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Groundhog Basketball

I’m frustrated. Seriously. I find it really tough to watch an entire Raptors game now because it feels like I am watching the same game every game. The Raptors come out and compete for the first half, then tank the third, forget how to play defense and before you know it, the game is out of reach and there are more wild shots being taken than at a stagette.
The Raptors right now remind me of a girl you date for a while, then get tired of, so you move on. Then you see them a year later and they look amazing, totally revamped, so you try to work it again. Then you realize that even though she looks better, she still does all the stuff you used to hate and you’re just frustrated again. Hello Raptors. Same old problems. Can’t play D, don’t really like to rebound, can’t put together 4 consistent quarters, take a lot of questionable shots. The players may have changed, but the results are the same.
I don’t think Raptor fans can possibly discuss what to do with the team anymore. I mean, we have talked about coaching, enthusiasm, heart, playing to your strengths, etc. How long until the Raptors are able to put something together? How is it possible to make that many changes to a team and have the same sort of results? I would naturally think that there would be an adjustment period when you bring in that many new players, but I mean, how long does it take guys to gel? How tired can Hedo be? People have been using that excuse since the summer. Oh, Hedo’s tired. He played a lot of ball for the national team, plus the playoffs last year, etc. Yeah, he’s also a professional athlete. It’s not like he was just sitting on the couch and all of a sudden was called into basketball action for his country. How tired can a guy be?
Anyway, I’m still watching, but there are a lot more beers going down when I do. Well, at least I’m funnier by the end of a game (or at least that’s what I tell myself…and any waitress who will listen).

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…

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.

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…

Let the Talking Begin

So with media day a couple of days ago, we saw the Raptors doing all kinds of things like posing for photos, doing interviews, all the kinds of things that have nothing to do with playing basketball, but things you are obliged to do before the season starts. It was interesting to hear Chris Bosh talk about this season, because if there was ever a guy who sounded guardedly optimistic, it was Bosh.

Some of the things that I liked about Bosh’s interviews the other day were things that we actually criticize him for. He said that he wasn’t going to come out and make any predictions, which some people point to as the usual Chris Bosh not wanting to step up and be a leader. But realistically, I have just about had enough of predictions and I sure as hell don’t want to hear any more guarantees. There have only been two guarantees in sports that I think mean anything. 1. Joe Namath’s guarantee, just because it hadn’t been done on that scale before he did it and then he went out and delivered as an undergod. 2. Mark Messier with the Rangers, just because to do that in a sport like hockey, where one guy cannot typically dominate the game and deliver all by himself, shows the kind of leadership he had…in a huge market…with all eyes on him. So I’m okay with Bosh avoiding any of that garbage, because he doesn’t need any added pressure on him.

I also liked that Bosh talked about not saying that the Raptors were going to go out and TRY to do things, but that they were going to DO them. Taking the wise words of Yoda, Bosh is realizing that “there is no try.” After going through a season like last year’s, Bosh knows you can try all you want, but until you start “doing”, then it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes you have to get yourself in the right mindset about what you are going to do before you get out there on the floor. It’s sort of like before a guy descends down a ski hill in a Super G or before a bobsledder gets ready to plunge down the track. You see them going through the course in their heads, seeing the turns in their minds before heading out there. While we don’t want to see Bosh go all Marbury on us (because I used to support that dude, but now I’m convinced he’s nuts), I like the fact that he is working on his mental game too.

The last thing that I liked about Bosh on media day was that he was talking about hard work. When he said that you always think you work hard until you see somebody else working harder, he hit the nail right on the head. He was referencing seeing Kobe work out after having just won a championship. I can’t believe it took him this long to realize it, but in order to get to that next level, in order to dominate people in your craft, you have to put in serious work. Not just head to the gym for shootaround and do some sprints, you have to do serious workouts to the point where you think you can’t do any more…and when you get to that point, you do some more. I think back to what my dad told me a long time ago when I was heading off to college to play baseball. He said that sometimes you’re going to come up against guys who just have more talent than you, but there’s absolutely no excuse for not working harder than them and then beating them. Kind of the same thing here. Now that Bosh is tuned in, will all of his work pay off? I guess we will see.

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.

Game 82: Raptors vs. Bulls – Post-game

Bittersweet. That’s pretty much all you can say about tonight’s win over the Bulls to close out the season. You can sit back and look at the past couple of weeks and wonder just which team was the real Raptors team from this season. Surely, there is enough evidence to suggest that the real Raptors are the ones who turned in a lot of subpar performances leading to convincing losses, but there were also some momentary flashes of what could be called brilliance…well, if you wanted to provide a misnomer. Let’s go with momentary flashes of quality play.

So was Shawn Marion’s performance tonight a final way of putting himself on display for the upcoming offseason? Last chance to make an impression that will have to last until after the playoffs are over? Kind of strange when your best game of the year comes in your last game of the year, although maybe the Bulls just weren’t into it that much. I thought the Bulls would have liked the matchup, a good way for them to prepare for the playoffs without being too taxed, but instead, they got smacked around. This was one of those games where (for a change in the Raptors favour) the final score wasn’t indicative of how far apart the two teams were all night.

I also would have thought that Chicago would have been playing with more urgency since the seeds weren’t set, but it looks like now they are going to have to face Boston in the first round. How the Raptors were able to come out and dominate like that is beyond me and walking into the playoffs, if I were a Bulls fan right now, I would be seriously worried (although facing the Celtics, they should probably already be worried, KG or no KG).

So this season has finally come to a close for the Raptors and now we can get on to watching some quality basketball instead of being subjected to the schoolyard crap we had to endure for most of the season. Of course, there will be plenty to talk about leading up to the draft, especially considering all of the things the Raptors have to take care of personnel-wise. Should be interesting.