It's the beginning of a new week and TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on All-Star Weekend, the Toronto Raptors coming out of the break, Kyrie Irving's All-Star performance, a resurgent Marco Belinelli and Drake's potential impact.
1. NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND: Yes, I know there was next to no defence played last night in the All-Star Game, but I thoroughly enjoyed the amazing skill and athleticism on display from the best of the best. The bottom line is that it's a celebration of the sport and our stars and, as long as no one gets hurt and the fans have fun, that's the key. I agree with the general consensus that the events on Friday and Saturday need to be improved and, with the All-Star Game coming to Toronto in 2016, I'm hopeful that the weekend activities are upgraded. We need even more of the top stars to take part in the other events surrounding the Sunday main event in order for fans to really get excited.
2. RAPTORS BACK FROM ALL-STAR BREAK: I'm here in Washington, DC already ahead of the Raptors (I had an NCAA TV game in the area over weekend) and, when you look at the first two games starting off the last 30 games of the regular season and see tough match-ups against the Wizards and the Chicago Bulls on a back-to-back, the challenge is right in front of you for positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff pecking order. A sense of urgency will surely be evident from their opponents with the Raptors currently occupying the third seed. It's going to take the team's best shot with good tests right off the jump to see if this group is ready to finish the season strong and make some noise come springtime. Usually the first few games after All-Star break are difficult to get players refocused on the task at hand and the ones who take advantage and show up ready to capitalize can earn victories that sometimes end up being the difference in crucial playoff seeding. Every game counts and really matters. Urgency and preparation are critical.
3. KYRIE IRVING, Cavaliers: Irving took a bunch of heat for being selected as an All-Star with his team underperforming so far, yet he produced. He was brilliant last night and showed his enormous potential and talent on a big stage. His Cleveland team started to play a whole lot better as they went into All-Star break and, if they can continue their improvemen,t they might be able to make a run at the eighth seed in the East. The Raptors see the Cavs twice in the next few weeks and I can't wait to see Kyle Lowry go head-to-head against Irving. I'm sure he'll be fired up to play against him and show him what he's got and beat his team since he was snubbed for the All-Star game.
4. MARCO BELINELLI, Spurs: The former Raptor won the Three-Point Contest on Saturday and it's nice to see him come into his own over the past few seasons as a pro. Ioved his potential when he played for the Warriors before his Toronto stint and when I reflect on his lost season in Toronto, it was a shame it didn't work out. He's a really talented scorer/shooter with tremendous court sense and is a tough competitor. He's one of those guys I look back on that you wish could have hit his stride here. He was a good acquisition at the time and wasn't used effectively and his injuries, conditioning issues and inconsistent role in the rotation ended up making it a wasted season. It's a shame because a good one got away.
5. DRAKE: Whether you're a fan of his music or not is secondary because the more I reflect on his association with the Raptors, the more I see the impact that Drake can have for the organization in the next few years assisting in recruiting players to play in Toronto, as well as with retention efforts of players you want to keep here. He's a passionate guy about his hometown and, as a former college coach who used to recruit for a living, you never know what's going to influence a player to commit to your team. I learned a long time ago that "what you think matters doesn't and what you think doesn't does." It's amazing when you look into the minds and thought process of talented athletes to see what their agenda is. Any way you can tip the scales in your favour, you do it. He's got tremendous respect and cred with today's NBA player and if that helps even just a little bit, it's a partnership that's well worth it. Obviously, money and playing time are always huge factors for players and agents, yet when you get past that, you never really know what's going to put you over the hump in the process. Every single edge you can gain on your competition, the better. The thing I like about him, too, is that his passion for the sport is legit.