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Thompson’s leadership, consistency would be valuable for Canada – Sportsnet.ca

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It’s never pretty with Tristan Thompson but the veteran Canadian big man with the movie star looks (yes, he’s been mistaken for Michael B. Jordan) and the celebrity romantic relationships has never bothered with that.

In his ninth season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Thompson has won a championship, played in three other NBA Finals and earned nearly $100 million and counting but his ”see ball, get ball” formula has never wavered.

“It’s just my DNA,” Thompson told Sportsnet in a near empty visitor’s locker room at Scotiabank Arena after his Cavaliers were thumped by his hometown Toronto Raptors 133-113 as the Cavs fell to 6-21 on the season.

Thompson was Thompson, though, as he put up 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds and dished three assists in his 33 minutes.

“At the end of the day I’m the leader of this team, it’s on me to punch the clock with these young guys and these new guys,” he says. “I have to set the tone with my energy and come in ready to play and not just on the court but off the floor, holding myself to a higher standard because they’re watching everything I do. I was lucky to break in with vets who did it the right way so it’s up to me to pay it forward.”

Over his career, Thompson has changed his free-throw shooting from left-handed to right-handed and worked some more nuanced skills into his tool box while matching a high basketball IQ with a world-class motor, but making his game glamourous or aesthetically appealing has never been on the agenda.

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So the game might be an ungainly collection of floaters and last-man-standing put-backs, but the most beautiful thing of all is you always know what you’re going to get from the Brampton, Ont., native: a battle to the end for every rebound, speed in transition and the ability and willingness to switch out and guard on the perimeter while hustling back to the paint to protect the rim and collect the scraps.

“He’s one of those guys that has an incredible motor,” says Cavs teammate Larry Nance Jr. “He doesn’t know any better. Whether it’s practice, whether it’s a game, whether it’s pick-up, he just plays hard as hell. He doesn’t know any better. It’s impressive to see but it’s not even a decision to make, it’s who he is.

Playing against him?

“It’s a total pain in the ass to be honest with you,” says Nance Jr., having matched up with Thompson in practice and pick-up games. “But that’s just who he is, and he’s made a hell of a career out of it. I wish more people had that.”

This season with the Cavaliers will provide the ultimate test and Thompson will pass it. Two years ago, Cleveland swept the Raptors for the second straight year and played in their fourth straight NBA Finals. But when LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers had no choice but to rebuild, and they showed why it’s a project with no end in sight. They allowed the Raptors to shoot 58.4 per cent from the floor – not all that unusual for a team that came into the game ranked 28th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

But Thompson still put in work. He doggedly wrestled with Marc Gasol in the paint, giving up four inches and 30 pounds and then gave the quicker and more skilled Pascal Siakam a challenge out to the three-point line.

In good times and bad, Thompson has proven reliable. From that perspective, he’s a coach’s dream.

“He has been a Cav his entire life and he has a lot of pride so he’s working really hard to lead this young team and do the best he can,” says Cleveland head coach John Beilein, an NBA rookie at age 66 after a storied NCAA coaching career.

When unnamed Cavs were complaining recently about some of their new coach’s methods, it was Thompson who spoke up in support and quelled the mini-uprising.

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“He’s been a warrior. You watch him tonight, he’ll go after virtually every rebound every single time with everything he’s got.

“So it’s a wrestling match at one end, a wrestling match at the other end and by the way he has to sprint. And he’s usually going to the basket so he’s got further than everyone else to run. He’s been a warrior on so many games and has really helped us with the successes we’ve had and some of the tough losses we’ve had we wouldn’t be in it without him.”

A pending free agent Thompson’s contract status might preclude him from playing for Canada at the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C., in June although if they make it through, the Olympics in Japan might be in play. Raptors and Canadian national team head coach Nick Nurse would love to have him.

“We hope he plays,” said Nurse, who spoke with Thompson during his pre-game warm-up. “He’s one of the best rebounding bigs in the world. We’re playing on the world stage. He’d look good on our team.”

He’d look good on a lot of teams. In the short term, the ultimate reward for Thompson might be a ticket out of Cleveland, his only NBA home, although there is talk that they should re-sign him as a pillar in their rebuild. In his last year of his five-year, $80-million contract, Thompson is the kind of veteran playoff-bound teams would love to add. Could his hometown Raptors use his blend of grit, size and smarts?

Absolutely, although price is always a big part of the equation. The Cavs may be holding out for a first-round pick for Thompson, but there are doubts they’ll get one for a role-playing rental.

Regardless, Thompson will be sought after because he brings certainty.

As one NBA executive put it when assessing the attractiveness of Thompson to a contender between now and the Feb. 6th NBA trade deadline: “You know what you’re getting.”

His teammates take note and try to follow his example. There aren’t many NBA players who don’t find a way to bring it when things are rolling and a long playoff run is in sight. But when things go south?

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Different story.

“We’re all very competitive. You don’t get to this point by losing,” said Nance Jr., who is in his third season playing alongside Thompson. “But now that you’re here, struggling, it is easy to kind of drop your head and get frustrated with what’s going on.”

But broke in with a losing Cavs team by establishing himself as one of the most energetic bigs in the NBA; Thompson earned the trust of LeBron James in Cleveland’s runs to the finals by being one of the league’s most energetic bigs and he hasn’t shifted down now that the Cavaliers are lottery bound again.

“You do it on a championship team, you do it in the playoffs, that stuff is noticed more,” he says. “But whether you’re in the playoffs or not, you have to be true to yourself. For me, what I bring to the table is play hard every night and I can’t waver regardless of what the situation is.”

Along the way he’s learned some tricks. The rookies might be drenching their waffles in maple syrup, but if they’re paying attention, they’ll notice Thompson helping himself to avocado spread on whole grain toast.

He’s the first one at the practice facility for treatment and one of the last to get more treatment after, the better to keep the motor running smoothly.

Thompson’s approach adds up. He’s one of three players to average six offensive rebounds per 100 possessions since he broke into the league; his 1,993 offensive rebounds is third in the NBA over the same period and his 17.4 total rebounding percentage is eighth among players with at least 500 games.

Thompson’s game has never been pretty and he’s never worried about making it so. The Michael B. Jordan comparisons will have to do.

“Me and Mike are cool. I know him. People always mistake us,” says Thompson.

But his consistency and commitment to his role just might earn him an elegant exit from Cleveland by the trade deadline.

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Watch Live: Blue Jays introduce newly signed star George Springer – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Blue Jays‘ big free-agent catch, George Springer, along with president and CEO Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and manager Charlie Montoyo, will address the media Wednesday as the star outfielder is introduced after signing a six-year, $150-million contract with the club.

You can watch the press conference live here on Sportsnet.ca at 11 a.m. ET/ 8 a.m. PT.

Note: If video doesn’t appear above at the scheduled time, please refresh the page.

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Jake Muzzin strikes nerve with Matthew Tkachuk, earns retribution for Maple Leafs – Yahoo Sports

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Matthew Tkachuk lost his cool. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For 60 complete minutes there was, perhaps predictably, little-to-no response from the Toronto Maple Leafs in their return clash with the Calgary Flames following Matthew Tkachuk’s contact with now-injured backup netminder Jack Campbell in their previous engagement two days ago. With no code enforced, the Flames forward wasn’t pressured into a fight with Wayne Simmonds or Zach Bogosian, and was instead provided the opportunity to simply play his game.

But just as the Leafs secured their third and fourth points from the two-game road set in Calgary, there was a perfectly subtle, savvy and veteran effort to acknowledge both Tkachuk’s presence and wrongdoings.

It appeared totally innocuous, but Leafs defender Jake Muzzin clearly connected with a nerve when he flipped a perfectly-weighted puck at a kneeled Tkachuk, which landed softly in his lap just as the buzzer finished sounding to end the game.

Failing to appreciate how easy he was let off in the game in that moment, or perhaps just incensed with the result, Tkachuk lost his mind in response to the perceived disrespect, trying desperately to confront Muzzin.

But after failing to accomplish anything with his initial contact with the howling Leafs defender, all he managed to do was make a mess of the game, coming up short in his attempts to work back through the mess of uninterested parties.

Tkachuk then took out his frustration at the Flames bench while his teammates patiently waited for the outburst to conclude.

For Muzzin and the Leafs, it couldn’t have worked out better. Tkachuk was largely a non-factor in the game and wasn’t given the chance to earn respect by fighting a bigger and stronger opponent to atone for his role in the Campbell incident, like he has several times previously in his career.

Instead he’ll have to stew on the incident, the outburst and the jokes online for nearly another month before the two teams finally meet again.

Then we’ll see if he’s the one looking for payback.

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Jake Muzzin strikes nerve with Matthew Tkachuk, earns retribution for Maple Leafs – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Back to school: Brad Gushue pursuing master’s degree amid chaotic curling season

World Junior champion. World champion. Olympic champion. Three-time Brier champion. The list of accomplishments for Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue is lengthy. There isn’t anything left in curling for him to win. He’s done it all. Now in the winter of his career, the 40-year-old, who’s preparing to head to Calgary next month for upwards of eight weeks to compete in a number of bonspiels, is heading back to class. Gushue is the early days of working towards his Masters of Business at Queen’s University. “I’m a sucker for punishment I think. It just felt like the right time,” Gushue said. “I don’t think I would have done this if the pandemic wasn’t here and didn’t have the curling season we’ve had.” Sitting around and thinking about things isn’t something Gushue particularly enjoys. He’s a perfectionist on the ice — early in his career he’d throw more than 100 rocks a day. That changed when curling great Kevin Martin told him to tone it down. So when there was some down time this past summer in the midst of an incessant pandemic, Gushue started to think about life after curling in a way he hasn’t before, and decided on going back to class. “I was kind of thinking post-curling career, whether that’s in a year in a half, five and a half years or nine and a half years, what do I want to transfer into?” he told CBC Sports from his home in St. John’s, N.L. “As a business owner right now, there were a lot of positives to doing this. I guess the downside is that for this next year I’m going to be pretty busy and have to get back to studying, which I haven’t done in 17 years. Gushue is co-owner with teammate Mark Nichols of Orange Theory Fitness studio in St. John’s. Out of his comfort zone All those years ago Gushue got his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Memorial University. It’s been a long time since he’s been in this type of setting. He’s certainly out of his comfort zone — in the rings and in the hack — and now fully immersed in the books. The only thing he’s finding some sort of resemblance to curling is the team aspect of the program. Gushue says about 50 per cent of the course is team-based learning. During their first meeting Gushue says some of his team members recognized him. Others didn’t, but quickly googled who he was. “Then the questions came,” he said, laughing. “It’s been interesting.” Gushue says his six other team members, many who are fresh off their first degree, have been a massive support system so far. The skip is used to calling the shots, confident in his every move. That’s not the case on this school-studying team. “I feel like I’m the weak link. I’d be fifth if this was a curling team. No disrespect to fifths,” he said. “I wouldn’t be throwing the last rock. Let’s just say that.” WATCH | Breaking down Calgary curling bubble: Brier schedule Gushue, like he does before any major competition, has mapped out what his Brier schedule and school schedule are, and how much time he’ll be able to put into his studies while trying to win a fourth national championship. In the beginning of the event he says he’ll probably put about two hours a day into his studies between or after games to end the day. The ideal plan for Gushue is to win the Brier, play in the mixed doubles national championship, play in the men’s world championship and then stay a little longer to compete in the two Grand Slam events — he then has to quarantine for two weeks when he returns to St. John’s. It’ll be a long haul but Gushue takes comfort in knowing he’s using that time effectively by working towards a master’s degree. “When I went into this I spoke to the director and I talked to him about my priorities in trying to get back to the Olympics,” Gushue said. “It shouldn’t conflict with any classes.” His classes are every second Sunday and Monday. Curling championships are played on Sundays. Gushue won’t say what championship event and classes could collide, not wanting to jinx it, but he insists they’ve talked about a plan should it come to that. “That’s a problem I’m willing to entertain.”

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