Raps ready to open wal­let

GM is de­ter­mined to re-sign all-star guard and coach

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - SPORTS - By Lori Ewing

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.

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