The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from the penthouse (the league’s best regular season record a year ago) to the outhouse (the league’s worst record this year) and not just because they lost their best player. While the Toronto Raptors were certainly not among the NBA elite last season they also lost their best player and are now wallowing in the depths of the league with the Cavs. But while Cleveland has very little to look forward to the Raptors are just a couple of moves away from being a good team.
Now don’t get me wrong it’s not like the Raptors are a couple of role players away—no they actually are a couple of very good players away, but players that they have the assets, and the money, to acquire. Bryan Colangelo often talks about how his first years in Toronto were spent building around Chris Bosh, and now it is about building without Chris Bosh. While this season has deteriorated because of injuries into pretty much a lost year Colangelo has the time from the trade deadline through the month of July (depending on whether there is a lockout) to prove that he can build the team without Chris Bosh. He wasn’t very successful at building one with him.
Right now the Raptors have fallen into the bad habits that infest all bad teams—players that aren’t great are trying to do things that only great players can do. They are trying to do more than they are capable of doing which leads to turnovers, bad shots and egregious errors. The key is to get the players back into their comfort zone.
Andrea Bargnani receives tons of criticism for the things he cannot do—rebound and help defence—but if there was someone else capable of filling those roles he would be much more successful. Remember when Reggie Evans was hauling in all those rebounds before he got hurt– Bargnani was able to concentrate on offence and was considered a possible all-star.
DeMar DeRozan is developing into a nice complimentary scorer—he is quick and strong to the basket and has a developing jump shot. But when DeRozan feels like he has to carry the team he is easy to defend, and that’s when the bad shots and the turnovers come.
Jose Calderon is a good shooter and an even better facilitator but when there’s a Joey Dorsey or a Julian Wright on the floor there isn’t much facilitating that can be done. And because of a lack of defensive help on the floor his flaws on the defensive end are exposed. As well since the trade of Jarrett Jack he has had to play more minutes than he should.
At the start of the season the Raptors were thought to be an average club that, if everything went right, could contend for a playoff spot. Well…everything didn’t go right. In fact the club has lost starters Evans, Linus Kleiza (now gone for a further 12 months) and rotation players Sonny Weems and Leandro Barbosa for extended periods of time. It is doubtful that any club could sustain the losses of four of their top eight players for as long as the Raptors have and stay competitive. For example the San Antonio Spurs, the top team in the league, has started the same five players for all 48 games.
While the season has seen some positive signs—the emergence of DeRozan as a scorer, the continued evolution of Amir Johnson into a quality rotation player and the development of Ed Davis—the injuries have actually stunted the growth of the team. Before the injuries the team was one that could score but needed to learn how to stop the other team from scoring. Now, with all the injuries, the team can’t score enough to compensate for the slow upgrade in their defence.
So where do they go from here? Well, the Raptors still have an abundance of cap space available, depending on the new labour agreement, and they have about ten million left in the Chris Bosh trade exemption. They also have two first round draft choices (their own and Miami’s) and their own second round choice. And it appears as if their choices in each round are going to be high ones. All of this gives Colangelo an opportunity to remake the roster.
The money—culled from the cap space and the trade exemption– allows him to bid either on free agents or acquire high priced talent in trades. The Raptors have enough complimentary players—DeRozan is a nice secondary scorer (or perhaps a 1B to another 1A) and Bargnani would be terrific as a third option.
The pre-season deal for Tyson Chandler would have solidified their interior defence and given the others more confidence in defending knowing that there was a beast guarding the rim. Unfortunately the Bobcats, under severe financial duress, chose to back off that trade in order to merely dump Chandler’s salary on Dallas. This year the Mavericks have the second rated defence in the Western Conference. Chandler is a free agent in the off-season.
Why would Chandler sign with Toronto? Well, Dallas can’t afford him unless they are able to move their other high priced center, Brendan Haywood, who the Mavs signed to a long-term contract shortly before they acquired Chandler. And very few title contending teams possess the financial wherewithal to pay Chandler the money he likely would command (Chandler is earning nearly 13 million in the final year of his contract). The other possibility, of course, is that the Raptors could make a deal for Haywood. Either way it is of paramount importance that the club acquires a veteran defensive presence and rebounder to guard their basket.
The other move the Raptors can make is to acquire a veteran athlete on the perimeter. The best option would be Andre Iguadala from Philadelphia—though the likelihood of the 76ers moving him before the off-season is remote since they are in the playoff hunt. An athlete such as Iguadala would take the pressure of Bargnani for rebounding and off DeRozan for scoring. If Iguadala becomes unavailable the Raptors need to look elsewhere to find a small forward. There is a possibility that a good wing man will be there when the Raptors draft but they may also look at a point guard since Jerryd Bayless has not developed the way they had hoped.
In short the Raptors need a quality defensive presence at center–Bargnani is not a center—and a quality wingman for the starting rotation. Then the depth of this roster—the club possesses a number of good players but no dominant one—would then be an asset.
If Colangelo can plug these holes, and he has the wherewithal to do so, then the Raptors free-fall to the bottom the conference standings will only be for one season. The Cavaliers however, well…that’s another story.
…The Super Bowl is expected to draw record ratings as it is a contest between two historical franchises. It also appears to be a contest being fought between two very even teams. If the Packers can slow down the Steeler running attack they will gain the advantage. The Steelers, on the other hand, need to establish themselves early and take advantage of their Super Bowl experience. The first five minutes will illustrate whether the Packers are nervous—if they can stay tight early they should be able to win out in the end.
…It looks as if the Vancouver Canucks will carry the Canadian hockey fan’s banner this playoff season. The Canucks look to be a serious Stanley Cup contender but how secure can we all feel throwing our support behind a franchise that has made it to the finals just once in their forty year existence.Tags: NBA, Toronto Raptors