After a long, and at times depressing (trade demands, Kyrie Irving, injuries and surgeries, Robert Sarver, Ime Udoka... ugh) NBA offseason, the 2022-23 season is finally here — and it starts with Media Day. While some teams kicked theirs off over the weekend, the Toronto Raptors will hold theirs today, September 26, starting at 10:00 a.m.
Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri will speak first, shortly after 10; he’ll be followed by Nick Nurse, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Juancho Hernangomez, Gary Trent Jr., and Scottie Barnes. Expect things to wrap up at approximately 12:30 p.m.
There’s really only one surprise on that list of speakers. You have the lead exec, the coaches, and all five starters from last season, and... Juancho Hernangomez? A summertime pick up who isn’t even really guaranteed a spot on the team?
Perhaps that means Masai and Nick have high hopes for Juancho! Or maybe the Bo Cruz media hype really is real.
Either way, keep it locked right here for updates throughout the day.
Following Media Day, the Raptors will depart for Victoria, BC, for training camp; their preseason starts on Oct 2. when they host the Utah Jazz at 6:00 p.m.
More to come...
Update: 10:30 a.m. — Masai Ujiri speaks
MAsai Ujiri opened the the Media Day proceedings, speaking about the team’s relatively quiet offseason and saying the expectation for the team’s young core is continued growth. We preach patience, he says, but we expect to win. “Are we good enough to win a championship? I don’t know if we are there yet. Are we good enough to grow? I think so.” I sure hope so — otherwise that “quiet offseason” will have been a bust! Ujiri continued, “It’s a challenge to make that jump, but winning is why we play, and winning is what we want to do... We’ve always wanted to win. And we are going to win again.”
How can you note love — and be inspired by! — this man’s confidence!
On some of the drama that I alluded to above, specifically the Sarver and Udoka situations, Ujiri said that in the Raptors organization, treating people with respect is very important and “core” to the Raptors’ organization. Ujiri echoed LeBron James in saying, “there’s no place for that behaviour in our league.” Ujiri also indicated that he thought Adam Silver handled the situation well — I think Masai and I will have to agree to disagree on that one.
On the basketball side, Ujiri says the team has had “good conversations” with Fred VanVleet’s team on a contract extension, but that’s all the public comment he’ll make — other than saying Fred is “beloved” to the organization. Hard agree on that one!!
Moving over to Scottie Barnes, Ujiri says he thinks the reigning rookie of the year has another jump in him. “I don’t know what position he plays,” Ujiri says, calling him “just a guy who plays basketball” and a “player of the future.” I am definitely looking forward to seeing Barnes back on the basketball court.
Meanwhile, on O.G. Anunoby, Ujiri thinks he also has room to grow, and expects “a big jump from O.G.... He’s just such a dynamic player.” Ujiri references Anunoby’s ability to play a lot of positions and shoot the ball, which, yeah, that’s pretty much the ideal Raptor! Ujiri says he also expects continued leadership from Anunoby and mention his close relationship with the young players, including Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, and Dalano Banton.
Up next: Nick Nurse!
(But first, an official note from Raptors PR on O.G. Anunoby — he has “officially” added the punctuation to his initials. OG is dead, long live O.G. Anunoby!
Update: 11:10 a.m. — Raptors head coach Nick Nurse
Nick Nurse took the mic after Masai Ujiri, and started out talking about how the Raptors know how they are, this year, much more so than last year. He said their goal this year, offensively, in the halfcourt, is to put more pressure on the rim — to get more paint shots and free throws — with the expectation that that will open up more good looks from three. Personally I’m not sure they have the personnel to do that, but I also have confidence in Nurse’s ability to get the team to adjust.
Nurse also indicated he’ll play Fred VanVleet fewer minutes this year! Again, I’m not really seeing it — it’s not like the team added any backup point guards in the offseason — but hopefully growth from Barnes and Pascal Siakam has ball handlers will help (Nurse says he expects Barnes to have more opportunities to initiate the offense.) And that’s not even mentioning VanVleet’s defense, where, as Nurse says, VanVleet’s on-ball D is basically what makes the whole defensive scheme work.
On new faces, Nurse mentions Otto Porter Jr. as a key addition, a guy who started in the NBA Finals just a few months ago; and praised the addition of Rico Hines, who should make the Raptors’ famed development program even stronger. Nurse also said he was encouraged by what he saw of the offseason runs in California, saying he saw “urgency and togetherness” from his players, and that they’ll see the results of those workouts during the season.
Update: 11:30 a.m. — Fred VanVleet at the podium
Fred VanVleet kicked off his Media Day presser answering questions about minutes and his body breaking down last year; he basically said he “stopped listening” to his body, and focused his offseason on recovering and getting stronger.
Focus shifted next to his contract and while VanVleet, like Ujiri, declined to speak in specifics, but said the love is mutual: “I love being a Raptor, there’s nothing I could ever complain about with this team.” Phew!
On the team overall, VanVleet mentions the depth as a strength and says as long as the team’s winning, everybody eats, everybody is happy, and that the continuity from last season to this one should pay dividends. VanVleet says he knows where he fits in, and the value he brings, as a veteran (even though he’s only 28) in the group. VanVleet says “we lost to a team we thought we could beat” — the Philadelphia 76ers — and that the team needed to get back to the drawing board, hence all the time spent together in California. Also mentions they have the best coach in the league!
VanVleet also gave a shoutout to rookie Christian Koloko, saying that — if he’s ready — the big man is exactly what the Raptors need to balance their rotation. As for the rest of the group, and bevy of long-armed wings the team has, VanVleet says he doesn’t need to play with the ball or without the ball. “I’m just a basketball player,” he says, noting that it didn’t feel like he even had the ball in his hands that much last season.
Update: 12:00 p.m. — O.G. Anunoby and Scottie Barnes on the upcoming season
O.G. Anunoby — those two periods are gonna be a hard habit to get into — starts his presser by saying he’s happy to be back in Toronto and excited to start the season. Beyond attending a couple of camps — one in London, and Thad Young’s camp in Memphis — highlights of Anunoby’s summer included reading, going for walks, and watching sunsets. In typical Anunoby fashion, O.G. did not expound on what book(s) he read. He did say he was “surprised” by reports that he was unhappy in Toronto, which once again should tell you never to trust any Raptors-related leaks!
Basketball-wise, Anunoby says he’s not concerned about his role, and that he tries to focus on getting better every summer, and is confident “everything will fall into place.”
There really is no more chill dude in the NBA than O.G. Anunoby!
Anunoby was followed by Scottie Barnes, who says he’s been working on his footwork and his pull-up jumper, which is always a nice skill to have for a guy who likes to get out and run like Barnes does. Barnes says he’s also been working on his body, as if you couldn’t tell from him looking jacked in all those offseason workout vids!
Everyone always says they put on 10 pounds of muscle on media day, but have to say Scottie looks like one gigantic point guard.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) September 26, 2022
Referring back to Ujiri’s thoughts on his role, Barnes says he’s “always been a point guard” but that he can do it all, play any position. “I don’t try to limit myself,” he says. Player of the future indeed! Goals-wise, Barnes says he’s trying to make All-Defense, All-Star, trying to get to that next level — while fighting for a championship. (How awesome would Championship Parade Scottie Barnes be!?) Barnes says he doesn’t want to be out there overthinking, that he’s “just gonna be who I am on the floor.”
Barnes says the Raps’ short playoff run showed him how different the postseason is — “a different level of competitiveness” — and that he used it as motivation in the offseason.
Bo Cruz Juancho Hernangomez is up next!
Update: 12:30 p.m. — Juancho Hernangomez, Gary Trent, Jr., and Pascal Siakam
One of the Raptors’ newest acquisitions, Juancho Hernangomez, took to the podium after Barnes, and of course, questions came right away about his role as Bo Cruz in Adam Sandler’s Hustle. Hernangomez said he sent in audition tapes, eventually got the role — and that it took about two years to make the film. Says the buzz about the film, plus Spain’s EuroCup win, made it a great summer.
Speaking of Spain, Hernangomez said he spoke to Sergio Scariolo, Marc Gasol and Jose Calderon — Raptors legends, all — about their time in Toronto, and about how he’d fit in — and that learned that, as a switchable 6’8” player, the fit should be an easy one. Hernangomez also notes he grew up watching Vince Carter — which feels like a comment specifically designed to make me feel 800 years old — but that he doesn’t have quite the same “bounce” as VC. Few do!!
Next, it was Gary Trent Jr.’s time on the mic, and he says that last season was a lot of learning, but heading into 2022-23, he has a better sense of how he fits in with the Raptors.
Finally, capping things off, we had the man himself, Pascal Siakam, step to the podium. First, Siakam praised the addition of Rico Hines, saying Hines is like family and that he embodies everything the Raptors organization is about.
Siakam said it was “amazing” having a normal, healthy offseason, after the mess that was 2020 followed by shoulder surgery in 2021. He says he loves to be in the gym, and that that process is even more important than the games, to him. He says his goal is to be “the best,” in other words, be a top-five player in the NBA, and that it’s time for him to show that, not just talk about it.
Siakam also spoke about Christian Koloko, and what it’s like having another player from Doula, Cameroon, on the squad: “It’s crazy, it’s weird... what are the odds?” Says it’s a “proud moment” and great for the kids back home to be able to watch two local players in the NBA.
As for the team overall, Siakam says the Raptors have the pieces and the talent. “We just have to continue to evolve as a team,” he says, noting that he thinks everybody’s gotten better. “We have a bright future as a team.”
And what better place to leave it at, than that? Thank you for following along, and we’ll have loads of pre-season coverage to come, including 2022-23 player previews!