SIMMONS SAYS: Luring Kevin Durant to Toronto is kind of challenge Masai Ujiji loves


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It’s not just a question for the championship vision of Masai Ujiri, but for the great and wayward, Kevin Durant, looking for the right place to complete his NBA legacy.

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So why not Toronto and why not the Raptors?

This isn’t a one-and-done proposition the way Ujiri cleverly manoeuvred Kawhi Leonard out of San Antonio and into that one stunning Raptors championship season. This is Durant loudly declaring he wants out of Brooklyn, still as the most dynamic player and maybe unstoppable player in the NBA, looking for at least four more seasons and with the possibilities for the Raptors rather endless.

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This much we know about Ujiri: With Durant on the block, Masai is putting together some kind of offer to entice the Nets. He may not be Durant’s first choice — typically it looks like great weather, great team spots like Miami and Phoenix are high on the 7-footer’s list — but the Raptors have the kind of depth, strength, and able bodies to be able to make a trade of consequence for Durant while maintaining enough of a roster to compete for an NBA championship.

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This is the game Ujiri loves to play. Tell him he can’t do something and then stay tuned. Tell him he’s not in the ballpark and instinctually he finds a way to climb whatever mountain can appear impossible. Toronto is not an NBA mecca. It is not, for the most part, anybody’s first choice of where to play. It is Ujiri who came to the Raptors and promised and delivered on his championship mantra and upon signing his latest contract has promised there will be more.

Putting together a package for Durant, one of the greatest players in NBA history, is what Ujiri is capable of. Would it include Pascal Siakam and a whole lot more? Probably? Or Scottie Barnes and a whole lot more? Maybe.

Maybe not. But it’s Masai and the longest of shots — so you never rule him out.

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THIS AND THAT

Is there any greater indictment of Steve Nash, NBA coach, than Durant wanting out? Hate to see his reputation take a slamming as the Nets unfold … Durant’s contract will pay him between $42 million and $53 million over the next four seasons. That sounds huge but it’s actually fair value in the NBA. That’s less than Golden State will pay Steph Curry. That’s less than the deal Karl-Anthony Towns recently signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is the price of doing business at the highest level of the NBA … Curry is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $48 million. Connor McDavid is the NHL’s highest-paid player at $12.5 million for each of the next four seasons. Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL at $45 million a season and pitcher Max Scherzer is baseball’s highest-paid player at $43 million this year … When the NHL went to salary cap in 2004, the highest-paid players were Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg, each at $11 million a year. The salary cap then was $39 million. It has more than doubled since then, 18 years later, but the highest player has only grown from $11 million to $12.5 million. The salary of the middle-range players has grown out of control in the NHL: And that’s happened at the expense of the superstars, who aren’t paid comparable to what the greats are paid in other leagues … The NBA salary cap for the coming season is 50% higher than its NHL counterparts. But the top players in basketball are paid four times what McDavid is earning in Edmonton. And by the time his contract expires in four years, it will be more than that … Big week for Montreal basketball, which isn’t something you often say. Bennedict Mathurin was an early first-round choice of the Indiana Pacers in the NBA draft and just days after that, the undrafted kids from Montreal who never knew each other growing up, Chris Boucher and Lu Dort, signed free agent contracts with their NBA teams in Toronto and Memphis for only $122 million … Last Sunday I wrote: You don’t trade O.G. Anunoby. I need to amend that. You don’t trade O.G. unless it’s in a deal for Durant.

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HEAR AND THERE

Department of wrongdoing: The San Jose Sharks fired head coach Bob Boughner and his staff after all the NHL coaching openings were filled. The Sharks are about to name a GM and wanted to clear the slate for the incoming boss. Nothing wrong with that. But waiting this long to fire Boughner, two months after the season ended, is a bad way of conducting business … The great tiresome narrative — the Maple Leafs defence isn’t good enough. Maybe it isn’t. But in final elimination playoff games in recent years, the Leafs scored one goal against Tampa Bay, one goal against Montreal, and didn’t score against Columbus. Is it a problematic defence or a lack of offence when it matters most? … Player types the Leafs could use this summer: Players such as Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown. No one should hate the salary cap more than Leafs fans … Daniel Alfredsson is going to the Hockey Hall of Fame. That’s nice, if not necessarily convincing. Still waiting: Jeremy Roenick, Alexander Mogilny, Keith Tkachuk, Theo Fleury — all of whom were every part the equal if not the better than Alfredsson and all of whom scored more NHL goals. If I was picking players for the Hall, I would vote Mogilny first, Roenick second and then debate between Alfredsson and Tkachuk. And then maybe Rod Brind’Amour and Fleury after that … What a week for the Bowness Family. Dad Rick is being named coach of the Winnipeg Jets. Son Ryan was named assistant general manager of the Senators … It’s understandable why the cash-strapped Tampa Bay Lightning want to move defenceman Ryan McDonagh. He’s an old 33, not nearly the player he was in earlier Stanley Cup runs with Tampa or New York. If the Lightning can convince McDonagh to waive his no-movement clause it will be another roster victory for general manager Julien BriseBois.

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SCENE AND HEARD

This is when you’ll know how happy Vladimir Guerrero Jr. really is about Canada Day. When he decides to play for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic instead of the Dominican Republic … One day, it will cost a lot more than $100 million to pay Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah, Alejandro Kirk, Santiago Espinal, Jordan Romano, and Gabriel Moreno. This year, that total is $4.4 million. The Blue Jays have to hit it big when the economics work in their favour. Even in a year in which they are paying $46 million for Hyun-jin Ryu, Yusei Kikuchi, and Jose Berrios and not getting much in return for the big dollars spent … Everybody like Berrios. It’s a good thing for that. Berrios has allowed the most hits of any pitcher in the American League and the second most home runs. Tomorrow has to be better than today for him … This New York Yankees season is beyond compare. Canadian Jameson Taillon has the worst stats of any of the New York starting pitcher and he’s 9-1 with a 3.32 earned run average … What a pleasure it is to watch Matt Chapman play third base for the Blue Jays. Scott Rolen was awfully good in his two seasons in Toronto but Chapman’s arm is the greatest we’ve seen up close … These are not the Tampa Bay Rays of recent seasons. Not even close … Statistically, the Blue Jays bullpen is 13th best in the American League. Considering the Jays are first in slugging, first in OPS, first in on-base percentage, third in home runs, second in hits, second in runs scored, first in total bases the requirement for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins over the next month is to invest in the bullpen … There’s no reason to scream about the injustice of this any longer: Donovan Bailey has finally been awarded the Order of Canada. Why it took so many years — the Atlanta Olympics were in 1996 — is anyone’s guess.

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AND ANOTHER THING

Joe Sakic won the Stanley Cup as GM of the Avalanche just days after Luke Richardson was hired to coach the Chicago Blackhawks. And why does that matter? Only if NHL draft history interests you. In 1987, the Leafs had the seventh pick in the draft. Chief scout Floyd Smith wanted to select Sakic. The head coach, John Brophy, wanted a tough defenceman. The owner, Harold Ballard, sided with Brophy. The Leafs chose Richardson and passed on Sakic. Richardson played four of his 20 NHL seasons in Toronto. Sakic played his entire Hall of Fame career for the Nordiques-Avalanche … One of the great things about any media dining room in pro sports is who you might wind up eating beside. I got to know Jim Pappin in the Maple Leafs dining room. He told terrific stories of the Stanley Cup year of 1967, of leading the Leafs in scoring that playoffs, of the problems he had with Punch Imlach, who traded him to Chicago one year later. Pappin, who just passed away at the age of 82, was a pro scout for a number of NHL teams and a naturally funny man with a wry sense of humour. I’m so happy I had the opportunity to listen to him and spend some time around him. It was like having a front seat to Toronto sporting history … In the last two seasons, the combination Dane Evans and Jeremiah Masoli, led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to the Grey Cup. Now they’re separated, Evans starting in Hamilton, Masoli starting in Ottawa. Their combined record this CFL season: 0-7 …When I told the Uber driver in Tampa that I was Canadian, he asked if I had heard of his dad, Dave Ritchie. I told him, I think there’s a movement to get his dad into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He thought that was great. A few weeks later, the longtime coach Ritchie was elected to the Hall of Fame and somewhere in Florida an Uber driver is smiling … Bianca Andreescu’s post-match press conferences make me uncomfortable. They’re almost like therapy sessions. She’s so hard on herself … Happy birthday to Bret Hart (65), Teemu Selanne (52), Joe Thornton (43), Jose Canseco (58), Coco Laboy (82), Moises Alou (56), Jarmo Kekalainen (56), Hakan Loob 62), Robert Thomas (23), George McPhee (64), Brett Cecil (36), Frank Tanana (69) and Tom Cruise (60) … And hey, whatever became of Milan Hejduk?

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ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, PAUL HENDERSON SHOULD BE IN THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class of 2022 last Monday and again the name of Paul Henderson was left behind, which every year gets a response.

Maybe this year more than ever.

The 50th anniversary of the great 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union is coming in September. And it’s going to be everywhere. In books, lots of them. In documentary form. In television specials. And there will be all kinds of Henderson, because he had the greatest week or so that any Canadian hockey player has ever had, especially considering the circumstances.

And therein begs the question: Why isn’t Henderson in the Hall? I don’t know how many times he has been nominated inside the secret walls of the Hall voters or whether he has been nominated at all over the years. So I don’t know whether he’s come close to election or not close at all.

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Here is the split on Henderson. He was a good NHL player, not a great one. He was a good WHA player, not a great one. His career, in totality, is not a Hall of Fame career. But his Team Canada weeks, really his seven goals in eight games against the Soviets is more than historical.

And if this was just the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame, there is little doubt there would be a place for Henderson. But this is the Hockey Hall — for all the sport, all countries — and his goals matter, just not any more than Mike Eruzione’s goals mattered in the 1980 Miracle on Ice or the saves made by Jim Craig mattered as Team USA won spectacular gold at the Lake Placid Olympics.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is a museum. You can’t write the history of hockey without writing about Henderson or Eruzione. Team Canada won in 1972 but it was not the miracle of 1980. What the Hall should do is have an exhibit on the main floor, an international setup for highlights of Henderson’s goals, highlights of Team USA’s victory, highlights of the Czech Republic’s Olympic win in 1998, although Dominik Hasek is already an elected member.

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That way you get Paul Henderson in the Hall of Fame without actually electing him.

TRADER JOE LEADS AVS TO STANLEY CUP

The Sam Pollock philosophy on trading was rather basic: The team that gets the best player wins every deal.

The Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche is certainly an example of Pollock-like trading. General manager Joe Sakic picked up six significant players en route to winning the Stanley Cup and never gave up a roster player of real significance in return.

He gave up draft picks and a prospect to get starting goalie Darcy Kuemper. He traded two draft picks in exchange for top-pairing defenceman Devon Toews. He traded two players to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri, the best of those being Alex Kerfoot. He picked up Artturi Lehkonen, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal, from Montreal and didn’t part with any roster players. It was the same kind of deal he made for Josh Manson, the top four defenceman who scored an overtime goal on the Avs playoff run.

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Sure, the Avalanche did terrific in the draft before and certainly got lucky when Cale Makar exceeded all expectations and became a generational player but the Avs don’t win anything without the dealing done by Sakic.

Burakovsky was huge in the early rounds for the Avalanche. Kadri scored the overtime-winning goal and had his greatest season as a pro with Colorado. Lehkonen, the son of a coach, was a giant addition for the top Avalanche lines. And while Kuemper did not necessarily look like a Vezina Trophy winner on his way to the Stanley Cup he did wind up starting 73 games, losing just 20 of them.

The deals worked out terrifically well for the Avalanche. Somewhere, the late Sam Pollock would certainly agree.

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