Archive for October, 2009

Putting the Pieces Together

Well, clear Bay street and get the route ready, the Raptors knocked off the Cavs and I guess we should get ready for the parade. Sorry, but if you hear the way Raptors fans and media types were talking, you would think that by knocking off the Cavs (who had played the night before) was reason enough to think that the Raptors are ready to dominate. I’m not saying that they aren’t improved, but let’s take it easy…remember how last year’s team started?

Instead of focusing on the Raptors off the start, I have to focus on Shaq, because he’s the guy who keeps sticking out in my mind. Shaq looked absolutely miserable out there. I don’t know if he is going to be able to sit for long stretches like that and still be effective, because sometimes once you get a big body like that cooled down, there’s no starting things back up. When Chris Bosh (even with the added muscle) actually looks like he is pushing you away from the basket, you have some serious issues going on. Maybe it was too much time spent on the reality TV stuff or focusing on anything else he stole over the summer, but Shaq looked old and slow. Maybe he was carrying the playbook with him on the court since he still doesn’t know it.

I am going to wait for fans to turn on Jack. Seriously. I like Jack’s game and as most readers here know, I like a guy who looks to push the ball up court and make guys run, but I am waiting for when he has a couple of rough games and then people are going to start bringing up TJ’s name again. It’s inevitable, especially considering they were just playing together. There were a few times Jack looked out of control, but overall, he had a really effective game.

There was a big deal made about getting the “real” NBA refs back before the season started and since they are back, I guess all of the stars are happy. A while back, I talked about how the stars just wanted the refs back so they could get their preferential treatment and anybody who saw some of the calls with regard to LeBron now knows exactly what I was talking about. Whether it was phantom fouls against him or letting him take four steps without a dribble, at times it was almost comedic. I know, supposedly being an NBA ref is the toughest job in sports, but come on, let’s not make the love for the stars in this league that obvious…especially in the other team’s barn.

Alright, that’s all. A very entertaining game, I look forward to seeing more like that this season…just as long as we don’t have to watch them blow more leads…

The Fun is Back


Hoooowah! That was just fun.

Yes it was only one game. Yes I’ve seen season openers where Lorne Woods looked like a star, and Jelani McCoy looked like a beast. Yes last season they started nicely and look what that lead to. But this felt different than all that. This game was not just about some nice surprises. This game was about every last player showing their intent to come together and do what they need to do.

All the big question marks were answered. Could DeRozan contribute on both ends? He had a very nice nose for the boards, brought some great energy, and blocked Shaq under the basket - not a bad start. He did have a weaker second half than first, being a fairly big part of the lead being eroded, with mistakes in his perimeter coverage. But that also came at just the wrong moment when there was some fatigue showing, some bad shots taken by everyone on the floor, and some bad calls made by the refs. I can’t really make him into a goat for a few mistakes there. The biggest thing for me was that he looked unfazed and unintimidated in his first outing. He just might have the star qualities that Colangelo sees in him. I’m not saying he’ll be the Rookie of the Year, but he looks like one of those guys who can make an impact on a good team (something which should actually get more play when it comes to the Rookie award).

Could they defend as well as they talked? So far so good. I particularly enjoyed what Jose and Belinelli were able to do. Compare those two to last season’s version of Calderon, and Kapono, and that all just looks like a fading bad memory right now. Beli moved his feet very well, and did not look at all like a weak link while guarding Lebron and AP. Jose put out the energy to defend nicely and still had enough left over to run an offense at a pace much faster than a snail. That’s my guy that I fell in love with a long time ago. I hope that one stays around. This is the guy that deserves all three names. Jose. Manuel. Calderon. And if he gets his stroke back, I’ll give him the fourth name too. C’mon Jose - I know you’ve got another name in there. I liked how he forced Mo Williams smack into a waiting Wright for the charge call. I loved how he applied more pressure defending than he was effected by when he had the ball. And he got to the line just like I wished he would. He showed me a lot in one game.

Could they be in synch in the early part of the schedule? They looked pretty good. There was a lot of nice motion and ball movement and they all looked like they knew what they were doing. And when they didn’t - guys like Bosh and Hedo were communicating well and making sure the spacing was there on offense. Bosh and Hedo themselves still look like they need to get into better game shape. That was another big part of the problems in the third quarter. But the team as a whole looked like they were in control through most of the game. The focus and concentration, outside of the collective lull when they had that big lead, was there with everyone. Bill Russell always talked a lot about concentration, and you can see where that ingredient can really be what makes the difference for this team. There is a good natural fit to all the pieces, and with the right focus, they will allow that to shine through. There is always going to be the threat of teams getting hot beyond the arc, but that is the case with a whole lot of good teams. And the same principles that allow for some of that hot shooting from the outside, do much to rectify the issue with rebounding. Shooters were still run off the line pretty decently, and the overall emphasis on stopping the ball at the point of attack worked well. Cleveland did not give them much of a test as far as transition defense goes, so we’ll still have to hope for the best there.

What makes this start different from other past starts, is the way they went about answering all those questions that were out there. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the RF forum, you might find my prediction of the Raps finishing in third. I looked at how this team was put together and thought they could either go very far, or or simply not be able to meet the challenge. The three returning core guys were either going to do or die this time around, and I thought they had enough character to simply do. And I am one that firmly believes that adding a vet like Hedo Turkoglu reaps far more benefits than the oft quoted poor shooting stats, the suggestions of poor defense, and the projected decline in performance. Jarrett Jack doesn’t hurt a bit in that regard either. And there was Rasho last night, when Bargnani had to sit with 5 fouls and momentum seemed to be shifting the Cavs’ way - stopping Shaq and then heading the other way to clean up a miss from the rookie. Composure, along with the concentration will go far. So unless they suddenly forget about what they need to do, they are not going to beat themselves, as they have been apt to do in past seasons at the very least.

Now, being a little less foolish than usual, and completely realistic, I’d think that they should be as good as a 3rd seed by the end of the schedule, even if the record doesn’t reflect that. I’d expect to see a team that could be thought of as a top three team going into next season, without a stretch of any kind of imagination. But don’t exclude the possibilty of foolishness becoming reality. If they cross some kind of threshold at some point in the season, they could just as well, with a few breaks, cross that threshold sooner rather than later. That’s the way I need to look at things in order to hold onto an interest in this team at a level that is in itself foolish.

The other aspect of my prediction involved one of the “big three” teams in the east faltering. There is already a hint that Cleveland might allow that to play out for me. They’ve got one guy losing control of his personal life, and another guy shaving the superman logo into the side of his head, as if being called Boobie wasn’t enough for him. They’ve got a guy like Ilgauskas needing to adapt to coming off the bench after being a pretty good leader there. And there’s the whole question of whether Shaq and Lebron are a good fit. So they’ve got too much thrown into the lap of a Parker that would be best suited coming off the bench right now, too many expectations for a guy like Jamario Moon, and problems with the overall team identity due to the addition of an O’Neal that is not what he used to be, all conspiring to make the efforts of their star player not amount to W’s. Does that sound a little like a failing team we are all to familiar with from last season? Of course the comparison only goes so far, and these guys are going to win some games, but it’s not that hard seeing them drop out of the top half of the seedings.

You know what. With all that said - why don’t we just call it a season? No?

Wishes into Swishes?


As a fan I find this time of the year all about making some wishes. That’s right, I’m going to try to wish away all the scary questions and prognostications. I mean at the very least, all the activity in the off-season has allowed for some wishing. That’s something I didn’t necessarily expect mere months ago. So I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity while it exists.

So please join with me now. Jambi is waiting. Say it with me - “mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho“.

Jambi - give me more free throw attempts for Jose Manuel Calderon. He has to find a way to get to the line. If that means he has to look for his own shot more then so be it, especially if defenders are playing off of him and giving him the shot. He is the guy at the point of attack and he needs to attack to make everything work for everyone else. If he can double his attempts at the stripe, then it is going to put pressure on opposing teams to come up with a defensive game plan that fully takes him into account as a scorer, and that is going to make it harder for them to figure out what to do with the other guys that he loves to pass to. Ultimately it will make him a better distributor, and put the pressure on the refs to blow their whistle in crunch time. Let it be Jambi! Make it happen!

I can’t stop there. Ready folks? “Mecca-lecca hi, mecca chonny ho.”

Jambi - please grant Jay Triano the best abilities of the coaches he has assisted here in Toronto. We have yet to see this guy have his full impact on a team Jambi. Make it an impact with a lasting positive effect. Please give him some tools in his tool belt, acquired over his period of apprenticeship under three other guys.

Give him the frank earnestness and demanding presence of Sam, give him KO’s attention to detail on defense, and please let him demonstrate Lenny’s knack for bringing teams along throughout the season and peaking when it matters most.

That last bit is a doozy Jambi. Lenny took some fairly mediocre teams farther than expected throughout his career. This particular team could use that like crazy. They just aren’t going to be able to come together as a collective whole right away, but if they can do so by the time the games in April dwindle down to a precious few, then all the barbs of the early schedule will be worth the stress they invoke. It will allow Jay to carry on further, and give the franchise the chance to further stabilize.

Time for one more, or ten Jambi?
A-mola mecca-molla mecca-cholla mola hey.”

Give us some real surprises. Let’s hear some talk about how our zero acquired from Golden State is taking off a little bit like another shooter that began his career there with that same number. Making for another Agent Zero might be a bit too large of a wish for even your powers Jambi. But how about Operativo Nisba? Make my wishes turn to swishes on a regular basis and I will be nicely surprised.

If not that then maybe show us how Jarret Jack’s importance is far greater than what we have at face value now. Let Reggie Evans seize hold of the game’s momentum every night. Allow Demar DeRozan to fit in on both ends right away. Make Hedo’s experience rub off enough to make a guy like Bargnani an All-Star hopeful. And let me wish upon a Bosh that has shone like no other Bosh from previous seasons.

Don’t disappoint me Jambi. Oh I know - whatever. The wishes you grant always have unintended consequences. I’ll wait for it all to work out in reality, one way or another, and come up with some wishes along the way. I could try to act smart and point out all the obstacles that can’t be overcome without magic numbers, but I’ll put my trust in the genie for now and enjoy just being a fan with a bit of wonder swirling in my brain at the dawn of another season.

Long Live Jambi.

Thriller’s Around the NBA Daily - 09/10 EC Preview

*The follow season preview is courtesy of one of the original RaptorsForum members thriller92.*

I’m going to do this edition like I did 2 years ago because I havent been this excited for an NBA season since my favorite player, KG, finally got some help in Minnesota some 5 yrs ago.

The team previews will be short and sweet but will give some insight on what the teams did in the offseason, and where they should be going this year. In my second post I’ll also preview day 1 of the 2009/2010 NBA season. Hope you enjoy. So without further ado, here is the Southeast Division in the

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

Southeast Division

ATLANTA HAWKS

Starters: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Rotation Players: Jamal Crawford, Mo Evans, Joe Smith, Zaza Pachuilia

Key Additions - Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, Joe Smith

OUTLOOK: The Hawks are coming off a successful 08/09 season by making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. They are coming back with essentially the same team, hoping that internal improvement can carry them into the 2nd round and beyond again this year. They have added a solid prospect in Teague, and a wildcard in Crawford. Crawford has still yet to make the playoffs in his NBA career, but it should be his first trip there this year. He should be a better fit then Flip Murray was due to the fact that he can shoot from Range and create a bit more off the dribble, but the downside like always with Jamal is he is the worst defender in the NBA and often takes questionable shots.

If Mike Woodson can get him in a mindset where if he doesnt play hard on D and doesnt take good shots then Teague will steal his minutes, then he’ll have something very good on his hands because Crawford is an explosive player. I dont think Crawford can really hurt this team as they really needed scoring off the bench and he will provide that.

SEEDING: 4TH IN EAST

ORLANDO MAGIC

Starters: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard
Rotation players: Anthony Johnson, Mickael Pietrus, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat

Key Additions - Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson

OUTLOOK: The Magic arguably made the best offseason moves to shore up their roster in the NBA. They added an upgrade on the offensive side of the ball with their primary ballhandler in the offence now being Vince Carter who can create his own shot and create for others better than Turkoglu, and they’ve added toughness and depth with their additions of Bass and Barnes. From what Ive heard they will start Bass on certain nights vs the bigger teams like the Lakers, but vs most teams they will start their unconventional lineup with Lewis at the 4 to really give opposing teams an impossible task of guarding this team.

When you look at this team as a whole, they may be the deepest team in the NBA from 1-12 with a guy like Ryan Anderson likely not even being in the mix and a guy like Gortat who will likely only be playing 10-15 mpg. The re signing of Gortat was likely to have him as a trading chip later on, I see him being moved at the deadline for a Battier type SF to round out their starting 5 come the trade deadline.

The Magic have a big FOUR with Nelson, VC, Shard and Dwight, and really, Dwight has no excuse not to win it all this year with the supporting cast that they have. If hes improved his post game theyre going to be even tougher to stop than last year.

SEEDING:1ST IN EAST

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

Starters: Raymond Felton, Raja Bell, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler
Rotation players: DJ Augustin, Ronald Murray, Vladimir Radmanovic, Desagana Diop

Key Additions - Ronald Murray, Gerald Henderson, Tyson Chandler

OUTLOOK: The Bobcats are coming off of a lackluster season, and have looked to have improved in the offseason with the addition of Chandler. Although hes not as good as Okafor in my opinion, he provides them with more length along the frontline and I think theyll be better defensively with a taller lineup. DJ Augustin is likely to take the starting reigns from Felton before this season ends, as I expect Felton to either be dealt come the trade deadline or moved in the offseason as I think people will come to find out DJ is a starting caliber PG in the NBA.

The main problem with the Bobcats is they have no go to guy, as most teams have at least 1 guy and that hurts them in late game situations and when theyre in scoring droughts which happens often. They have a lot of good complimentary guys but no one that teams gameplan their defences against, and that again will keep them out of the playoffs this year unless Augustin has a HUGE 2nd year which still may not be enough.

SEEDING: 10TH IN EAST

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Starters: Gilbert Arenas, Mike Miller, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood
Rotation players: Randy Foye, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee.

Key Additions - Mike Miller, Randy Foye

OUTLOOK: The Washington Wizards improved their balance and bench by adding Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Miller is one of the better role players and shooters in the NBA and should fit in their starting lineup beautifully, and Foye is in his ideal role as a scorer off the bench.

But all of that doesnt matter if the Wizards dont stay healthy. If Gilbert Arenas doesnt play 70+ games this team is going nowhere again. Reports indicate hes back to full health, and if he is back in his 2005 form they could be a really tough team to beat come playoff time with their superb depth, and scoring punch. Theyre easily the most dangerous team in the East come playoff time, if healthy, outside of the big 3.

SEEDING: 5th in East

MIAMI HEAT

Starters:Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem, Jermaine O’neal
Rotation players: Carlos Arroyo or Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook, Quintin Richardson, Joel Anthony

Key Additions - NONE

OUTLOOK: The Heat really didnt do anything in the offseason unless you count adding Quintin Richardson, who is a scrub now.

They’re relying on DWade to come up with another superhero performance, hoping he doesnt get hurt, and for Beasley to break out. Their bench could be the worst in basketball, but I think DWade is too good, and the East at the lower part of the standings isnt good enough to keep Miami out of the playoffs if Wade stays healthy.

SEEDING: 8th in EAST

Central Division:

CHICAGO BULLS

Starters: Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah
Rotation players: Kirk Hinrich, Jannero Pargo, James Johnson, Brad Miller

Key Additions - Jannero Pargo, James Johnson

OUTLOOK: The Bulls are coming off of a solid season where they nearly edged out the Boston Celtics to get into the 2nd round. Derrick Rose showed that he has the potential to become the best PG in the NBA in the playoffs, and you can expect him to be in the running for most improved player with more of the offensive load on hi shoulders with Gordon now in Detroit. Joakim Noah has also made huge strides in becoming one of the better young centers in the league.

The main question with Chicago is whether theyll have enough scoring around Rose, and if they can improve their defence to become more respectable on that side of the ball. I think once Chicago gets a bigman who can score with Rose the Bulls will really take off, but at this point I see them stuck around the bottom of the playoff seedings again to lose to one of the top seeds in a quicker first round series.

SEEDING: 7th IN EAST

DETROIT PISTONS

Starters: Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Chris Wilcox, Kwame Brown
Rotation players: Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace

Key Additions - Chris Wilcox, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva

OUTLOOK: Detroit is a really disjointed team and their new coach admittedly doesnt have a set starting 5 right now. Either way they have no balance in the back or frontcourt. They have 2 guys off the bench who like to score a lot and need minutes to do so, but their starters need the minutes as well. I think the Rip/BG thing will blow up in Dumars face and he’ll have to move Rip very very soon. Their frontcourt is not good at all, as you either put in defence, or you put in straight offence. Theres no real combo that works there.

I just dont like the makeup of their team, and I have no idea what Dumars was thinking getting a 20+ PPG guy at a position he was already set at unless he IS planning for a big move. Its going to cause a lot of problems because IMO they cant even really play together either. Detroits fans arent in for a fun time this season.

SEEDING: 11th IN EAST

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Starters: Maurice Williams, Anthony Parker, Lebron James, Anderson Varajao, Shaquille Oneal
Rotation players: Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Key Additions - Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Shaquille Oneal, Leon Powe

OUTLOOK: The Cavaliers on paper definately upgraded, but the season really comes down to how Shaq fits in with the team. They want him to be up top a lot of the time setting screens and I really dont think that is going to work in the long haul. Theyre lucky they have the luxury of Z as his backup because Shaq is bound to miss his usual 10-20 games.

Come playoff time, once they play ORL or BOS I cant see them winning vs either because Moon isnt a good enough swing guy to play meaningful minutes and Shaq isnt good enough anymore to dominate games. The lane will be clogged with him and Varajao down there and they will have a tough time scoring vs a smart defence. Unless they go out and get a Troy murphy or a stretch 4 as some people like to call it, I cant see this season ending in a title for the Cavs. Even if they did somehow get out of the East they have a ton of matchup problems vs the Spurs and the Lakers.

SEEDING: 3rd IN EAST

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Starters: Brandon Jennings, Michael Redd, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah A Moute, Andrew Bogut
Rotation players: Luke Ridnour, Charlie Bell, Hakim Warrick, Dan Gadzuric

Key Additions - Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino, Hakim Warrick

OUTLOOK: Bucks fans should buy NBA League Pass to avoid the horror that is ahead. Redd is one of the most loyal players in the league staying in Milwaukee, but you have to wonder how long he can take what is going to be a terrible season for this team before you start hearing that he wants out. Jennings is obviously the player to watch on this team, but there isnt much else to see here besides their fans talking lotto in early November.

SEEDING: 15th IN EAST

INDIANA PACERS

Starters: TJ Ford, Brandon Rush, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, Roy Hibbert
Rotation players: Earl Watson, Dahntay Jones, Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Foster

Key Additions - Earl Watson, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones

OUTLOOK: I didnt have a clue in the world what Bird was doing this offseason until 2 days ago when I read the headline: “Bird likely to resign from position next offseason”. Hes pulling an Isiah! Building an awful team and then leaving the franchise in a mess for the next GM to clean up. They rival Miami for the worst bench in the NBA. There is potentially some bright spots for this team with Rush Granger and Hibbert, but realistically this team is awful and their only chance of winning ballgames is hitting a bunch of 3s. Theyre a more well rounded Knicks team.

SEEDING: 12th IN EAST

Atlantic Division:

BOSTON CELTICS

Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Rotation players: Eddie House, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace

Key Additions - Marquis Daniels, Rasheed Wallace

OUTLOOK: The green machine is back and better then ever. KG looks great and Marquis has fit in like a glove. Sheed has looked a bit slow in pre season but he doesnt look all that interested as of yet so its hard to judge on that front. I think the battle for the East comes down to ORL and them, and if healthy I have no doubt in my mind Boston is going to win it all. Theyve improved their bench bigtime adding Quis who can handle the ball so House doesnt have to, and that will also cut down PP and RA’s minutes during the regular season, and the Celtics probably have the best backup bigmen situation in the NBA with Davis and Sheed. The only way ORL beats them is if, again, Dwight has improved his offensive game a ton, because as it stands right now, BOS only has to play him with single coverage which in turn hurts ORLs outside game which is what they thrive on, since theyll have no open looks from Dwights presence with Perkins showing he can handle him the last 2 seasons and Sheed in previous seasons as well.

SEEDING: 2nd IN EAST

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Starters: Louis Williams, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert
Rotation players: Willie Green, Jason Kapono, Marreese Speights, Jason Smith

Key Additions - Jason Kapono

OUTLOOK: They lost their floor leader and fast break starter in Andre Miller and have replaced him with their lightning quick young PG Williams who likes to score on his own. I really dont like their floor balance as they have a hard enough time already scoring in the halfcourt, its going to be even tough if Williams is running his own number a lot more of the time than Miller did. They have no consistant shooting in the starting lineup so again that will hurt Brands opportunities in the low post as teams can easily sag on him. Their bench is pretty weak especially at the wing with 2 shooter types in Green and Kapono, though Speights looks for a breakout year in the frontcourt.

Overall I just dont like the direction this team is going. They seem to not want to make a decision on whether to keep Iggy or Young which WILL be the ultimate decision for this team going forward because of the lack of shooting and both of them essentially playing the same way and same position. Them losing a lot of their fastbreak game combined with the disjointed lineup and weak bench I dont like their chances in making the playoffs, and if they do, its 1 and out again.

SEEDING: 9TH SEED IN EAST

NEW YORK KNICKS

Starters: Chris Duhon, Wilson Chandler, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, David Lee
Rotation players: Nate Robinson, Danilo Gallinari, Darko Milicic

Key Additions - Jordan Hill

OUTLOOK: The worst team to watch in the NBA. They put basketball, and Dantoni ball, to shame with their selfish and wreckless style of play of jacking up contested shots off of one or two passes when theyre not even close to being open. Another season of boos will come down at the garden, and the Knick fans deserve better. Theyre all waiting until next offseason anyway where they probably wont end up getting anyone and their team will be in purgatory forever.

SEEDING: 13TH IN EAST

TORONTO RAPTORS

Starters: Jose Calderon, Demar Derozan, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani
Rotation players: Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright, Amir Johnson

Key Additions - Everyone I just named besides Jose Chris and Andrea

OUTLOOK: Probably the hardest team in the league to predict since they only brought back 3 rotation players from last season. Hedo should bring what Jose cant to this offence, an aggressive penetrating style off of the pick and roll, which is most of our offence. Hedo should create a ton of opportunities for others and Bosh should get a few extra gimmies with him on the floor.

But our season will be won and lost at the defensive end, particularly with our help defence. Will Bosh and Andrea step up and use their height and length in the frontcourt, or will it be another season of watching a layup line for opposing guards and bigmen? Can Triano create a defensive system where players actually look like they know where the hell theyre supposed to rotate to cut off open opportunities? Or will we all be frustrated again in the 15th season of a franchise which has esssentially accomplished nothing? Its time for Bosh, Andrea, and Triano to step up on defence, because offence wont be a problem.

SEEDING: 6TH IN EAST

NEW JERSEY NETS

Starters: Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Bobby Simmons, Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez
Rotation players: Rafer Alston, Chris Douglas Roberts, Terrence Williams, Josh Boone

Key Additions - Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams

OUTLOOK: A young up and coming team with some good pieces to build around. Lee and Lopez’ numbers are likely to go way up with more touches and minutes, but this team as a whole isnt very good. Besides their young players, the only other thing to look out for is the Rafer Alston situation as it appears he wants out and they have a better backup PG behind him right now in Dooling. Rafer is likely to be traded before the deadline, but besides those two things, not much else to see here besides empty seats.

SEEDING: 14th IN EAST

Helping POB & The Raptors Foundation

People out there that use Twitter, if you haven’t “followed” Patrick O’Bryant yet, do so now for a great cause. Scott the owner of Altraps Blog and POB are using Twitter for great cause in the Raptors Foundation.

If POB gets 2500 followers by Oct. 31st Altraps will donate $500 of his own dollars to the Raptors Foundation. POB originally agreed to matching it making it a total of $1000. But since then because of the overwhelming response, POB has since decided to retract that initial $500 donation and will now match the entire donations which at 2pm eastern time is currently at $3525. Doesn’t seem like much to some, but this will definitely help various charities in the Toronto area which the Raptors Foundation help support.

Kudos to Altraps and POB for doing this and all the other great Raptors fans out there who are opening their wallets to help this great cause.

So, its pretty simple. All you have to do is go to Pat’s Twitter page (http://twitter.com/13POB13) and click the “Follow” tab and do your part towards a rewarding cause.

Follow POB for a good cause

The Waste Land of Pre-season Basketball


October is a cruel month. There’s still a little over a week before we actually get to see our team playing some basketball. Too many dreary days with nothing to get a hold of as to what this team is going to be like. One thing that does jump out at me is bad starts, and I’m not sure a backcourt with a rook and Jose Manuel Calderon will ever produce anything different. I understand the need to make Demar’s learning curve fairly steep. If they can have him making solid contributions by the end of the season, then starting him now will be worthwhile. But does that mean Jack should start? Jose could still finish. Have they even given it any thought? Probably not. Here’s hoping that Bosh will yet contribute more defensively, and that with Jose working as hard as he can for the first eight minutes, knowing that he’s got Jack there to allow him to rest, will tilt the balance in their favor.

OK. That seems very hopeful already. I don’t want to be hopeful. I want to have a good sense of how this team is going to approach things. October - it’s a cruel, cruel month. And nothing made me feel the damp draft of the autumn wind more than seeing this team up ten against the Celtics, and then appear to decide that they could just win with offense. Please don’t show me that in November. It’s too easy of a fallback position for a team with offensive-minded players. And it’s poison. There’s Reggie Evans holding crutches on the bench, and nobody on the floor wants to make a ten point lead feel like a gap of twenty already. Once November comes around, we are going to need to see Triano intervening in a hurry, and the leaders on this team making some noise even sooner than that. Evans will need to crack some heads with those crutches. And we have to be hopeful again, and think maybe he will be back and leaving his mark on the floor.

The preseason has shown glimpses of how this team can grab hold of some momentum, but with it being preseason, there hasn’t been much of a sense of how they might build on it yet. It is indeed cruel to see them only competing for short stretches (as will happen in pre-season games), with the memories of how that was the best that could be hoped for every night, still terribly fresh and burning as bright as a pumpkin moon. It is impossible to avoid smashing hopefulness against the curb and leaving it for the squirrels to feed on.

There is no way to not think the worst. I’m honestly trying not to think about what this team is going to show us in the weeks to come, until they actually show us what they’ve got when the time comes. It would be nice if they could all be at the same level with their conditioning, and if they all could be clear on how to make their strengths outweigh their weaknesses, and then just need to go out in a pre-season game and execute with a certain ease at three-quarters speed. But what really needs to be happening right now for this squad, and the thing that is so cruelly impossible to see with certainty right now, is nothing but hard work. They need to start falling in love with the idea of working harder every day. They need to feel an enormous void within themselves on days off. They need to be overheard quoting lines from T.S. Elliot over the All-Star break. It’s all got to be about the work, instead of relying on talent. And then by next October, they will already know enough to make it all seem easy.

That’s where they need to get to. That was never going to be the starting point. There are questions they need to answer by October 28: are they clear on the need for the hard work before they see the results, and will they still see the need for hard work even after seeing results? The answer will determine whether they are within reach of the upper tier teams, or are going to rely on beating the bottom-feeders and catching enough breaks to gain a low-end playoff seeding. So I’ll let the wind blow in my ears for the next little while and wait and see.

Hey Ref! What’s this “travelling” call you speak of?

So it looks like this whole referee situation isn’t a top priority to get fixed as David Stern has dug his heels in and is standing firm with the replacement referees. The funny thing is that there is a lot of support for the regular referees from the players…I wonder why?

Let’s not for a second pretend that the players are concerned about playing better basketball, having a better flow to the game, etc. What the players are concerned about is having the game refereed like it is supposed to be. When LeBron does his crab walk or whatever the hell he calls it, he might actually get called for travelling. When Shaq gets the ball and just starts reversing over some poor dude trying to play D on him, he might just get called for an offensive foul. The players (especially the star players) want to get their preferential treatment and they think they may not if they are dealing with replacement refs.

There is also the argument the other way, that you might actually see a few more things that are either missed or just let go simply because of a lack of expertise, but also because of replacement refs being intimidated by star players, star coaches or even the crowd. There is some merit in this, but I am guessing that you will probably see more calls made against players as the refs want to make sure that they look like they are in control of the game. They don’t want to look like they are in over their heads, so they are going to go with the old “I calls’em as I sees’em” mentality.

What I love right now is how players are coaches are being fined for criticizing replacement officials in the preseason. If there was ever a calculated move by players and coaches alike, it has been the criticism of replacement refs in the preseason. They figure that if they make enough noise about the situation now, that if they make it look like the refereeing is really bad, it will put more pressure on David Stern. But here’s the thing: the longer this plays out, the better it is for David Stern, because the more experience the refs are going to get calling these games and they are going to get more familiar with the players. Pretty soon, they won’t be replacement refs, they will just be refs.

Basketball is one of those sports where there are so many questionable calls made every game anyway, that I don’t think the majority of fans are going to notice that much of a difference. There have been plenty of games where I have been completely confused while watching a game, wondering why a ref blew the whistle or sometimes why he did not. I don’t think that is really going to change with the replacement refs. There will still be enough to complain about and I suppose there may be a game here or there where the Raptors will collapse and the refs will provide us with enough of an excuse to try to work a way out for the Raptors sloppy play. It’ll be just like old times.

First Impressions


Finally some basketball games to take in. Well, maybe not really. So far we’ve only seen an extension of training camp. They’ve been putting in full workouts before a lot of these matchups, and they haven’t treated them as games as much as conditioning exercises. There’s a good reason to not even watch these things, if you can’t keep yourself from making a lot of first impressions that are going to stick in your head. We haven’t seen anything close to a starting lineup or a group that will finish games. Poor play from one guy, or excellent play from another, just mean so little up to this point. What we see now from a guy like Sonny Weems for instance, and what we will see in the dead of winter could be as different as Sonny Corleone and Sonny Bono.

Aside from the sunny side of Sonny’s energy, there’s certainly been some terrible play on display from what appears to be some guys looking very tired. If that is due to just how much hard work we’ve heard them talk about, then it’s actually nice to see. Weems was interviewed on Raptors TV last week, and made a comment about how different Jay did things compared to how they were done in Denver’s camp last season. It was an awkward moment that I wish would have been followed up on to clarify just what he meant. It would be wonderful if he was expressing a little dismay over just how much work they were expected to do here. Already there has been some improvement in how some key components are performing as they work through the lactic acid buildup, and it’s only going to allow them to gain an edge over other teams, if the conditioning is indeed a big priority.

That has left me with only a couple of impressions that I can have a little bit of trust in. First, there are a few guys on this squad with some nice non-stop motors. Here I must again mention Sonny Weems, along with Amir Johnston, and Reggie Evans, all who do not show many signs of slowing down, and they’ve all seen a good share of minutes. I’m hoping to see these guys playing big roles in a few games when the schedule gets harsh and the season starts to become a slog. Again - the energy will provide the kind of edge they are going to need.

Secondly, the early offense is likely going to look better than the half-court sets as the season begins. That seemed to be the pattern in the closest thing to a real game so far, against the Wizards on Sunday. Maybe that changes as the starting lineup takes shape, along with something of a regular rotation, and we finally get to see Hedo’s playmaking abilities. But you have to think that they are going to really try to make use of a conditioning edge with some running and exploiting mismatches early in the clock, and work out the kinks in the halfcourt sets over time. It will definitely help to see Hedo taking aim in late-clock situations, since they’ve just had nothing to show in that regard.

May I add that the greatest importance for getting the conditioning to the highest level, is to be able to play all out on both ends of the court? Now that is where I hope to see them find something of an identity early, and only strengthen it as the season wears on. The signs have been promising so far, aside from a few problematic first impressions. As a team they are looking capable of covering for mistakes, and getting stops when necessary. And I’m seeing the ability to convert good defensive play into easy points. I’ve waited so long to see that. No more stopping and slowing down the pace while figuring out whether or not it’s going to be horns up again. A defense that brings rewards on the offensive end has a good chance to grow stronger and truly create that identity that is just a little seed of thought so far. They need to just go and try to make opposing teams pay, before settling into organized sets. It allows the ability to matchup against varying styles without sacrificing what they want to do game in and game out. It’s the stuff of teams that get to that next level. It’s the stuff of lasting impressions. Please let that little sprout take root.

MLSE and the Pre-Season Game Mess

Alright, just a caveat, I talk about this every year, so to those who have been around RF for a while, please excuse my redundance. As another NBA season is almost upon us, we are finally getting a chance to see the completely reshaped Raptors. I can’t remember the last time I ever saw a team undergo this kind of overhaul, so to say that I am excited about this season is an understatement.

The thing is, I am an NBA fan and a Raptors fan. I watch pretty much every game, usually attend a couple each year and obviously spend a lot of time reading and writing about them. I’m in, I’m hooked. But in hockey mad Toronto (and the GTA), MLSE is missing the opportunity to grow the Raptors brand through preseason games. The difference between the NBA preseason and almost any other preseason is that you are pretty much going to see the team that is going to play during the regular season. If you go out to a Raptors preseason game, you’re going to get to see Calderon, Bargs, Bosh, you’ll see the rookie DeRozan getting minutes and whenever the team has deemed that Hedo van Winkle has finally had enough rest, you’ll get to see him too. It’s a small roster, you will get to see guys play. So why doesn’t MLSE emphasize this in any advertising? Where is the hype? You just completely reshaped your team and you are now putting it on display…but nobody outside of your core group of fans knows about it. It’s the team’s 15th year in the league. Shouldn’t there be some excitement?

Outside of the problem of not marketing the team properly, MLSE is completely missing out on growing their brand by offering pre-season tickets at the same price as regular season tickets. This makes absolutely no sense to me. At last night’s game against the Wiz, there were (supposedly) 11,936 fans at the game. If you’re just working on a numbers basis and are talking about an arena half full at full pop or full and half price, then okay, it evens out, but to do so would be extremely short-sighted of what your final goal is. The Raptors should be focusing on long-term growth of the Raptors, specifically in the GTA. Long-term growth is where you will see real revenues increase if you have to break it down to numbers.

Wouldn’t MLSE have liked to see the ACC rammed last night, with many of those people first time viewers of a live Raptors game? Wouldn’t they have liked to have all of those people go home seeing a Raptors win with a rookie throwing down impressive dunks and the team scoring evenly across the board? Isn’t that the kind of thing you would like a new fan to experience in their first trip to the ACC for basketball? If you are trying to get more people to become Raptors fans, cut your pre-season ticket prices to make it that much more appealing to new fans. People might be willing to try your product if they know it isn’t going to require a second mortgage. They might think it was worth it to get a ticket at half price if they would get a good view of the game and who knows, they might fall in love with the Raptors.

I’m not saying that MLSE has to slash all of the tickets either. Why not just say that all of the tickets from the golds up (or even the reds up) are half price for all preseason games? Maybe even throw in a special concessions package with it, just to make it that much more appealing? Attend a pre-season game and maybe also take that ticket down to the gear shop where you can use it for 20% off team merchandise? Do you get what I’m getting at here? It’s about turning people into fans.

This is the time when you should be locking up fans for your 15th season. Realistically, you should already have had that plan underway a LONG time ago. When you come off a season where the team looked terrible on most nights and you are promising a new and improved package, wouldn’t you want to get that out to as many people as possible? Wouldn’t you want a bunch of young people (and basketball demographics do tend to skew younger) to think, “Hey, this is a pretty good preseason deal…guys, wanna go?” Come on MLSE, look past the ends of your noses.

It’s Way Too Early For Any of This, But…

I always hate when people try to make too much of a few games, especially in the preseason when it is quite possible that the last thing that matters is the score. Of course, now after having said that, you know that I am about to point out a few things after the first few Raptors preseason games. No analysis, just some likes, dislikes and things I am terrified of…

Okay, let’s get straight to the terror. I’m all for Chris Bosh putting on some extra muscle and working on taking the ball to the basket. It was good to see that against the Wolves, in a short amount of time he managed to score on drives. The thing that I am horribly worried about doesn’t really have anything to do with his game, it has to do with the added muscle. I’m just hoping that the Raptors training staff worked with him on some flexibility training, because when you put on extra muscled that quickly, it puts extra strain on tendons and ligaments and it is easier to aggravate something if you haven’t put in your time stretching. It’s not like Bosh turned into the man whose arms exploded, but putting on 15 pounds of muscle needs some yoga time worked in too. Fans can say what they want about Bosh, but if he is out of the lineup for any extended period of time this year, things are going to be tough.

Expect to hear two chants this year at the ACC. Son-ny! Son-ny! and more probably, Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Sonny Weems has shown some very surprising speed on the court and I have been pleasantly surprised by his decision making. He could be a valuable piece this year when I don’t think anybody really thought he was going to be as good as he has looked (um…so far…in 3 pre-season games). I think we are going to hear the real cheers from the crowd for Reggie Evans, if only because this dude is just going to flatten some guys out. He’s going to be the new JYD. Fans in Toronto will always prefer the guy who knocks people over and spends most of his time mopping the court with his body as he dives for loose balls ahead of a guy who throws down amazing dunks. I’m not really sure why this is (and please don’t talk about the “hard working town” thing, because Toronto isn’t blue-collar at all…and also don’t talk about this “hockey mentality”, because I’m so tired of people bringing hockey into basketball discussions), but I think Reggie is going to like it here. I’ve also had a chance to hear him in interviews a couple of times and the guy says some (unintentionally) funny things. Seems pretty laid back off the court, but there’s a lot of anger simmering inside Reggie when he’s on the court.

I also like what I am seeing from Jay and upper management as they take it easy with their players. Hedo is resting, Bosh is slowly working his way in, Calderon is now getting minutes. They’re being smart with their assets and that only works in their favour. No point in blowing out players now.

Dislikes? None really so far…but Quincy makes me nervous. To be honest, I’m not even sure if it is so much his game as it is how he looks and his mannerisms. The guy just looks shifty to me. Hate to say it, but I don’t know what it is about him.

Anyway, happy to see the Raptors back in action…

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