The best thing about the pandemic – from an NBA perspective – might have taken place Wednesday night during a draft that was short on flash, light on drama but long on heartfelt emotion.
Instead of a fashion show where the draftees were remembered for their custom suits as they strode across the stage at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to shake commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, the players were at home (mostly) and surrounded by friends and family, taking it all in by video conference.
The class of 2020 may not be remembered for the number of Hall of Famers or all-stars it turns out – even Anthony Edwards, taken No. 1 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, is far from a sure thing — but it will never be forgotten for how raw the emotions were as the league’s newest members soaked in the moment, comfortable to let it all out among those that know them best.
For pick after pick, the post-draft interviews would start and then stop as the feelings welled up and words were washed away.
An exception was Malachi Flynn, the hard-nosed senior point guard and youngest of seven brothers and sisters the Raptors took 29th overall. He appeared on camera all smiles, but piqued the Raptors interest because he’s all business.
“He’s a serious kid,” said Raptors general manager Bobby Webster of the six-foot-one San Diego State product who has drawn comparisons to Fred VanVleet. “He’s professional. He’s about the hard work. He’s about winning. So, I think those will be the natural comparisons … but clearly things that we value in guys that we’re bringing in.”
For Webster and the Raptors, things will be getting more serious from here.
With the draft over, the real work begins as the rest of the league seems to be remaking itself on the fly. For the moment, the Raptors were standing to the side as interested observers, but that could change.
“Yeah, you’ve always got to keep up with everyone else, as far as (trade) volume,” said Webster. “…. As you know, trades will continue the rest of tonight, tomorrow. Free agency starts on Friday. So you’re on it, we’re right in the thick of it. Ton of stuff going on.”
Now is the time for the Raptors to get with it.
Toronto defended their 2018 championship with arguably the best regular season in franchise history, setting a team record with a .736 winning percentage albeit over a pandemic-shortened 72-game schedule.
But after never quite hitting their stride in a seven-game, second-round loss to the Boston Celtics, the Raptors’ path to getting better, or even picking up where they left off, has its share of pitfalls.
Free agency was always going to be the bigger lever on the Raptors’ short- and medium-term future.
On Friday at noon when free agency opens, only three of the top-eight rotation players that helped the Raptors to a title will still be under contract to the team.
VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will all become free agents, momentarily leaving only Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell to hold the fort, along with OG Anunoby, who wasn’t was on the playoff roster in 2019 but has become a foundational piece since.
Meanwhile, in the leadup to the draft, the Eastern Conference was on its way to being reshaped. The Brooklyn Nets – who the Raptors swept aside in the first round of the playoffs in the Orlando bubble — will have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the floor this coming season, with the possibility that James Harden forces his way out of Houston to join them. At the least, the Nets picked up sharpshooter Landry Shamet from the Los Angeles Clippers.
The underachieving Philadelphia 76ers are showing signs of rebalancing their roster, as they executed draft-night trades to bring in Danny Green and Seth Curry – the kind of elite perimeter threats that should better complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There is some talk that newly hired Sixers president Darryl Morrey – formerly with the Rockets – will try to bring Harden to Philadelphia if the Nets can’t reach a deal with Houston.
The Celtics are reportedly considering a sign-and-trade deal that would send Gordan Hayward to Atlanta in a transaction that would create a significant trade exception Boston could use to trade for another big-money player.
And the Milwaukee Bucks completed their deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Jrue Holiday to solidify themselves at point guard. Although the widely reported sign-and-trade that would have added Sacramento Kings swingman Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through when it turned out the Kings player hadn’t agreed to sign a new contract for the purposes of being traded to Milwaukee.
Glitches aside, the Raptors challenge seems clear: evolve or get pushed aside in a rapidly improving Eastern Conference.
Toronto remains confident they can keep VanVleet and are betting that with Ibaka unlikely to garner offers above the mid-level exception – deals starting at $9.23 million — in a tight market for big men, it might be able to keep him on a richer short-term deal that maintains their salary-cap flexibility going forward, with Gasol in a somewhat similar situation.
But all that does is bring a good team – but one that fell well short of a title – back to even. The Raptors will have the full MLE at their disposal and will need to use it to add a piece rather than be seen as treading water.
With all due respect to Flynn, he’s not going to be counted on to move the needle on a team with championship aims.
The real tears will come if the Raptors emerge from free agency with their new first-round pick as their only significant addition or having lost some of the pieces they’ve come to depend on.
The NBA will pass you by if you stand still.
New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job
The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.
A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.
Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.
He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.
He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.
The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.
Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media
NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon
The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.
“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”
Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.
The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.
In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.
–Field Level Media
Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.
As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.
Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.
The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.
Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.
Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.
As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.
“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.
“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”
-Field Level Media
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Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
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