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The Raptors’ loss of Serge Ibaka leaves a big hole, on the court and off – Toronto Star

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The chance of the Raptors getting a new, impact face for their frontcourt in free agency has dwindled to nothing but there remain options — familiar, mostly — to fill a major void.

They have lost out on retaining Serge Ibaka, which may not be a calamity but it certainly can’t be spun as good news, and they are getting close to being in scramble mode with the pickings getting slimmer by the hour.

“All will be well,” a highly placed team source said Sunday morning, but that may be as much wishful thinking as anything.

Ibaka fled Toronto for a two-year, $19-million (U.S.) deal with the Los Angeles Clippers late Saturday, spoiling the feel-good mood of earlier in the day when Fred VanVleet agreed to a four-year, $85 million contract to stay.

It was more important for the Raptors retain a 26-year-old guard still ascendant in his career rather than a 31-year-old power forward who would have only gotten a one-year deal, so Toronto had a net free agency win Saturday. But it’s time to look at the possibilities of Ibaka’s replacement and there isn’t any reason to think any major player is coming.

A combination of the labour force — the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Aron Baynes and Hassan Whiteside are available — and the desire to limit any contract to one year to protect 2021 cap space leaves Ujiri and Webster with few legitimate options.

Marc Gasol and Chris Boucher would be near the top of the list and would provide the familiarity and consistency good teams need.

But Gasol will turn 36 about a month into next season and he’s coming off a year where injuries and the pandemic layoff robbed him of a lot of his effectiveness. He is also attracting interest around the league, although the Raptors have the upper hand in salary they can offer him. Reports indicate both the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors are intrigued by the possibility of signing him.

Boucher has never logged big minutes in the NBA and it might be a reach to trust him to be a regular on a top-four conference team might be a reach.

The others? They’re just guys for the most part, good but not great, intriguing to some degree if you can talk yourself into their usefulness. None would swing the balance of power in the East and trying to convince them that a one-year deal is worth taking might prove difficult.

The Raptors do have money to spend, if they can find someone they feel worth spending it on. Under salary cap rules, they can pay Gasol anything they want. There are limits to what they can offer the restricted free agent Boucher but they do have up to $9.2 million to spend on a mid-level exception.

One option that remains for Ujiri and Webster is to find a trade that will fill the frontcourt void. What it would cost might be an issue — the only player likely to fetch something on the market who could be a difference maker is Norm Powell.

But Powell is coming off an excellent season and the Raptors see him as a key piece of the future. It’s incomprehensible they wold consider moving Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby, and it would be a stunning development if Kyle Lowry’s $31-million contract was moved, with his value to the franchise.

Even if nothing happens between now and the Dec. 1 opening of training camps, the team’s front office has a proven history of making deals under the right circumstances.

The loss of Ibaka, regardless of what comes next, is a bitter pill for the Raptors. His evolution since arriving in a February 2017 trade for Terrence Ross was quite something to see unfold.

He arrived a tentative and somewhat reluctant addition, unsure of where he fit in the organization’s plans and even what position he would play. He morphed into an integral part of a championship team — its best rim protector, a big man with deep shooting range, a tenacious defender and a mentor to young players like Anunoby and Terence Davis II.

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Off the court, he thrived and became one of the team’s most popular players, able to connect with fans on a variety of levels. His YouTube cooking show “How Hungry Are You?” was a huge hit — sautéed worms for DeMar DeRozan and pizza topped with bull penis for Kawhi Leonard were memorable episodes — and his “How Bored Are You?” social media hits at the start of the pandemic were entertaining.

With his fashion pursuits and his presence, Ibaka was a fun piece of a roster that was one of the best blends of basketball talent and personalities around Toronto in years.

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.

The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.

Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.

Passers

Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.

Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.

Shooting

A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.

Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.

Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.

Stick Handling

Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.

If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.

Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.

When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.

Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.

Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.

“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.

“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”

After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.

Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.

Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.

“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.

“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.

“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”

Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.

“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.

“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”

For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.

“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.

“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”

 

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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