Bit of a slow news day, Toronto Raptors-wise; the team practiced and somewhat bizarrely, both Sam Dekker and Ish Wainwright — the two players seemingly fighting for the last spot — were the only ones to talk to the media.
But that gives us a chance to fly around and see what else is going on in the world of hoops!
1. Rod Black leaving TSN
Veteran Canadian sportscaster Rod Black announced on Twitter yesterday that he’s leaving TSN, where he’s worked since 1990. Black has hosted Raptors broadcasts on the network for years, and has done, well, pretty much everything, sports-wise, over that time period.
♥️ Sad to say goodbye today to my friends at CTV and TSN but so excited for my next chapter which will be as amazing the last. Thank you. Had the time of my life. Cheers— Rod Black (@RodBlackTSN) October 14, 2021
Black may not be the flashiest, most knowledgable or most entertaining guy on the air, but he’s been an absolute rock — a staple of Canadian sports coverage.
Shoutout to Corey Perrin in the comments yesterday, who asked who will host the broadcasts now? I have no idea, but I wouldn’t bet against Kayla Grey.
2. Paul Pierce in retirement
Speaking of broadcasters leaving gigs, Sports Illustrated published a Paul Pierce profile yesterday, and it’s worth a read. I was never a huge Pierce fan, of course, because of all the damage he did to the Raptors over the years, including telling us the Raptors didn’t have “it” before the 2015 playoffs — and then helping the Washington Wizards prove it by sweeping the Raps out of the first round. (Clearly he was right, which just makes it worse!) But he was a freaking incredible basketball player with a top-5 all-time nickname.
He was less impressive as a broadcaster. I don’t watch a lot of ESPN coverage (we got the bad cable, after all) but from what I did see, he mostly looked uncomfortable and unprepared.
So while it was pretty ridiculous that the guy got fired for throwing a rager, it was probably for the best. Especially because now he has the freedom to say stuff like this:
It wasn’t a great fit. There’s a lot of stuff over there that you can’t say. And you have to talk about LeBron all the time.
The Truth, indeed.
3. John Hollinger on the Raps
The Athletic’s John Hollinger, formerly of ESPN and formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies, can be a bit... anachronistic? ... in his basketball takes. But I think he mostly nails this take — and calling it a “take” is a disservice because these previews he does for The Athletic are quite in-depth and well worth your time.
The thing that most stood out to me, though, was his critique of the Khem Birch signing:
Toronto also tried to plug the center position by using most of its midlevel exception on a three-year deal for Birch, who is 29 and had graded out as a minimum guy.
Yeah, Birch is 29. But I don’t know that it’s fair to call him nothing more than a minimum guy; he never got the chance to prove himself in Orlando playing behind Nikola Vucevic. When he got minutes on a good team — well, check out Jay Rosales’ preview, coming later today!
Anyway. I think three years and $20 million for Birch is entirely reasonable.
4. Continuity rankings
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann released his annual continuity rankings the other day, where he ranks teams based on how many returning players they have (and how many minutes those players played), year over year.
This year the Raptors are 24th. Toronto has nine players returning, and several of those returning didn’t play much for the Raptors last year (such as Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch, late-season additions) so the Raptors have only 9,951 “returning minutes.”
Normally I’d see this as a bad sign — continuity matters! — but last year in Tampa was such a lost season that in this case, I’m not worried about chemistry or continuity. Fresh start all the way!
Losing Kyle Lowry still stinks though.
5. League pass rankings
Speaking of rankings, Zach Lowe has released his annual League Pass rankings of which team is the most fun to tune into every night.
He’s got the Raptors at 22, which sounds right — but if this team plays like the potential it showed in the preseason, deflecting a million balls and running bad teams off the floor, they might rank higher than that by the end of the year.
And if not, well:
If you’re having a bad day — if life has got you down — tune into a Raptors game, and let Jack Armstrong’s high-pitched, raspy optimism cheer you up.
Very true, Zach. Very true.