Off-season moves, in-season memories, and some Buffalo Braves in the mailbag

This is one of the biggest, far-reaching mailbags we’ve had a while so good on you, folks.

Took forever for me to get it done, have very many more parts of the look-back, lookahead to do and a couple of other things on the go and who said the off-season was here?

Have fun with this and if you’re looking for stuff to watch on TV today, you could do worse than the WNBA semifinal double-header that starts at 1 p.n. and Lakers-Nuggets tonight.

Q: In the forty-eight year history, the Clippers have never advanced to the conference finals.  For those old enough to recall, the franchise originated in Buffalo (the Braves), in 1972.  Coached by the irrepressible Jack Ramsey, they reached the playoffs in ’74, ’75 and ’76 losing to Boston (2-4) in’ 74 and again in ’76 (Celtics won NBA Championship) and to Washington (3-4) in ’73.  You may recall those teams led by Bob McAdoo, Ernie di Gregorio and the much forgotten Randy Smith, whose untimely death (as well as that of Jim McMillian) received scant mention by the nattering nabobs masquerading as NBA commentators.

The Clippers are in the second circle of Dante’s Inferno.

At least Toronto has a measure of Schadenfreude as the Raptors, sans Leonard, fared as well as did the Clippers.  

PS:  You oldsters will recall that the Braves played a number of home games at ML Gardens.

Stay healthy.

Shana Tova,


A: I saw a couple of those Celtics playoff games back in the old Aud, it was pretty cool and the baby blue uniforms were out of this world.

I have always maintained that Randy Smith is one of the criminally under-rated players of all time and, as memory serves, we refereed to Mr. DiGregorio as Ernie “No” D.

Man, the good old days.

Q: Season’s over, the pandemic is still on, and you are heading to a bookstore (if all goes well)…which means it is ‘list time.’

When you walk into that bookstore near Casa Doug, what would be your list of the best five titles of basketball books that should be on the sports shelves?

And, more importantly, when will be finding yours on those shelves?

Eager to read the accumulated wisdom!

Sonia S

A: Well, besides mine (it ships for pre-orders on Oct. 20 and should be on shelves Oct. 22 and I’m at the ‘will they like it stage of anxiety for the next month) that’s a really tough question.

But a good representative five, in no particular order, would be Dream Team, That Losing Season, Loose Balls, The Miracle of St. Anthony and Inside Game.

Really, though, there are a lot equally worthy of being on any list. That’s a good representation, I think. I’ve got them all, have read them all and they’re outstanding.

Q: Hi Doug:

Excellent article on the Raptors season….couldn’t have said it better myself…..”Laugh out Loud!”

We love our teams when they win, and heap coals on them when they lose – such poor sportsmanship.

It was/is so disappointing to read the horrific statements and undeserved criticism directed at Pascal Siakam.

So glad a support group for positive comments and showing him the love is in the works.

The bench was an issue in these playoffs.  Some of the other teams in the playoffs were bolstered by strong benches.

Aside from Ibaka, Powell and a smattering of Thomas and Davis, the bench wasn’t helpful, and Nick’s level of trust wasn’t there for the rest.

Bench players did well in some blowout games against the Nets, so I was a bit surprised Nurse didn’t give them more time against Boston.

What happens now to guys like Hollis-Jefferson, Johnson, Boucher, Watson, McCaw, etc.

Does management make wholesale changes and cut them all loose, or keep some guys for another year?

Who would you keep?

I think Gasol’s time is up, although some might disagree, but I hope management can try their best to keep

Freddie and Serge.

Thanks for your excellent reporting on the Raps season and the playoffs.  Will look forward to your upcoming articles.


A: I don’t think wholesale changes are coming or needed but there will inevitably be some new faces at the end of the roster.

Johnson has a player option and he’d be a fool to opt out so I think he’s back, Boucher maybe on a short-term deal and McCaw has a year left so I presume he’ll be back. Watson and Brissett are intriguing developmental bits and I do think they will return.

Hollis-Jefferson I’m not sure about. I think he might get some interest on the market and I think the Raptors will let him go.

As for the big three, VanVleet, Ibaka and Gaosl? I see Fred and one of the other two, likely Ibaka, getting new deals.

Q: Hello,

Thank you for the reporting you do – it is the only reason I subscribe to TheStar app, so someone owes you a cut.  😊

My mother and I were discussing the Raptors team makeup and with so many of the players native French speakers, do you know if they ever get together and speak in French?  Or do they ever use it on the court to keep the opposing players from understanding play calls?

Thank you for what you do.

Bryce from NYC

A: I appreciate the subscription and I may point out your note to them J

Aside from answering media questions, I don’t hear a lot of French being spoken between guys like Ibaka, Boucher and Siakam and very little Spanish between Ibaka and Gasol. Maybe it happens on the bus or in the locker room or at meals but it’s not something I’ve heard happening often.

On the court, it’s English or basketball terminology so everyone – teammates primarily — can understand.

Q: Hi Doug,

I know you aren’t one for hypotheticals, but this is more of a curiosity question about Milwaukee than it is about my (very real) hopes for the Raptors having a shot at Giannis in a year.

Milwaukee’s exits from the playoffs two years in a row have me wondering which of these three reasons explains them.  Is it: a) a coaching problem, b) a supporting cast problem, or c) a problem with Giannis as a player, i.e. is his game limited to some extent?

Which leads me into the hypothetical that naturally stems from the above question: is he a fit for the style of game Nurse and the Raptors want to play?  I’m guessing absolutely yes, because he’s an excellent defender, and with the current Raptors supporting cast (fingers crossed that FVV resigns) spreading the floor he could feast.  But the early playoff exits have me legitimately wondering about this.

Gasol would say this is great “bar talk,” but I’d rather get your opinion on this.

All the best,


Waterloo, ON

A: Your guess of “absolutely yes” is absolutely right.

Talent fits pretty much everywhere and good coaches adapt to the talent at their disposal. It wouldn’t be an issue.

Q: Hi Doug
The playoffs seemed to suggest that Marc Gasol’s career is rapidly coming to an end. Houston showed the real need for a good center. I thing Serge will be gone with a long term contract elsewhere.
What is your opinion of the Raptors going after Hassan Whiteside. Would he not give them what they need?

A: At 31 years old and without all-around skills you need in big men these days, I’d say it’s  hard no from me.

Q: Hey Doug, it’s been a while for me here, hope things are good with you.

First off, this season sure was different. Next season, with the delayed start, what will that do to your usual pattern of the season? Like the Christmas match up being almost preseason games, the dreary mid season games will be pushed into March, etc. 

Next one, has there ever been an NBA player who has used his current season age as his number throughout each season of his career? Just though it would be interesting after they retire and look back at highlight videos and instantly know when it was from.



A: I certainly can’t think of anyone who has changed his number every year of his career and wouldn’t your scenario be limited to guys who have birthdays in the off-season?

Q: Hi Doug

I hope depressuring is going swimmingly.

I had a random thought about Black coaches in the league.  Premis: they have been historically been ex-players and that part of the reason of their decline is the rise of analytics, which they (according to the changes in hiring practises) study less than other candidates. 

It would perhaps behoove the NBA to link up with a university or three to offer sports analytics courses for players and/or alumni to take.

Jim R

A: I think the analytics bent if far more at the front office level than the coaching level, actually.

Q: Doug,

Thanks, as always. 

Two related questions.

One, it was obviously a no-brainer to extend Nurse.  However it was notable that the details of the extension were not disclosed.  Perhaps it makes sense that to announce he is going to make tens of millions of dollars in the coming years (to which he of course is entitled given his role) while so many others are struggling was the right decision.  But can you shed any light on the length of the extension?  3 years?  5 years?

Two, I am always curious about how some of these details are disclosed to you and other folks.  For example, Woj seems to somehow have the “scoop” on almost every single story – how does that happen?  As for the Raptors, and for example Nurse’s extension, does someone give you a call, is there a press release that you report upon, are you constantly on the phone with team representatives, some combination of all of these, or others?  Always interested about how certain stories are disclosed and reported.



A: I haven’t been able to reach anyone privately who’d know for sure about the terms. I saw four years reported but I don’t know if that includes next season or whether they ripped up the original deal and this one starts anew next season, whenever that is. We’ll find out sometime.

Sometimes, well, a lot of times, agents or front office people will be in touch with hard workers like Woj or other key national writers, it’s often easier to get info out through one channel than dozens. The Nurse deal specifically? I got the e-mail from the team about 30 seconds after I first saw it on the tweeter so maybe that just a function of internet speed.

And, frankly, none of it really concerns. I’m pretty confident that whatever story I come up with when I come up with it will be fine and provide insight and context and there’s no real rush.

Q: Sir: After Game Seven ( and earlier) Leo Rautins used Pascal’s lack of experience as a factor in his sub par play, that he took up basketball late etc. I would agree if he was a College Jr./Soph but he is a four year NBA player with well over 300 games and years of practice/coaching at the NBA level. At this stage of his career, do you agree with Leo that this is a viable excuse or that it isn’t?

Paul M

A: The issue was having the experience of being the No. 1 option and therefore the focus of all defence in the intensity of a playoff series against a well-coached opponent with time to game plan and Pascal never had that before. And it has nothing to do with regular season games or even playoff games a year ago with Kawhi next to him. It’s something they hope he learned from.

Q: Hi Doug,

Love your stories and thoughts on the Raps. 

I have a question that keeps coming back to me and was reminded of it again after I just read Josh Lewenberg’s article on why we should continue to believe in Pascal. 

In it, he mentioned that during the first couple of months of Covid, due to local restrictions, Pascal couldn’t access a gym. Pascal himself said he didn’t touch a basketball for the first few months of Covid. 

I can’t begin to explain the struggles Pascal had during the playoffs – and I do continue to believe in him – and who knows if not playing for a couple of months contributed to his woes. 

What does puzzle me is how the heck did an All-Star NBA player not have access to a gym or a basketball for that long???? Didn’t Raptors personnel/coaching staff check in with him? They couldn’t have set up some kind of net for him, or given him the keys to a gym?!?!?


Karen Johnson

A: A ton of NBAers didn’t have access to private gyms during the hiatus and the league did not allow its players to use team facilities or rec centres or other public gyms. If a guy had a hoop at his house he could get shots up, Pascal – and several other condo-bound Raptors – didn’t. The team got them training and conditioning equipment – weights, treadmills, bikes, etc. – but baskets often weren’t possible.



None of the other Raptors who stayed in Toronto for months after their original 14-isolation – like Ibaka and Boucher and Brissett that come quickly to mind – didn’t have access to baskets either.

Q Can you explain this sentence from Dave Feschuk’s column 

Pascal Siakam was named second-team all-NBA Wednesday — an honour with significant financial implications given that it bumps his cut of the Raptors’ salary cap from 25 per cent to 28 per cent next season.  

Is this a cap rule or contract bonus?


A: A cap rule. The maximum value contracts are tied to a percentage of the cap, it went from 25 to 28 when Siakam was named to an all-NBA team. It could have gone to 30 per cent if he’d won other awards as well.

Q: Too bad Jamal Murray is locked in with Denver till 2026 because I’d love to see him playing in Ontario for the Raptors.

Who do you think we can acquire in the offseason or is there depth to develop in the bench we have available or in the 905 team? Is there a light under a bushel somewhere in our organization especially if we lose one of the three whose contracts are up. If FVV leaves us with Kyle alone on the point who fills in?

Always love reading your basketball reporting and look forward to your book launch on October 22.

Brian in Toronto

A: Sorry, this is going to be such a weird, compressed, financially different off-season than any ever before that I can’t in all good faith even guess at who might be available, let alone what the cost would be to acquire them, for months.

Maybe in December when we have a clue about cap, tax, etc., but right not it’s a mug’s game and I ain’t no mug.

Q: Hi Doug

Perhaps an interesting thought on the playoffs that my grandson shared with me.

I believe that the younger players have an advantage playing in the bubble. (LeBron never counts when age is mentioned 😊)  Should be seen through the Raptors, Bucks and Clippers.

Raptors: Kyle is 34 and the most relied offensive force for the Boston series.

Bucks: Giannis is 25 but his teammates are older, Middleton is 29, Bledsoe is 30.

Clippers: Kawhi is 29, PG is 30, Pat Bev is 32.

On the other hand, Boston’s duo of Tatum and Brown are 22/23.

Miami’s is thriving as their youngsters look like 10 year vets.

Denver’s duo of Murray and Jokic are 23/25 and they finish games with Porter who is 22.

My opinion is that youth is being served this year in the bubble.

Michael K

A: Do you think that maybe part of the reason some young players have shone in these playoffs is because they haven’t had to deal with the stress or pressure of playing road playoff games?

I do.

Q: Hey Doug:

Well that was an unexpected semifinals round. 

Writing this the day after the Clippers’ loss, it makes the Raptors’ loss more palatable. One could argue that the Raptors had a tougher opponent than the Clippers had (with apologies to Murray and Jokic), and the Raps fought to the last minute, the last second of their game 7. It also should serve as another cue to people who criticized Siakam that they ought to temper their remarks, at the very least. As you so often have wisely stated, it’s why they play the game.

Some scattershot questions:

Can’t help but wonder whether Doc Rivers will join other coaches who were shown the door after losing in the bubble, or will he be safe like the Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer. Wise observer of all things basketball, please explain why Nate MacMillan and Billy Donovan lose their jobs but Budenholzer and Rivers keep theirs? And then there’s D’Antoni (who knows, maybe he’ll end up coaching the Nuggets.) 

If the Nuggets get past LA, who would you pick between Denver/Boston or Denver/Miami?

I have seen articles over the past few months suggesting that Kawhi regretted turning down the Raptors offer last year. I didn’t pay much attention, since he is not the most vocal player out there and it seemed likely to be more fiction than fact. But in the sheer speculation mode, with people guessing that Masai would be in a position to sign a major free agent next summer, who would you sign, Giannis or Kawhi, if he let it be known he wanted to return here?

As much as I like both Gasol and Ibaka, is the centre position the biggest concern for the Raptors moving to next year? 

Appreciated as always,


A: If I had a choice, it’d be pretty wild. I probably take Giannis, longer-term prospects and heath history being the deciding factors.

Fred VanVleet’s the top priority and then you figure out the bigs from there, in my opinion.

Q: Hi Doug,

Hope you are doing well and can catch your breath a little bit until the draft and free agency take over the majority of Raptors news (other than resigning Masai and Bobby, of course). 

 After Denver’s win last night, I got to thinking: why is Doc Rivers considered such a great coach? 20 years as an NBA head coach with 1 championship and only 1 other conference final is not the most compelling resume.  Add to that the only coach ever to lose a series THREE TIMES when leading 3-1 and it makes me wonder how he keeps his job.  I’m sure he’s a nice guy but as an owner or a free agent (hi, Kahwi), I would want to feel confident that my coach can get me to the promised land.  Any thoughts regarding the perception of Doc Rivers?



A: I mentioned elsewhere that I think Doc will and should be back.

And I know the 3-1 stat is getting all kinds of love but some context is needed and has not been provided and that’s wrong.

One of those times was when he coached a really, really bad Orlando team into the playoffs and they had no business being up 3-1 on a tremendous Detroit team in 2003.

Q: Hi Doug
My wife is the author of the Murdoch Mysteries and now a confirmed raptors fan.
Nick Nurse proved that the highway to a winning and a championship team is through a tremendous defense.
All we have to remember is the great Boston Celtics. 11 championships? Insane defense. I had the privilege of seeing them play way back in the day. against the Knicks when,  I was Living and young in NYC.
Clippers, with the exception of Morris and perhaps Kawai, are primarily an offensive team.
Imagine giving up 7 first round picks for George.
Proves that money does not buy championships in any sport…
Love your column and your questions during the post game.
Thank you
Iden Ford

A: That’s tremendous sbout your wife, I will have to get some of that series and read them. Are they foundation of the TV series I see every now and then?

Anyway, all those times people keep prattling on about defence winning championships seems to be the real thing, no? And has been for a long time.

Q: Hey Doug, like many, I loved Kawhi in Toronto and hold no grudges about him leaving……. but seeing the Clippers go down to the Nuggets, and how they did is truly poetic justice!

As someone old enough to attend Buffalo Braves games in Toronto as a kid, that franchise has gone through the ringer. I think it is more the Donald Sterling curse than the Buffalo curse, but that is for another day.
Do you think Doc is treading on thin ice? I don’t think he is a great coach…. and this finally proves it. Where will Billy Donovan end up IYHO? Houston (reunion with Russ? Oh boy!)

Ti L

A: I think Doc’s built up a fine enough resume and done enough with the Clippers that he’s earned a second season with this group. I think Lawrence Frank needs to get him some guards and move some bits to create better chemistry but Doc should get the second year with this team.

Donovan? I saw someone linked him to Philly which might be interesting but I do think he’ll coach again, if he wants to.

Q: Good day Doug,
Well it’s been an interesting week
After Masai’s presser the only conclusion I came away with on the bubble was that is very  mentally taxing. If Pascal’s struggles fuel him to come back even better it was all worth it from a fan perspective. If you will I would like to discuss next season whenever that happens and what our HOTH will look like.
I firmly believe Fred and Serge will be back, to form the starters of Kyle,OG & Pascal.
Main Bench: Norm, Davis
The obvious hole is Gasol leaving, so th Raps need to go out and get a big man or two. Trades are so what ifs, but Free Agents out there include Bismack and Aron Baynes both would take a 1 yr deal and bring serious inside toughness and a edge that you know Raps love- thoughts?
Pie in the sky…..Lowry & 1st rounder to Houston for Harden?
Houston is in serious purgatory with 2 guys making $40 million each for the next 3 years. Nobody is taking Westbrook.
Hoping the off season isn’t too long.
Richmond Hill

A: Sorry, man.

Harden’s a uniquely talented player who has never won a thing and is owed $41 million, $44 million and $47 million on his contract.

So, sorry. Not in 132 million years.

And a first-round pick?



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