So last night, as the game begins against that Washington team, the punditry back in DC is getting all geared up as yet another example of the limits of power within the lovely white buildings built by slaves, is about to pass before the eyes of the citizenry. The forms of modern warfare, namely guerilla and nuclear, have turned upon those that could always turn to military pursuits to prove their pre-eminence. Guerilla tactics helped to bring the nation independence. Nuclear weapons allowed it to become a superpower. But it’s abundantly clear now that such forms of combat bring no winners. The pundits are simply bewildered. Victory has become an elusive word. Even Mission Accomplished has become forever tarnished. The way forward does not appear to be pre-ordained.
Which brings us back to the Raptors. This team keeps finding ways to lose right now. They need to find ways to win. Somehow. Anyhow. I liked the pace last night. It didn’t look like they were going to wear themselves out early and struggle for the rest of the week. They didn’t give up a ton of points in transition. Again - the pace helped with that. And there were moments when they took control on both ends of the court. I saw a team defensively responding to the Wizard’s offense as plays developed, instead of watching and reacting uselessly. There was actual containment and contesting. Not every possession, but there was some hope. It was the third quarter and they were actually stretching out a little bit of a lead. Jack, Belinelli, Johnson, Turkoglu and Bosh provided a unit that looked more than capable of taking this baby home if they had to. They started the fourth together, and suddenly we see a wild pass from Jack, Belinelli fumbling the ball all over the place, Belinelli again- making the cardinal error of saving the ball by sending it to the opposing team under the net. Poof. Time to regroup? Time to throw a little something different at them? Or maybe those opportunities passed. From there Jose joins Jack in the backcourt and Earl Boykins pressures him to the point of distraction, and the offense goes all to hell. Earl Boykins. Flip Saunders tried something a little different in using the little man, and found success. Bargnani comes onto the floor and after a strong game up to that point, begins to fall asleep on defense. Poof. Poof. Poof. No victory to proclaim. It seems like an old story, but the only part that stays the same is the coach not effecting much of anything.
Back in DC the guy in charge gets questioned about dithering, as if there was some missed moment in time where a lose/lose situation could have lead to the golden gates of eternity. And here there is no dithering. There’s actually no obvious need for any hard decisions for our man in charge, at least not in his great basketball mind. Not that any decisions involving a game could compare to those of armed service personnel. But let’s say the hard part of a relatively easy coaching gig is being completely avoided. Everything is set to default it would seem. Everyone that is supposed to get their alloted minutes at their alloted points in the rotation gets them. The starting lineup was decided upon before training camp. Competing for minutes and roles doesn’t seem to have ever been a part of the equation, and it looks to be largely about not having to face any decisions as the season progresses. Triano’s reasoning behind starting DeMar, before he even saw him with the team, was that if DeMar didn’t start the first and second half, then Triano would have to decide when to insert him into each game as would best suit the team and the player’s development. Shouldn’t making those decisions be the right approach though, really? Isn’t that called coaching? Shouldn’t one of Jose or or Jack finish games instead of both in unison? Shouldn’t someone decide on that? If Amir replaces Bargnani for defensive purposes late in games, couldn’t he get a few more minutes in the middle of games, or maybe get a shot at the start of a game?
Now I get the idea of holding firm to a certain vision, and maybe the good signs I noticed last night will take hold further and they will turn the corner as is. I just wish that there could be some built-in flexibility to allow for some signs that the coach is going to pull out some ways to win games, instead of leaving it up to his set rotations to find ways of falling down just long enough to lose. I wish he could look at how some players might be better suited to establishing an identity for this team than some others. If defense is going to be a point of emphasis, as it should, then how about throwing guys out there that better compliment each other in that regard, and go from there? How about making better use of Rasho? How about giving Amir “Dirty Baby” Johnson a larger role?
Another guy in charge, now sitting memorialized down in DC, and on every shiny little penny, said in regard to something much more serious than even Afghanistan, something about a house divided not being able to stand. The Raptors need to fix just that problem. The weak side defense is just weak. The “house” keeps falling down. Helping on the perimeter might succeed until a rebound falls to the weak side, or a pass is sent to the weak side, or a player slashes in from the weak side, or too much attention is paid to a player on the weak side’s perimeter to allow for help to come from the weak side in time. They miss Marion so much with all of that. He could be counted on to provide the help, or grab the board, or defend the perimeter well enough to allow even Patrick O’Bryant to make an impact from the weak side. The house was not divided. Maybe they can get back to that when Reggie Evans returns, or maybe Derozan can develop his defensive abilities to the point where he has to get more than his usual six or seven minute stretch, and maybe then the combination of Bosh and Bargnani can lead to some wins. It’s worth tossing one of those pennies into a wishing well I suppose. It’s not like anyone is going to decide to go changing up the core of this team. So they are going to have to find ways of matching some of what Marion brought to this team, because that worked better than what we see now.
That’s what I’m looking for right now - the way forward. And Triano has got to find the right intangibles to move forward with. Hedo will come along. DeRozan will develop. Just decide how to get this team making some stops consistently for a few weeks and go from there. They need to win more than they lose this month, and they aren’t off to a good start so far. They need to be at least 2-2 this week, should aim for 3-1, and already look doomed to be 1-3 at best. It’s time for the coach to do the most difficult, and perhaps most necessary part of his job. I hope he figures it out and at least starts to dither by the time they make it down to DC for the quick rematch of the week.