Archive for July, 2009

Splooosh!

Going into this off-season it was hard not see Bryan Colangelo as one of those divers standing on the edge of the cliff in Acapulco. It’s the sort of sight that forces you to hold your breath no matter how confident you might be about everything working out alright, because at a certain level it seems impossible. Certainly for most people the task at hand would be impossible. But like with the divers, it’s what Bryan does, so there has to be some reasonable expectations to go along with the “hold your breath” fears. I had know idea going into the off-season, how Colangelo was going to be able to do more than overpay for Marion as little as possible, and use the resulting MLE and such to bring in some solid depth, with Carlos Delfino being the biggest acquisition. Even in writing that last sentence my brain is thinking - yeah that’s what we’re looking at. But though that wouldn’t have been a belly flop in the Pacific, it just wasn’t enough. He was going to have to pull off more than a simple tuck or pike position, and the entry was going to have to be clean. Last season felt like too much of a wasted opportunity. The clock is ticking on the Bosh signing. The attendance and general interest as reflected in TV ratings declined. Some folks felt inclined to blow the whole team up, even if that meant worse results for a couple seasons yet, due to the fatigue of watching a team that appeared to be on a treadmill that wasn’t slowing down anytime soon. Altogether, there was a collective intake of air and the status quo (plus or minus Delfino) was not going to allow us all to exhale with relief, no matter how difficult going beyond that scenario was going to be.

It was fairly clear that a good player was going to have to go in order to make things happen, and there were big limitations on getting the most of any deal involving any of them. Deal Bosh and you are giving up your best player and likely not getting a best player in return. Deal Jose and you’ve got zilch at the point, so there would be only so much that could be done to shore up weaknesses without fatally weakening the team at that important skilled position. Deal Bargnani and you’re giving up on promising talent and size, with only so much that would be able to come back due to the smaller size of his contract. Marion required a sign and trade, and that would be with the Raptors dealing from a point of weakness since they would be staring down the alternative of losing him for nothing, if they were unable to sign him here.

This team needed a bit of a lucky break in order to add depth and talent to the point where keeping Bosh for another six or seven years was viable and feasible. And that break came in the form of some number cruncher named Fruitman. Fruitman found the way. Bryan saw that the surf was coming in and not leaving barren rocks as it pushed outwards, and he dove into the swelling pool of salt water when the moment presented itself. With a few full twists and somersaults along the way. It was breathtaking. In a matter of days, so many question marks were turned into exclamation points on Bosh’s twitter account. Bargnani signed for five years! Turkoglu signed for five years! And somehow Marion traded in a four team swap that allowed for further signings with Bird rights, exceptions, and the ability to look towards making similar additions in further years ahead! The talent pool of this team not only increased, but was secured long-term! And depth was not only addressed, but solidified!

What impresses me the most is that a verifiable blueprint has been followed through on. Colangelo liked Hedo for many years. I’d say he tried to find his own Hedo in the form of Garbajosa, Delfino, and Kapono, or some combination of the aforementioned. He could have settled for Marion, and I’d have been happy enough with the improved rebounding and defense. There’s is still a little twinge somewhere in my depths at the thought of the defense taking a step backwards. But now if Jack is added to the mix, I feel like defending the perimeter will not be the write-off that makes the entire defense fall apart. And Bryan got his guy.

All that makes this off-season completely different than the off-season of a year ago. Do not fall into the trap of making the comparison, simply because the expectations are raised in a similar manner. We all knew that O’Neal was not a part of the blueprint. He was a means to allowing that blueprint to take shape with that big fat contract of his. Yes - the expectations involved improving the defense almost by default, and thereby improving the record overall. But it was the size of the contract, which expired soon enough down the road, that brought the most promise. And it wasn’t JO that ruined all the expectations. The defensive woes came about directly from Jose being hobbled, AP getting slower, and nobody being able to play behind either of them with any kind of defensive effectiveness. That left Moon and Joey needing to play over their heads every night for the perimeter not to be a lethal weakness on defense. O’Neal could have returned to the All-Star form that he talked so much about and it would not have made much difference. But now we have been able to see the value of his contract get translated into pieces that fill in all the lines and shadings on the blueprint. The full picture is there for Bosh to see. The inevitability of Bosh being traded is no longer easy fodder for columnists the world over. Sploosh! A lovely entry into the emerald waters of Acapulco.

Last season was all about taking on a bit of a short-term risk to buy time for the long-term vision. This season is simply about making that vision come to fruition. And who better to make all the obstacles go away, allowing for fruition to be achieved, than a guy named Fruitman? Was he there every sleepless moment in that turbulent week or two? Did Bryan roll out a sleeping bag for him next to his bed? I can picture Bryan waking up abruptly and shaking Fruitman out of his slumber with some crazy questions. “I know we can’t find anybody that will take on both Hump and Banks in a Marion sign and trade, but what if we made a clerical error so that we could offer them Bump and Hanks? Can we make that work? Would the league go for that?” I can picture Fruitman sitting at Bryan’s side while he fretted nervously to the point of having a nervous breakdown. There’s Bryan spinning around in his office chair and pretending to be Captain Kirk again. There he is wildly texting Maurizio to take the private jet to Lourdes, and on the way back to head to Pamplona for the running of the bulls. “NAKED Maurizio NAKED! If my ass is on the line, then so is yours. AND I WANT PICTURES!”

And through all that Fruitman found the break we all needed to see what needed to happen take place. Thank you man of fruit. I will never again eat a banana, an apple, a kumquat without thinking of you. And I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. Because there is still a chance that it could be unsuccessful. Jose and Bosh still need to prove that they can be durable for a full season. They could all catch the swine flu. Or Dwight Howard might convince God to smite them. But having seen this team look like there was no plan, and wondering where the Colangelo went that pieced together something out of nothing when he arrived, I am very happy to think that there might be very few questions to ask of him in the years to come, and very few dramatic tweets coming from Bosh, outside of perhaps the most dramatic of them all. As a fan there can’t be anything better than to see a team where everyone has something to prove, where they all appear committed to improving together, where there’s a good chance that they will all push each other in good ways, and where there is a good set of roles in place across the board. Colangelo and Fruitman have done their part. Watch for the pictures of Maurizio to hit the internet. And sit back and enjoy the assembled bunch of players figuring out what they have to do.

Raptors 2009 Offseason: Toronto - World Class City

There was an interesting article a couple of days ago by Bob Kravitz in the Indianapolis Star discussing whether or not the Indiana Pacers are too white.?? It’s a good read and raises a lot of good points, so do yourself a favour and read it if you haven’t already.? Personally, I don’t really think the Pacers are too white, I think that the Pacers are poorly managed, but that nobody wants to really admit it because it’s “Larry Legend” in charge in his home state.?? Do I think the Pacers are trying to choose players who more represent their home city’s demographic profile?? Yes…and I don’t really think anything is wrong with that…if you can win.

So I got to thinking, with so many different African-American players not wanting to stay in Toronto (or even come here), citing reasons such as the cold, the tax, the country, etc., why doesn’t Toronto effectively become Europe’s first NBA team…that just happens to be playing out of Canada?? Hedo said that the key to coming to Toronto (and don’t tell me it was because of the extra $3 mil, because over the life of the contract, that’s nothing) was the Turkish culture here and the cosmopolitan nature of the city.?? Why don’t the Raptors play that up as much as possible and make the Raptors into an international team?? We have seen that the “international game” can succeed on the world level (although this year’s Olympics saw a dominating performance by the Americans), so while the international game is different from the NBA, I don’t think it is irrational to see success carry over for the Raptors if they were to go this route.

Word is that Rasho might be coming back to the Raptors (and man, that would be a great signing if it gets done) and he has been quoted as saying, “To come back would be great, I’d love to.? Toronto is always and will always be my favourite city.”? You don’t typically get that kind of endorsement of?Toronto from any athlete outside of hockey, so if there is a trend that is being spotted in basketball here, why shouldn’t the Raptors get all over it?

We talk so much these days about how sports is a business, just like any other and that teams are in the business of making money.? Entertaining fans and winning championships is something that helps to drive the bottom line, but another key factor that has to be looked at, just like it is in any other business is the target market.? Toronto is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities.? Half of Toronto’s population was born outside of the city, but let’s not forget that the Raptors not only have Toronto to draw from, but the rest of the GTA, making ethnic diversity one of their assets.?? Right now, the Raptors have been covering the European players, but if they are able to find a gem of a player who is of Asian decent, look out.? Let’s remember, there was a lot of hype when Mengke Bateer was a Raptor for a cup of coffee and he sucked.?? If you’re the Raptors brass and you have a chance to take a promising kid in the draft out of the Chinese national team, wouldn’t you jump at the opportunity to capitalize on what has shown to be a demographic with an appetite for basketball?

People seem to get really touchy around this topic and of course, you can see why.? Nobody wants to be accused of being racist, so things tend to get heated when people start talking about where guys are from.? But I’m black and the way I see this is if the Raptors can put together a winning team that is comprised of mostly international players, then it seems to only make sense not only in a quest for an NBA championship, but also in order to grow the game (and therefore the business) in Toronto and its surrounding area.? Even when they aren’t winning, the Raptors do well in attendance, but if they were able to do some more targeting that also translated into wins, the ACC would be rammed every night and there would probably also be more television interest and merchandise sales, which leads to added revenue.

Maybe change the name from Toronto Raptors to Inter Toronto?? Ah…maybe not.

Raptors 2009 Offseason: Bargs Matey!

So when the news came through the other day that the Raptors were had sealed things with Bargs for another 5 years, I have to admit, I was pretty happy with the signing. There seem to be a lot of people who aren’t so sure about it or are even flat out against it, but there are a few reasons I think it was a good move for the Raptors.

This might not be on many people’s lists of why they think it was a good signing, but I just like the mental makeup of Bargs. Here’s why: He had a great rookie season. He didn’t have a chance at winning the ROY, but it was a strong campaign and it provided the organization with a lot of hope. His second season was extremely disappointing. He was inconsistent, inefficient and at times looked completely lost at both ends of the court. It wasn’t a complete crash of a sophomore slump, but it certainly wasn’t anything to celebrate. But here’s the key. He got tough, worked on his game and even though he had a slow start to last season, he stuck with things and finished strong. We started seeing parts of his game that hadn’t really shown themselves at all before, such as his ability to play D.

Speaking of D, I think this is an area where we will see continued improvement from Bargs. Okay, one might say that with his lack of defensive ability, there is only room for improvement, but let’s keep in mind that he did lead the team in blocks per game last season and we didn’t see his head on a swivel as much as we did in his first two seasons. We also saw him standing up and taking charges when he needed to, something that we almost never saw him doing in his first two seasons.

Bargs showed that he will not always settle for his jumper. Last season, he showed great improvement on putting the ball on the floor and heading to the basket. True, sometimes he telegraphed things and ended up with some completely obvious charges, but at least he was making the effort to get people to respect different parts of his game. With more confidence, we will continue to see his game grow outside of his jump shot.

Having Hedo around is only going to help Bargs develop. Hedo has the ability to light things up from outside, but he does attack the basket and is surprisingly effective when he does. He isn’t really fast, but he manages to use his body well, getting himself in good position to put in some layups or at least get to the line. If Bargs can take a few notes, he should be able to learn from Hedo and use his superior athletic ability (yes, I do think Bargs is a better athlete than Hedo) to create a few more points for himself.

Anyway, I like the signing and am happy to see that Bargs is going to be hanging around for a while.

Raptors 2009 Offseason: Turko-GLUE

I’ve been away for a long time. Do I need to explain why? No. So on with the post.

Anyway, looks like everything with Hedo is done and he will be on his way to Toronto this season, providing the Raptors with some scoring from the forward position. As I mentioned many times whenever the Raptors had to face the Magic last season, Hedo is one of those guys who can heat it up in a hurry and when he has one of those nights, well, then look out.

I don’t know if I have ever seen a player who has had so many people either completely for or completely against his signing in Toronto. There doesn’t seem to be any grey area on this one for most Raptors fans. Either they like the signing or they hate it. Well, that’s what I’m here for. I am going to be the grey area. Yes, I am coming out to say, I’m not so sure about this one.

After what was a disaster of a season, there were a couple of things that I figured the Raptors were going to need to get: 1) somebody who was focused solely on rebounding; and 2) another quality guard. I figured the toughness part would be addressed with the signing of somebody who could rebound, so I didn’t use that as a third point.

So the Raptors got Reggie Evans, which I liked. The dude is tough and I think he is going to throw a few elbows around, something that the Raptors need more of. He’s also going to pull down some rebounds and not get all excited and start thinking he is going to fill the basket every night, so that helps.

Nothing effective has been done to address the lack of depth at the guard spot (let’s not consider the draft at the moment) and that’s where…hold on…lack…of…depth…THAT’S IT! That’s where I was going with this post. Lack of depth. You see, I don’t mind the signing of Hedo, I think he is going to be the glue (see that? Glue? I know, I know, you don’t pronounce the “g” in Turkoglu, but tell me there isn’t a marketing opportunity there) in what should be a pretty decent starting
three. The problem is, after either Bosh, Bargs or Glue come out for a rest, take a look down that bench. It ain’t pretty. That bench is looking thinner than an Olsen twin on a safari.

With all of the problems the Raptors had last season, wasn’t depth one of them? This is where I get all grey with the signing. Was it better for the Raptors to drop some big time money on Glue which required renouncing the rights to Marion, Delfino and AP or should they have scaled down a bit and gone the “more depth” route? With Bosh and his injury woes last season and Bargs with his foot problems, I’m a little nervous looking down that bench.

The other thing that gets me a little nervous about this signing is that I have a bad feeling there are going to be a lot of nights where the Raptors fall into one of those outside shooting routines that has so often killed them. Does Bargs need a guy who is going to lead by example via shooting? Does Bosh? Okay, Hedo is a little more selective about his shots, but if he has to bang inside or let one go, he’s going to shoot it like a junkie. If the Raptors get into one of those ruts, who is going to lead them out of it?

Anyway, welcome to Toronto Hedo. We overpaid for you, but I don’t care. See you at the Toronto Turkish Festival. You’d better be there…and you’re buying the Lokum.

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