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Raptors won’t trade Lowry at deadline, but must author graceful end to era – Sportsnet.ca

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This is about Kyle Lowry, and this is about the end.

It’s about the last big step in what should be a Hall-of-Fame career for the iconic Toronto Raptors point guard and the first chance the Raptors have had to navigate a graceful exit for a player whose legacy should serve as a cultural shorthand for the organization within the NBA for years to come and as a touchstone for the franchise and for the city for decades beyond that.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s start here: Lowry is not going to be dealt before the March 25 trade deadline. It’s not that the Raptors and Lowry haven’t mulled over the pros and cons of making a mutually agreeable deal for the 15-year veteran heading into free agency, or that there isn’t interest in the six-time all-star who comes with a shipping container’s full of intangibles along with averages of 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and seven assists per game along with 40.3 per cent shooting from deep — all marks that are in the neighbourhood of his career peaks.

But, but, he… sold his house!

It means nothing. Lowry closed the deal on his $5-million home in North Toronto a few weeks ago, yes, but remember: It’s been home to only a quiet hum since last March with no prospect of Lowry and his family living there until next September. If Lowry needs somewhere to stay in Toronto by then he can buy it, rent it or move into a spare wing at Drake’s house until things get sorted out. A house empty that long was a loose end in need of tidying up. End of story.

“That place was vacant and just sitting there, so there’s nothing to read into that at all,” Lowry’s agent Mark Bartelstein said. “That’s a residue of the pandemic.”

But beyond that context, surveying the market and assessing where the Raptors are, it’s more and more clear the chances of a deal happening are remote and the notion that Lowry is pushing for one is far-fetched.

Lowry made his position quite clear the other day via his Instagram story, but multiple league sources I’ve spoken with over the past two weeks who have reason to know Lowry’s thinking has echoed the theme.

The persistence of the speculation is a nuisance, even if the reporting of it is understandable.


Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. (Chris Young/CP)

“It’s frustrating from our perspective. A story comes out that Kyle’s told everybody he’s out. That’s just blatantly not true,” said Bartelstein. “It’s just 1,000 per cent not true. Are there a lot of teams around the NBA that want Kyle? Yeah, who wouldn’t want an all-star point guard. There are certainly teams that know that he’s in the last year of his deal and this is the time of year where every team is talking to every team about a lot of things, and there’s a lot of people that would love to get Kyle Lowry, but his focus right now is on winning for the Toronto Raptors.

“He has clearly not told anybody that he wants out of Toronto. Masai and Bobby and I talk all the time. You can never put anything in concrete in this business, things change, but there is literally nothing to all this chatter about Kyle wanting out or telling his team he wants to go there. That’s just not true.”

And while that’s easy to dismiss as an agent trying to lower the temperature for a client, it echoes precisely what other sources have told me with regard to how Raptors executives Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have been viewing the landscape.

The Raptors’ 2-8 start might have lit one path clearly — had Toronto continued to stumble, all parties involved would have been amenable to making future-focused moves which almost certainly would include trying to find a soft landing spot for Lowry with a shortlist of championship contenders. But given the flattened landscape of the Eastern Conference and the glimpses of potential a healthy Raptors lineup has shown, the urgency to play the long game dissipated quickly.

“I really don’t get the impression that they’re moving him or that they’re looking for something to do with him,” said one longtime league insider. “I think the climate has changed where they’re saying, ‘You know what, we got off to a slow start. OK fine, we’ll end up 4-5-6 [in the East], worst-case scenario.’ So why push Kyle out?”

The market has dictated the thinking also.

Under any circumstances Lowry and the team he’s bled for the past eight years were not going to divorce. The Raptors were never going to trade Lowry to Cleveland for Andre Drummond or see if the Sacramentos or Minnesotas of the world — teams desperate to learn how to win — would flip some young talent for one of the most respected old heads in the game. Lowry doesn’t want to end his career teaching winning, he wants to do all the winning he can when he can.

So it was always going to be a move that pleased everyone. But while most of the league’s contenders — the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers, the Miami Heat and, yes, Lowry’s hometown Philadelpia 76ers — could use what Lowry brings, the fit is less than seamless.

The Lakers and Clippers lack the draft-pick capital and/or the combination of young prospects and expiring contracts to facilitate a deal for Lowry, who earns $30 million this season. The Sixers could put something together — some combination of future picks, prospects and veteran contract ballast is routinely trotted out — but as much as Sixers president Daryl Morey’s relationship with Lowry going back to their days in Houston gets cited as another factor to grease the rails, it’s worth pointing out that Morey traded Lowry in 2012 and passed on signing him as a free agent in 2017.

The Sixers’ window with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris all under contract should be open for several years. If Morey is going to go star hunting one more time, maybe he’s aiming higher than Lowry, even if the Raptors point guard is showing no signs of regressing from his all-star standards.

As for Miami, there has been mutual interest between the Heat and Lowry going back years. Some players and some organizations just seem to fit. And it’s easy to imagine that Lowry — having spent the winter wheeling around Tampa with the top down on his newly purchased Ferrari 812 GTS, golfing whenever time allows and enjoying the 8-10 per cent bump in take-home pay not having state income tax provides — might enjoy spending the last two or three years of his career in Miami.

But the Heat are light on draft capital to bolster an in-season trade and will have cap space this summer in free agency to sign a Lowry-level star this summer, so why weaken their hand now as they try to repeat their run to the NBA Finals when they have good reason to think of themselves as the most appealing non-Raptors alternative out there?

All of which doesn’t preclude Lowry returning to Toronto beyond this season. The Raptors’ core of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunboy, Pascal Siakam and — for another year at least — Chris Boucher is not to be sniffed at. And Lowry’s legacy with the Raptors isn’t to be trifled with.

But this is where things get tricky and will require a safecracker’s touch. Lowry’s not one to play at a discount and, based on performance, has no reason to.

“Kyle’s a special player and a special leader. He’s got so many intangibles you can’t even put a value on what he brings to an organization,” said Bartelstein. “The one thing he’s not going to want to do is bouncing around place to place, ever. He’s too great a player for that.

“Wherever he’s going to be it’s where he’s going to want to spend the rest of his career. He’s obviously got an amazing legacy in Toronto and I know he’d be thrilled for it to happen there, but that’s something Bobby, Masai and myself have to talk about.”

Setting aside that Ujiri himself is a pending free agent, if Lowry is looking for two more years at the $30-million annual pay packet he’s become accustomed to, is that good business for the Raptors? Especially considering they already have nearly $80 million tied up in four players while Norm Powell — who has emerged as one of the most efficient scorers in the game — will almost certainly also be a free agent and likely looking for his own deal starting at $20 million and up.

What will be the appetite for MLSE — with revenues down and costs up due to the pandemic — to spend luxury-tax money on a team that doesn’t have the profile of a typical championship contender?

The flipside is the last thing the Raptors would want to do is lowball their most important player.

So, absent an increasingly unlikely mid-season trade, the real challenge for Toronto is how to have the Lowry era end gracefully for all parties. The Raptors might miss out on a draft pick or a prospect or two, but legacies like Lowry’s have a value that can’t be easily replicated.

Maybe the way to do that is to allow the market to set Lowry’s value for him this summer. Maybe the demand for a 35-year-old, high-mileage point guard isn’t as robust as he hopes. And maybe the Raptors become a safe harbour and he can finish out his career on a team that punches above its weight all the way to the end.

Or maybe the right team — Miami, it says here — makes the right offer and the Raptors can send Lowry along with handshakes all around and begin planning how they can bring Lowry back to retire in a Toronto uniform when the time is right.

Lowry’s not going anywhere between now and March 25. I’d bet on that.

But he’s not going to be a Raptor forever and the end could come this summer. Lowry already brought the Raptors nearly a decade of uninterrupted excellence and a franchise-defining championship. His next Raptors first might be an amicable parting, setting the stage for a grand reunion.

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In ever-evolving NBA, Raptors’ length and athleticism opens doors on defence – Sportsnet.ca

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Under head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors have always worked to stay abreast of league trends, or even push the envelope on what might be next.

As an assistant coach, Nurse received a considerable amount of credit for overseeing an effort to inject more spacing, ball movement and player movement into an offensive approach that had grown too reliant on DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range isolations. The result was a team-record 59-win season in 2017-18. Nurse also had his fingerprints on the “bench mob” – the high-tempo, aggressive defence-first group that was a big part of the Raptors’ regular-season success.

Since becoming head coach in 2019-19, Nurse’s defensive focus has been more apparent, with the Raptors embracing liberal switching on the perimeter as well as a growing reliance on zone defences – tactics that were less common across the league than they quickly became.

But basketball’s pace of change hasn’t stalled. You can only pay so much attention to games that don’t matter, but it’s hard not to notice that in pre-season play the Golden State Warriors are putting up an astounding 55 three-point shots a game. Four other teams – Sacramento, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City are averaging 45 three-point attempts.

For context the only teams in league history to average 45 three-point shots a game were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, with James Harden at his gun-slinging peak. A decade ago NBA teams averaged 20 three-point attempts a game. Last season it was 34 and still climbing apparently.

“I don’t know if any of us sat here at some point and said the amount of threes are going to be double … or whatever the number is,” said Nurse. “… It does evolve pretty quickly though.”

Given the value of those shots, a team that wants to be effective defensively must have a plan to discourage them being taken, or at least make them more difficult.

One of the benefits of a roster rounded out with so many players in the six-foot-six to six-foot-nine range – the Raptors only have four players in training camp shorter – is the pressure they can put on perimeter shooters.

The Raptors got a taste of it last season, when six-foot-nine Chris Boucher led the NBA with .84 blocked three-pointers a game and was ranked fourth in the league in the percentage that opponents shot when he was the closest defender. Pascal Siakam ranked second in the league in the number of three-pointers contested after leading that category in 2019-20.

As a whole, the Raptors weren’t especially good at defending the three-point line – opponents shot 37.9 per cent from deep, which was above league average and ranked them 24th overall – but given the range of mitigating circumstances they faced last season it’s probably not something to dwell on. The Raptors led the NBA in that category in 2019-20 when the set a franchise record for winning percentage.

This is a different team with plenty of new faces, but maybe having a roster full of athletic, agile guys in the mould of Boucher and Siakam could pay dividends in a league where it looks like more teams are going to be hoisting threes than ever before.

Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has certainly had the importance of getting to three-point shooters impressed upon him in his weeks-old NBA career, and as a nimble six-foot-nine guard, he can play the part.

“Shot contesting is one of our pillars that we go off of on defence as well as pressuring the ball so guys don’t get easy shots so, running them off the line,” said Banton after practice Friday. “In this league guys make shots and they make it at a high clip so I feel like just doing the best you can to run out at every shot that gets put up by the other team is big for us and being in our defensive stance, just showing length and just discouraging them from making plays they’d make if we weren’t in our right spots.

“…Just being in the right spot is just the biggest part of the battle and showing your hands. Once you’re there, it puts your whole team in a better position to play defence.”

Selling out on three-point shooters takes trust. Actually blocking a shot is rare and smart teams and players will look to pump fake on careless closeouts and look for a side-step three, a chance to penetrate the paint for layups, generate kick-outs to open shooters or simply swing the ball to take advantage of a scrambling defence.

It’s not enough to run at a shooter, it has to be done properly.

“Just playing the game the way you practice — running guys off lines and the next guy helping and making the next play,” says Banton. “So, it’s just about the offence having to make the next play, not giving them that shot or that layup, having to make them make that extra pass. The guy behind you is gonna help, we’re all playing defence in one line together so we’re all trying to work in a tandem and move where we have to move and rotate to the right spots.”

It’s music to Nurse’s ears. The goal of his scheme, he says, it to challenge every shot, everywhere.

“It’s kind of icing on the cake when we get a block [on a three-pointer],” he said. “I think I’m really more concerned that we’re making a heavy contest. Obviously the block is the heaviest of all contests. We just want to make sure we make it contested. It goes to hustle and hard play: You’ve got to keep playing the whole possession. Sometimes you’ve got to fire out, fire out, fire out.

“Every now and then you get put in rotations and some teams are really good in making you do it. But you’ve got to do it. That’s just an effort and hustle thing that we want the heavy contest. Chris [Boucher] has certainly got a knack, incredible timing on that stuff. I’m not sure it’s teachable or transferable … What we teach and what we drill every day is heavy contesting.”

Changing times call for changing measures – and maybe a lot of long, athletic guys flying around at the three-point line like never before.

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Blue Bombers beat Elks to clinch playoff spot – TSN

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EDMONTON — Zach Collaros threw two touchdown passes as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Elks 26-16 on Friday night to become the first CFL team to clinch a playoff berth.

Winnipeg (9-1) captured its seventh straight victory and improved to 7-0 within the West Division. Collaros finished 15-of-24 passing for 210 yards with an interception to remain the CFL’s passing leader (2,565 yards) but is also tops in TD passes with 15.

This marks the fifth straight season that Winnipeg, the defending Grey Cup champion, has made the playoffs.

Edmonton (2-7) suffered its fifth straight loss and dropped to 0-5 at home this season.

Edmonton’s defence forced a safety at 9:31 of the first quarter, then came up big five minutes later as Trumaine Washington intercepted Collaros in the end zone. The Bombers closed out the opening quarter with a 37-yard Ali Mourtada field goal.

The Elks responded with Sean Whyte’s 34-yard field goal at 11:22 of the second.

Winnipeg took the lead with three minutes left in the first half as a 47-yard completion to Kenny Lawler set up Collaros’s five-yard TD strike to Andrew Harris. But Harris appeared to suffer an injury to his right knee and did not return as Brady Oliveira finished up with 105 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Whyte kicked a 25-yard field cut Winnipeg’s half-time lead to 10-8.

Mourtada converted from 27 and a career-high 43 yards to start the third. Edmonton tied it 16-16 on Taylor Cornelius’s 11-yard TD toss to Shai Ross. Backup quarterback Dakota Prukop added the two-point convert.

Rookie Cornelius got the start as incumbent Trevor Harris was a healthy scratch.

Moments after Elks defender Aaron Grymes couldn’t hang on to an easy interception opportunity, Collaros hit Rasheed Bailey on a 48-yard completion before finding him on a five-yard scoring strike six minutes into the fourth.

Mourtada cemented the win with a 23-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining.

Winnipeg hosts the B.C. Lions next Saturday while Edmonton has a bye week before returning home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 29.

NOTES: Harris being sidelined while healthy has led to speculation the Elks are actively shopping their veteran quarterback on the trade front… Lawler returned to the lineup after being suspended by Winnipeg for its last game for an impaired driving arrest… The actual attendance appeared to be far beneath the announced 24,276 fans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.

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With a timely home run, Carlos Correa delivers Game 1 of ALCS to Astros – Sportsnet.ca

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HOUSTON — Carlos Correa paused a few seconds at the plate, tapping the spot on his wrist where a watch would be, after hitting a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Houston Astros over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener.

“It’s my time,” he screamed before trotting around the bases.

That it is.

And if his time with the Astros runs out at the end of this season, the star shortstop sure is making this an October to remember.

Correa teamed with Jose Altuve to do just enough to overcome the heroics of Kike Hernandez, who starred with his bat and glove for the wild-card Red Sox.

Altuve tied the game with a two-run shot in the sixth before Correa connected off losing pitcher Hansel Robles with two outs in the seventh to put the Astros ahead 4-3.

Correa, who has been with the Astros since being selected first overall in 2012, becomes a free agent at season’s end and it seems likely that he won’t remain in Houston.

Correa has a history of big hits for Houston that includes 18 postseason home runs, several of them in key, late situations.

“Playoff time, baby,” Correa said.

“We want to be in the spotlight,” he said. “We want to be in the moment.”

Hernandez, who won a World Series with the Dodgers last year, homered twice among his four hits and likely saved multiple runs with two terrific catches.

His second homer came off closer Ryan Pressly to start the ninth and cut the lead to 5-4. But Pressly retired the next three batters to get the save.

Game 2 is Saturday in Houston.

Ahead 4-3, the Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth when Hirokazu Sawamura plunked Martin Maldonado. Houston added some insurance when Yuli Gurriel slid in just before the tag to score on a sacrifice fly by Altuve that made it 5-3, beating a terrific throw by Hernandez.

Hernandez has been red hot for the Red Sox this October, with 13 hits in his last four games to set an MLB record for most hits in a four-game span in one postseason. He passed Billy Hatcher (1999), Marquis Grissom (1995), Hideki Matsui (2004) and Randy Arozarena (2020), who all had 11.

“Enrique is en fuego,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.

Chas McCormick singled with one out in the sixth before Altuve became the fourth player in MLB history to hit at least 20 postseason homers with his shot to left-center off Tanner Houck that tied it at 3.

Hernandez opened a three-run third with his soaring homer to centre field to tie it at 1-all.

Xander Bogaerts walked with one out and Rafael Devers singled. J.D. Martinez hit a grounder to Altuve for what should have been a routine play. But the ball grazed his glove and rolled between his legs to allow Martinez to reach and Bogaerts to score to put Boston up 2-1.

Hunter Renfroe then hit an RBI double to left field to extend it to 3-1 before Houston’s two brightest stars came through late.

“Experience matters,” Correa said.

Altuve and Correa, connecting again for a team trying to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. The Astros also won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Both teams leaned heavily on their bullpens after both Boston starter Chris Sale and Houston’s Framber Valdez were chased in the third.

Ryne Stanek got the last out of the seventh for the win.

“We stay in the moment. You win, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow. You lose, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow,” Cora said.

“We lost the first three games of the season to Baltimore, and we felt like Game 4 against Tampa was the season, to be honest with you. We’ve been living like this for a while, so we’ll be ready for tomorrow,” he said.

Sale, who was tagged for five runs in one inning in his previous start against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series, permitted five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings Friday. Valdez gave up six hits and three runs — two earned — while also getting just eight outs.

The Astros led 1-0 after Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly by Yordan Alvarez in the first.

For the next few innings it looked like it wouldn’t be the Astros’ night.

Houston loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Altuve struck out before Sale escaped the jam with a huge assist from Hernandez in center field. Hernandez, whose MLB debut came when he subbed for Altuve late in a game in 2014, sprinted to rob Michael Brantley with a diving catch in shallow center to end the inning.

The Astros had runners at first and second with two outs in the fifth when Hernandez struck again. He made a back-handed grab in right-center on a ball hit by Kyle Tucker to leave them empty-handed once more.

Hernandez even seemed surprised he made the grab, contorting his face into a shocked look after the ball hit his glove.

UP NEXT

Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.61 ERA) will have a homecoming of sorts Saturday when he starts opposite rookie Luis Garcia (0-0, 16.88). Eovaldi grew up in the Houston suburb of Alvin, also home to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and visited the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park often growing up.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite ballparks to pitch in,” Eovaldi said.

Saturday will be his third start this postseason. He struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings and got the win in the wild-card victory over the Yankees. He also started Game 3 of the ALDS but did not factor in the decision in a 6-4 Red Sox win.

Garcia struggled in a Game 3 start in the division series, permitting five runs in just 2 2/3 innings of a 12-6 loss.

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