In­trigu­ing new era for Raps be­gins now

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - RYAN WOLSTAT

One of the most in­trigu­ing off-sea­sons in Toronto Rap­tors his­tory is fi­nally over. The 201819 edi­tion of the club gath­ers Mon­day for the first time be­fore head­ing to Van­cou­ver for train­ing camp.

We have five big ques­tions head­ing into the Kawhi Era:

1

What’s Kyle Lowry’s state of mind?

Nearly ev­ery ad­vanced stat in­di­cates Lowry has been Toronto’s best per­former for years now, but he hasn’t said a word since his best friend, DeMar DeRozan, was shipped to San An­to­nio.

Lowry can be can­tan­ker­ous and some league in­sid­ers be­lieve Lowry’s at­ti­tude could have a huge im­pact on whether th­ese Rap­tors meet sky-high ex­pec­ta­tions.

Lowry has more help than ever be­fore with Kawhi Leonard, the top over­all player in fran­chise his­tory, on board. DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl might have left, but in gain­ing Leonard, strong de­fender and shooter Danny Green and of­fen­sive-minded big man Greg Mon­roe, the team is on pa­per quite bet­ter than pre­vi­ous edi­tions.

The bet­ting here is Lowry will keep his fo­cus on win­ning (a lot of ) bas­ket­ball games, though we pre­dict, based on past prece­dent, he will de­cline to dis­cuss the big trade Mon­day.

2

Is Leonard ready to re­assert him­self as an MVP can­di­date?

When at full strength, Leonard is the premier two-way player in the NBA and ar­guably the best de­fender (as two de­fen­sive player of the year awards at­test).

But is he 100 per cent healthy and eager to prove him­self with only a sea­son stand­ing be­tween him and a mas­sive pay­day?

Leonard suited up for only nine games in his Spurs swan song, av­er­ag­ing just 23.3 min­utes in those con­tests. A right quadri­ceps in­jury was the main cul­prit and it might be con­cern­ing that he first had an is­sue with that right quad in March of 2016. Leonard has also had calf, hand and an­kle is­sues and a par­tial left shoul­der tear.

Though he missed only 18 games to­tal over the pre­vi­ous two years be­fore his lost 201718 cam­paign, Leonard missed an av­er­age of 18 games over the three prior sea­sons. Some of that is San An­to­nio’s ahead-ofthe-curve ap­proach to rest­ing play­ers. Some of it is a fail­ure to re­main 100 per cent.

This is a huge year for Leonard, who has much to prove now that he’s out of the revered Spurs sys­tem and away from the guid­ance of Gregg Popovich, widely re­garded as the best coach in the busi­ness. 3

How dif­fer­ent will Nick Nurse be from Dwane Casey?

The an­swer is surely quite a bit. Nurse wants his team to play faster and be far more ag­gres­sive de­fen­sively than what we’ve seen.

Toronto was only 11th in the NBA de­fen­sively post all-star break and flat-out stunk against elite op­po­nents at the de­fen­sive end. Nurse and his new staff have a lot of ideas about how to field a dis­rup­tive de­fen­sive group.

There are a lot of ath­letic, long, smart play­ers at Nurse’s dis­posal.

Pas­cal Si­akam, the poster child of that list, said at Sum­mer League in Las Ve­gas that while many might won­der how dif­fer­ent Casey’s long­time as­sis­tant re­ally can be, “It’s a change, he’s his own man and he does things his way.”

4

How tough will manag­ing egos be?

This will take some time to play out, but there’s never been this much tal­ent and depth on one Rap­tors team.

With more ex­pe­ri­ence and a sum­mer of de­vel­op­ment, last year’s NBA-best bench should be even bet­ter. Nurse talked up OG Anunoby all off-sea­son, but the sopho­more might have to be­come the sixth (sev­enth? eighth?) man if Nurse does the ex­pected and keeps Serge Ibaka at power for­ward and opts for vet­eran Green at shoot­ing guard.

Mon­roe is a for­mer No. 7 over­all draft pick and has av­er­aged 29 min­utes of floor time in nearly 600 ca­reer games. He’s go­ing to be play­ing a lot less and might not be used at all some nights if Ibaka and Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas are both in the lineup and the op­po­nent is rel­a­tively small.

C.J. Miles might not see a ton of time, de­spite his shoot­ing abil­ity, while Nor­man Pow­ell’s role is un­clear. And how do they bal­ance Lowry, hard-charg­ing Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright’s min­utes at guard (plus Lorenzo Brown is back and was the G League’s MVP)?

This is a pretty ma­ture, downto-earth group, but there will surely be some un­hap­pi­ness.

5

Who will the me­dia rely on for quotes and anal­y­sis?

As the con­duit to the fans, the me­dia, par­tic­u­larly the beat writ­ers who are around ev­ery day, are tasked with get­ting quotes, anal­y­sis and back­story from the play­ers. We can pro­vide our own thoughts, but that’s wast­ing our ac­cess if done all of the time.

DeRozan stepped up to the plate when­ever needed and Lowry played off of that. It’s been well-doc­u­mented that Leonard would pre­fer to just let his play do the talk­ing. Anunoby is laid­back off of the court and won’t go too in-depth with his an­swers. Ibaka rarely speaks.

VanVleet, Miles and Green will be re­lied on heav­ily, along with Valan­ci­u­nas. The hope is one or two oth­ers get in­creas­ingly com­fort­able with the pro­cess.

It won’t be as bad as many peo­ple an­tic­i­pate. Not in the slight­est.

FRANK GUNN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

Toronto Rap­tors point guard Kyle Lowry’s at­ti­tude will be key for the club to have suc­cess this sea­son.

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