Raps ready to open wallet
GM is determined to re-sign all-star guard and coach
TORONTO — When Masai Ujiri met with DeMar DeRozan Sunday, the pain of a season that ended just a little bit too soon was still written on DeRozan’s face. It was the look of unfinished business.
The Raptors’ all-star guard has made it clear he wants to stay in Toronto. Ujiri returned the sentiments Monday.
“Our No. 1 goal is to bring DeMar back here,” the team’s president and GM said. “We feel great that he wants to come back to our organization. I spoke to him (Sunday), and his eyes were still red. You could tell. He said he felt empty the next day.
“Speaking to him and Kyle (Lowry), they almost felt like we had a game to play still, and that game is not there. There’s that hunger, and you like that, and then now, it’s my part to figure it out.”
Figuring it out means paying DeRozan top dollar. The team’s leading scorer will test free agency in a few weeks, and is expected to fetch maximum money on the open market.
But Ujiri, who speaks regularly about building a culture of winning and professionalism in Toronto, said DeRozan fits well within that vision. His approach to the team’s culture has been “phenomenal,” Ujiri said.
Talking to reporters three days after Toronto was eliminated in six games in the Eastern Conference final, Ujiri said his other immediate tasks will be the June 23 draft — Toronto has the ninth-overall pick — and negotiating a new contact with coach Dwane Casey, who is entering the option year of his current deal.
“Coach Casey’s our coach for the future,” Ujiri said. “That’s very easy for us to figure out. That will be done in our sleep, I think.”
Casey’s deal is a no-brainer. The coach led the Raptors to a franchise record 56-win season, and a spot in the final four for the first time in the team’s 21-year history.
Now, as the team tries to build on its groundbreaking 2015-16 season, Ujiri would only say the Raptors have taken “baby steps” toward becoming a contender.
“I go home, my wife says ‘You should be proud of the season,’ and I say ‘thank you’ to be a good husband,” Ujiri said. “There’s 29 teams that have lost, there’s 29 disappointed teams in the NBA at the end of the season, and we’re one of them. I’m one of them.
“You have that disappointment in you, and that urge that you want to go and do better.”
DeRozan is coming off his best statistical season with the Raptors, averaging 23.5 points per game and earning all-star honours for the second time in his career. The morning after Toronto’s Game 6 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 26-year-old from Compton, Calif., spoke lovingly of the only NBA team he’s ever played for, and the city in which he’s raising his daughter Diar. Those words hit home with Ujiri. “Our guys have said they want to be here,” he said. “It’s put on my table and the guys in the front office to figure it out. We’ll try to figure it out.”
The Raptors also stand to lose Bismack Biyombo, the Congolese centre who came up big when Jonas Valanciunas went out with a sprained ankle. His 26 rebounds against Cleveland in Game 3 was a postseason franchise record. Reports have him commanding as much as US$17 million in a new deal.
Ujiri said bringing both Biyombo and DeRozan back might not be possible, “but honestly, it’s our jobs. We have to figure it out.”
The GM said he was proud of his team’s fight in the post-season, and the growth they showed with each game. He mentioned Valanciunas, who missed eight games with an ankle injury and returned to play the last two versus Cleveland, despite being far from 100 per cent.
“Honestly, Jonas’s ankle was still like this when he played,” Ujiri said, holding his hands wide. “So to fight to come back and want to play for the team and even sacrifice a little bit more to me says a lot.”
The Raptors’ banner year also saw them host the first NBA all-star game held outside the United States. Their D-League franchise, Raptors 905, played its inaugural season. And they moved into their new $65-million practice facility, BioSteel Centre.
Ujiri also praised the fans in his opening statement Monday, saying “I’ve never seen anything like this. I would go to battle any day with our fans and the country.” OAKLAND, Calif. — As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.
The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA final, while Durant’s future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.
Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 Monday night.
Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain off-season with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.
If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant’s tenure was when they lost the NBA final in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.
They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to the San Antonio Spurs before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.
But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.
But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108 -101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.
The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of three-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 three-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.