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Raptors rebuilding through the draft

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Raptors rebuilding through the draft

Geography and little tradition of winning have put Toronto in a tough spot. Unable to attract high-profile free-agents, the Raptors are going to have to build through the draft to turn around what has been a rough four-year stretch as the team hasn't made the playoffs since 2008. Last season, the Raptors struggled to a 23-43 mark and that came after a 22-60 mark the year before. It's going to be a long road back to respectability for Toronto.

In June, Toronto took guard Terence Ross with the 8th overall pick in the NBA draft. The 6'-7" Ross averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds in his sophomore season at Washington, but his pre-draft workouts helped his stock rise from a late first-rounder to a top 10 selection. In three summer league games, Ross put up 15 points in 31 minutes of action, but shooting just 38 percent from the field. Raptors second-year coach Dwayne Casey has indicated that he would likely bring Ross off the bench as a sixth man in his rookie season.

Toronto also gets 2011 first-round draft pick center Jonas Valanciunas for the upcoming season. Valanciunas was under contract overseas and didn't play for the Raptors last year. Toronto hopes the big 7-footer is worth the wait. Valanciunas, FIBA's young men's player of the year in 2011, was considered the best big man prospect in that 2011 draft. He likely will be the starting center immediately as the Raptors went with Amir Johnson and Jamal Magliore at the 5 last season. Valanciunas is also defensive minded and can help the frontcourt with a more offensively focused Andrea Bargnani.

The Raptors added athletic swingman Landry Fields through free agency and traded for point guard Kyle Lowry. Fields is a very active defensive minded player who spent the last few years in New York. Lowry was unhappy in Houston and got out after averaging 14 points and 7 assists a game for the Rockets.

With the Raptors also inking veteran back up point guard John Lucas III to a two-year deal, the writing is on the wall for last season's starter Jose Calderon as he will likely get traded -- if not before the season, at least before the trade deadline. Calderon is entering the final year of his contract.

Key returning players include shooting guard DeMar Derozan, who averaged 16 points as a starter last season, and Bargnani who put up 19 a game but missed over half the season with injuries. Toronto will need more next year from 2009 first-round pick Ed Davis, who only averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds in his second season with the Raptors.

There's no question Toronto is rebuilding and the development of their draft picks will be pivotal for the Raptors to get out from near the bottom of the eastern conference.

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Grizzlies trade Mike Conley to the Jazz

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Grizzlies trade Mike Conley to the Jazz

A person with knowledge of the decision says the Memphis Grizzlies have traded veteran point guard Mike Conley, who has played the most games in franchise history, to the Utah Jazz.

The person says the Grizzlies swapped Conley for Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and Grayson Allen. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because neither Memphis nor Utah has announced the trade.

ESPN.com first reported the deal, which it says also includes Utah's No. 23 pick overall in Thursday night's draft. 

Conley was the final piece of the core that led the Grizzlies to seven consecutive playoff berths, including the 2013 Western Conference Finals. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen left in 2017 as free agents, and Memphis traded Marc Gasol to Toronto in February, splitting up a duo that had been the NBA's longest-tenured teammates. Gasol went on to help the Raptors win their first NBA title.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has since confirmed that Memphis will also be receiving a 2020 protected first-round pick, which will either convey as a late-lottery pick in 2020 and 2021 or become a lightly-protected pick from 2022-2024. 

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Isaiah Roby's journey from small town unknown to potential NBA Draft steal

Isaiah Roby's journey from small town unknown to potential NBA Draft steal

Watch I Am the Prospect: Isaiah Roby in full in the video player above. A five-part series, I Am the Prospect follows top basketball prospects in their journey to the 2019 NBA Draft.

One hundred miles west of Chicago sits Dixon, Illinois, a small city of around 15,000 not at all known for producing star basketball players. 

But for Nebraska forward and potential NBA Draft pick Isaiah Roby, it's home. 

"Small town kid, it's something that's always been a part of my identity," Roby told NBC Sports Washington for I Am the Prospect. "I have that underdog mentality and a chip on my shoulder of being from a small town. I have a lot of pride in that."

"I think I'm one of only two or three guys to play Division I basketball out of my town, and that's something I'm really proud of."

Roby's struggle against small town obscurity began at a young age, back when he was playing AAU ball. 

"It took a lot to get to this point for me, especially coming from a small town with not a lot of opportunities so it takes a lot of time and dedication, countless miles," he said. "I would drive 90 minutes roundtrip, or both ways, just for practice, AAU practice."

And in Roby's case, he wasn't the only one making those long trips and dedicating countless hours to furthering his basketball career. Roby credits his mother, Danielle, as a big reason why he's where he is now.

"She sacrificed a lot for me to be in the place I am today and she's my biggest motivator," he said. "She's the reason that I was able to play AAU basketball because those things aren't cheap. You know, traveling, paying for team fees, paying for hotel fees.

"My mom picked up multiple jobs at a time for me to be in those positions and in order for me to be where I am today."

Roby began to gain recognition in Dixon because of his skills on the basketball floor. So much so, his "stardom" affected his job. 

"Growing up, I worked at a restaurant in Dixon, 'world's tallest host' they were saying," Roby recalled. "First I was a host, and as I got better in basketball, people started to recognize me more. They had to move me to the back because it took too long for me to sit people at tables."

However, outside of his hometown, Roby was still relatively unknown. He only received one scholarship offer from a Divison I school, Nebraska, which like Dixon had little basketball history. 

But it was that chance to make some history which sold Roby on becoming a Cornhusker.

"Probably the biggest reason I ended up at Nebraska is because of the coaching staff and the facilities they have there," he said. "Coaches sold me on being a part of something new, trying to start something new at a university. Nebraska is not known for basketball, but they kind of sold me on being a special time in Nebraska basketball history, so that was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of."

During his sophomore and junior seasons in Lincoln, Roby helped the Cornhuskers earn back-to-back berths in the NIT, Nebraska's first postseason appearances since making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. 

In fact, Roby led Nebraska to its first postseason win since 2008, scoring a career-high 28 points in the Cornhuskers' 80-76 victory over Butler in the 2019 NIT first round. 

Now, he has his sights set on the NBA. Roby projects as a low first-round or second-round pick, NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig ranking Roby No. 41 on his latest 2019 NBA Draft Big Board.

And after beating the odds to play for a Division I program, Roby believes he can do the same at the next level. 

"In every gym I go into I feel like I'm the best player, so I'm just trying to prove that to all these NBA teams," Roby said. "And at the end of the day, if I get a chance, I'm the type of player that's gonna work hard."

"I know I need to work on parts of my game and develop further, but I think down the line I'm going to be a starter in this league and a player that sticks around for multiple years."

Roby has aspirations to do good work off the court as well, remembering how others helped him and his family in times of need. 

"I grew up in a Habitat for Humanity home. My family did things like shop with a cop on Christmas. The local police department would come and give my family a turkey for Thanksgiving." 

"I've had all these opportunities for people to help me and my family out, so that's something I definitely want to be involved [with] in the NBA," he said. "Being a positive role model for kids in the community, these are all things I'm looking forward to doing for an NBA team."

And as potentially the first native of Dixon to make the NBA, Roby's journey can provide inspiration to anyone with dreams that may seem impossible. 

"I'm living proof that it's possible to come out of anywhere no matter what the situation," Roby said. "If you really, truly care about it enough, anything is possible."

I AM THE PROSPECT