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Old 04-15-2011, 10:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default CHISHOLM: Raps frontcourt development

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Prior to the surgery Kleiza was scoring an unimpressive 11.2 ppg on a three-season low 43.8% shooting. His three-point shot was connecting at an abysmal 29.8% rate, and his PER was at a career-low 10.1. He was yo-yoed into all sorts of roles, trying to find something that worked for him, but inconsistency and turnovers plagued him wherever he played and now he must contend with a grueling recovery on top of all of that before he'll even play again.

At the other end of the spectrum is James Johnson, the late-season addition that came in and won over fans with his aggressive play, his ability to play the point-forward role and his willingness to play defence and rebound. While he showed a lot in the team's last 25 games, more than most expected after barely playing for a year-and-a-half in Chicago, he didn't quite show enough to make the Raptors feel like they'd found their future wing mate to DeMar DeRozan. So this is where management's decision making comes into play.

Here's what the Raptors can choose from:

1. Keep Kleiza and Johnson as the team's two options, and let Kleiza have the chance to earn the starting spot back when he recovers from his surgery around next January.

2. Keep Kleiza and Johnson as the team's two options, but allow Johnson to continue as the starter regardless, and force Kleiza to ease his way back into playing off of the bench.

3. Use their draft pick to select Derrick Williams or Harrison Barnes, and make whomever they select to start at small forward (regardless if it's not their natural position) and force Johnson and Kleiza to jostle for backup minutes.

4. Use free agency to go after another young piece, like Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young or Wilson Chandler, and force Johnson and Kleiza to jostle for backup minutes.

5. Use free agency to go after a veteran leader like Grant Hill or Shane Battier, forcing Johnson and Kleiza to jostle for the right to eventually emerge as the team's small forward of the future by playing behind (and learning from) a respected veteran.

See, there are a lot of different directions that this team could go in. Both Kleiza and Johnson will almost assuredly be around next year since Kleiza is basically untradeable and Johnson is too intriguing to let go. However, neither one locked up the starting spot during their time (though Johnson came close) and that will have management weighing their options with regards to the position all off-season long.

So, without even factoring in the future of Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors frontcourt looks both full of promise while also being in complete flux. They have talent, but as of today they don't have enough legit talent that is ready to make noise on a Playoff-caliber club. Ed Davis looks poised to be that good in a year or two, and the Johnson's certainly hold their appeal, but for the Raptors to take the next step as a franchise, they simply need more, either from internal development or from importing outside talent.
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