LAS VEGAS - If LeBron James' decampment for the Los Angeles Lakers was indeed predetermined before NBA free agency began, count new Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse as someone that saw it coming.
"You know, everybody talked about it a lot," Nurse said Monday after Toronto's 92-82 Summer League loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "And I dunno, I have a lot of good friends in L.A. that kept telling me it's a done deal for the last couple months, so I really wasn't that surprised."
Beyond the titillating questions that raises, the end result is a positive for the Raptors in the sense that their great tormentor is no longer in the same conference, ready to crush their playoff dreams prematurely. Yet like everyone else, Nurse knows the East is only poised to get better - with teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on the rise.
"How does that affect us? You can't automatically say 'jeez, we lost to LeBron every year, put us in the Finals,'" he said. "I think the competitive nature will spread across the East now. Now we gotta go out and do it."
Whether the Raps will be able to replicate their top-seed finish in the East next season remains to be seen, but the point of Summer League is to develop young players. And one of those is Malachi Richardson, who only suited up in one game for Toronto last season after being acquired from Sacramento in February for Bruno Caboclo.
Richardson has been a summer standout for the 0-3 Raps so far, scoring 17 points Monday. The No. 22 pick in the 2016 draft has always been prized for his physical attributes - 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan - but remains raw.
Called "Mr. Eye Test" in his draft class because of his prototypical 3-and-D frame, he's never been able to consistently hit threes or demonstrate the ability to be a shutdown defender - some of which was obscured by Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone system in his lone college season at Syracuse.
On Monday he was active, rotating defensively and diving for loose balls. Nurse heaped praise upon him for the second time this week.
"He's got so much polish around the edges to work on, but he's certainly showed the willingness to work on that - what am I talking about - transition defense, I'm talking about defense in general, talking about being in more of a stance, being more active away from the ball when screen and rolls are happening," Nurse said.
"There are two dozen, three dozen things that are little parts of the game where he needs polish, and we're gonna polish him, because he's got the body and the stroke which is not easy to find."