Archive for January, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions

Alright, we’re already over a week into the New Year, but it’s never too late for a good resolution. That being said, here is what the resolutions should be for each Raptor.

Bargnani - Don’t fall in love with that 3. It’s lethal when it’s on and it is via a natural stroke, but it’s effectiveness is based on your unique ability to be a threat to put the ball on the floor at that height or to play down low. Tons of skill, just don’t sell yourself short.

Bosh - As we mentioned earlier, quit the mugging for the crowd. It looks ridiculous.

Calderon - Keep beating defenders off the dribble with your left hand. We’ve seen you quick-step countless defenders this season, keep it going into 2007.

Ford - Don’t be afraid to slow down, bring the ball out and set up. Sure, Sam may not have a play he wants you to run, but at least you can check.

Garbajosa - Okay, seriously dude, you need to shave. Clean shave. Not the “#1 attachment” shave. Use a blade. ONE TIME!

Graham - Finally, we are starting to see you use that frame. My highlight of the 2006 portion of this season was seeing you dunk over Mourning. Keep that going and keep your feet moving on D. You get burned because you aren’t the quickest guy. Be mobile.

Humphries - If we see you put the ball on the floor again, you WILL receive the MINE James treatment.

Jones - Fred, can you please decide if you really want to play basketball anymore? You were a dunk champ, right? How about you dunk ONE TIME in 2007.

D-Mart - Just because you come in and drop a few shots, it does not mean you’re the man. It doesn’t mean you should look away from guys down the stretch when you are inexplicably in the lineup. Share the ball.

Nesterovic - I want to see you dunk. ONE TIME. Have a competition with Fred Jones to see who will dunk first. I am envisioning you dunking like Jim Carrey in the Cableguy.

Parker - If the 3’s there, take it. Don’t hesitate.

MoPete - Talk to Sam and try to figure out what you ever did to him.

Slokar - If you’re only going to get a few minutes of PT, do a Pape (formerly known as doing a Yogi) and foul everybody before you sit down.

Sow - Get healthy before Slokar starts calling your 5 fouls in 1 minute move “The Slokar”

Tucker - Show Sam what it means to box out, then rebound. Then write it for him. Then draw it for him. Then let him know that’s what you do. Then write THAT down. Then let him know that you play for him. Um…write that down too.

Mitchell - Look for nice home in Georgia.

Random thoughts in Raptorland

Listened to the first quarter of the game tonight on the radio…thankfully I wasn’t in front of the television to witness another one of those games where the Raps try to see how many times they can fall asleep and try to come back. So since I didn’t see or hear the rest of the game, I will save comment for other stuff.

First up, what’s with those Wizards uniforms they have been sporting lately? Those things look terrible. It’s like they Googled “basketball uniform” and that’s what came up. Brutal. The only thing relevantly decent about them is that they slightly take me back to the Wales/Campbell Division days of NHL All-Star games. I’m almost waiting for Greztky to hop off the bench on the fly and throw an aly-oop to Arenas.

Can people stop calling Marbury “Starbury”? Please? I mean really, has he ever been a legit star? The best thing he has ever done was create those $20 shoes.

I’m sorry, I’m all for Swirsk doing the “Salami and Cheese” thing, but having the Raptors create a “Salami and Cheese” Flex-Pack reeks of desperation. The team is doing well, Swirsk is doing his thing, there’s no need for a flex-pack relating to this at all. Okay, so let me get this straight…I buy tickets for 2 games and I get a t-shirt with Chuck on it that says, “Salami and Cheese”. Yeah, cheese indeed.

Has anyone compared our Dance Pak (and yes, that’s “Pak” as opposed to “Pack”…just because it’s cool to be illiterate) to any other group of cheerleaders in the league? Check out the Mavs girls or the Laker girls and then get back to me. Why does the Dance Pak look like they’re still finishing high school? Maybe that would explain the spelling…

Okay, that’s all.

Raptors winning without coaching

Any seasoned athlete will tell you that individual efforts are secondary to team play. In this business, only the W counts. After an almost disastrous 4th quarter collapse Sunday afternoon, the Raptors hung on by the grace of God to register a win against the streaking Washington Wizards. The embarrassment of blowing a 22 point lead by giving 30 points in the final six minutes was so close, you could taste it in the air. But despite the team’s best efforts to give the game away, led by Jose Calderon’s pin balling around the court, Chuck was able to break out the salami and cheese not once, but twice in the game. In the post game interview, Sam simply waved off the particulars. As far as he was concerned, a win is a win, and he was glad to take it.

Sure, wins are great, but how about taking away some lessons for future reference? Washington’s final full-court press was hardly groundbreaking, but it essentially stripped away any basketball IQ this team was supposed to have acquired in the off season. I’ve never seen anyone panic and hit the button faster than a guy trapped in an elevator of farts. The Raptors were unable to maintain composure and nearly unraveled three quarters of fantastic basketball.

Joey Graham’s unexpected, and highly senseless foul in the dying seconds of the game turned out to be misinterpreted instructions from the coach. You can blame players all you want for bonehead plays, but they’re just executing calls within the parameters of the coach’s system. If a coach is unable to clearly guide his players during a game, how is he able to take pride in a well coached game? He can’t. He simply shrugs off the details, and laughs with reporters over what could have been a choke. Because it’s the win that counts, right?

To a young coach with a budding career, nothing is a greater testament to his abilities than this record. New coaches aren’t interested in establishing punishing play books, character development, or fine tuning well-oiled defenses. A young coach is simply looking for ways to pad his stats, because he knows that his life span in this league may not be long. Great coaches like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley are beyond focusing on wins. They’re creating dynasties by implementing systems that create symbiotic relationships on their teams. They’re not focusing on how to beat the next team, they’re developing ways to become unbeatable.

There are clearly many fundamental aspects required to catapult the Raptors into the contenders category. Aside from additional veteran leadership, a proven play creator, and some heavy rebounding, the Raptors will be unable to forge a long path into the playoffs without great coaching. Sam Mitchell is a great player’s coach, but barring superstar performances from every starter in every playoff game, I don’t ever see him winning a championship. Sam doesn’t command respect from his general manager, from the league, or even from his players. If the Raptors are serious about breaching plateaus, they need to look long and hard at their coaching staff. A win is a great, but a championship would be better.

Remember this game?

Over 36,000 fans at the Skydome celebrate as the young Toronto Raptors franchise steal a win from Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1996. Who said Toronto doesn’t love basketball?

Andrea Bargnani’s fantastic pass

Since this has been the talk of the game, I thought I’d throw this short clip up. Enjoy.

Raptors book 3rd consecutive sellout

The last time Toronto sold out three games in a row was back in April of 2002. It was their final home stand against Atlanta, New Jersey, and Cleveland, capping 12 wins in their last 14 games to clinch a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. And if you’re grasping to remember who jacked that horrible 3 in game 5 against the Detroit Pistons that knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs, it was Chris Childs. By the way, Dell Curry was wide open.

Although making the playoffs this season should make you feel as cautiously optimistic as a kid’s first invite to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, there is no doubt that the fervor is back in Raptorland and the fans are embracing hope once again. And with good reason.

This season marks the first in a long while where substantial injuries haven’t sunk the team into the depths of the Atlantic division. In fact, the Raptors have found a way to remain competitive through adversity, while teasing fans with glimpses of brilliance from a handful of players who have been forced to work together for the first time like a bad school project.

But give the team credit. Chris Bosh continues to uphold his spot as the franchise player, bringing bigger numbers and slicker moves this year. Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa find themselves tangled up in a battle for Rookie Of The Year. TJ Ford is proving that GM Bryan Colangelo made the smart decision trading away Charlie Villawhoever. Jose Calderon decided one day in the summer that he was actually going to play good basketball this year, and it worked. Anthony Parker brought his A game from Europe and is the bane of Mo Pete’s existence, and Rasho continues to effectively cement the defense while working on his 3 inch vertical.

You can always tell when a team is turning a corner. It’s not so much the record, the streaks, the coach’s interviews, or even Chuck Swirsky in his Raptors boxers writing love letters to MLSE. It’s when the fans come back. In a city dominated by other professional sports and fancy theater shows, you’ll know it happened because people on the subway are talking about Bargnani’s passes to Bosh instead of Kaberle’s to Sundin. That’s when you lean back in your seat and smile, because you’ve stuck with the team through thick and thin, through years of misery and disappointment, and finally it’s not embarrassing to banter about your passion with the stranger next to you.

One More Thing About the Suns Game

Oh yeah…I read in the paper today that Sam was going to limit Bosh’s minutes, ease him back into the season. 41 minutes later, Sam was trying to explain his actions. When asked what happened, Sam said that he had not intended to play Bosh that much, that he wanted him to take it easy, but that he was playing well and that he didn’t want to come out. REALLY? A player who didn’t want to come out of the game? Ground-breaking news. You’re the coach. You have just seen your team play a stack of games without the guy and they did a good job. You can afford to rest him a bit.

Even worse was that Sam actually said that he didn’t realize Chris had played 41 minutes. WHA? You didn’t realize? You didn’t see him on inbounds plays grabbing the bottom of his shorts, bending over, breathing so hard that he was stealing air from the fans in the ACC as he tried to fill his lungs? You couldn’t have had an assistant coach clocking him and letting you know when he got to a designated time that you had established before the game? Sam, don’t insult us.

Speaking of being insulted, it has now been over a week since I sent that letter to Richard Peddie about the Raptors VIP experience (yeah, “experience”) and no response yet. Gotta love MLSE.

Yeah, I’ll say it…the Raps SHOULD have beaten the Suns

I know, I can’t believe I said it. The way every media outlet has been covering Lord Nash and the Suns, you would think no team has a chance on any night against them. Well, the Raptors had their chance, they just blew it.

I was lucky enough to be at the game (thanks Big P) and at the half, I looked at my friend and we both slumped over, saying, “This is probably close to done.” Cue the music, cue the comeback.

Losing by two points to the Suns when you have a couple of key players out and another just getting back into the lineup is no small feat. Nice work there. But since this post is about how the Raptors blew it, let’s start with the obvious choice, the favourite, almost cliched target, Sam.

This whole “going with the hot hand” thing is getting out of control. Let’s give D-Mart his props. He had a stellar game (although somebody really has to teach him how to avoid slamming into the pick part of a pick and roll every time one is set up) and was effective at moving the ball and finding alleys. But you knew when he drained a couple of shots in the 4th quarter, all hell was going to break loose. Sure enough, Sam pulled out the old staple gun and stapled Jose to the bench. Down the stretch, when ANY coach in the league would want his next best point guard (after his starter) in the lineup, Sam has him sitting behind the assistant coach/player.

So how did that impact the game? Well, there were a few suspect shot selection moments, but even more important was the last play of the game. You have less than 4 seconds, no timeouts and you leave in an overweight point guard. In the post-game, D-Mart said that the play they ran was an ACTUAL PLAY they have done a million times in practice. WHAT? Oh yes, I forgot, the “Inbound the ball to Chubb Rock, let him try to run down the court and hoist a Hail Mary within 4 seconds while real 3-point shooters are waiting by the 3-line play.”

Here’s what should have happened there, even with D-Mart in the game. You throw a mid-range inbounds pass to D-Mart. Have MoPete or Andrea roll to the top of the three (screen in place) where you hit them on the run with a pass. You then leave it to one of those two to catch and shoot a 3. That’s your best option.

Now on to a tougher target. Bosh. He too had a great game, but it was too bad that he always has these moments where he thinks his game is 15-foot jumpers. This is what should always be running in the back of Chris’ mind: Back him in, back him in, spin move, now be athletic and make a play. It sounds simple because it is. When you have that kind of ability, you should be playing the game down low. You didn’t put on the extra weight to sit outside shooting jumpers. But the real complaint comes attached to Bosh’s foul on Nash. Sure, it’s a great veteran move by Nash, faking and then leaning in to get fouled on a 3 attempt, but WHAT IS BOSH DOING LEAVING HIS FEET TO TRY TO BLOCK A 3 ATTEMPT FROM NASH? No excuse. I can’t even blame that on coaching. That is just basic basketball. Especially when you tower over the shooter. Don’t leave your feet. You’re an All-Star. Play like it.

A couple of final points. First, I don’t know how many times we counted all 5 Raptors positioned above the foul line in the offensive zone while the clock ticked away. Some sort of movement only took place when half the clock was gone. Too late. Too many times. The clock is your friend…treat it with respect.

For all of you Raptor fans, you should really make it out to some games, even if you’re only buying Sprite Zone seats. You can appreciate the development of plays more and you see how veterans know how to position themselves and use their bodies compared to rooks. Every serious Raptors fan should be making the trip to the ACC at least twice a season. At least.

Okay, that’s all for now.

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