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Porter betting scandal the latest in a chaotic Raptors season


TORONTO – Garrett Temple has just about seen it all in his 14 NBA seasons.

The veteran guard has played for 12 different organizations – more than a third of the league. He’s made deep playoff runs, lost 50-plus games on some bad Washington and Sacramento teams, and shared a Nets locker room with Kyrie Irving in the bubble during the pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 campaign.

Still, the 37-year-old paused for a moment before trying to put this Raptors season into perspective.

“This is easily the, I guess you could say, the craziest season [and] team I’ve been a part of in terms of all of these parts, all of these things happening,” Temple said. “For sure.”

It started seven months ago with an unprecedented lawsuit. Since then Toronto has faced massive franchise-altering trades, possible season-ending injuries, tragic personal loss, its longest losing streak in more than a decade, and now, a gambling scandal that threatens to jeopardize the integrity of the league and could have far-reaching implications across professional sports.

Just before the Raptors dropped their 11th straight game on Monday evening came the ESPN report that forward Jontay Porter is under investigation by the NBA for his alleged involvement in recent “betting irregularities.”

According to ESPN, the league is looking into two games – a Jan. 26 contest against the Clippers and Mar. 20 against the Kings – in which there was unusually high betting interest on the under for Porter props. Porter played less than five minutes in each of those games, leaving early due to an eye injury and an illness, respectively. His prop bets – all of them hitting the under – were the biggest moneymakers on DraftKings Sportsbook both nights.

Porter, who is making $415,000 on a two-way contract this season, has been away from the team since the weekend. He’s missed the last two games due to what the team is listing as “personal reasons”, and has already been ruled out for Wednesday’s contest against New York.

The Raptors have not commented on the situation directly, though they are cooperating with the league. Their players, coaches and representatives are being careful not to speculate, understanding that this is an ongoing investigation with plenty of unknowns.

“[I was] surprised, but at the end of the day nothing’s been proven yet,” said Temple, who also happens to be vice president of the National Basketball Players Association. “It's an investigation and he's a member of our team, a member of our organization, but also a member of the 450 [union members]. So, my position is that we’re backing him and hope that it’s not what has been implied.”

For one, what’s Porter’s level of involvement? Players and league employees are prohibited from betting on NBA games, but it’s worth noting that Porter hasn’t been accused of placing a bet himself – at least not yet.

The league will be especially interested to learn why he wasn’t listed on Toronto’s injury report ahead of the games in question, and to know the extent of those ailments. Porter was poked in the eye and limited to six minutes in a loss to Memphis on Jan. 22. He was available for the following game, that Jan. 26 loss to the Clippers, but exited after aggravating his eye injury. He had recorded three rebounds and one assist in four scoreless minutes – his props for the night were set at 5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Following the game, a team spokesperson stated that Porter had been cleared by an eye specialist earlier that evening and would have a follow up appointment the next day. He was listed as probable in Atlanta a couple days later but went on to play 19 minutes and score 12 points.

Who would have been aware that his eye was still bothering him ahead of that Clippers game, or that he was dealing with an undisclosed illness going into the Kings game last week, and what did they do with that information? Did the team pull him from those games or did he pull himself?

These are important questions that will go a long way in determining whether this is a very strange coincidence or something far more serious, something bigger than just Porter and the Raptors, and something that the NBA won’t take lightly.

With legalized sports betting becoming more prevalent across professional sports, this was inevitable. It’s not the first gambling scandal we’ve seen of late and it won’t be the last. The next could implicate a star, rather than a two-way player, which is why the league will be pointed in how it approaches Porter, in the event that he’s found guilty. One way or another, this will set a precedent and it’s not unreasonable to think that a possible punishment could include contract termination and a lifetime ban.

“It's definitely awkward,” Temple said. “You watch a game and you may see FanDuel or DraftKings as a big-time sponsor for a team, but obviously it's illegal for us to [bet] in any regard, any type of professional basketball – NBA, G league, WNBA. We understand that. Sports betting has always been around, it just obviously is even more available. But as players you don't really think about it. As a veteran, I don't really think about it as much because it's always been a rule. It's not as if a rule change happened. So it is awkward but at the same time, like I say, we understand what we're getting ourselves into.”

The Raptors will recover from this – they like the player but he’s, at best, a backup big and isn’t under contract beyond this season – but, for Porter, it could be life changing and career ending.

Porter’s humble nature and incredible back-story has made him an easy player to root for since signing his two-way deal with Toronto in December. The 24-year-old fought his way back into the league after his career had been derailed by multiple knee injuries – first at the University of Missouri, where he played with his older brother Michael Jr. (now of the Denver Nuggets), and then in his first NBA stop with Memphis.

“[I’m] lucky to be in this position,” Porter told TSN in an exclusive interview back in January, just a couple weeks before that Clippers game in question. “[I’ve] been dreaming about this for the past three years, to get this opportunity again… A million people would die to be in my position.”

With injuries to several rotation players, including starting centre Jakob Poeltl, Porter was getting regular playing time off the bench and looking like an ideal fit in Rajakovic’s system, earning rave reviews for ability to pass and shoot the ball. Health permitting, he’s looked like a player who could have some staying power as a role playing, high IQ big man in this league, with Toronto or some place else.

For somebody who knows the importance and value of seizing every opportunity to be taking himself out of games he’s healthy enough to compete in seems unfathomable. For somebody who’s worked so hard to resurrect his career to risk it all is hard to imagine. That doesn’t make it more or less likely that he’s culpable, but it would make it a shame if he were.

And so, until more details are revealed, the Raptors aim to block out yet another distraction, go about their business and focus on basketball. It’s easier said than done, even for a team that’s had months of practice.

“It’s been really tough,” said veteran centre Kelly Olynyk. “It’s been a gauntlet of injuries, off the court stuff, hard-hitting stuff. It’s something that you literally cannot prepare for. It’s tough to handle as players, staff, organization. But I think it’s one of those things, all in all, it probably makes you stronger and makes you come together as a unit and team more. That’s kind of the way you have to use it.”