Some guy named Dampier still needs to make a decision on where he wants to play. I have to assume that if he chooses Toronto, it will be due to either having no other viable option, or having been promised a substantial role as a starter, or both. It’s entirely possible that any other team that showed interest, found the guy to be old and slow and out of shape. It’s also entirely possible that the Raptors, desperately in need of some size to allow for Bargnani to be exposed a little less when it comes to playing big, or to play his natural position, or both, will take on one year for a big sloth regardless of his conditioning or the fact that he’s missing training camp – even after the difficult lesson they learned when an old, slow guy missed camp last year, and ultimately set the whole team back throughout the season that followed.
We’ve heard about how everyone in camp is working hard and in great shape. There is a good deal of running and athleticism on display, apparently. There’s the good news. But we also get some indication of how the starting lineup could be taking shape, and it’s hard not to feel that there are some square pegs in the equation.
Bargnani was given a starting position from the word go, being the only guy that did not have to compete one iota, even though he might be the one guy that could benefit most from competition. Kleiza has also been written in with pencil at least, with no real reason given for that decision, other than for how well he has played against europeans. Triano has talked about how Kleiza would make opposing teams pay should Bargnani be double-teamed. I’m not at all convinced that Bargnani would see a whole lot of doubles, and if he does, I don’t see how that doesn’t benefit any other of the four guys out there with him. Triano makes out like Kleiza’s shooting ability alone would cause teams to forego double-teams. Yeah – ok, that might be the case against the worst teams that lack players who can guard more than their own man, but otherwise it just doesn’t seem like a big selling point. Do they really want to shut double-teams down, or are they already offering excuses (credible or not) as to why the double teams aren’t materializing like they did in years past? And with that excuse in hand do they then have a follow-up as to why the proposed ball movement is not resulting in the kind of exciting basketball that was promised? That’s looking at negatives rather than positives, but when the positive selling points are so oversimplified and filled with assumptions that are hard to justify, it’s hard not to look into some dark corners. In any case, throw Dampier in the starting lineup, and we have ourselves a frontcourt that is all about putting Bargnani in a position of feeling as little pressure as possible.
And that leaves us with only the backcourt to round out, where there is just a problem with finding the players that can obviously compliment that frontcourt, or each other. If Jose starts, and DeMar suits up next to him, we have a pg that is unwilling to take open shots, and a sg that is still looking to find a good range, and it would also be a pairing that would tend to be exposed defensively. The best pairing defensively might be Jack and Weems, and those two might also be best to compliment what looks to be the starting frontcourt. But if Dampier doesn’t sign here, and Bargnani is counted on to play big in more ways than just taking big shots, then it might just feel like the strengths and weaknesses are getting spread out across the different units that get employed, and I can imagine Triano making changes in desperation throughout the season. All in all, gaining a sense of what this team is about by looking at the starting five, is going to be a challenge, unless Bargnani manages to take a big step forward and show himself to the player that nobody talks about him being now – the guy that they are going to build around.
Ultimately, I would love to see Jack, DeRozan, Weems, Johnson, and Davis on the floor together, even if it is not at the start of games. They feel like the B-Team right now, but they also feel like the real team to me. Maybe I’m just a little stuck on the Jungians. There just looks to be the promise of strengths being used as strengths, on both ends of the court, and not just as a means to counterbalancing obvious weaknesses. Here you’ve got a group that can be built upon. Right off the bat you can think of plugging Barbosa in for Jack and seeing some results. If nothing else, you give Devlin the perfect tagline – SONNY-D-and RUM! That might not ever get old. Now imagine a future pick, or pick-up though a trade, improving on the point guard position, and this team starts to really feel like something is taking shape.
So forgive me for looking past the starting lineup entirely for now. Give me a bunch of guys that are pushing each other while complimenting each other nicely, playing a swarming style of defense that can make-up for a lack of size and create offense off of defense consistently. Start plugging in options like Kleiza into that scenario, and I automatically start to appreciate how he can contribute to this team in a big way. This team has some pieces – but each one of them will be challenged by a new role. If most of them can fill those roles suitably, this season will not feel like a waste. But to make that happen, the different pieces are going to have to fit together. I just want this season to be about building on the strengths while players develop, rather than structuring the team with built-in excuses at the expense of developing a chemistry and identity that cannot be denied. Let the starters enjoy hearing their names when the lineup is introduced. Just please give everyone else a chance at starter’s minutes, and playing with the right counterparts, because there is a good chance that therein lies the shape of things to come.