It wasn’t tough to see that the lineup changes the Raptors made against the Pistons had a definite effect on the game’s outcome. The Raptors were moving the ball well, they played effectively as a team and they were able to close out a game when it looked like they were going to hand another one away. There have been varying reports on whether Jose went to Sam and told him that he needed to go to the bench for the betterment of the team or whether he was asked to, but either way, by Jose heading back to the bench and not complaining about it, he showed the kind of class he has.
Frequent readers of RF know that I love the TJ/Jose combo on the floor at the same time. Of course, you can only really do it when the other team is going small, but it is something the Raptors should try to use to expose other teams. When the game was slipping away against the Pistons, we saw TJ getting the ball to Jose, for a rattle-down three that effectively sealed the game. We also saw some nice skip passes delivered by TJ, who was looking to create for others rather than himself. It almost looked like TJ had his conscience playing right next to him, whispering in his ear, “Hey buddy, I can have you replaced at any time, so watch yourself.”
But here’s what I hate about the move. It shows a weak backbone at the coaching and managment level. I like TJ. I like his game. Overall, I think he has more talent than Jose. But this season, Jose has earned that starting position. I know the whole routine about a guy losing his position when he’s out injured, but that’s too bad. Take a look back at Wally Pipp and then talk to me about a guy losing his position to injury. Sometimes, it works out for the better. By moving TJ back into the starting position, whether it came from Jose, from Sam or from BC, it shows that you can essentially be a crybaby for a month and then get what you want. Does it make the team better? Who knows? They looked pretty good against the Pistons, but that’s one game.
While it may look good for one game, it may be the start of some poor vibes in the locker room. This is how these things start. God forbid if the Raptors start to go down the wrong path again. Let’s say the Raptors go ahead and lose 6 straight with TJ as the starter. Watch out, because the daggers will be flying. To be truthful about the whole thing, being a starter in a sport like basketball could be the most meaningless of titles in all of sports. In basketball, they actually have an award for the guy who’s the best out of the guys who aren’t good enough to start, the Six Man Award. It shows that coming off the bench is an important role in the NBA. In the NHL, nobody knows who the hell the starting 5 are on most teams and you never hear anything about it, because 45 seconds later, the guys are on a line change. In baseball, being a starter is a big deal, because you are going to get more at-bats and see pitchers more often, which makes it easier to hit them, you’re also not walking in cold to suddenly face a dude throwing 98 mph. So not being a starter in baseball is a big deal. In the NFL, if you’re not starting, you’re not going to see a lot of the field, unless you are being used in special situations. So it’s a big deal to be a starter there too. Soccer? If you’re not a starter, there’s a pretty damn good chance you’re not going to play.
So really, in basketball, what gives? This whole “Who’s the Starter” thing is such a trumped up bunch of nonsense, that just gets fed into by everybody, from the media to the players to the management. It really doesn’t matter. It has turned into a cliche now, but it doesn’t matter who starts the game, it’s who’s closing the game out. When the game’s on the line, who do you want on the floor? So in the end, if the Raptors run better with TJ coming out for the first 8 minutes, then fine. He’s not going to cost them the game in those first 8 minutes. The important thing is that Sam remembers to keep Jose in the game, to get him a ton of minutes and to make sure that when the game is on the line, he is in the lineup.