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Toronto Temperature: We wait in holiday and basketball anticipation

The NBA season began yesterday, the Raptors play tonight, and we’re abuzz for the holiday season — such as it is in 2020. It’s time to take the Temperature.

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect bit of cosmic coincidence, we arrive at this week’s Toronto Temperature on the day of both the Raptors’ 2020-21 season opener and that most holy of holidays, Festivus. You’re all here because you know very well about the former. But for those who don’t celebrate (or don’t know what the hell I’m talking about), here’s Frank Costanza with the supercut explanation on the latter:

In that spirit, let’s commit a few feats of strength and air some grievances for the week that was in Raptors basketball — and the night that is to come. Or as a wise man once said: I got a lot of problems with you people. Now, you’re gonna hear about it!

It’s time once again to take the Toronto Temperature.

Who’s Hot

Kyle Lowry Calling His Shot

Frankly, I’ve enjoyed how Kyle Lowry’s past week has gone. After asking out of the Raptors’ two preseason games in Charlotte, he did as little media as possible, and then showed out in one contest (against the Heat) to assure everyone that he was still Kyle Lowry. Of course, the game was a fake one, but it was something to see Lowry just pop in and dominate like that — 25 points in 27 minutes, by far the team’s best player on the night despite also being its oldest.

As for the media appearance he did make, Lowry was already in mid-season trash-talking form. He got off jokes about Sportsnet’s Michael Grange (whose presence Lowry does not miss) and TSN’s Josh Lewenberg (whom Lowry knows is short), and then, despite Oshae Brissett waiting in the wings: Kyle abruptly ended the Zoom call, cutting the media session short for the afternoon. What a guy.

OG Anunoby and His Contract Extension

The Raptors got themselves a steal in their recent contract extension agreement with OG Anunoby. As I implied over here, at worst Toronto secured an extremely solid complementary piece on what they hope will be a championship team again in the near future. Sure, $18 million a year may sound like a lot for the third- or fourth-best player on the current or hypothetical future Raptors, yet Anunoby has already played up to that figure.

The bottom line is this: while OG may grow further in his role as a scorer, there’s still huge value in having at least one low-usage, high-impact, and super versatile player on the roster. Anunoby has also shown he can hang in the pressure-packed situations the Raptors want to be in. What’s more, the market for his type of player (e.g. someone like Jerami Grant) may already be higher than what the Raptors are planning to pay him next season. And if the 23-year-old Anunoby does indeed improve even more, well then, Toronto really has it made.

The Beautiful Agony of Watching Serge and Marc

This is not good per se, but it is wondrous (if that’s the right word to use) to see former Raptors, crowned champions while in Toronto, playing for other teams with golden aspirations. While it’s true both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol spent most of their careers in places that were not Toronto (Oklahoma City for Serge; Memphis for Marc), they’re now synonymous with the Raptors.

And in truth, it’s not often former Raptors are sought out because of the success they’ve reached while in Toronto. In this case, both the Clippers and Lakers wanted to add Ibaka and Gasol to their organizations because of the veteran pedigree they’ve most recently earned here. Both of their new teams are trying to win the NBA title, and both needed to keep up in that arms race against each other. And while it remains to be seen if both Ibaka and Gasol will be able to hold up all the way into July, it’ll be hard to doubt them in part because of their recent success in, again, Toronto. That’s circle of life stuff, man. All you can do is shed a tear and appreciate the time we got to have with both players.

Who’s Not

A James Harden Deal

I’ll say this for Harden, he’s making it incredibly hard to root for him in his battle against evil Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta. To be clear: Fertitta is still the absolute villain here, in his role as an owner and also because he seems particularly odious. But Harden appears hellbent on matching his boss’ assholish behaviour shot-for-shot. It almost makes you think: maybe these two deserve each other!

That’s a grim thought. Harden does indeed seem unhappy with his professional situation, one he’s stuck in for at least another two years. It is not quite fair that that’s how NBA contracts work. All he can do now is demand a trade (done) and sulk (still ongoing). But the more Harden does that, the more difficult it becomes for Houston to deal him, despite being one of the best five players in the league. I mention all this because, well, it makes it a less defensible position to want the Raptors to get involved in such a deal. Yes, Harden is a mega-talent, but he also just seems... not right. (Here’s an update on the status of his teammates, whom Harden may have exposed to Coronavirus, for example — oops!) It’s still a deal worth looking into, much like the Kawhi trade was, but we’ll see how it plays out.

Signing Bobby and Masai

Hey, remember Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri? Of course you do! As it turns out, both are still on the last year of their contracts with the Raptors. And as you might also recall, both have done their absolute best to turn what was once a laughingstock franchise into perhaps one of the best run organizations in the league. That’s worth a lot of money, and it demands some stability too! So then, what gives?

Here’s what we know: Masai said in his usual preseason, state-of-the-Raptors address, that a deal to secure Webster is “pretty much” done. There hasn’t been any announcement since then, but we’ll have to assume that Webster will indeed be back in Toronto. This makes the mystery of Masai’s status all the more urgent. Is Webster about to usurp is former boss as the team’s president, so Ujiri can now move onto something else? With the goal of finally bringing Giannis to Toronto off the table, maybe Masai — like Alexander the Great well before him — has surveyed the NBA scene with tears in his eyes realizing there are no more lands to conquer. All in all, just an ice cold situation to think about.

Tough Luck for Oshae

Much like this column, we’re running out of space and time for Oshae Brissett. Heading into 2020-21, it felt like he was a shoe-in for a roster spot on the Raptors — on a two-way contract if not a full-time deal. Brissett showed last season that he could be a decent plug-and-play option in the 3- or 4-spot for the Raptors. Yes, he would be a marginal rotation piece, but at least he could be counted on to give it all he had.

Instead, Brissett spent this past training camp and preseason working his way back from a recent knee surgery. As a result, he lost his spot entirely on Toronto’s team, scooped as it was by the team’s pair of new rookies, the emergence of Paul Watson, and the surprisingly good performances of do-it-all forward Yuta Watanabe. It’s hard not to feel bad here — Brissett was a good soldier for the Raptors and now it looks like the best he can hope for from his hometown team is a spot on the 905 in the G League. That’s just how it goes sometimes.