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.
Fantasy: Week 12 Rankings (Early Edition) – theScore
Find positional rankings, additional analysis, and subscribe to push notifications in the NFL Fantasy News section.
theScore’s Justin Boone was the winner of FantasyPros’ Most Accurate Expert Competition in 2019, marking the seventh time he’s placed in the top 10. Follow the links below to see his rankings for Week 12.
Updated rankings (including Standard and PPR) will be released Thursday, with the final version coming down Sunday morning.
|1||Russell Wilson||SEA||@ PHI|
|2||Patrick Mahomes II||KC||@ TB|
|3||Josh Allen||BUF||vs LAC|
|4||Deshaun Watson||HOU||@ DET|
|5||Kyler Murray||ARI||@ NE|
|6||Justin Herbert||LAC||@ BUF|
|7||Aaron Rodgers||GB||vs CHI|
|8||Tom Brady||TB||vs KC|
|9||Taysom Hill||NO||@ DEN|
|10||Cam Newton||NE||vs ARI|
|11||Derek Carr||LV||@ ATL|
|12||Lamar Jackson||BAL||@ PIT|
|13||Ben Roethlisberger||PIT||vs BAL|
|14||Matt Ryan||ATL||vs LV|
|15||Carson Wentz||PHI||vs SEA|
|16||Matthew Stafford||DET||vs HOU|
|17||Ryan Tannehill||TEN||@ IND|
|18||Daniel Jones||NYG||@ CIN|
|19||Philip Rivers||IND||vs TEN|
|20||Teddy Bridgewater||CAR||@ MIN|
|21||Alex Smith||WAS||@ DAL|
|22||Jared Goff||LAR||vs SF|
|23||Baker Mayfield||CLE||@ JAC|
|24||Tua Tagovailoa||MIA||@ NYJ|
|25||Kirk Cousins||MIN||vs CAR|
|26||Andy Dalton||DAL||vs WAS|
|27||Drew Lock||DEN||vs NO|
|28||Jake Luton||JAC||vs CLE|
|29||Nick Foles||CHI||@ GB|
|30||Joe Flacco||NYJ||vs MIA|
|31||Nick Mullens||SF||@ LAR|
|32||Ryan Finley||CIN||vs NYG|
Fred Sasakamoose, one of NHL's first Indigenous players, dies after COVID-19 diagnosis – CTV News Saskatoon
Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous hockey player from Saskatchewan to make it to the NHL, died Tuesday after falling ill with COVID-19, his son said.
“He was a grassroots guy. He wasn’t he wasn’t a suit and tie. He didn’t belong there. He knew where he belonged. He belonged with his people on the reserve. He belonged with local people in small towns,” Neil Sasakamoose said in a video update posted on Facebook Tuesday afternoon.
Sasakamoose had been admitted to hospital for treatment for COVID-19 last week. Neil Sasakamoose said he died around 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“He was able to survive about (five days after) going into the hospital and just the COVID virus did so much damage into his lungs, he just couldn’t keep responding,” he said.
“When I talked to him, I asked him how he is feeling, if he was scared. He said, ‘I’m not scared.’ He said ‘I’m ready to go. If you gotta go, I’m gonna go.’ I said ‘You know what, Dad? If you’re tired, you go. You go and don’t worry about us over here.'”
Sasakamoose is from Big River First Nation and lived on on Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation.
“He had some good, good strengths about that old guy,” Neil Sasakamoose said.
“He believed in his in his culture, his language, his people. He believed in us getting along with non-native people, races around the world. He believed in a lot of good qualities of what we should be striving for.”
Sasakamoose had been admitted to hospital for treatment for COVID-19.
In the video he asked people to comply with health orders and listen to political leaders to protect others during the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“And if you have any sincerity towards other people, just keep quiet about the way you talk about anti-masking and that. I lost a father now too. We lose a grandparent and a parent just because of stubbornness and silliness and selfishness.”
Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL pioneer, dies at 86 – NHL.com
Sasakamoose, who had lived on the Ahathkakoop Cree Nation reserve in Saskatchewan, was tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 19 and the test came back positive two days later, according to his son, Neil Sasakamoose.
He received antibiotics intravenously and was placed on oxygen, but his lungs could not recover, his son said.
“This COVID virus just did so much damage into his lungs, he just couldn’t keep responding, his body just couldn’t keep up,” Neil said in a video posted on Facebook. “When I talked to him, I asked him how he was feeling, if he was scared. He said, ‘I’m not scared, I’m ready to go, if I gotta go, I’m going to go.’ I said, ‘You know what, Dad? If you’re tired, you go. You go and don’t worry about us over here.'”
Sasakamoose did not have a point in 11 games with the Black Hawks in 1953-54.
“Only 125 hockey players and six teams, and I was one of them,” he told Global News in 2018.
Family, friends and the hockey world mourned the loss of a man who overcame Canada’s abusive residential school system to become the first Indigenous player with treaty status in the NHL.
“Fred Sasakamoose was a Canadian original who attained one of his life goals at the age of 19, by becoming the first Cree player to appear in an NHL game, and then dedicated the rest of his long life to serving the First Nations community — using hockey and other sports to provide opportunities for Indigenous youth,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The story of Sasakamoose’s groundbreaking, 11-game NHL career with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953-54 was the culmination of years of dedication to overcoming adversity in pursuit of a dream, and the pivot point at which he turned his focus to helping others pursue their dreams.
“On a personal note, I will always treasure meeting Fred at the 2019 Heritage Classic in his native Saskatchewan, getting to spend some precious time getting to know him and the gift he gave me that day — a statue depicting his NHL rookie card. The National Hockey League mourns the passing of this special man and sends its condolences to his family and the countless young men and women of the First Nations community whose lives he touched.”
Sasakamoose’s NHL career was brief, but he blazed a trail for players and coaches of Indigenous heritage, including Carey Price, Jordin Tootoo, Bryan Trottier, Reggie Leach, George Armstrong, Ted Nolan, Craig Berube, Sheldon Souray, Gino Odjick and Theo Fleury.
Trottier, a Hockey Hall of Fame center who scored 1,425 points (524 goals, 901 assists) for the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins and won six Stanley Cup championships, called Sasakamoose “a pioneer, somebody looked at with First Nation blood who was an achiever, broke barriers.
“He didn’t realize how inspiring he was, which makes him a humble man, which, to me, is much like Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe and all of those guys who we hold in such high regard.”
Leach, who scored 666 points (381 goals, 285 assists) in 934 games with the Boston Bruins, California Golden Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings and was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player in the 1976 Stanley Cup Playoffs, said he didn’t know about Sasakamoose until he was 16 and playing junior hockey in Flin Flon, Manitoba.
Leach said that when he learned Sasakamoose was First Nation, he was instilled with pride.
“He was one of the players that we wanted to be like him and play in the National Hockey League,” Leach said. “He accomplished his goal and that was a big feat at that time in the 50s, being First Nation and playing in the NHL. If you think back, it’s unbelievable the things he had to go through and what he went through going to residential school and accomplishing what he did. It’s just amazing.”
Sasakamoose made his NHL debut Nov. 20, 1953, against the Boston Bruins and played against the Toronto Maple Leafs two days later. He was then sent back to junior but was informed on the night of his final game with Moose Jaw of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League that the Black Hawks wanted him to report for a game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 27, 1954.
“That night. I was on that train,” he told the Edmonton Sun in March 2014. “Going to Toronto. Going to play. Three days on a train. I don’t know how the word got out that fast that there was an Indian going to play.
“I was warming up on the ice, and somebody skated up to me and said, ‘Somebody wants to talk to you over there.’ I’d never seen (broadcaster) Foster Hewitt in my life. He was just on the radio. He said, ‘How do you pronounce your name?’ … It was big news. It was a big deal. I was an Indian with an Indian on my sweater.”
Sasakamoose went to training camp with the Black Hawks in 1954 but was sent to the minors. He played minor and senior hockey until retiring in 1960.
“Today we lost a luminary in the hockey world with the passing of Fred Sasakamoose,” the Blackhawks said in a statement. “Fred inspired many across the sport and throughout North America after becoming one of the first Indigenous-born athletes to play in the National Hockey League when he played 11 games with the Blackhawks during the 1953-54 season. Fred’s family spoke of his love for his culture, his people and his language. That lasting impact of his legacy will forever be celebrated and continue to bring people together for generations to come.
“To the entire Sasakamoose family that includes his wife, Loretta, four children and over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the Chicago Blackhawks organization extends our deepest condolences.”
After his playing career was over, Sasakamoose returned home to the Ahathkakoop First Nation to help give others the same kind of opportunities he received. He worked to build and develop minor hockey and other sports in the community. Tournaments, leagues and sports days followed as a result of these initiatives, as well as the Saskatchewan Indian Summer and Winter Games. Sasakamoose also was on the NHL Diversity Task Force as well as the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
Sasakamoose had a long, difficult path to the NHL, which included being taken from his family’s home and shipped to the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. The school was part of a government-sponsored, religious education system designed to assimilate the country’s Indigenous children. The schools, which began in the 1880s and closed in 1996, were rife with abuse.
But Sasakamoose never abandoned his language, cultural beliefs or way of life. He testified before Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2012 about his experiences at the residential school.
He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. The Blackhawks honored him in November 2002, and the Edmonton Oilers did the same in 2014 as part of their Celebration of First Nations Hockey, with Sasakamoose performing the ceremonial puck drop before a game against the New York Rangers. In 2017, Sasakamoose was invested in the Order of Canada, an honor that recognizes Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement, dedication to community or service to the nation.
Sasakamoose’s death came a week after he finished the final edits on his memoir. “Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player” is scheduled for release April 6.
“At least his story is documented and now it’s done,” Neil said.
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