Raptors Rumors

Atlantic Notes: Korkmaz, Irving, Knicks, Leonard

Despite being unhappy with his playing time in October, Furkan Korkmaz has received more opportunities in the past few weeks with the Sixers. Korkmaz has played in 15 of the 76ers’ last 16 games, scoring 18 points in 34 minutes against the Nets on Wednesday.

Korkmaz admitted that he wasn’t ready to see significant playing time last season, but took leaps forward as an all-around basketball player during the offseason. There was an expectation entering the 2018/19 season that he would see more time on the court, as has been the case recently.

“At the time I was telling to people, even like my agent, my parents, my sister, it doesn’t matter who, I was telling them I want to play this year,” Korkmaz told Jessica Camerato, who profiled him for an in-depth Basketball Insiders story. “It was my goal. It was my second year … I knew that I wasn’t ready last year. I wasn’t ready. I knew that. I just worked hard, even when I got injured.

“But I feel like I improved a lot then, not as basketball, physically, as my body. I was saying to people, ‘I want to play,’ … I never got down mentally. I knew that my time will come, but I didn’t know when.”

Korkmaz, 21, was drafted by the Sixers with the No. 26 pick in 2016 after spending multiple seasons overseas. He’s scoring 5.8 points per game on 43% shooting from the floor, 34% from 3-point range and 86% from the charity stripe so far this season, and could earn more minutes as the season progresses if he doesn’t get traded.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

Jonas Valanciunas To Miss At Least Four Weeks

After suffering a dislocated left thumb during Wednesday night’s win over Golden State, Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas underwent surgery today at Stanford Medical Center, the team announced in a press release.

Valanciunas, who had his thumb relocated and the damage caused by the dislocation repaired, will remain in a cast for four weeks and will be re-evaluated at that point, according to the Raptors. In other words, it sounds like the veteran big man will miss at least the next month and will likely remain on the shelf beyond that.

It’s a tough loss for the Raptors, who have an NBA-best 23-7 record. Although Valanciunas had been primarily coming off the bench, he was playing a key role for the club, splitting minutes at the five with Serge Ibaka.

In Valanciunas’ absence, Ibaka may see a slight uptick in minutes. Greg Monroe, who has been out of Toronto’s rotation for most of the season, figures to play a more regular role too, while Pascal Siakam could also see some action at center in smaller lineups.

The Raptors have an open spot on their 15-man roster if they want to sign another frontcourt player. For now though, they’ll probably just rely on two-way player Chris Boucher for added depth up front. Boucher has been putting up huge numbers for Toronto’s G League affiliate, the Raptors 905, averaging 29 PPG and 11.6 RPG in 14 games. He scored 47 points on Wednesday.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Atlantic Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Atlantic Division:

Terry Rozier, Celtics, 24, PG (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $8.8MM deal in 2015
Rozier showed he could be effective starter filling in for Kyrie Irving during the playoffs. With Irving back in the lineup, Rozier has been forced into a second-unit role again. He has expressed a desire to be a starter in the future and that’s not going to happen if Irving re-signs with Boston. Rozier’s stats aren’t that far off from last regular season but it’s been difficult for the restricted free agent, who is currently ranked No. 18 in our Free Agent Power Rankings, to enhance his value while playing 22 MPG.

DeMarre Carroll, Nets, 32, SF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $58MM deal in 2015
Carroll’s offensive numbers have been unsightly since he returned from an injury in early November. He’s shooting 34.4% from the field and 30.8% from long range. He’s also been a defensive liability, according to Basketball Reference, which gives him a minus 1.6 Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating. Carroll cashed in at an opportune time the last time he was a free agent. He’s going to find the offers much more modest next summer, given his age and declining production.

Emmanuel Mudiay, Knicks, 22, PG (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $14MM deal in 2015
The way first-year head coach David Fizdale has been tinkering with his lineup and rotation, it’s hard for anyone on the roster to feel comfortable. The point guard situation has remained a muddle, with Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke taking turns as the main guy and sitting in the doghouse. Mudiay had a 28-point performance against Milwaukee earlier this month but the Knicks have been outscored by 46 points over the last three games with the restricted free agent on the court. His grasp on a starting spot seems tenuous at best.

Mike Muscala, Sixers, 27, PF (Up) — Signed to a two-year, $10MM deal in 2017
Muscala has reinvented himself as a stretch four and he’s become a valued member of Philadelphia’s rotation. He’s averaging 10.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 2.2 APG over the past six games. He had an 18-point outing to help the Sixers erase a 15-point deficit in Detroit last week. If Muscala can keep this up for one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, he’ll be in line for a nice payday next summer and might even find a suitor that views him as a starter.

Danny Green, Raptors, 31, SG (Up)– Signed to a four-year, $40MM deal in 2015
Kawhi Leonard isn’t the only former Spur making a major impact north of the border. Green seems rejuvenated as well. His shooting numbers declined during his last three seasons in San Antonio but with Toronto he’s posting his best averages since the 2012/13 season. He’s shooting 44.2% overall and 42.1% from deep. His defensive metrics have remained well above average. Green should be able to score one more multi-year contract, whether he re-signs with Toronto and gets a starting job elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Clippers Keeping Close Eye On Kawhi, Durant

The Clippers are “transparently obsessed” with chasing 2019’s top two free agents, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who writes that the franchise has treated Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant like college recruits, frequently sending executives to Raptors and Warriors contests this season to scout the stars and ensure that the Clips are visible at those games.

Raptors officials have noticed at least one Clippers employee at about three-quarters of their games this season, per Windhorst. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank has been among those Clippers employees spotted at Toronto’s contests, even though top execs rarely attend NBA games that don’t involve their teams.

As Windhorst details, the approach appears to be part of team owner Steve Ballmer‘s master plan. In Ballmer’s perfect world, the Clippers would land Leonard or Durant – or both – during the 2019 offseason, making them the face(s) of the franchise as the team prepares to eventually move into a new arena in Inglewood. Ballmer alluded to this plan on Tuesday, as Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times relays.

“We’re just stacking it up,” Ballmer said. “We’re stacking it up with Jerry [West], stacking up with Lawrence, stacking it up with Doc [Rivers], stacking it up with a new arena. We’re headhunting in a place where this team has not been before.”

The Raptors and Warriors will hold the Bird rights for Leonard and Durant, respectively, allowing them to offer more years and more money to their stars than any other suitor could put on the table. Still, the Clippers are in position to make a strong pitch to both players — L.A. should have the cap flexibility to create two maximum-salary slots, and has added a veteran executive in West – as well as former SI.com scribe Lee Jenkins – to its front office “in an effort to prepare a grand slam pitch when the time is right,” writes Windhorst.

While it remains to be seen whether the Clippers will be successful in their efforts to add a star, they may have another prime opportunity to continue their scouting efforts on Wednesday night, with the Raptors in Golden State to face the Dubs. Leonard is day-to-day with a sore hip, though Toronto had no problem thrashing the Clippers in L.A. on Tuesday night without him.

VanVleet Expects To Be A Starter In The Near Future

The Nets have suffered several tough losses in recent weeks, having built up leads against the 76ers, Grizzlies and Thunder, only to fall short of victories on all three occasions. However, the team had a strong weekend, securing back-to-back victories over the Raptors and Knicks.

  • Fred VanVleet made his first career start for the Raptors earlier this season and as Mark Suleymanov points out for NBA Canada, it’s a role VanVleet expects to be in very soon. Last season, VanVleet was a key cog in the Raptors’ excellent bench units and finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.

Masai Ujiri Not Concerned With Kyle Lowry's Assessment Of Him

  • In an appearance on today’s episode of The Jump on ESPN, Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri laughed off the interview Kyle Lowry gave in which he didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of Ujiri, who said, “Kyle Lowry is always mad at me, every year!” (Hat tip to Faizal Khamisa of Sportsnet).

Malachi Richardson Assigned To 905

  • The Raptors assigned guard Malachi Richardson to the Raptors 905 for the second time in a week, tweets Blake Murphy of The Athletic. Richardson, who was scheduled to be in the starting lineup for today’s game against the Iowa Wolves, was a late scratch with sinusitis.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Leonard, Siakam

In advance of an ESPN showdown between two Eastern Conference leaders – the Raptors and Sixers – in Toronto on Wednesday night, Kyle Lowry sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (video link) to discuss a handful of topics, including the offseason trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio and his relationship with Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.

Acknowledging that he felt “some type of way on the personal side” after the Raptors sent his best friend to the Spurs, Lowry didn’t offer much when asked about where things stand with Ujiri.

“He’s the president of basketball operations, and that’s it,” Lowry said. “I come out here and do my job. He does his job and I do my job, right? That’s what you do.”

As Eric Koreen of The Athletic observes in a Twitter thread, Lowry and Ujiri may not exactly be buddy-buddy, but the veteran point guard has talked in the past about how grateful he is for the team’s investment in him. There’s also nothing to indicate that any lingering unease about how the DeRozan trade went down is a distraction for the Raptors or Lowry, who – by all accounts – has been a terrific teammate and leader this season.

Here’s more out of Toronto:

  • The Raptors have been working hard for years to turn Toronto into an attractive destination for NBA players, and Kawhi Leonard‘s upcoming free agency decision will represent the next big test of the club’s place in the league, as Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com writes.
  • In an excellent piece for ESPN.com, Jackie MacMullan takes an in-depth look at the unusual road to the NBA traveled by Pascal Siakam, who looks like an early frontrunner for this season’s Most Improved Player award.
  • Despite their league-best 20-5 record, the Raptors have endured some injury woes, rebounding and shooting issues, and some “clunky stretches” this season, writes Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star. In other words, there may be room for improvement. “There have been some ups and downs; it seems like a lot of ups because we’ve been winning a lot,” Lowry said. “The flaws that you see, they’re fixable. If we fix this, imagine how much better we could be.”

Raptors 905 Waive Kay Felder After Domestic Violence Allegation

The Raptors 905, Toronto’s G League affiliate, have waived Kay Felder after the point guard was charged by police in connection with a domestic violence allegation, the team announced today in a press release.

Before the club confirmed Felder’s release, a G League spokesperson had informed TMZ Sports that the 23-year-old would be placed on indefinite leave, pending a full investigation.

According to TMZ’s report, Felder was arrested early on Monday morning near Toronto and booked for assault after reportedly getting violent and making threats toward a woman. He was released from custody on Monday and is due to appear in court later this month, per TMZ.

Felder, who was selected 54th overall in the 2016 NBA draft by the Cavaliers, appeared in 42 games for Cleveland in his rookie season, then played 16 total games in 2017/18 for the Bulls and Pistons. The 5’9″ guard was with the Raptors for training camp this fall, but was waived before the regular season began, joining Toronto’s NBAGL squad at that point.

A return to the NBA this season for Felder appears unlikely after this incident.

Poll: Will The Raptors Make The Finals?

Heading into the season, many predicted that the Celtics and Warriors would clash in the NBA Finals. Despite the Raptors making a big splash in the offseason by acquiring Kawhi Leonard, many felt that the Celtics’ depth and dynamic talent would lead them out of the Eastern Conference after falling short the two previous seasons.

However, so far it has been the Raptors that look like the best team in the conference, owning a 20-4 record and 6.5-game lead over the Celtics in the standings. The Raptors have been getting it done on both ends of the floor, as they own the league’s second-ranked offense and ninth-ranked defense (which could improve throughout the season as they continue to integrate the new additions).

Leonard is leading the way, returning to a near-MVP level, while Kyle Lowry is proving to be a more than worthy sidekick as he leads the league in assists. Other players such as Pascal Siakam, Danny Green and Serge Ibaka have stepped up to provide a lending hand throughout the first quarter of the season.

The Raptors have the talent and depth to play a variety of ways. If they aren’t overwhelming you with their offense, they can lock you down with their switchable defense that boasts several strong defenders on the wing. Of course, the NBA season is long and plenty can change between now and the playoffs, especially as it relates to the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.

That begs the question: will the Raptors make the Finals? Vote in the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section!

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