By Wes Lilliman
Head Coach: Jay Triano
PG – Jarrett Jack
SG – DeMar DeRozan
SF – Sonny Weems
PF – Amir Johnson
C – Andrea Bargnani
G – Jose Calderon
G – Leandro Barbosa
F – Ed Davis
F – Linas Kleiza
F – Reggie Evans
C – David Anderson
Take 50 casual NBA fans off of the street, and I’ll bet you that they can’t name one player on the current Raptors roster.
At least the other potentially terrible teams have guys that are somewhat well-known. The Wizards have John Wall and Gilbert Arenas. Sacramento has Tyreke Evans. The Warriors have Steph Curry.
But the Raptors? Forget it. A few people that have been removed from the league for a really long time might ask if Vince Carter still plays there. A few people that have been removed from the league for a REALLY long time might not even be aware that Toronto has an NBA franchise and simply respond with, “Canada has a basketball team and the mascot is a dinosaur?”
Truth be told, even those of us with feet firmly entrenched in today’s happenings know that this group is without a face after the departures of their two biggest names. Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach, and Hedo Turkoglu had his talents shipped to the Southwest (more on him later). As a result, coach Jay Triano is left with a bunch of guys who are still in the process of finding their place as players in the league. The good news is that they’re pretty much all very young. The bad news? We’re about to get into that.
Of the aforementioned young talent, the most promising of the bunch has to be former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani can shoot the rock and is that Nowitzki-type of big man that can spread the floor and give defenses fits. Unfortunately, his strengths also highlight his weaknesses, because he’s not much in the post and can’t deal with anyone with even an ounce of physicality. It also remains to be seen how he plays as the focal point of the front court without the likes of Bosh to take pressure off of him.
Instead, Bargnani will be complimented by guys like Amir Johnson, rookie Ed Davis, and Sonny Weems. Not exactly a threatening group on the surface and, in reality, not much for other teams to worry about. They’re all athletic, and Weems, in particular, has demonstrated good work ethic and the ability to improve. However, none of them has proved much of anything (Davis hasn’t even played a game and could be a complete bust for all we know).
The guards are a little more promising (thankfully – they pretty much have to be). The point guard position is comprised of a one-two of Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon. Jack is the more stable of the two and I think the organization is committed to having him around. By contrast, Calderon has been the subject of numerous trade rumors and could be gone at any minute. Assuming he stays around, the Raptors can utilize him as an extremely talented player off of the bench who is a leader and a tremendous ball-handler/distributor (all-time leader in assists for the team). And who knows… these two could easily go back and forth at the starting position depending on who is producing and who is healthy. At least they have options.
The starting shooting guard will be uber-athlete DeMar DeRozan, who is far from being a complete player but can attack the basket and help to tire the opposition. As far as I’m concerned, he was essentially the star of the Summer League, basically turning every game I watched into his own personal dunk contest. Help also comes in the form of Toronto’s biggest offseason acquisition, Leandro Barbosa. He fits the “Toronto mold” as an athletic dude who is capable of scoring in bunches, and he’s a great burst of energy off the bench (former Sixth Man Award winner). He also has a 6’10” wingspan while standing at 6’3”, which I find quite interesting. Regardless, Barbosa, like everyone else on the team, has to focus on improving his defense.
With all of this mind, don’t be surprised if teams come into Toronto and put up 120 points on a regular basis. Triano is an offensive coach, and the players are all offensive minded. You just have to out-gun them, and that shouldn’t be hard. These guys haven’t proven they can guard much of anything in the past, and there’s little reason to believe that will change.
IF THEY GET LUCKY: There’s little point in this, but fair enough. If they get lucky, Bargnani plays at an All-Star level, they outscore a bunch of mediocre teams to somehow get to 30 wins, and DeRozan wins the Dunk Contest (which has nothing to do with the team’s success, but hey, it’s something)
IF THEY DON’T: Everyone plays with the same enthusiasm that Turkoglu played with last year, and they’re the worst team in the league.
REALITY: This is not the year to be a Raptors fan. They’ll be in the cellar of the league and will probably land about 25 wins, which they should be happy with. The good news is that they’ll have THREE 1st round draft picks in 2011, which jives with their “build for the future” battle cry. And, if nothing else, at least they got rid of the guy that I’m about to talk about in the…
… (BONUS SECTION) THANK GOD HEDO TURKOGLU IS GONE
Hedo came in last year and sucked. He got a massive amount of money and likely got to reap the benefits of being in an international city (there are great stories out there about Hedo sitting out of games due to illness, only to be spotted in downtown Toronto, partying at the clubs… on the same night). Other than that, his stint in Toronto (which he clearly couldn’t wait to get the hell out of) was a failure. Why?
I’ll tell you. I have a theory regarding Hedo Turkoglu. I think he’s lazy and generally arrogant. His arrogant stupidity, in part, works to his advantage because it allows him to be a big-shot type of guy like he was in Orlando. Idiocy allows him to excel in pressure situations because he isn’t even aware of the sheer weight of the conditions and circumstances surrounding him (thus, the nerves and pressure, in his mind, don’t even exist). Maybe “idiocy” isn’t the right word, but it’s like he’s not afraid to take the big shot because, no matter what, he knows he’s going home to what really matters – the money and the party. Plus, make no mistake about it, he does have some exceptional skills, so he works out quite nicely in environments where he is surrounded by success.
But heaven help you if you put him on a team like Toronto. I don’t think he’s self-motivated and not the type to go the extra mile. I don’t think he eats, sleeps, and breathes the game (he’s probably sleeping right now actually – it’s noon). Worst of all, he’s the last guy you’d want on your team to set an example for the youth movement like the one the Raptors have. Check out this classic interview with Hedo to sort of get an idea as to what kind of mind we’re dealing with:
And I’m not the only one who knows all of this. TheScore.com was recently able to obtain footage of Hedo’s departure to Phoenix: