As has become an annual off-season event, RaptorsHQ touches base with some of its favourite reporters from around the world-wide web on all things Raptors-related...
Each off-season, here at the HQ we like to get a good disussion going with some of our favourite Raptorbloggers and writers on the state of the team going into the new season.
This off-season promised to beget an even more interesting chat considering all the moves that have gone on these past few months.
To that end, we've put together a dynamite squad to touch on a few key questions concerning the Dynos; Chris O'Leary, contributor to Slam Magazine, TSN.ca's Tim Chisholm, Real GM's' Gagan Gandhi, and the Arsenalist from RaptorsRepublic.com.
Let's jump into it...
1) Going into this summer, what were your expectations in terms of personnel moves and how did you imagine Toronto's roster looking come September?
Chris O'Leary - Slam Magazine:
My biggest concern going into the off-season was that BC would put too much stock in the finish that the Raps had. Winning a string of games when the damage is done and you're well on your way out of the playoff picture, in my mind, does very little to brighten such a bleak season.
Did I think the roster would look the way it does now? Definitely not. Change had to come, but it's impressive just how much of it Colangelo was able to muster up in a few months' time. There are lots of terrible teams in the NBA that could use an overhaul come April, but how often do you see this much turnover so quickly?
I expected the standard handful of new faces on the roster come the start of training camp. I didn't think Shawn Marion would be back and I thought that a sign and trade would result in a comparable talent coming in and filling that spot in the lineup. To be honest, when things wrapped up at the end of the season, I didn't see a lot of signs for improvement with the Raptors. I don't know if bringing in nine new faces will fix everything for the team, but at the very least it's a solid effort from Colangelo to take the team in a new direction.
Gagan Gandhi - Real GM:
Although many consider Colangelo to be one who takes risks, I thought he would re-sign Shawn Marion and bring back pretty much the same team that won only 33 games last season. It looked like that was the case in the early part of the summer up until Hedo Turkoglu chose Toronto over Portland. I did expect the returns of Bargnani, Bosh
and Calderon, although I did say that trade offers involving Bosh
should be strongly considered. But, any trade involving Bosh
went out the window after the acquisition of Hedo.
The signing of Jarrett Jack came as a shock, as did the trade involving Marco Belinelli. Like Chris said, no one is really sure if this will fix everything on the team, but it's a risk that had to be taken with such a prominent player being a free agent in a year's time. Did I expect minor changes to this team? Yes. Did I expect the Raptors
to be one of the busiest teams of the summer and have one of the busiest summer's in franchise history? No.
Tim Chisholm - TSN.ca:
I thought for sure that Marion was going to be back. He, Bargnani
had a skill set that really jived in terms of his ability to play defense at multiple positions and his instinct for rebounding. What I assumed was going to happen, though, was that those three, along with Calderon, would be retained while the support crew would be re-worked. Guys like Kapono, Humphries and Ukic were simply poor fits and moving them was going to be the mission of the summer (since Anthony Parker and Joey Graham were already free agents).
I hear Chris' concern that the team would have erred to put too much stock into a strong end to the season, but at the same time I think it would have been foolhardy to put no stock in it as well. The trick, in my eyes, was to find the balance of building on what worked while being honest about what didn't and actively removing it. The issues last season were bountiful, but I thought none were as responsible for the 33-win total as the depth that was sacrificed to get Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto. One injury was going to do severe damage to this team, and two was going to destroy the season, which is what happened. This summer, regardless of the decision made with Marion, this team was going to have cap space, a lottery pick and two salary-cap exceptions to play with - there were going to be different assets around the core guys (one couldn't say 'better' after the Kapono summer) to try and better balance the skills of the roster.
The only real shock, then, should be convoluted four-team trade that brought Hedo Turkoglu and Antoine Wright to Toronto without sacrificing an inordinate amount of assets. Beyond that, the use of the draft pick on DeRozen, the mid-level on Jack and the bi-annual on Rasho were just matters of sticking names into those slots, while trades jettisoning Kapono, Ukic, Humphries and Jawai (who became Devean George who became Marco Belinelli) brought back reasonable returns. The volume of changes takes a second to get used to, but broken down, only the Turkoglu trade and the details surrounding that really stand out as surprises for the summer.
The Arsenalist - RaptorsRepublic:
Expectations? Not much. I was fearing Colangelo to build on the "success" we had playing pressure-free against the crappier teams down the stretch. I was expecting him to overpay Marion, which he actually tried doing, and then hope that with a healthy Calderon
the results would be different. The off-season was defined by the trade conjured up by Steve Fruitman which nobody saw coming, how we managed
to turn practically nothing into Hedo Turkoglu, Rasho Nesterovic and Jarrett Jack will always be genius. Hedo turning his back on Portland was also a nice stroke of luck which can't be forgotten.
Dealing with the off-guard/point-forward was something we had to do if we expected to be taken seriously, last year's wing production was downright terrible and Parker's exit was inevitable. DeRozan was a no-brainer at #9 as he addresses our most dire physical need - athleticism. Throw in his mild scoring punch and we got something to
look forward to in the coming years. I felt that bringing in a rookie at a scoring position wasn't going to be enough and further moves needed to be made. Cue Belinelli who we got for free, I still don't think it's a potent punch at SG but hopefully Turkoglu can offset their lack of point production.
The dead-weight on the roster needed to be shed and I was hoping that we could shed three of Jason Kapono, Marcus Banks, Nathan Jawai and Patrick O'Bryant. We got Evans for Kapono who can actually contribute
and in the process make Pops redundant. The return of Rasho was somewhat expected but I felt he'd take a shot at bringing in Brian Skinner, someone I know he likes. In the end, it's 9 new players and 2 new assistant coaches.
Good luck Jay!
2) RaptorsHQ: So it sounds like many of you had low expectations regarding off-season changes initially. Now that the dust has settled, how do you feel about the moves? And do you think the changes are enough to first of all propel the Raptors back into the playoffs?
Tim Chisholm - TSN.ca:
It's hard not to be at least cautiously optimistic about the moves. While the projected started five certainly has familiar issues (defense, rebounding), they have much more diversity offensively and the reserve crew can probably mitigate at least some of the issues at the other end and on the glass. The overall depth on this team is a huge gain since the one successful year this club had with Bosh
was the one where the team had significant depth to play with. Having legit backups at point guard (Jarrett Jack) and centre (Rasho Nesterovic) especially impress given the alternatives the team had at those positions a year ago. While one has to see how long it takes all the new vets to mesh to truly gauge the success of the summer, one couldn't have asked much more of Bryan Colangelo coming off of last season's embarrassment.
The really encouraging element for me, though, is that the team has finally rededicated itself to developing some new, young players. Guys like Kris Humphries and Joey Graham hit their respective ceilings years ago, leaving Andrea Bargnani
as the sole 'potential' player on the team. With Marco Belinelli, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan now in the fold it looks like the team finally has some unfinished pieces to play with, the potential of whom could wind up playing a significant part of Bosh's decision to stay or go next summer. If the team succeeds this year AND has some promising pieces in the pipeline, it will be a hard combination to walk away from.
As for the Playoffs, this team should qualify, no doubt, but after last season it's a call I'm hesitant to make. One still needs to see Bargnani
repeat his Jan-Apr performance for a whole season, and on a team with more weapons needing shots. One needs to see if Calderon
can let go enough to allow the offense to run with a bit more flow and freedom. One needs to see if Bosh/Bargnani/Turkoglu can develop some meaningful chemistry to make them a fearsome threesome on the court, rather than just on paper. If things break for this team, they could compete for the four spot, but in all likelihood they're a 5-8 team that will see their seeding determined as much by those around them as they will by their own play. This has never been a club that was good at forcing their way in the door - they typically like someone to hold it open for them. So long as that is their personality, the Playoffs will never be a lock for the Raptors.
Chris O'Leary - Slam:
The feeling going into this season reminds me a lot of the start of 2006-07. Colangelo had dealt for Ford, drafted Bargnani, had a glut of Euro-vets back in the lineup and there were a lot of questions over where the team would go. Like then, team chemistry is an issue again this year. With my Captain Obvious cape fully adjusted and flowing in the wind, I'll drop this gem: How long it takes this group to jell will be central to their success.
The ingredients seem to be there. The bench is stronger (and like Tim said, younger and more talented) than it has been in the last few seasons, Bargnani
was producing by the end of last year, Calderon
should be healthy and Bosh
will be his monstrous self. DeMar DeRozan drips of promise like the stuff comes out of his showerhead and Hedo Turkoglu fits in on paper with the team, for better (strong outside game, team player) and worse (4.2 rebounds per game in your career when you're 6-10?). How long it takes for those ingredients to come together will determine where they finish in the East.
should be able to make the playoffs this year. I still feel burned predicting them to do well last year, so I'm playing the role of Doubting Thomas until I see this team on the court. This time last year, I thought that the on-paper version of the Raptors
could play with anyone in the league on any night. By April, I felt like I had my face rubbed in the remnants of Jermaine O'Neal's kneebrace with the Raps' 33–49 record.
Gagan Gandhi - Real GM:
Their offense should be in the top half of the league as they’ve added good multi-position players in Turkoglu and Jack, both guys who can control the game with their play and really solidify the starting and bench units, respectively. Raptors
fans should feel more comfortable in the final seconds of the shot clock knowing that the ball will potentially be in the hands of Turkoglu rather than Bosh. Calderon
and Jack give the Raptors
one of the best one-two punches at point guard in the league. Marco Belinelli will battle it out with DeMar DeRozan for minutes in the starting unit, and Belinelli better give it his all because DeRozan reminds more people of Andre Iguodala than Joey Graham.
Once again their defense going into the season is one of the bigger question marks. They will rely heavily on Bargnani’s continued progress and an injury-free season from Calderon. Defense is what Antoine Wright will most likely be utilized for; he’ll be this season’s Anthony Parker. The additions of Nesterovic and Evans can also not be understated, one of last season's achilles heel was the depth of the rotation and it's good to know that Jay Triano will have at least 5 viable options off the bench every night.
You never know how a team that has had as many changes as the Raptors
have had will gel off the court, but the few players who are returning from last season all seem to be character guys. So, at least, the locker room should be a non-issue. With the additions of a bench and a "clutch" scorer, the moves made my Colangelo & Co this summer should get them a solid playoff spot in the weak East.
The Arsenalist - RaptorsRepublic:
Insert generic sentence about how Bargnani
can`t afford to be MIA for half the season, how Bosh
needs to step-up his presence in the fourth quarter, show some leadership skills and be a force for the time he`s on the floor. Another sentence about how Jose needs to make a stand at the defensive end and evolve as a point guard who can do more than just pass the ball to the team`s best player 80% of the time.
Barring major injury and natural disaster we'll make the playoffs. I'm confident that we can take care of the bad teams next season, something we struggled with last year. We're still likely to lose 0-4 to the Celtics and 1-3 to the Cavs but as long as we beat the Charlottes of the league, we'll get in there. The goal should be getting home-court behind Boston, Cleveland and Orlando, but the Hawks will have something to say about that. Finishing 6th or below would be considered a failed season because if things pan out the way most are expecting, it'll result in a quick and painful playoff exit.
The starting lineup is respectable but it has a rebounding deficiency which Colangelo is hoping the bench of Rasho and Evans can address. Jack is a nice touch of the bench and Wright is a good defender but his role is situational and I don`t think he can play 28 minutes a night. Comparing the end of the bench with last season`s we`ve
replaced the dead weight of Ukic, Graham and Humphries with Belinelli, Johnson and Douby. If you consider their respective resumes I`m not sure there`s really that much difference there, although we`re finally investing in some youth with potential.
I think Delfino would`ve been a better addition than Belinelli because of his ball-handling and defensive abilities. Belinelli is an unknown and expecting too much out of him is setting yourself up for disappointment, much like what happened with Moon, Adams and Solomon last year. The off-guard spot has talent but no proven track record
or insurance, we`re hoping Turkoglu, Bosh
can click in a way so we can afford DeRozan to hit the rookie wall. There are issues everywhere but we're better off than last year and good enough to make the playoffs.
Deeper question is this: Four years into Colangelo's regime our standard of acceptance is sneaking into the post-season. Quite pathetic if you ask me.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow...