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Slimmed-down Marc Gasol should be a difference-maker for Toronto Raptors – TSN

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TORONTO – Spend any amount of time with Marc Gasol and one of the first things you’ll notice about the big Spaniard is his Thumility.

The 35-year-old has a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects – relating to and outside of basketball – and he’s generous enough with his time to share it. Ask him about pick and roll coverage, politics or wine and he’ll gladly fill your notebook.

The one topic that Gasol isn’t especially interested in talking about is: Gasol. Don’t expect the veteran centre to pat himself on the back. After 12 seasons in the NBA, the former Defensive Player of the Year has become quite good at politely swatting away questions that are designed to elicit self-praise.

Ask him about his historic dominance over Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid or Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and he’ll credit his team’s collective defensive effort. Ask him if he’s thought about his chances of making the Hall of Fame when his illustrious NBA and international careers come to an end and he’ll tell you it hasn’t crossed his mind.

So, when he finally spoke to the media for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see him quickly shift the conversation away from his recent physical transformation. But, hey, we had to give it a shot.

The legend of ‘Skinny Marc’ started to grow when a photo of the slimmed-down Gasol began to circulate online in June. How did he use the time off to get himself in such great shape?

“It goes with training regimen, goals, sleeping habits, everything,” Gasol told reporters on a Zoom call from the Disney bubble, following the Toronto Raptors’ Wednesday morning practice session. “Obviously, when you’re at home, everything is a lot easier than when you’re on the road and travelling and trying to make everything work and [to] win games.”

Did he lose weight?

“Sure.”

How much?

“Not really sure. I don’t think that’s really relevant. What’s important. like I said, what we’ll all be measured by is winning games and getting another ring. That’s what we’re all here for. We’re all trying to be in the best situation [individually] to do that.”

Fortunately, at least for our purposes, his teammates and coaches have a lot more to say on the subject of Gasol’s conditioning. Like the rest of us, they saw the photo on social media, but know that images can be deceiving, especially in this day and age. They needed to see it for themselves. When the Raptors reconvened in Fort Myers, Fla., for pre-camp workouts late last month and everybody first saw Gasol, they were stunned.

“I had to do a double take, I won’t lie,” said assistant coach Adrian Griffin. “I was so impressed about the way he looks. He just looks phenomenal.”

“I was shocked seeing him,” guard Patrick McCaw added. “It was like, ‘sheesh,’ I couldn’t really recognize him.”

“The change is that drastic,” said guard Norman Powell. “I make fun of him all the time, [he’s] looking like a soccer player from Barcelona. He looks great, man, he’s moving great, he’s feeling great.”

“He looks like prime Marc to me,” guard Terrence Davis said. “So, I don’t know, man. It’s scary.”

Gasol was in Toronto when Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11, and the season – followed by most of North American living – was quickly put on hold. After going through an initial round of testing – he didn’t play against Gobert and the Jazz a couple nights earlier, but he was in Utah with the team – and clearing the precautionary quarantine period, Gasol spent the next few months in Spain with his wife and two kids. Knowing he was close to his parents, grandparents and uncles in case of emergency helped give him peace of mind.

The details of his training regimen remain a mystery, but Gasol was clear about his motivation for working himself into tip-top shape.

“It was a frustrating season for me personally because I could never get a rhythm and help the team the way that I should be helping the team,” he said. “As soon as the [the Raptors’] facility closed down, I got together with my team on a phone call and got going on a plan to resolve these ongoing issues.”

Gasol was physically and mentally exhausted when training camp opened last fall. He had played more basketball over the previous year than during any other 12-month span of his life.

After appearing in 53 games with Memphis in 2019-20, he was dealt to Toronto ahead of the February trade deadline – changing teams and moving cities for the first time in his career. He would go on to win his first NBA championship with the Raptors last June (and steal the show at the parade) before joining the Spanish National Team and winning the FIBA World Cup later in the summer. He only took a couple weeks off and then it was back to work.

The fatigue may have affected his play early in the season. He got off to a slow start, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but was beginning to get his rhythm back when he hurt his left hamstring in a win over Detroit just before Christmas.

The lingering injury cost him 28 games over two separate stints. He made his return in Sacramento – playing 16 minutes and sitting out for rest in Utah the following night – just before the season was suspended, but would have probably been at less than 100 per cent for the duration of the campaign and into the playoffs.

The silver lining and unintended consequence of the hiatus was that it gave banged up and burnt-out players a chance to rest and heal. Few needed it more than Gasol.

It’s going to take most players some time to get back into game shape, and it may take even longer for Gasol on account of his age. Head coach Nick Nurse has been encouraging his players – especially Toronto’s veterans – to “self-monitor” and pull themselves from practice if and when they need a breather. Gasol is one of the guys who have taken him up on that a few times during their first week of practice in the NBA bubble, understanding the importance of easing back after a long layoff.

According to Nurse, Gasol’s hamstring is fully healed. That, in addition to his new physique, should pay dividends for the Raptors when they resume their season in Orlando next month, and then even more come playoff time, given how important Gasol is to their success.

Despite struggling with his shot and then battling injuries, the Raptors have outscored opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the court this season – the best mark among Toronto’s rotation players. Even at less than full speed, he impacts the game with his passing, screen setting, defensive positioning and communication, and high basketball IQ. He’s a hub on both ends of the floor. And now, if he’s a bit quicker on his 35-year-old feet, well, that can’t hurt.

“Maybe the leaner Marc gets to more rebounds, gets him to better defensive positions more quickly,” Nurse said before camp started. “Not that those were a problem [before], but maybe he’s gonna produce more in those [areas now]. Maybe his legs stay in there late in the game for some three-balls. I don’t know. If he can improve, if his conditioning improves him as a player, that’s gonna be a super added bonus for us.”

There’s plenty at stake for Gasol as well. His contract is up after this season and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the fall. He’s at the back end of his career but he’s proven he still has something left in the tank and can help a team win. But, to little surprise, he says he isn’t thinking about his contractual situation. His goal – same as the motivation for transforming his body – is to help lead the Raptors to another championship.

“I think we’re all here for the same goal and that’s to try to win a ring,” he said, expertly steering away from a question about his upcoming free agency. “Anything outside of that is just not relevant at this moment, it can’t help you and it’s not important. Once we all committed to playing, we’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win.”​

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Report: Steelers believe Dupree has torn ACL – TSN

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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree‘s season appears to be over.

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and Aditi Kinkhabwala, initial tests on done on ‪Dupree following the injury he suffered Wednesday against the Baltimore Ravens have indicated that the linebacker has a torn ACL.

Garafolo and Aditi Kinkhabwala add that the Steelers expect Dupree to now miss the remainder of the NFL season.

Dupree was injured late in the fourth quarter on a play where he attempted to rush Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley but was ultimately blocked down to the ground by Baltimore offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr. Following the play, Dupree was seen moved gingerly as he made his way to the locker room.

 The 27-year-old Dupree is in his sixth seasons with the Steelers after being drafted by the team in the first round (22nd overall) over the 2015 draft. After signing the franchise tag the Steelers placed on him ahead of this season, Dupree will be a free agent at season’s end.

Dupree has amassed 26 tackles, 8 sacks and two forced fumbles this season.

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How the Toronto Raptors are navigating loose COVID-19 restrictions in Tampa – TSN

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TORONTO – When the Toronto Raptors landed in Tampa, Fla. on Monday evening, several players and staff members weren’t quite sure where they could go or what they were permitted to do.

Not only were they unfamiliar with the city – their home for training camp, which begins this week, and likely for the duration of the 2020-21 season – but they’ve got to navigate it amid a global pandemic.

Most of them were coming from their off-season homes across the United States, where COVID-19 protocols vary from state to state. Some crossed the border and flew down from Toronto – a city on lockdown, where only grocery stores and essential businesses remain open, where you can order takeout from your favourite restaurant or have food delivered but you can’t dine-in.

What they learned pretty quickly upon arrival is that restrictions in Florida – where positive cases continue to soar – are minimal.

Want to grab a bite to eat? Restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity. How about nightlife? Bars and clubs are also open, though “limited social distancing protocols” are “encouraged”, according to the city’s official website. Masks are recommended but not mandatory under the state’s Phase 3 guidelines, which have been in place since September 25. Not to worry, though, because “menus, if laminated, should be cleaned after each use.” That’s reassuring. Gyms are open, as are movie theatres.

“People keep asking me, ‘where are you staying? What’s going on? What’s around you?’ And I have no idea,” guard Norman Powell said via videoconference from the team hotel, where Toronto’s players and staff are staying until they get settled in the city and find temporary homes to rent, and located just down the street from Amalie Arena, where the Raptors will play their home games in downtown Tampa.

“[I’m] trying to figure the whole city out, where to go, even what to do in terms of just being able to walk on the beach. Especially the rules and laws here with COVID. You’re so used to what was happening in the bubble, you knew the rules there. Going back [home] to California [during the off-season], you knew the rules there and what was changed, what was open, where you could and can’t eat. Same when I lived in Vegas. Being in Vegas, there’s a little bit more freedom there, but certain things are locked down, things you can’t do. So it’s just picking up the environment that you’re in, and trying to make the best decisions possible.”

The NBA recently issued a 134-page manual detailing its health and safety standards for camp and the upcoming season, though teams didn’t receive it until this past weekend – just a couple days before the Raptors were set to fly south. Once again, protocols will be tight on the league’s watch – masks, frequent sanitization and social distancing, where possible, in arenas and practice facilities. Players and staff will be tested daily, like they were in the bubble.

However, that’s where similarities to the restart end. The NBA reported zero positive tests during a three-month span that saw them finish the regular season and complete the playoffs on the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando this past fall – a remarkable feat, given the circumstances.

In addition to the testing, safety measures on site, and the commitment and sacrifice of thousands involved, the league’s bubble experiment was successful because it was contained, thus minimizing the risk of exposure and outbreak.

What the NBA is hoping to pull off this season – what other leagues have already done, to mixed results – will be far more challenging. This season, all 30 teams will operate out of their home cities, with the lone exception of the Raptors, who couldn’t get the government clearance they needed to play in Canada and will be based in Tampa for the foreseeable future.

Teams will play games in their arenas – some will even host a limited number of fans – and travel around the United States. And while the league and its clubs can strictly enforce the protocols in their buildings, and even encourage their players and employees to follow those same rules after business hours, there’s only so much they can control.

On their own time, each individual will be free to come and go as they please. Ultimately, it will be up to them to make the right decisions – not only for themselves and for the health and safety of their teammates, but also for the sake of the league and for the season.

“There’s certainly more freedom than there was in the bubble, but we’re going to have to use very, very good judgement to keep this moving,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “The responsibility falls on each of us, individually, to make sure we’re following all the protocols. I hope that everybody has their own health and safety [interests] and the health and safety of their family first and foremost as kind of how they’re moving around their day.

“Obviously, [VP of player health and performance] Alex McKechnie and his staff will be giving continual reminders and all that kind of stuff too, but it does place maybe an extra layer of importance or priority that’s different than a normal season. We’re certainly not in a normal season or in normal times, so we’re all going to have to be very vigilant on this aspect.”

When it became clear that playing their home games in Toronto – their stated preference – was unlikely, the Raptors considered multiple contingency options stateside. With the backing of their players, several of whom were consulted in the process, they chose Tampa, in part because of the warm weather and no state income tax. But in doing so they’ve also chosen to work out of a known COVID-19 hotspot.

On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Raptors landed in Tampa, Florida became the third U.S. state to surpass one million reported coronavirus cases, joining Texas and California.

For the Raptors and the rest of the NBA to pull this off and get through the planned 72-game schedule, and the playoffs to follow, it will take a buy-in from everybody. From the league’s best players all the way down to the trainers and equipment managers, everybody needs to stay disciplined and commit to following proper health and safety protocols – on, and more importantly, away from the basketball court. If the NBA can take anything away from the other leagues that have attempted something similar, it’s this.

The first few months of the Major League Baseball campaign were mired by multiple outbreaks. Several teams, including the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals were forced to close their facilities and cancel games. It wasn’t until commissioner Rob Manfred reinforced the protocol and threatened to shut down the season that teams, presumably, tightened up and cases started to go down.

It’s been inversed in the National Football League, where cases have skyrocketed as the season’s gone on, culminating in the Ravens-Steelers game – originally scheduled for last Thursday – getting pushed back three times and eventually landing on Wednesday afternoon after more than 14 Baltimore players tested positive throughout the week.

When everybody is doing their part – wearing masks, washing their hands, social distancing and reporting their symptoms, among other preventative measures – then things can go relatively smoothly. But once that commitment slips, even from one or two people, then so do the results, as we’re seeing in the NFL.

All it takes is one player, coach or staff member to go for a meal in crowded restaurant or hang out with friends indoors without wearing a mask. All it takes is one person contracting the virus to put the rest of their team – as well as any other team they’ve played against or been in contact with – at risk.

There are going to be isolated cases – that’s unavoidable outside of a bubble setup. Of the 546 players tested during the initial return-to-market phase, 48 returned positive tests, per an NBA press release on Wednesday. Earlier this week the Warriors announced that they were delaying their first practice after two players tested positive.

The NBA’s health and safety guide covers the protocol for dealing with isolated cases, and what’s required for players who test positive to return to play. That won’t jeopardize the season, it states. What it doesn’t specify is how many cases, or outbreaks, would necessitate another league-wide shut down.

Ensuring that those cases remain manageable will depend on how fast they’re caught and treated, and whether they can be contained before they become outbreaks.

“As most people know, you’re not going to prevent people from contracting the virus with the testing but you are able to contain the spread,” said Toronto general manager Bobby Webster. “The daily testing is something that we’ll do every morning, which is similar to Orlando, but we are out interacting, we are in a major city with exposure risks. But I think that’s [something] we’re all learning to live with. How do you go get a coffee? How do you go to the grocery store? How do you do different things where you’re trying to have some sort of normalcy but reducing the risk for yourself and ultimately reducing the risk for the entire team?”

“During the season [there] might be a couple delayed games or whatever it is, it’s just the nature of the reality that we’re in right now,” said Powell. “But hopefully our team will stay true to [the league’s] protocols and regulations, hold each other accountable, stick to our routines and just get through this as fast and safely as possible.”

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Westbrook-Wall trade could be lose-lose for both Rockets and Wizards – Sportsnet.ca

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An old cliché in the NBA says that any contract can be traded in the league, and on Wednesday night this old adage certainly proved to be true.

In a swap for two players on supermax deals, the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a protected first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

It’s worth noting that this was a swap for players making, essentially, the same money and, really, the only trade that could be made out there for any of them would’ve been this one. But after Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said one week ago that the team “had no plans” to trade Wall, the idea of this deal lost all steam and was thought to be dead in the water.

The NBA is never one to disappoint, however, and the trigger was pulled. This trade that would normally just be reserved for fantasy leagues and NBA 2K franchise modes is now reality.

So then, what to make of all of this? We have a few questions about this whole thing we’d like answers to.

East has become tougher, but by how much?

Make no mistake, even if John Wall wasn’t coming off two missed seasons recovering from a ruptured Achilles and there were no question marks about his health and this deal was made, the Wizards still likely would’ve ended up with the better player between the two.

Though mercurial and frustratingly inefficient at times, Westbrook will improve the Wizards this coming season and, by proxy, make the Eastern Conference tougher. The question, therefore, remains: by how much?

Bradley Beal took a monster step last season, becoming an all-star for the second time in his career and transforming himself into a bona fide scoring machine, finishing second in league scoring with a 30.5 average. The Wizards also managed to re-sign sweet-shooting stretch four Davis Bertans, and are bringing back essentially the same group that at one point last season was among the league’s best, most high-octane offences.

And now Washington is adding Westbrook to this mix to possibly take it into overdrive offensively, something that the club is hoping will return it to the post-season.

The Wizards haven’t played a playoff game since 2018 and that’s rather unacceptable given the amount of money on their payroll.

However, looking around the Eastern Conference, you have to wonder how high a seed the Wizards could realistically get.

The powers of the conference are rather obvious in the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. That’s already seven teams that most expect to make the playoffs next season. That leaves the good-but-not-great Orlando Magic, the ambitious-looking Atlanta Hawks and now the Wizards as the likely candidates vying for that final spot.

Westbrook is an upgrade for Washington, but is his addition really enough to leapfrog the Wizards past those seven teams first mentioned? If not, is the No. 8 seed in the East really that worth it?

What does this trade mean for Harden’s future in Houston?

For the time being, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon, James Harden will not be traded, despite reports that he wants out of Houston.

Those reports came, obviously, before this Westbrook trade happened and if Harden didn’t want to play with his old childhood buddy anymore then the wish has been granted and there shouldn’t be animosity any longer.

However, if the issues are more deeply-seeded for Harden and there is actually a disconnect between he and the Rockets franchise, you have to wonder how much will bringing in Wall perhaps aid in retaining Harden?

As mentioned before, there’s no knowing what kind of player Wall will be after being out for two seasons. There’s a chance the trademark athleticism and explosiveness that made him a former No. 1 overall pick and allowed him to get to the rim almost at will and guard multiple positions at a high level could be robbed from him.

On the other hand, Wall was never the best nor most willing shooter, meaning shots that were taken away from Harden playing alongside Westbrook will be his again. Additionally, Wall was, and should remain, a great passer with very creative vision.

But you can’t discount the possibility that perhaps the Rockets themselves would look to move on from Harden after the apparent bad blood during this off-season. The Rockets’ payroll is exorbitant to say the least and they are saving a little bit of money by swapping Westbrook for Wall, so if owner Tilman Fertitta is looking to cut costs, finding a suitor for Harden for expiring contracts would be the play here.

Did anyone actually win this trade?

The more you think about this trade, the harder it becomes to determine who came out on top as the winner.

As the tweet above from ESPN’s Bobby Marks shows, the money between both players is very even and while Westbrook is probably the better player, these are still two very similar players, right down to their glaring flaws as being not-great shooters.

There’s an argument to be made that Washington did end up with the better deal because of the reunion between Westbrook and head coach Scott Brooks, who had Westbrook as a rookie and coached him and the Thunder for seven seasons.

Brooks has always had a strong relationship with Westbrook and helped turn him into the star he is today. That bodes very well for the Wizards with the caveat that sometimes Brooks’ reliance on Wesbrook came at the expense of Kevin Durant, an ultra-efficient scorer back then similar to what Beal is now, opening up the possibility of some friction between Westbrook and Beal over who gets the ball more and who gets more shots.

So then, would that mean the Rockets won the trade? Houston may have if Wall is anything like the five-time all-star he once was before injuries forced him off the floor. That’s a big “if,” however, as Achilles injuries are always tough to come back from.

There’s also the chance Wall could clash with Harden as he’s a player used to being the top dog in an organization, having spent the first 10 years of his NBA career in Washington.

Wall was supposed to be a franchise player that the Wizards could build around and looked like he could become that when he signed that supermax extension with Washington back in the summer of 2017. The contract didn’t kick in until this past season, and now he’ll go without ever playing for the team that originally signed him to it. Injuries suck, and the fact that they’re so commonplace sucks even more, but Wall is only human and may be looking to finally prove his worth now, for better or worse, in Houston.

So then, who won the trade? It’s too early to say for certain, but for the time being is it possible that both teams lost? Trading stars almost always ends up badly for the team giving one up, and that includes a case like this where it is a star for a star. The uncertainty among both Westbrook and Wall raises too many red flags on both sides for this deal to be healthy for either.

Boogie and Wall reunited

This isn’t a question, but how cool will it be see these two Kentucky Wildcats teammates reunited on the floor together again?

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