high Sunday.

“In Rio, my biggest mistake was focusing on the medal,” said Abel. “But it was not easy to come here and not think about the medal. Especially since Melissa and I have finished second at all the world championships and World Cups since 2017.”

The Canadians started the competition with some difficulty, sitting sixth out of eight teams after two dives. But they quickly climbed the leaderboard by executing higher-difficulty dives.

“We both knew that our first two dives weren’t necessarily the best,” said Abel. “We knew we had to get more points from our last three.

“At the same time, in synchronized springboard, things become very important as of the third dive. That’s when anything can happen. We didn’t get sidetracked with the little mistakes we made at the start because we knew we still had a lot left.”

Abel and Citrini-Beaulieu, from of Saint-Constant, Que., finished the competition with a total score of 300.78.

The Chinese pair of Shi Tingmao and Wang Han finished first with 326.4 points — a fifth straight Olympic title for China in the event. Germany’s Lena Hentschel and Tina Punzel were third with 284.97 points.

“Before our last dive, I knew we were in a good position for a podium finish,” said Abel. “When I entered the water, I knew I had had a good dive. My first reaction then was to look at Melissa and she looked at me with big eyes and she said, ‘I got it’. I turned around and watched the reaction of the coaches and immediately knew that we had won the silver medal.”

On the podium, an emotional Abel wiped away a few tears.

“It’s not easy to come here,” she said. “Everyone talking about the potential of getting the medal. I’m already putting enough pressure on myself and I’m putting some on Melissa too.

“I was really emotional because I couldn’t have had a better partner than Melissa, a person who supports me. I am not always easy to manage. I am very picky. Melissa has always been there for me. It was just doing this together that made me really emotional.”

For Abel, this is a second Olympic medal. She won bronze with Emilie Heymans in London in 2012.

“In 2012, I was young,” said Abel. “With Emilie, she was the one with all the experience and the opportunity to do something huge for her career and for the Canadian team.

“I was in the position where I didn’t want to be the one preventing her from having that title. Here, I wanted to do it for Melissa, it was for our team. We are two very demanding girls, we work hard, we are always ready to do more to reach our goals and that is what we did today.”

Abel will try to apply the same recipe next Sunday in the individual three-metre springboard final.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.

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Canada earns first medal in Tokyo with silver in women’s 4×100 freestyle swimming –



Canada has earned its first trip to the podium at the Tokyo Olympics, claiming silver in the women’s 4×100-metre swimming freestyle relay Saturday night.

Penny Oleksiak, the decorated swimmer who anchored the Canadian women to the nation’s first medal of these Games, earned her fifth career trip to the podium in the process, tying the all-time record for a summer Olympian from Canada. Rower Lesley Thompson-Willie and sprinter Phil Edwards are Canada’s other two five-time summer Games medalists.

“I think it’s kind of crazy,” Oleksiak said after the race. “I think we were all hopeful that we would get a medal. We didn’t know what medal it would really be. I think we all just wanted one. For it to be a silver, it’s pretty crazy I think.”

Kayla Sanchez, Maggie Mac Neil and Rebecca Smith rounded out Canada’s medal-winning crew. Sanchez took the lead position in the final, giving Mac Neil and Smith a chance to inch Canada closer to its eventual silver.

Then, in the final length, Oleksiak took over, propelling Canada out of what could have been a fourth-place finish and onto the podium.

“I just knew I wasn’t going to touch third,” Oleksiak said. “And when I make a decision in the race I have to execute it, so I wanted a silver medal for these girls and I wanted it so bad I wouldn’t accept anything else.”

Taylor Ruck, the fifth member of the team, didn’t swim in the final but competed in the preliminary heats and also received a medal.

Earlier in the night Mac Neil, who replaced Ruck in the final, placed third in her semifinal of the women’s 100-metre butterfly, earning a place in Sunday’s final and a chance to earn an individual medal for Canada.

In that semifinal, Mac Neil, the 2019 world champion and Canadian record holder in the event, posted a time of 56.56 seconds. She finished behind world record holder and Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, and Yufei Zhang of China, who finished first with a time of 55.89 seconds.

“I know from experience my second swim is usually better because I’m warmed up already,” Mac Neil said. “I was really looking forward to it. Having these girls with me definitely gave me that extra boost to get silver.”

The Australian women’s team earned gold in Saturday’s 4×100-metre freestyle, shattering the previous world record with a time of 03:29.69. Canada managed to beat out the USA by a mere three one-hundredths of a second, as the Americans finished with bronze.

The Canadian relay team secured its place in tonight’s final by posting the third-fastest time in yesterday’s semifinal with a combined time of three minutes 33.72 seconds, narrowly behind the Netherlands and Australia.

This relay team kicking off the nation’s Olympics success isn’t new. Five years ago, during the Rio Games, it was the Canadian women’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay team that earned Canada’s first medal with a bronze.

Canada’s women will seek to secure a podium position in all three relay events during the Tokyo games after achieving three bronze medals during the world championship in South Korea two years ago.

“I have a lot of faith in these people,” Sanchez said. “If you want someone to anchor it’s Penny. And if you want someone to swim second it’s Maggie. And Rebecca is a great trainer and consistent. We just did what we needed to do.”

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