February 23rd, 2024

Poeltl: ‘Happy here and hoping to contribute to this new kind of Raptors team’

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on January 25, 2024.

TORONTO – This is not the Toronto Raptors team that Jakob Poeltl re-signed with in the off-season. He’s OK with that.

Poeltl was traded back to Toronto ahead of last season’s NBA deadline, then the centre re-signed with the Raptors in the off-season when it was still possible that point guard Fred VanVleet would also re-up with the team.

Since then, VanVleet signed with the Houston Rockets, stalwart defender OG Anunoby was dealt to the New York Knicks and all-star Pascal Siakam, Poeltl’s best friend in Toronto, was sent to the Indiana Pacers.

Although losing VanVleet, Anunoby and Siakam likely means the Raptors won’t make the post-season, Poeltl’s at peace with the turnover as long as Toronto plays competitive basketball.

“As long as it’s not a team that’s really actively trying to tank is the thing for me. I want to play on a team that’s trying to win every night,” Poeltl said after practice at OVO Athletic Centre on Thursday. “Even though we had some changes, we lost some really good players, I think we’re still on a course where we’re trying to build around this team right now and we’re not hunting for a No. 1 draft pick.

“As long as that’s the case, I think I’m going to be happy here and I’m hoping to contribute to this new kind of Raptors team, this new project that we’re starting.”

Siakam’s departure was the hardest for Poeltl emotionally.

The two were selected by Toronto in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft and played together on the Raptors’ development team on their initial rookie contracts.

When Siakam was traded to Indiana on Jan. 17, Poeltl was one of the people he first spoke with and they have chatted again since then. Poeltl said Siakam seemed “pretty happy” with his arrival in Indiana.

“I was mentally prepared for it a little bit already, just because there was so many rumours, I knew it was a possibility,” said Poeltl, who had been traded by the Raptors to San Antonio back in 2018, only to be returned to Toronto last season. “It didn’t hit me out of nowhere, I guess. That made the process a little bit easier.

“It’s still really sad for me to lose my best friend on the team.”

Poeltl wasn’t on the Raptors’ active list when Siakam was traded. The 28-year-old Austrian has been out with an ankle injury since Jan. 7 when he awkwardly stepped on Siakam’s foot during a game in Golden State against the Warriors.

The seven-foot centre was practising with Toronto on Wednesday and Thursday but is not yet ready to play in a game. Jontay Porter has been the Raptors’ starting centre five times in Poeltl’s place.

Poeltl has averaged 10.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists over 36 games this season. Porter is averaging 4.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his 11 games with the Raptors this season, but he’s only played in 22 NBA games over his career.

Toronto has gone 1-7 in the eight games since Poeltl was injured.

“I’d have to write a book to write down all the things I’ve learned in this short period of time,” said Porter. “Every game, every matchup, it seems like I’m learning something new.

“A lot of the times it’s from mistakes I’m making, which, you know, it sucks to make mistakes, but at the same time you’re learning from those to not make those mistakes again in the future.”

Raptors guard Immanuel Quickley will likely join Poeltl on Toronto’s inactive list against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Head coach Darko Rajakovic said Quickley has been dealing with a right thigh contusion that has become more sore since Monday’s 108-100 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We decided it’s for the best for him not to practice today and we’re just going to be evaluating him day by day,” said Rajakovic. “He’s coming with us on this road trip (that starts Sunday), we’ll just see when he is going to be able to join us.”

Quickley is averaging 16.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds over 12 games with the Raptors since acquired him on Dec. 30 in the deal that sent Anunoby to the Knicks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.

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