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Old 08-24-2009, 05:01 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Busy offseason in Toronto puts Raptors again on the cusp

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This is another in a continuing series examining the teams that didn't make the Playoffs last season and what they'll need to do to avoid the Lottery next summer.

Of the 14 teams that missed the Playoffs last season, none has done more to avoid a repeat trip to the Lottery than the Toronto Raptors.

At a time when it isn't easy to make moves in the NBA, due to the restrictions that both the collective bargaining agreement and the economy bring, Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo has almost completely turned over his roster. Even he's surprised at how extensive a makeover it is.

Nine of his 15 players were not in Toronto when the season ended in April, and that number could increase if a reported deal of Marcus Banks to Dallas for Matt Carroll comes to fruition. The only current Raptors who were on the roster when last season began are Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon.

Colangelo and the rest of the Raptors' brain trust came up with a list of team needs. Considering they lost 49 games last season, the second straight year of underachievement in Toronto, the list was long.

"More than anything, we talked about toughness," Colangelo told NBA.com. "I think it was very apparent that we were just too soft." Other needs included athleticism, defense, playmaking, a more reliable back-up point guard and overall depth.

The working plan in June was to keep Shawn Marion and Anthony Parker, then use the mid-level exception to bring back Carlos Delfino. Colangelo admits that acquiring Hedo Turkoglu without losing the mid-level (later used to sign Jarrett Jack) or the rights to any other players was unexpected (senior director of basketball administration Steve Fruitman is to thank for dreaming up the idea). The only disappointment is the departure of Parker, who committed to Cleveland less than 24 hours before the Raptors realized they could keep him while still bringing in Turkoglu.

Still, after eight moves involving 17 different players, Colangelo believes he has addressed most of his team's needs, both tangible and intangible (and the Raptors remain almost $2 million under the luxury tax). Reggie Evans brings toughness, DeMar DeRozan is as athletic as they come, Turkoglu gives them a second playmaker, Jack is an upgrade behind Jose Calderon and Antoine Wright, Rasho Nesterovic, Marco Belinelli and Amir Johnson provide depth.

Raptors Potential Depth Chart

PG: Calderon, Jack, Banks
SG: DeRozan, Belinelli, Douby, Weems
SF: Turkoglu, Wright
PF: Bosh, Evans, Johnson
C: Bargnani, Nesterovic, O'Bryant

What effect the changes will have remains to be seen. The Raptors ranked 22nd in both offensive and defensive efficiency in 2008-09, and while Turkoglu will clearly help put more points on the board, defense will determine how far the Raptors go this season.

Jack, Nesterovic and Wright are solid defenders. If Turkoglu can take some of the offensive load off Bosh, the power forward could bring some of the defensive intensity he showed with Team USA in Beijing last summer. The glass-half-full perspective has Toronto as one of the top five or six teams in the Eastern Conference. But there may have been a similar outlook when they acquired Jermaine O'Neal last summer, and we all know how that turned out.

"I'm not sure where we are right now," Colangelo admitted. "Rather than prejudge it, I'd rather say, 'Let's play basketball come November and let the actual results prove whether or not these were good decisions.'"

Colangelo seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach with Bosh as well. He has not yet offered his star an extension that would keep him in a Raptors uniform for at least three more years beyond this season. Colangelo would love it if he and Bosh came to an agreement on an extension. But the GM is being realistic about the situation.

"Why would Chris make a decision before he has to?" Colangelo asked. "The only reason for him or any of these other guys in his position to make a decision now is for security.

"They negotiated for the flexibility, so why would they give up the flexibility now? That's the primary issue."

Colangelo says that he's not going to dwell on Bosh's status or mindset, nor trade him because he hasn't made a long-term commitment to the franchise. Even if Bosh wants to leave Toronto, both the team and the player are better off working out a sign-and-trade deal next summer.

"Let's not predetermine whether he's going to be here or not," Colangelo said, demonstrating restraint after three months where he was anything but patient. "And let's not predetermine whether or not we have to make a panic move. Let's let it play out and see what's best for Chris and see what's best for the organization."

So if he can get the Banks-for-Carroll deal done, one final tweak to the back end of the roster, Colangelo's busy summer will be complete. He might actually be able to step away from his desk and take a vacation, knowing he's done everything he could to get his team heading in the right direction.
LINK: NBA.com: Busy offseason in Toronto puts Raptors again on the cusp

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