I apologize in advance. Just bear with me if you can. You see, I’ve had my head full of 70’s era disco classics. I have this system to get me through the endless Christmas season. Whenever I hear a carol that threatens to loop through my cranium for weeks, I quickly download the corresponding disco song into my brain, and successfully block out the seasonal ditties. Winter Wonderland is transformed into Boogie Wonderland. O Little Town of Bethlehem is made over into Funky Town. The Little Drummer Boy gets remixed into Turn the Beat Around.God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen quickly becomes YMCA.Joy to the World? Well that has to be Shake Your Booty. Good King Wenceslas? Dancing Queen. O Christmas Tree? Push Push in the Bush. And so on.
And I remained stuck in that era, perhaps a little too happily, while considering the long journey, not of the Magi, but of the Mago, and how his ups and downs have played out with the fans here in Toronto. Going way back, when I found this team promising enough to attend games in person, I found the reactions of many fans around me, way up in the upper reaches of the ACC, to be as over-the-top as anything associated with the age of disco (yes – which I am certainly old enough to remember directly). All it took was to see Andrea left open beyond the arc, and this one particular guy sporting a euroleague Calderon jersey would start squealing and hyperventilating. “Oooooh-oooooh-Andrea-that’s his shot-that’s his shot”. It got to the point where out of worry for my fellow brethren in the stands, I’d have to have a paper bag at the ready. I’m kidding a little, but do not think for a moment that I am overstating the possibility of some of these guys coming close to collapsing from not enough CO2 coursing through their veins. What came to mind then, and repeatedly during every flash of his game advancing over the years, as well as now – with the disco jumping from one neural transmitter to another – is Minnie Ripperton and her notes soaring as many octaves above middle-C as there were sections between me and courtside. And as often as all the Rippertons would begin to quaver, there would be an accompanying verse from Morris Albert. Often enough it happened on the same play. Andrea is open and I’d hear the aaahhh-ahh, only to have him get the ball and launch a clunker which would bring along the woh-woh-woh-woh in the same breath. Then there are the stretches where Minnie stirringly dominates for a few games, only to have Morris return with his gasps of loneliness. This season, Andrea has followed form, with the highs getting that much higher, but so many cliffs coming along for regular drop-offs. The question is whether he can break the pattern for good, and if nothing else, make me think of Leo Sayer’s When I Need You. Make the big shots when needed, while showing a steadiness in all other areas of the game. Have the big games when need be, and otherwise keep the team in games when someone else can make the bigger impact. If that doesn’t happen, then the future remains a little troublesome. The rebuild will take place upon a shaky foundation. And we’ll all be heading into Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam territory.
That’s what this season is going to be about – solidifying that foundation. Or so I would hope.?If I can get through the season of humbug, please don’t make me say bah! to the rest of the Raptor season.?If an old fool can use disco to find the true meaning of Merry during Christmas, then this team needs to be able to figure out how to play basketball for real for a stretch here and there. And it doesn’t just apply to Bargnani. There is not a lot of talent here. We’ve seen any number of guys playing as starters that just can’t handle the role. Reggie Evans was able to play as a starter and make life easier for some other players around him. There are not a lot of bench players that can do that. And so this team relies on a running attack that can pull out a few wins against lesser teams, and tired teams. Hand-in-hand with the increased scoring comes easy baskets in transition going the other way, but we’ve seen a few times where the Raptor’s depth can give them an edge in the talent level going down the stretch, regardless of a dearth of legitimate starters. It reminds me of another phenomenon from the 70’s – the rope-a-dope. And I just can’t see this team building upon that much more. So they are going to have to see who can deliver in a halfcourt offense while not giving up too much in other areas. In other words – is there anybody here that can play an honest game of basketball every night out? Can we see the first option taken away from any halfcourt set, and be able to go to a second option, or a third option with some success? And can we shut down other teams in transition, get them to forego their first option, and stick with the play as they go to a second or third option? This team is a long way away from showing any of that. And as the season stretches out, that is going to mean more ugly losses than surprising wins, or so I would guess. At the same time the passing game is beginning to come around, and we are at least starting to see more cohesion than the one-pass-and chuck-or-drive-into-traffic sequences that have become too familiar. So, among some of the ugliness, I hope to see moments where we can see if Andrea, or Demar, or Ed or Amir, or Linas or whoever, can get to a level where their combined talents fit within a gameplan that can go up against any starting lineups at their best, at least for part of a game. Aggression alone has gotten them through the first part of the schedule still in the hunt for an eighth seed. But now the aggression is starting to work against them as much as anything else, because they just aren’t finding a second or third option, and they lack any kind of organization defensively. I honestly hope they look towards defining some cohesion on the defensive end, before looking at anything else. In any case they need to go beyond finding spots in the schedule where they stand a chance to win on individual play from one or three guys, and instead find moments where they show some ability to strengthen a team concept in any way. And when that happens, someone had better be taking notes, and not just singing them.