It’s not easy to savour the final month or so of the NBA season. If your team of choice is bad, you just want the season to end; likewise if your team is cruising, you just want the playoffs to begin. (If your team is somewhere in the middle, good luck.) The Raptors are more in the latter camp than the former, but still: anxiety mounts. What’s going to happen? We don’t know.
In an attempt to figure it out, we’re doing what we always do on Wednesday: reconvening the HQ Roundtable. This week Mitch Orsatti, Satbir Singh, and I, your guest host Daniel Reynolds, have the dang good Raptors word. And worry not, our guy Sully will be back next week to ask and answer the tough Toronto questions.
For now, let’s get to it.
On the Raptors:
1) Jeremy Lin was a solid addition (on paper) for the Raptors, but what happens to him once Fred VanVleet comes back from injury?
Mitch Orsatti: Ah, what a luxurious problem to have! As the question states, Lin has played perfect basketball for his role on this Raptors team, especially considering he was thrust into a pretty big role right after being signed. Does that mean Lin should be eating into Steady Freddy’s minutes?
The easy answer here is “probably not”. The Raptors made a significant investments in Mr. Bet On Yourself this off-season and to relegate him to a reduced role because he got hurt and the team signed a buyout vet to a minimum contract wouldn’t be a great look. That doesn’t mean that the team should just stash Lin at the end of the bench either.
So where do the minutes come from?
The sad answer here is “Patrick McCaw.” McCaw has had incredible defensive spurts and the occasional offensive burst, but the fact that he was playing some defacto point guard while Freddy’s been out probably means that the ax will fall on him first.
As I mentioned though, this is a good problem to have! When one of Norm, OG, Fred or Lin struggles (which is inevitable) the Raptors have an excellent release valve in McCaw.
Dime of supreme quality pic.twitter.com/DumQOR47bv— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 4, 2019
Satbir Singh: Nick Nurse seems to be tightening up the Raptors rotation as the season winds down. Rightfully so, as the playoffs are a time when you need your best players to take on heavy minutes and a lot more workload. Fred VanVleet’s return won’t keep him out of the rotation even with Jeremy Lin involved. I think other players like Patrick McCaw and Norman Powell will have a tough time seeing minutes, or at least the minutes they’ve been getting lately.
In terms of how you play with Lin and VanVleet off the bench and 35-plus minutes per game for Kyle Lowry, well that’s why Nurse gets paid the big bucks. More than likely you try to ease Lowry’s workload in some of the games near the end of the season but keep him mostly around that 35-minute mark. With Lin and VanVleet on the court together, I’d prefer Lin as the ball handler and VanVleet as the standstill shooter. VanVleet is shooting 41.4 per cent on catch and shoot three’s, 28.7 per cent on pull up three’s and 45.2 per cent in the corner. Therefore, make VanVleet the shooter on the court with the amount of good passers on the team.
Daniel Reynolds: I think the Raptors have to give those minutes back to VanVleet. No offense to Lin, but the bench has been FVV’s to direct, and while Lin has perhaps more experience — or at least a more well-known pedigree — he hasn’t exactly shown himself to be an out-and-out world beater. At least not quite yet.
That’s not to say Lin wouldn’t have a role to play for the Raptors. Theoretically, Lin is a three-point shooter, and practically speaking he’s another ball-handler and perimeter defender for Toronto to trot out there. Unfortunately for the Raptors, while Lin’s has had a chance to show off his on-ball skills, he’s currently shooting [checks paper] zero percent from three since coming to Toronto. That alone means one thing: VanVleet should slide easily right back into his spot in the lineup. Case closed. (Please note this question was asked before Lin’s debacle against Detroit and Houston. As of right now, it’s not even a question: I would definitely give all of Lin’s minutes to FVV.)
2) The Raptors need to sign one more player to complete their roster. Should they go for shooting depth or frontcourt depth, and who should it be?
Mitch Orsatti: The Raptors have existed for 24 years and for approximately 24 of those years, they have not had a credible backup power forward (this year included). Good news! There are more bargain bin power forward who won’t move the needle available to fill the final roster spot!
With the caveat that there is no way to fully solve that problem, I would love to see the Raptors sign former Marc Gasol teammate (this could be a number of people so I’m going to drag it out a little bit longer within this parenthesis) Brandan Wright! Sure Z-Bo and Carmelo are sexier choices, but miss me all the way with Melo being a fit on this team and Z-Bo still having serviceable legs to run up and down a basketball court.
Wright would be an excellent fit in that he doesn’t need a lot of minutes, he can soar up for lobs and bring down some situational rebounds when called upon.
Satbir Singh: I wouldn’t say there’s a single player on the market that the Raptors must sign because as I mentioned above, rotations are going to tighten up with playoffs. A shooter would be nice just because of the Raptors playoff history with some players struggling with their shot.
The guy I would give a chance to is Ben McLemore, who the Raptors were originally going to sign to a 10-day contract in February. Not sure if the collective agreement problems that stalled the signing still exist, but McLemore would be a good backend bench piece. In a small sample, he did shoot 42 per cent from three in 19 games with the Kings earlier this season.
Daniel Reynolds: Given the sudden plethora of options at the 2- and 3-spots, it feels like the best move for the Raptors to make is nab a power forward/centre type for the stretch drive. Unfortunately, if you peruse the extensive list of available talent on Real GM, it does not provide a ton of confidence that Toronto will be able to find much value there. The best names either got snapped up by other teams (Markieff Morris, still usable; Pau Gasol, great experience), or were never bought out by their teams (pour one out for Robin Lopez).
As it stands, maybe it’s worth kicking the tires on a guy like Darrell Arthur, Tarik Black, or Marcin Gortat — but I’m not really enthused about it. The problem here is two-fold: any deep bench guy the Raptors sign really should not expect to play, but to actually get a guy who could play, Toronto would need to have some minutes on offer. It’s a bind! The Raptors need someone with serious playoff experience who is also willing to sit on the bench and not use that experience. I wish I had a more specific answer here.
3) Kawhi Leonard said the regular season to him is just for practice, which Raptor most needs these last few games to prepare for the playoffs?
Mitch Orsatti: Other than the new guys who obviously need time and FVV who will need some burn to get back up to game speed with his injury, I feel like the guy who needs the most is OG. The only issue here is that I don’t think regular season time is the answer.
OG has dealt with personal issues throughout the year as well as largely playing, and I hesitate to say this, out of position. Once OG unlocks his final form, I don’t think the phrase out of position will exist for him, but with Siakam moving to the starting PF position, OG has been tasked with backup PF duty and it hasn’t suited him nearly as well as many thought it might.
When OG was starting at PF last year, he had the starting unit to insulate him on both ends of the court, but with the bench unit being a shell of what it once was, OG has yet to consistently find a rhythm to his game. What OG needs is a good solid offseason to address his biggest issue and that’s creating his own offense.
Satbir Singh: Serge Ibaka’s playoff struggles were an issue last year and a huge frustration for fans. He’s shooting well from the field this season, and it’d be nice to see him continue to grow confidence into the final games.
Sure, Marc Gasol’s addition helps take the burden off Ibaka, but the Raptors can’t afford for Ibaka to shoot 42 per cent from the field, as he’ll be a second or third option on the court at times. I say the Raptors should look into finding ways to give Serge a breather down the stretch.
Daniel Reynolds: I’ve given up trying to diagnose what the Raptors should do with Kyle Lowry’s load — he didn’t play for a stretch, now he’s up past 40 minutes a night on the reg — so let’s keep it simple: give Toronto’s two other starting lineup veterans, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka, a smattering of night’s off.
Toronto plays a long run of mostly middling-to-poor teams to round out the season (but more on the Lakers in a bit), and it feels fair — even as the Raps integrate some new pieces. I just think Green could use some time to focus on his podcasting career while Ibaka irons out a few more episodes of “How Hungry Are You?”. They get refreshed for the playoffs, we get some good content, everybody wins!
Around the NBA:
1) Is this the final form we’re seeing from the Celtics or can they turn it up a notch before the playoffs begin?
Mitch Orsatti: Look, I get it, the Boston Celtics are an on-paper terrifying team, but there is a plutonium-grade stench surrounding this squad. Here’s a series of images that Raptors fans will enjoy:
Hayward’s comeback season has been a bumpy ride pic.twitter.com/n1VY0cT519— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 4, 2019
Kyrie’s face sums up the Celtics Raptors game last night. The Celtics lost 118-95 pic.twitter.com/32AXiSaVkv— Processing (@Processing_Pod) February 27, 2019
Kyrie won't miss always having a camera in his face ... pic.twitter.com/5KQKqwQGxI— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) March 4, 2019
With the Score reporting that Kyrie has become disengaged with the Celtics, I think the final form of the Celtics might be even worse than what we’re seeing. One can hope!
Satbir Singh: I’ve always believed that Kyrie Irving is one of the most overrated players in the NBA, although this has been an impressive season for him. As a young team these Celtics will probably struggle into the playoffs, only because they’ll have difficulties against the best in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are lining themselves up for a tough road in the playoffs with potentially Philadelphia in round one and Milwaukee in round two. I don’t see another gear to this team, especially this late into the season.
Daniel Reynolds: The Celtics blew the doors off the Warriors last night, but I for one am still sincerely hoping that they, (a) get destroyed by the Sixers in the first round, (b) enjoy a long summer reckoning where all of Danny Ainge’s grand master plans slowly fall apart before his eyes.
Look, it was cool when the Celtics suddenly bounced back to relevance in 2008 and won the title. I was openly rooting for them back then (if only because it was fun to watch Kobe lose). But now? Everyone on this Celtics team talks way too much all the time about this, and that, and the other thing they need to do to get better. Enough already! Be about it or don’t! I’m tired!
2) Is it a big deal if LeBron James is not in the playoffs?
Mitch Orsatti: I’m going to try to take myself out of the equation on this, as I am a noted LeBron hater and couldn’t give a single solitary shit whether he or the Lakers make or miss the playoffs. Sorry. Trying right now.
Yes, it’s a big deal if LeBron doesn’t make the playoffs with the Lakers. LeBron has long been the master of his own narrative and you can’t imagine that this is what he had in mind when he signed with Los Angeles this summer. The team as constructed (poorly, lol) is trash and he’s the co-captain with Kyrie Irving for Team Disengaged.
Kuzma shoved LeBron just to get him to contest the shot . pic.twitter.com/bND7CQEJG9— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) March 5, 2019
Moreover, LeBron hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2004. Do you know what 2004 was like? Avril Lagine was a huge star, Lance Armstrong wasn’t a world-renowned cheater, Ken Jennings smugly secured the bag on Jeopardy and the world was incensed with Janet Jackson for having her nipple exposed by Justin Timberlake. Are we really ready to bookend that era with clone-Avril Lavigne releasing a new album with a Nicki Minaj feature and Adam Levine baring his nipples with no backlash? I’m not. Please let LeBron sneak into the playoffs and get decimated by the Warriors. PRETTY PLEASE!
Satbir Singh: For NBA profit and TV ratings it probably is a big deal, but I’m ready to see the next group of stars get their opportunities. Unlike previous playoffs this year is set up to have a lot of fantastic storylines. The Eastern Conference is wide-open with LeBron out of the picture. Giannis and Milwaukee will be a fun watch and hopefully they meet the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard.
For the Western Conference, Golden State is the obvious threat and Houston will be in the conversation again. However, I really want to see what the youth of Denver, Portland and Utah can do in the playoffs. This isn’t the same LeBron vs Golden State finals and as an NBA fan I don’t think you can be upset about that. Round one to the NBA Finals will be entertaining and I’m ready for it to begin now.
Daniel Reynolds: Big deal to whom? The NBA surely won’t like it if their signature star isn’t playing basketball into April, May, and June. But then, they didn’t insist he sign with one of the league’s signature franchises. Maybe I’m just in a sour mood, but just how much sympathy am I supposed to have here for LeBron James? Has there been a more obvious case of “made your bed, now sleep in it” over the past year than that of the King?
We knew LeBron’s Lakers were going to be light on talent. We knew the pieces they were adding were not going to work. We knew the Anthony Davis gambit was likely going to blow up in their collective faces. We knew it, we knew it, we knew it. For a guy as basketball savvy as LeBron, it feels modestly shocking to even ask: how did he not know? In any case, it’s a big deal to Lakers fans and to the league’s TV partners for sure — but after that? Hey, it’s a new day.