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Raptors’ uncharacteristic slip on defence is cause for concern – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Since Nick Nurse took the reigns as head coach, there are many aspects of the game that you can point to as being “Toronto Raptors Basketball.” But the most identifiable thing has, probably, been the team’s defence.

Through two games of Nurse’s third season at the helm, however, it looks like Toronto’s going through a bit of an identity crisis.

“We’re nowhere near where we want to be defensively, but it takes hard work, it takes dedication of watching film, understanding who we’re playing against and making adjustments on the fly,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said after his team fell to the San Antonio Spurs, 119-114 on Saturday night. “I think we’ll watch some film tomorrow and the next day and see what we did bad and what we did good and try to build off the good end of things rather than dwell on the bad things.”

The second loss in as many games they played, we are still early into the Raptors’ season, of course, but the uncharacteristic slippage we’ve seen from them on defence is still concerning, nonetheless.

Over two games, Toronto sports a porous defensive rating of 111.5 and have appeared a step or two slow on rotations, leading to more room for opponents to operate and make decisions with the ball.

As an example, familiar foe DeMar DeRozan torched Toronto on Saturday for 27 points and eight assists, shooting 10-of-17 from the field and, surprisingly, going 3-for-4 from three-point range. DeRozan, obviously, is a great offensive player, but the Raptors didn’t offer much in the way of resistance. They allowed DeRozan to take his time over the course of the game and dictate when, where and how he was going to attack.

This could’ve been aided by one of the basic tenets of good defence: More communication.

As Toronto guard Fred VanVleet described it, the Raptors simply aren’t talking enough to each other right now.

“I am not going to give anybody credit for communicating, myself included,” VanVleet said. “We got to do a much better job of that. So to answer your question, everybody on the team needs to be better on that end of the floor communicating, starting with myself and I think that will help our defence out. I mean there’s nobody in the building so there’s no excuse to not be talking. It’s quiet as hell out there.”

In general, the Raptors have been disappointing on defence to kick the season off, and they know it.

“It’s tough. It’s tough. I think we’ve got to guard our guys a little better,” VanVleet said. “Individually, we’ve got to make multiple efforts. Make more slides. Figure it out. It’s not rocket science. I don’t want to say it’s an effort thing. I feel like guys are trying out there. We’ve got to make more plays at a higher level.

“It’s easy to say it on offence when you say guys have got to make plays, you’ve got to complete the play. But it’s the same thing on defence: You’ve got to make the extra rotation, you’ve got to make the close out, you’ve got to come up with the rebound. We’re trying. I think we’ve got to perform defensively at a higher level each possession. I think we’re just not doing it for a full game. We do it in spurts, but I think teams are just a little too comfortable right now, or these last two teams that we play.”

What is encouraging about Toronto’s defence, however, is those spurts VanVleet speaks of, have been excellent.

The makings of a strong defensive club is still there for the Raptors thanks to the fact they still have personnel like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and, as evidence Saturday, Chris Boucher.

Boucher recorded a career-high seven blocks on Saturday, and while his shot contests can come at the expense of cleaning up the defensive glass, the energy he brings on defence, attempting to swat everything within his vicinity, is exactly what the Raptors need right now. That willingness to lay it all out there on every defensive possession was part of the reason why the Raptors became as stout a defence as they did the past two seasons in the first place.

“If we can perform at the right place, I think we can be a really good defensive team,” Boucher said. “We’ve just got to go out there and prove it every time.“

And it really should be just that simple.

Yes, this Raptors team has new faces to incorporate and didn’t have much time to prepare these new guys thanks to the short training camp and pre-season. But the fact remains that Toronto picked up a couple losses to teams it probably shouldn’t have lost to because the club’s signature defence isn’t up to snuff yet.

“I think it’s a lot of things that goes into that, everybody making adjustments trying to figure it out,” Lowry said. “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 0-2 and I haven’t been this record in a long [expletive] time.”

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Rivers retiring after 17 seasons in NFL – TSN

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Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune he is retiring after 17 seasons in the NFL, 16 with the Chargers organization.

Rivers spent the 2020 season with the Indianapolis Colts, leading the team to the playoffs before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.

The 39-year-old threw for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.

Prior to his lone season in Indianapolis, Rivers played 16 seasons with the Chargers split between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Rivers was drafted fourth overall by the New York Giants in 2004 before getting traded to the Chargers as part of a deal for Eli Manning.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, Rivers finished his career with 63,440 yards, 421 touchdowns, and 209 interceptions. He ranks fifth all-time in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes.

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Blue Jays’ big swing on Springer marks turning point for franchise – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – After years spent trying to raise the roster’s floor, the Toronto Blue Jays are now raising the franchise’s ceiling.

A $150-million, six-year deal with free-agent outfielder George Springer that is pending a physical, according to an industry source, is certainly one way to do just that, marking a significant inflection point for the franchise.

The agreement is the richest in Blue Jays history, moving past the $126-million, seven-year extension Vernon Wells signed in December 2006, and is easily the club’s deepest free-agency plunge, nearly doubling the $82-million, five-year deal for Russell Martin in November 2014.

On the heels of the $80-million, four-year deal for Hyun-Jin Ryu last winter – the biggest outlay to a pitcher by the Blue Jays – this is a stride by president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins back toward the upper third of the big-leagues, with room to grow.

Assuming that Springer’s salary is spread evenly at $25 million a year, the Blue Jays now have just under $100 million committed to 12 players for the upcoming season, with more moves to come. Factor in roughly $10 million for pre-arbitration eligible players, they can still make adds without blowing too far past their pre-pandemic projected 2020 spend of $108 million.

The financial efficiency of the current roster will diminish somewhat in the coming years when salaries for the club’s young core escalate as they become arbitration-eligible.

But assuming life regains more normalcy in 2022 and beyond and the Blue Jays deliver on their potential, revenue growth should keep pace with the escalating payroll, allowing them to not only make attempts to retain the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio before they become eligible for free agency after 2025, but to keep augmenting the roster, too.

In that way, going big now for Springer – an athletic centre-fielder with a strong, positive presence, seasons of 3.9, 4.5, 5.0 and 6.5 WAR as calculated by FanGraphs and a track record of post-season performance – makes sense.

There are some similarities between where the Blue Jays are right now and where they were in the late 1990s, with young, deeply talented rosters positioned to rejuvenate the business after a fall from grace.

Back then, former GM Gord Ash was forced to work around the indifferent ownership of Interbrew S.A., the major coup of signing Roger Clemens undermined when he asked out after the 1998 season, and the roster was never sufficiently reinforced with external adds.

Failing to leverage a talented young group featuring Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart, Alex Gonzalez, Chris Carpenter, Kelvim Escobar and Roy Halladay is a haunting missed opportunity, and failing to bolster the group now would have been similarly damaging.

In Springer, the Blue Jays are adding a proven elite performer to support Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Danny Jansen and Nate Pearson, putting the 31-year-old in place to do a good chunk of the heavy lifting.

Beyond that, he makes the Blue Jays a much deeper club, and one thing they have aspired to is creating surplus on the roster, allowing them to better survive injuries and to mitigate against underperformance.

That’s why the report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic saying the Blue Jays would continue to explore adding Michael Brantley, Springer’s close friend and Houston Astros teammate, makes sense, even if as a left fielder/DH, he’s a positional redundancy.

For one, surplus creates the opportunity for trades and Gurriel, for one, has wide appeal given his abilities and a very efficient $14.7 million total price tag for the next three seasons. But the Blue Jays would also be fine carrying more talent than available at-bats, knowing the inevitable attrition of a major-league season will largely sort that out.

Such an approach has allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to be a sustainable winner, which is what the Blue Jays hope to become. It was a telling moment at the trade deadline last summer when Atkins pointed to the now defending World Series champions as the model to follow.

“It’s never all-in at one time – it’s a steady growth,” he said Aug. 31, when asked to contrast the Blue Jays’ approach to that of the San Diego Padres. “They continue to build up their system. They’ve continued to make their 40-man roster more efficient and obviously very effective. It’s important to be measured, and there isn’t one juncture where, in our view, that you put all the cards on the table. For us it will be, hopefully, continuing to be able to build and have a system that continues to provide talent for us, and not just trade pieces. That’s our goal.

“We’ll hope to continue to be measured. At the same time, it’s not without making really significant deals that mean very, very high prices. But it’s too hard to say on when exactly that time will be where those bigger deals occur.”

That time arrived late Tuesday night and it’s a turning point for the franchise, a significant step after near-misses this off-season for Francisco Lindor and D.J. LeMahieu, among others.

The Blue Jays needed an add like Springer, not only to placate fans who eye-rolled their way through months of reporting that linked the team to every free agent of consequence, but also to be credible to their own players, to show them that they can get the help they need.

Many needs, however, remain.

The rotation requires a boost and the pending-physical deals with Tyler Chatwood on Monday and Kirby Yates on Tuesday, the latter for one year at $5.5 million with the potential for $4.5 million more in bonuses for appearances, per a source, demonstrate how they’re trying to protect themselves with a deep bullpen.

The Blue Jays also intend to add an infielder, while Brantley, a left-handed hitter, would help balance a lineup that’s nearly totally right-handed if signed.

No matter, after adding Springer, they are better, much better, in so many different ways.

The cost was steep and the back-end of such deals aren’t usually pretty, but that’s OK. Adding an extra year and the extra dollars is simply the price of doing business.

More important is that the Blue Jays didn’t play it safe, didn’t shy away from the risk, and rather than finding the reasons to say no when the moment of truth arrived, they turned the franchise in a new direction by saying “yes” instead.

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Three potential reasons why the Toronto Raptors have waived Alex Len – Raptors Rapture

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Alex Len has just been waived by the Toronto Raptors, which is important because it is most likely signaling another transaction.

The Raptors were not making this move for cap space, as Alex Len was signed to a very small contract, but the team was using up all 15 contracts that the team is allotted. Therefore, another player is probably coming into the fold to replace Alex Len.

Yuta Watanabe being converted to a one-way contract.

Yuta Watanabe has been a pleasant surprise for the Toronto Raptors coming off of the bench this season. He picked up the Raptors’ defensive schemes very quickly and was able to come in off the bench. While he is not a flashy offensive player, his strong defense quickly turned him into a fan favorite with the team.

Alex Len being waived opens up an extra one-way contract spot, which would allow Yuta Watanabe to come in and take that spot. If Watanabe were to remain on his two-way contract, the Raptors would have to abide by the rule of only being able to play him for 50 games. If they were to do this, the Toronto Raptors must be very confident in Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher at the centre position.

A potential trade for another centre.

Toronto Raptors – Marvin Bagley and Chris Boucher (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Perhaps the team waived Alex Len to open up a contract spot for a potential trade. There are a few centres on the market, such as Marvin Bagley and Andre Drummond, and trading for a new centre may have needed the Raptors to take on an additional contract. This waiving could mean a lot of things in a possible trade, but the most important thing here is that it opens a roster spot.

Marvin Bagley is an intriguing player. He has had some injury issues, but his player progression timeline fits much better with Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and the other young players on the roster. Making a move for him would allow him to complement Chris Boucher’s skillset very well, and he still has a ton of time to improve, only being drafted in 2018.

The Raptors 905 stand out

The Raptors 905 has begun their training for the upcoming G league bubble, and the Toronto Raptors most likely did some scouting on their practice. The Raptors have always been known for their ability to use the G-League to develop prospects, so maybe someone like Dewan Hernandez or Henry Ellenson performed well.

Ellenson, in particular, was not bad offensively during the preseason games this season, but Yuta Watanabe’s outstanding play made him not make the team. Perhaps the team liked what they saw from Ellenson’s offense, and thinks that they can bring him in to provide more offense from the centre position while also bringing more size than Chris Boucher too.

Dewan Hernandez is an interesting player for the Raptors to consider. He had major injury issues during his first season with the team, but perhaps the team is thinking that he has bounced back well from his injury.

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