While the playoffs roll on, those left by the side of the NBA road try to find their way back onto the second round highway and beyond. A notebook:
The Raptors will soon be hiring a new coach, but the extent of the changes in Toronto could be much greater. The club finished with the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference then gave up 37 points on its home floor to lose a play-in game to Chicago.
Coach Nick Nurse soon departed, the final words of writing that had been on the wall for quite a while. The Raps have wanted to make roster changes, but have been stuck in neutral, unable to get as much as they want out of what they have and unable to get enough FOR some of those people in trade.
Fred VanVleet, who can opt out of his $22.8 million for next season and become a free agent, summed the team’s situation in a recent conversation with Heavy Sports.
“Talent by itself is just not good enough,” he was quoted as saying in a mid-April story. “You know, you’ve still got to do everything right every single day. You’ve got to be able to play as a team.”
As for his teammates not understanding what they could — and should — be accomplishing, VanVleet told Heavy, “I’ve been screaming it for two years, you know what I mean? I think that at a certain point you can’t make anybody grow up. It’s going to happen at their own pace and their own speed, and that’s the frustrating part about maturity and just the development stage is that you can harp on it all you want to.”
He’s not the only one dissatisfied with the matter.
“Masai (Ujiri) is really, really frustrated,” one general manager who has dealt with the Raptors said of the club’s president of basketball operations. “He’s frustrated with VanVleet also, because he hasn’t shown him any indication that he wants to stay. So I think he’s really down about that situation. Maybe it’s because everything’s still so fresh, but there’s a lot they have to get done there. It didn’t surprise anyone that Nick moved on.”
The GM then added, “I don’t know what they’re going to do, but I’ve been hearing that Washington is coming after Masai again.”
That would not be a surprise. The Wizards let Tommy Sheppard go after their 35-47 season, a fourth straight sub-.500 campaign since he took over the top spot in 2019.
But if Ujiri stays in Toronto, he will be shuffling the deck to some extent.
“There will be changes for sure; I have no idea to what extent,” said a league executive. “I don’t think they have that many pieces to trade that are that good, just because (Pascal) Siakam has one year left on a $38 million dollar deal. Same thing with OG (Anunoby), one year left ($18.6 million) and a player option. I just don’t know if they’re going to get much in return for those guys. I don’t know if the value is there. And they didn’t get value for OG this trade deadline either. Masai was holding out for a big package, and there was nothing there that he wanted. It’ll be interesting to see what happens there.”
Can the Clippers Be Salvaged?
There is uncertainty, as well, in Los Angeles, where the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard for the last three games in a 4-1 first round loss to Phoenix. Paul George hadn’t played since March.
Can the Clips possibly convince themselves they can run it back with the same basic core and hope against the odds their health holds up this time? Do they have enough player capital to make significant changes/improvements?
A number of opposing execs told Heavy Sports they’re essentially looking over the crash to see if some parts can be salvaged.
“I’m not sure what they can do,” said one team leader. “They’re not going to get value for those guys (Leonard, George) in any sort of deals. They just miss too many games, and that’s ruined the culture. It’s ruined the culture of the Clippers. Not knowing from night to night if you’re going to have PG or Kawhi just killed them. They didn’t know who was playing on any given night. It’s a train wreck. They’ve got some really good character guys on their team, but the culture is bad.”
The Ben Simmons … Update?
But it could always be worse, at least in an individual sense. We leave you with this response from a Western Conference executive when asked about Ben Simmons:
“I gave up following that sumbitch a long time ago.”