You can tell that the season of the rumor mill is in full force when buzz is erupting over reports of a free agent interview. The Toronto Raptors’ sitdown with LaMarcus Aldridge is newsworthy even if it ultimately amounts to nothing, so we will certainly tackle that below. However, that isn’t all that’s going on in Raptor land these days.
As Masai Ujiri works up his free agent pitch to the Portland Trail Blazers franchise power forward, he and other team brass have also been involved with the official announcement of a new D-League team, two new coaching hires and the acquisition of nomadic NBA point guard Luke Ridnour.
Introducing the Raptors 905
First off, about that name… I’ve seen plenty of criticism, which is only natural when you try something unique and original. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I credit the club with attempting something fresh and sleek that also holds significance as a representation of the GTA as more than just “the Six”. No word on how 647 will be incorporated, though.
Moving past the name, its tough to see how this could be anything other than a win for the franchise. The Development League isn’t a common stop along the path to NBA stardom for most elite basketball talents, but it has produced its fair share of NBA’ers and could serve as a crucial, multi-pronged tool for the Raps.
With Raptors 905, the club can further the growth of both the team and the on-going effort to develop basketball in Canada. On the team front, they can now bring the coaching and development of young talents like DeAndre Daniels, recently drafted second rounder Norman Powell and, most significantly, Bruno Caboclo completely in-house. On the national front, they now have a platform to create jobs for Canadian coaches, executives and players that sits just one tier below the NBA.
Kalamanian, Stackhouse join the staff
Jerry Stackhouse will be the headline name among the two coaches added to Dwane Casey’s staff after a prominent, albeit middling, playing career, but it might be Rex Kalamanian who makes the bigger impact. A good friend of Casey’s, he served as Scott Brooks’ lead assistant in Oklahoma City over the past six years and engineered a potent Thunder offensive attack that finished in the top five of league scoring in each of the past five seasons. Sure, that probably had a little something to do with having Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but Kalamanian is still a well-regarded veteran coaching mind and may be the most logical successor to Casey in the event of a coaching change.
Stackhouse, meanwhile, fulfills the club’s need for a coach with playing experience. I didn’t necessarily foresee a coaching future in the cards during his shot-happy 18-year (!!!) career, but he has earned respect league-wide as a savvy, experienced basketball mind who can relate to current NBA players and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. The two-time All-Star may seem like an odd fit in Toronto, but his ties to the city include a local AAU basketball team called the Stackhouse Elite, not to mention finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting to the Raptors’ Damon Stoudamire after the 1995-96 season.
Kalamanian and Stackhouse join Nick Nurse, Jesse Mermuys, Jama Mahlalela and Alex McKechnie on Casey’s evidently rounded out coaching staff. While its difficult to evaluate the unit based solely on reputation, I find it surprising (and a little disappointing, frankly) that the club didn’t add anyone with a head coaching pedigree to the bench, given the perceived need for a shakeup. A savvy veteran assistant like Ron Adams or a recent failed head man like Monty Williams or Brian Shaw would have been an interesting shift from last season’s inexperienced crew.
Ridnour arrives in Toronto, for now
Amidst the busy preparation for what is sure to be a wild off-season, 1/6th of the league’s general managers have found the time to engineer an epic, elaborate troll job on veteran point guard Luke Ridnour. That may sound awfully far-fetched, but its tough to come up with a better explanation for the 34-year-old’s week of insanity that has seen him shipped from the Orlando Magic to the Memphis Grizzlies to the Charlotte Hornets to the Oklahoma City Thunder to his current holding place in Toronto.
Ridnour’s most recent trade foray has brought him onto the Raptors roster, being acquired from OKC in exchange for the rights to Tomislav Zubcic, a 2012 second round draft choice from Lithuania who is unlikely to ever come stateside. In other words, it was all about money for the Thunder. This may well turn out to be another cap-minded move for Toronto as well that ultimately sees the poor guy continue on elsewhere (his $2.75 million salary is non-guaranteed if he’s waived by July 10), but the Raps actually make sense for him. The steady ball-handler could do well as the temporary back-up point guard behind Kyle Lowry until Delon Wright is ready to take the reins. Ridnour isn’t exactly a sexy option, but his stability and manageable cap hit seem to be a reasonable fit.
At the very least, we certainly know by now that his contract is a movable one!
Meeting with ‘Marcus
Let’s not get too worked up over being one of seven clubs – not including Portland, who can pay him the most money – that Aldridge will visit with before ultimately making a decision on his next NBA home. Beyond being in the East, it’s hard to see what Toronto can offer in comparison to free agent pitches by Western powers like the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. I’m sure Ujiri will make a strong impression on the 29-year-old power forward when they meet in LA, but I still wouldn’t be Photoshopping him into a No. 12 Raptors’ jersey or dreaming about an Aldridge/JV front court quite yet.
The excitement in the Aldridge meeting portends to what it means overall for the Raptors franchise. Plain and simply, this sit down wouldn’t have happened two years ago. It’s easy to lose sight of for any Raps fan still bitter over the first round playoff sweep at the hands of the Wizards, but the club is still in better shape than it was before these back-to-back division titles and before two years of record-setting win totals. With a respected GM, a decently talented core and, yes, Drake, the team is relevant in ways that it wasn’t before and this meeting is a sign of that.
Fact is, I just don’t see Aldridge in a Raps jersey next season (I’ve been wrong before, mind you). If that is, indeed, the case, it will be interesting to see how aggressive Ujiri gets in going after both secondary power forward targets (Greg Monroe, Paul Millsap and David West would all be interesting fits) and other notable names to whom the club has been linked (Wes Matthews and Iman Shumpert thus far).