When the ball went up, everybody was the place they had been purported to be.
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet had gone by way of all his typical pre-game routines. Pascal Siakam did his. As veterans and holdovers from the Raptors 2019 championship staff, every stopped and signed autographs on their method off the ground and had been introduced as starters moments earlier than the time. Gary Trent Jr. was the fourth starter introduced, per normal.
And on the opposite facet of the ground, there was previous buddy Jakob Poeltl, the Raptors’ first-round decide in 2016, a champion with Raptors 905 and one of many items that Toronto used to amass Kawhi Leonard in the summertime of 2018.
And when the ball went up, he was the place he was purported to be too: leaping at centre.
So for the second, all was correctly.
What is going to occur subsequent stays a thriller, wrapped in an enigma, till all of it will get revealed on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., if not sooner.
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As of Wednesday afternoon the Raptors intentions remained a query mark.
“There’s no readability on what path their going,” mentioned one league government.
It’s been the identical for weeks now. It may all be a wise use of smokescreens, the Raptors disguising their true intentions by offering unsuitable data or no data in any respect till they understand the timing is correct to leap in. Or it may very well be as a result of the Raptors show too passive and miss a possibility.
However one thing must give. Even doing nothing is a selection and the clock is ticking.
Nearer to sport time Marc Stein – a well-connected NBA journalist along with his personal substack – started reporting that the Spurs had been open to buying and selling Poeltl, a 27-year-old, seven-year veteran who doesn’t actually match their rebuilding timeline. He added that Raptors had been among the many groups with a deal that would contain Gary Trent Jr. heading to San Antonio.
It checks out: whereas the Raptors have given loads of consideration to dealing away members of their core as a part of a retooling technique, there have been loads of talks additionally about including a bit or two that would fill a few of their appreciable gaps. A defensive-minded large man is a kind of. The Raptors have lengthy thought-about Poeltl “elite” in that area of interest class.
There did appear to be some legitimacy to the report that Poeltl may very well be transferring. One league supply texted me simply earlier than the sport simply to double-check that Poeltl was certainly dressing and enjoying for the Spurs – had he been held out, it could have been an apparent inform that one thing was up.
Poeltl did play, although he didn’t have a notable affect. The Spurs aren’t superb, and the Raptors – no nice shakes themselves – received 112-98.
The massive Austrian completed with 12 factors and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes however was simply 4-of-11 from the ground whereas dropping some passes and lacking some straightforward appears on the rim, which is not like him given he got here into the sport taking pictures 62.5 per cent.
Small pattern dimension and all that, nevertheless it’s arduous to think about the Raptors or anybody else assembly the 2 first-round picks the Spurs have been holding out for since groups started sniffing round Poeltl this time final 12 months. Will probably be attention-grabbing to see the place it goes. Like Trent Jr., Poeltl is a pending free agent and anticipated to be searching for a deal within the $20 million vary over 4 seasons.
It was Toronto’s third straight win and improved their file to 26-30, the closest they’ve been to the .500 mark since mid-January. They’ll have an opportunity to get to 3 underneath the break-even level for the primary time since Dec. 16th once they host the Utah Jazz on Friday. The Spurs fell to 14-41.
By then, Toronto will know who’s enjoying for them and who’s not.
If it ought to come to go that Poeltl results in Toronto once more? Nicely, it feels like Raptors head coach Nick Nurse could be thrilled.
“We liked him when he was right here,” mentioned Nurse, who labored carefully with Poeltl in his function as an assistant to then-head coach Dwane Casey. “Only a actually good, sensible, powerful, hard-working, does plenty of the sport, proper? He’s a screener, a rebounder, rim protector, fairly sensible on ‘D’, not essentially a shot blocker however a body-up rim protector type of man … his passing has actually improved.
“That’s fairly good on the record of huge man issues to do: In the event you can rebound, shield the rim, and go the ball, set a number of screens, he can deal with it and get it to the rim and end just a little bit, too. Yep, we actually favored him when he was right here.”
All that mentioned, it wasn’t a very spectacular audition by Poeltl – or perhaps he actually doesn’t need to go away Texas, a no-state tax jurisdiction. He was typically a step gradual defensively and wood offensively, even by his requirements, although he did discover his teammates on cuts with some good passes, together with an particularly nifty one-handed go backwards out a post-up within the second quarter.
However within the early going, Siakam labored switches so he may isolate towards previous teammate Poeltl and proceeded to have the most effective first quarter of the season with 18 factors on seven-of-seven taking pictures as Toronto jumped out to a 34-24 lead. Siakam led all scorers with 37 factors on 15-of-21 taking pictures (3-of-3 from deep) whereas including 9 rebounds and 7 assists in his finest outing in weeks.
Nonetheless, the Raptors relaxed just a little bit at that time, one thing Nurse was involved about given they had been coming off a two-week highway journey and internet hosting a 14-win staff aimed squarely at enhancing their draft lottery odds. The Spurs jumped out on a 23-11 run towards the Raptors bench and briefly took the lead. Toronto responded with a fast 8-0 run capped by a fastbreak lay-up from Trent Jr., who scored 9 of his 15 factors within the first two quarters, serving to Toronto take a 57-54 lead into the half.
They took management of the sport within the third quarter as Trent Jr. hit a pair of fast threes and Siakam and Scottie Barnes hit one every as Toronto jumped out to a 13-point lead that grew as giant as 18 with 3:35 left within the quarter. They didn’t permit the Spurs to get inside double digits the remainder of the way in which.
All 5 Raptors starters completed in double figures whereas Chris Boucher continued his glorious run of play off the bench with 18 factors and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Whether or not including a much-needed rim-protecting large is value giving up your most dependable three-point shooter (Trent Jr.) from a roster that’s woeful in that class too, properly that’s why Raptors president Masai Ujiri and common supervisor Bobby Webster are one of many best-paid government pairings within the league.
It’s their job to determine these items out.
A technique or one other we’ll get to see what they’ve been pondering quickly sufficient.
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