Archive for the ‘Raptors Articles’ Category

Bryan Colangelo is taking a lot of slack from the Raptors fan base for selecting 7-foot Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas with the 5th overall selection the 2011 NBA Draft.  Frankly, most of the arguments I have heard as to why the pick might have been subpar are well, subpar.  I applaud the pick of Valanciunas at the number five spot and think Colangelo did well to think of the next 4-5 years of the Raptors franchise and not just make a pick that would have appeased the masses.

I hear Brandon Knight’s name a lot as a guy we just had to take and while I see some definite strong points to his offensive arsenal I really do not see the playmaking point guard the Raptors desperately need.  Seven other teams had the opportunity to take him and they all passed and his draft stock dropped like a rock on draft night leading me to believe that the people who get paid to know things we never will know something we don’t.

For Bryan Colangelo this draft was a no-win situation so I think he made the best of it for the franchise’s future.  He was chastised for not taking a player who could instantly step in and make an impact but last I checked this draft was relatively weak outside the top two in terms of NBA-ready talent and Lebron James wasn’t available at the Raptors pick. A lot of analysts have said that Valanciunas could be the best player of the draft when all is said and done.

Point guard is one of the hardest positions to come into and make a huge impact in your rookie season.  This is the floor general, the quarter back, the leader and face of the team in some respects if you lack a point forward.  If we look at last year’s NBA draft and first overall selection PG John Wall was very highly touted and thought to be an instant impact at the NBA level.

Wall, while solid was not overwhelmingly successful as was expected of him as he averaged a respectable 16 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers.  He shot a reasonable but unspectacular 40% from the field and 29% from 3-point land. 

Raptors point guard Jerryd Bayless as a starter (in 14 games) averaged 18 points, 7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3 turnovers.  Bayless shot 46% from the field and 33% from 3-point land.  Are Raptors fans saying that Bayless was an “impact” player?  He essentially posted identical numbers to John Wall albeit in a smaller sample size as a starter but I think you see my point.

I think the Raptors are still in good hands and no I am not drinking the Bryan Colangelo kool-aid but I like the moves he has made recently.  Dwayne Casey was the best candidate for head coach on paper and we got him.  Chris Bosh could have walked to Miami for nothing but BC was able to get our own first rounder back in the sign and trade and he took the highest rated C and European in the draft at #5 overall.

All of the reports on Valanciunas that I have read are very positive and it sounds like he has a high motor, very strong rebounding instincts (some say best in the NBA draft), solid work ethic and some toughness.  If you take a longer view of this selection you can’t deny that this is probably what is best for the team going forward.

The Raptors are going nowhere next season and the upcoming NBA draft in 2012 is supposed to be one of the best drafts in recent years so one more year in the lottery wouldn’t hurt anyone.  It sure beats trading for Stephen Jackson, blowing our money on Samuel Dalembert and bringing back Allen Iverson as most short sighted fans sometimes suggest.  Believe in the rebuild and believe that the man who deftly scooped Demar DeRozan and Ed Davis still knows what he is doing.

I know it’s not cool to say these days but I still believe in Bryan Colangelo and I am still excited about the direction of the Raptors.

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DeMar DeRozan has started to look like a franchise type player on the offensive end of the court over the past month.  In fact for the month of January/2011 DeRozan has averaged 19.5 points with a 47.5 FG% while averaging 36.5 minutes per game.  He still needs to work on becoming a better all-around playmaker as suggested by his assist totals in the month (1.7) and his turnovers have spiked with the added responsibility (2.8) but it’s hard to find too much negative about the recent offensive surge.

If you take away two rough games over the past thirty days the numbers are even more impressive as since December 31, 2010 DeRozan has averaged 23.2 points per game in eleven games.  To drive home how impressive DeRozan’s sophomore campaign is starting to look let’s do a quick comparison.

Age PPG FG% RPG Ast TO Stl Blk
21 15.4 45.1 6.3 3.3 2.0 1.1 1.9
22 15.3 47.0 3.3 1.7 1.7 0.8 0.4

 

The 21-year old player is Tracy McGrady’s third season in the NBA and the 22-year old is of course DeMar DeRozan’s current 2010/11 season.  It shows us DeRozan is making solid progress in the scoring department and that bodes well for his future development – it also shows just what kind of amazing all-around ballplayer and talent “T-Mac” was and would develop into.

DeRozan still needs to continue focusing on all aspects of his game, specifically his playmaking, defensive and rebounding skills but Raptors fans have to be excited about the potential of DD.  Not a guy you can probably build around but a definite cog and valuable ‘third’ scoring option on a contending team.  Is the scoring spree due to the Raptors horrendous health situation or has DeRozan turned the corner?

Depth is often a critical factor in creating a winning team in most sports and while it is obviously preferable in the NBA and basketball in general it isn’t necessarily as important or vital when compared to hockey, football and baseball.  A winning basketball team can thrive with a six to seven man rotation and often times I’d venture to say it is problematic or a waste of asset distribution to have too deep of a ball club when considering where most pundits or experts feel this team will ultimately finish this season.

Case in point, look at these two squads:

Team A Team B
PG – Jose Calderon PG – Jarrett Jack
SG – Demar Derozan SG – Leandro Barbosa
SF – Linus Kleiza SF – Sonny Weems
PF – Reggie Evans PF – Amir Johnson
C – Andrea Bargnani C – David Andersen

 

Team A is the projected Toronto Raptors starting five while Team B is of course the projected second unit give or take a player.  If these two teams did battle in a seven game set my guess is it would be a knock-em-down, drag-em-out war that might not ever end given the parity between the two sides.  Some might see this as a positive given the roster depth but taking a closer look it is actually almost a negative.

The Raptors do possess a relatively deep roster overall however it is also a team filled with potentially only one legitimate NBA starter in smooth shooting (and much maligned) big man Andrea Bargnani.  The Raptors have stuffed their salary cap and roster full of mediocre roster filler for the most part and obviously lack the top end talent in the wake of losing Chris Bosh.

The Raptors would love to shed the salaries of Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans, Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks as all four would likely be bench options at best on most current contending rosters.  They are in tough situations with Demar Derozan and Sonny Weems as while both have promise neither has shown they are going to be definite prime time producers yet both are going to be up for raises on longer term contracts in the next 1-2 seasons, like Amir Johnson last year.

They have added veteran bench and depth pieces in Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa but they will both be long gone (at least their best games will) by the time the Raptors are ready to compete on a regular basis and are just receiving a big pay cheque and empty minutes at this point.  At some point Andrea Bargnani will have to either step up his overall game to earn his massive new payday or be moved out to expedite the rebuilding process.

Make no mistake this is not a retooling, at least it shouldn’t be viewed as such given the dearth of quality legitimate NBA producers on the current roster.  This one feels like it should be a complete overhaul with a tear it down and start it over mentality, immediately.  The man in charge is Bryan Colangelo who is a smart basketball mind and has shown a quick trigger when admitted mistakes go awry but he is also fighting for a contract extension and it is doubtful he is willing to go this route when the folks at MLSE are hoping to fill the ACC on a nightly basis but this is something the fan base should be screaming for, loud and clear.

Why a Linus Kleiza was brought in on a four year contract is beyond me, Kleiza is a fine role player no doubt but a guy you bring in when trying to bridge the gap or play to a potential opponent’s specific strength.  For example the Los Angeles Lakers bringing in Ron Artest last season and Matt Barnes this year and this type of move would have looked a lot better last season.

Now he gets a slight reprieve considering the roster might have looked a tad better with the additions of Tyson Chandler, Boris Diaw and Matt Barnes while simultaneously subtracting two bloated salaries in Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans.  But realistically what was the best result that particular group would have achieved, a possible late seeded playoff berth?  I think it’s time to shift that philosophy now that our supposed franchise player has left the building.

I am not suggesting “tank nation” in hopes of landing a top lottery selection as you never know where the ping pong balls will fall but instead I am saying tear it down, let all of our potential “keepers” play and give them a season long audition with heavy minutes.  Demar Derozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, Solomon Alobi and Joey Dorsey should be the main rotation and guys like Reggie Evans, Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa shouldn’t steal minutes from players who could potentially help us in the next few years let alone have been brought in at all. 

In closing we need a clear vision from management as to where this franchise is heading and the fans will appreciate some honesty and forward thinking knowing the team is at least moving in the right (or any) direction.  If you want to try and win now with this lackluster group than fine, use the trade exemption along with expiring contracts to bring in the Tyson Chandler/Boris Diaw types, it is a futile effort and waste of assets (not to mention one year too late) but at least it is a plan.  How do we intend to compete with the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics for the next decade, what is our action plan, and I hope it doesn’t involve signing a guy like Erick Dampier

I contend it is time to start over, again.  This is a deep year in the upcoming draft at the point guard spot, a position the Raptors have been dreadfully inadequate for quite some time and looking at the past crop of young, exciting point guards that have come into the NBA in recent years it seems as good a year as any to finish in the bottom three to five teams.  I don’t want this to be a lost season or a waste of a calendar year in a potential rebuild, let’s get to it now. 

Clear valuable cap space whether it can be used immediately or not, jettison our redundant veteran pieces (Kleiza, Barbosa, Jack, Calderon, Evans etc) while letting the youth play to get a good idea of what we have while adding a top pick (preferably point guard, but best available) in the offseason.  That should be the only goal of the 2010/11 season and looking at our roster it wouldn’t take much to make that happen.

Frank Zicarelli once took a swipe at us dedicated bloggers in one of his articles, basically inferring we are the tiny pest on his shoulder that he has to swipe away.  He is the main basketball writer for the Toronto Sun and covers the Toronto Raptors most of the time and he occasionally writes a half decent piece but after his slight to the blogging community (a pretty tight knit group I might add) I have read his pieces a little more meticulously and his latest article contained a big faux pas, in my opinion.

Dorsey, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson have formed a strong bond, a group of young and energetic players who aren’t exactly the most talented,” he wrote.

Really?  DeMar DeRozan, often compared to a Vince Carter athletic type with some of the greatest jumping ability in the league and recently invited to the NBA Slam Dunk contest.  Sonny Weems like Derozan is an extremely athletic and talented wing who just hasn’t been given an opportunity to showcase his skills, but it’s clear the stats just haven’t caught up to the ability, and talent. 

Amir Johnson, one of the fastest big men in the game with buttery soft hands and touch around the net, who just signed a contract for $50 million dollars?  Yeah, no talent there.  Finally, Joey Dorsey, with clearly limited offensive skills but have you seen this man’s body?  He is Dwight Howard without the height, with muscle on top of muscle and great jumping ability and rebounding instincts.  He doesn’t get rebounds the way Dennis Rodman got them, this man can simply use his superior strength and jumping ability (combined with great hustle of course) to get that ball.

Picking four of the Raptors most athletic specimens and saying they are more guts than stuff is probably one of the least thought out points I have read in a while especially considering there are plenty of other candidates to choose from on our roster who fit that description almost to a tee.  In the age of dedicated, educated and talented bloggers the time where shoddy (or lazy) journalism would never be scrutinized is over, just because your name is in lights and you are a “professional” doesn’t make you any less fallible. 

Step your game up, Frank.

RAPTORS SHOULD PASS ON DAMPIER?

The Toronto Raptors are going to be a lot of things this upcoming 2010/11 season, athletic on the wings, a more up-tempo style on the defensive end and of course a very young and likely frustrating team to watch night in and night out.  The expectations from most ‘experts’ are pretty dim and I believe the over/under betting line for wins this season is around 27 at last check.  While I feel there is actually more to be optimistic about than most and we will likely surprise a few teams this season one thing I am not is delusional.  To that end I know the Raptors barring some unforeseen circumstances are not likely to be ultra competitive this season, and adding any band-aid solutions for this year is a complete waste of resources and more importantly playing time.

The latest rumours have the Raptors brain trust pondering the idea of bringing veteran big man Erick Dampier into the fold.  There is no doubt Dampier adds an element this team is sorely lacking, and has been lacking for some time.  Rebounding, size, strength, presence down low, defensive ability and toughness are all things Dampier can bring to the table.  However, is any of that really going to make one iota of difference in the grand scheme of things for the Toronto Raptors in 2010/11?  This is the type of guy you add as depth on a more seasoned roster looking to make a potential playoff run, not a team hoping to get back to the draft lottery and add a potential blue chip young ‘baller to help us down the road.

To add Dampier at this point in our franchise’s fragile history even for the veteran minimum salary hit is just plain ludicrous.  You are telling me that if given the exact same amount of minutes our very own Dwight Howard look-a-like Joey Dorsey couldn’t do exactly what we think Dampier could do?  Dampier is the very definition of a replacement level player who adds almost no value to a rebuilding team like Toronto and is actually taking a potentially valuable commodity away from the Raptors, playing time.  I’d be willing to wager that if given similar playing time Dorsey would produce better numbers in rebounding and shot blocking than Dampier.

In some shape or form Dampier would cost Ed Davis, Solomon Alobi and the aforementioned Joey Dorsey a chance to play those crucial extra few minutes a night that could help shape them as players sooner than later, or at least give the Raptors an idea if they can play or not.  Amir Johnson was just signed to a lucrative long term deal and any situation that might rob him of even 3-5 minutes a game is a negative.  Joey Dorsey doesn’t have the name, notoriety or awesome ‘Common’ beard but he does have a god-like physique that appears NBA ready as well as a motivation to improve and be a part of this young group going forward. 

Dampier’s primary (only) motivator will be to establish himself as a viable big man again and hopefully regain some of the lost faith in his game, however if that costs the Raptors even one cent or one minute of playing time a night from any of their young and improving big men than I say thanks but no thanks.  This year is about progress, making small gains and giving the fans some hope that the product on the court will start to show significant improvement as early as next year, and it’s also about scoring a hot new prospect in the NBA lottery. 

Lost in the allure of adding our first tough, hardnosed rebounding big man is a little thing called perspective.  This would be like the Toronto Maple Leafs having signed a player like Raffi Torres, brought him to training camp and realized he was completely redundant or the Toronto Blue Jays signing Vicente Padilla and blocking a Brett Cecil or Kyle Drabek plus getting worse production.  It wasn’t right for those teams and this move isn’t right for the Raptors.  

SHAQ SLIGHTS CHRIS BOSH AGAIN?

With one quote new Boston Celtics centre Shaquille O’Neal continues his extreme dislike for former Raptors forward Chris Bosh.  In a recent Adrian Wojnarowski column O’Neal is quoted “They got a great 1-2,” Shaq was obviously referring to the Miami Heat’s duo of Dwayne Wade and Lebron James but of course snubbing the third major piece Chris Bosh. 

I would have to think Bosh was praying his long time nemesis O’Neal moved back to the Western Conference in the offseason so he could eventually move past the ongoing feud, however with his latest slight it appears Bosh could be in for a few more long and potentially painful (watch those elbows) matchups involving ‘Diesel’.

No word yet if a Shaquille O’Neal statue will be resurrected at the ACC in time for the regular season.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top Ten Current Athletes in Toronto

This will be a quick breakdown of the top athletes currently residing in Toronto and it is a down and dirty look at the athlete’s ready to contribute on the Toronto sports scene.  This certainly won’t be referred to as the golden era in Toronto’s sports history, but I’d say the scene is definitely on the up-swing and improving almost daily.  The Jays are looking to be competitive in the next 1-2 seasons, the Leafs look to be in good hands with Brian Burke and the Raptors aren’t as bad as most think, though they are looking lottery bound in 2010/11 (not such a bad thing though?).  Well, here is my list for the top ten current Toronto athletes.

10) SP Brandon Morrow – Toronto Blue Jays

-A hugely talented arm with untapped potential, he might have the most upside of any of the current Blue Jays arms.  Putting together a great first season in Toronto, the future is bright and price to acquire him was right.

9) LW Kris Versteeg – Toronto Maple Leafs

-Coming over from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (thank you salary cap) in which he was a key third line member and a heart and soul type player described as having a wicked wrist shot.  Only 24 years old and coming off back to back 20 goal seasons, I think Toronto fans are going to really like this kid.

#8) SP Shaun Marcum – Toronto Blue Jays

-Looks to be completely back after undergoing TJ surgery and has been the Jays best pitcher this season with 151 IPs, 3.70 ERA, 3.83 FIP and an impressive 3.8 K/BB.  Marcum will look to score a longer term contract in the next year or so and will hopefully continue to put hitters away with that nasty changeup for many more seasons.

7) SG Demar Derozan – Toronto Raptors

-The 7th overall pick out of Compton, California and USC University, the sky is the limit for Derozan and the ‘Young Gunz’ (along with Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson), fans are hoping for a big breakout year for Demar to give them some (any) hope for a Toronto Raptors eventual resurgence.  The kid has all the talent and skills you could want and just needs seasoning and some refinements to certain aspects of the game (mid range jumper and handle) to really take that next step.

6) RF Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

-Bautista leads the majors in homeruns and has been a total beast for the Blue Jays this season (41 HRs, 607 SLG%, .416 wOBA – 4.9 WAR), he has been so good there is some talk the Jays might be best served dealing their top slugger while the getting is good and his value is at an all-time high.  The most debated/discussed Blue Jay player this season, mixed opinions on whether or not he should be around long term.

5) D Tomas Kaberle – Toronto Maple Leafs

-What would a Toronto article be without Kaberle, fact remains he is still one of the best defensemen to suit up for the Leafs and if he remains this season will be counted upon to contribute a huge season. 

4) PF Andrea Bargnani – Toronto Raptors

-The smooth, sharp shooting 7-footer was the 1st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and has shown steady improvement each season (in scoring) over the past three years scoring 10.2, 15.4 and 17.2 PPG.  He still needs to improve his overall game, with more focus on rebounding and weak side help defense, however a big man with the ability to drive and dish the rock who will likely average 20.0+ PPG, shoot around 48-49% from the field, 37-38% from 3-point land and hopefully average 7-8 rebounds and 1.5-2 blocks per game don’t exactly grow on trees.  Andrea doesn’t get enough credit for the player he has become, expect that opinion and sentiment to change with a huge 2010/11 season as the Raptors go to guy.

3) SP Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays

-JP Ricciardi envisioned this type of success for his first pick (6th overall) in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft but it took Ricky a few seasons in the minors to finally flourish and make it to the big leagues (too little, too late for our old buddy JP though) but flourish he has.  The Jays lefty recently signed a contract extension that will keep in Toronto for the next 5 seasons, hopefully his prime years are still to come.  In 2010, Romero has been great, in 172.2 IPS he has a 3.54 ERA, 3.59 FIP, solid ground ball rate and a pretty good 7.7 K/9.

2) D Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs

-When you are the new captain of the most popular team in town, you are going to get some attention and since entering the league Phaneuf has definitely drawn his fair share.  The top scoring defensemen since joining the league, the hard hitting Alberta native is being counted upon to lead the Brian Burke era in team history and fans are excited and anxious to see what a full season of a motivated Dion Phaneuf can bring to the team. 

1) RW Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs

-There haven’t been many better skilled Leafs than Phil the Thrill in the team’s long history and the slight forward will again be counted upon to lead the woeful Maple Leafs forward core to the hopeful goal of making the playoffs.  Playing with a relatively unknown (and rookie) centre in Tyler Bozak, Kessel still managed 30 goals in 70 games and fans are hoping he can take his game to the next level and become a 40-45 goal scorer with a full season to come in 2010/11.

Drafted in the first round (5th overall) in 2006, he has been called the ‘American’ Sydney Crosby with his unbelievable level of skill and shooting ability.  Kessel will only be 23 at the start of the season and though the trade and cost to acquire Kessel is hotly debated, the player we received certainly cannot be, Kessel is legit and one of the most skilled players in the game.

This concludes my five part series looking back at some of the greatest players to ever play for our beloved Toronto sports franchises and also a quick glimpse at who is currently leading the charge for hopeful future success. 

Hope you enjoyed it.

I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes

Part IV – Top Five Athletes in Toronto History

I hope you have enjoyed the ‘Top Five’ series thus far and today we continue by looking at the Top Five Athletes in Toronto Sports History.  This list will not focus as much on tenure and longevity as some of the other lists have but purely on talent level and peak performance while in the city of Toronto, more than one or two seasons of greatness is preferred but this list will encapsulate the absolute best that has ever performed in the great city of Toronto.  A player that was as close to the top of his respective sport as possible for a 2+ season stretch, so just missing out were Hakeem Olajuwon, Erik Hanson and Vesa Toskala. 

On to the list.

#5 – QB Doug Flutie.  Two seasons with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, led the entire CFL in 1996 & 1997 in passing attempts, passing yards, passing completions, passing TDs and rushing yards by a QB.

A surprise name to see for some, he was a must inclusion for me.  Prior to Doug Flutie’s arrival in 1996, the 1995 Toronto Argonauts were pitiful, sporting a 4-14 record, in Flutie’s first season with the ‘Boatmen’ was in 1996 and he led them to a 15-3 record and a story book turnaround, they won the Grey Cup and Flutie was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.

Next season Flutie led the team to back-to-back CFL Grey Cup’s and again won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player (1997) after leading the league in basically every major statistical category.  Toronto had a love affair with its diminutive QB and the popularity of the CFL in Toronto was at an all time high.  There are probably even some that are surprised to hear that Doug Flutie isn’t even Canadian.  Flutie went on to have a fairly successful NFL career and people in Toronto will always claim him as one of their own, anybody down for some Flutie Flakes?

In my opinion Doug Flutie for those two seasons in 1996 and 1997 was one of the top athlete’s in the history of Toronto sports.

#4 – 1B Carlos Delgado.  Hugely successful slugger basically his entire career with the Blue Jays and dominated for four straight seasons (2000-2003).

Carlos Delgado was one of the game’s best sluggers during his peak years with the Toronto Blue Jays and was absolutely robbed of deserved MVP Awards in 2000 and 2004 when a Canadian hating writer from Chicago neglected to even put Delgado on his MVP ballots.  Look at these stats and take into consideration that WAR heavily penalizes Delgado for playing first base (plus playing it relatively poorly), his bat was lethal:       

Year HR RBI OPS wOBA WAR
2000 41 134 1134 471 7.5
2001 39 102 948 398 4.0
2002 33 108 955 401 4.7
2003 32 145 1019 423 5.5

 

Delgado was the best offensive player in the history of the franchise and among the best in baseball for a good portion of his career in Toronto, without the ‘hack’ excluding him from his ballot he might have some impressive hardware to show for his handy work.  Imagine the 2010 Blue Jays had Delgado at 1B?

#3 – C Doug Gilmour.  Played parts of 6 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his peak seasons in 92/93 and 93/94 and undeniably some of the best hockey ever played in Toronto and ‘Killer’ was considered among the NHL’s best all-around players.

Ah, 1992-1994, nothing warms the soul like a trip down memory lane and for Toronto Maple Leafs fans born basically anytime post 1970 the back to back playoff runs from our beloved Leafs in 1992/93 and 1993/94 will forever have a place in our hearts.  The thrilling OT Game Seven winner by Nikolai Borechevsky, or the wrap around goal by Doug Gilmour against Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues or that high-stick by Mr. Gretzky that was missed by Mr. Fraser, that ******* high stick!  Not that I am still bitter or anything.

At the helm of those teams was the heart and soul and leader of leader’s the Assistant Captain Doug Gilmour, old #93.  He was in the prime of his career during both of those magical seasons and put up the best seasons a Leafs player has ever had in its illustrious history:

YEAR G A PTS +/- PIM PPG
1992/93 32 95 127 32 100 1.53
1993/94 27 84 111 25 105 1.26

 

Not only great regular seasons but simply brilliant postseasons as well:

YEAR G A PTS +/- PIM PPG
1992/93 10 25 35 16 30 1.66
1993/94 6 22 28 3 42 1.55

 

Taking the team to the Stanley Cup semi-finals two straight years and playing a huge role in the early 90s turnaround of the Maple Leafs, Gilmour was the talk of the town and will forever remains a folk hero for any true Leafs fan, they don’t make enough Dougie Gilmour’s.

#2 – SG Vince Carter.  V.C. put Toronto basketball on the map, totally dominated the NBA during the 1999/00 and 2000/01 seasons.

No player is more vilified however no player was more dynamic and electric than Vince Carter during his prime two year stretch with the Toronto Raptors.  Seemingly flawless and on the verge of joining the absolute elite of elite players, Carter had captivated the city and it was buzzing and energized for all things Raptors, basketball and of course Vince Carter.  

Easily the most polarizing figure in team history, during his peak Vince Carter put up ridiculous numbers in his two best years here:

YEAR PPG RPG APG SPG FG%
1999/00 25.7 5.8 3.9 1.3 .465
2000/01 27.6 5.5 3.9 1.5 .460

 

Those numbers stand up against almost any player in the NBA at the time and Carter even chipped in a block per game and was getting to the free-throw line nearly 7 times per game.  Carter’s production remained fairly steady up until his last season with Toronto however he struggled to play a full season and was exposed as a terrible defender and one-dimensional player soon after his peak years.  However, to say he wasn’t one of the most talented players to ever play in Toronto would be an outright lie, who knows how the franchise would have fared if Vince Carter and Chris Bosh attempted to play together for a few more years.

#1 – SP Roy Halladay.  Routinely called the best pitcher in baseball, Halladay has the numbers to back up those claims and was completely dominant during most his seasons with the Jays, and exceptionally great during the 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009 seasons.

The city of Toronto has had a lot of great players come and go in all of the major sports but I don’t think any of them could have or were ever considered the absolute best at their position in their respective sport, besides Roy Halladay.  On a pure talent and peak season(s), Roy Halladay is the greatest athlete to ever play in Toronto, and I don’t think it is particularly close either. 

One of the classiest players to boot, Halladay was a machine, a well prepared workaholic, Halladay took his craft very seriously and for these four seasons was one of the better pitchers in the history of baseball:

YEAR IP W-L ERA FIP K/BB BB/9 HR/9 BABIP WAR
2002 239.1 19-7 2.93 2.97 2.7 2.3 0.4 .296 7.8
2003 266.0 22-7 3.25 3.23 6.4* 1.1 0.9 .294 8.0*
2008 246.0 20-11 2.78 3.03 5.3* 1.4 0.6 .293 7.4
2009 239.0 17-10 2.79 3.06 5.9* 1.3 0.8 .313 7.3

*led baseball

These truly special four seasons in Halladay’s career were simply amazing, he pitched 990.1 IPs, was 78-35 (.690 win %) and accumulated an insane 30.5 WAR.  I included his BABIP totals each season to show his successful seasons were never ‘outliers’ and luck did not factor much in his overall success (obviously), Halladay even had a strong ground ball rate each season (normally top five in MLB) and suppressed HRs as well as anybody.  He won 78 ballgames in these four years while the team provided him an average of 4.5 runs per game, he also had a whopping 29 complete games and 9 complete game shutouts.

It was obviously a tough day for me to see him leave but I think I can speak for nearly all Blue Jays fans when I say I wish him all the best and I hope he goes on to much success and glory with his new team, maybe he could even return one day.

There you have it, the Top Five Athletes in Toronto History are 5) Doug Flutie, 4) Carlos Delgado, 3) Doug Gilmour, 2) Vince Carter and #1 Roy Halladay – the incomparable one.

Next up, the top ten current athlete’s in the city of Toronto…

All sports fans love to reminisce to the good old days, maybe it was a better period or span of time for their favourite or local team or quite possibly it was just a simpler and more carefree time in their own lives.  Whatever the reasons nothing gets the argumentative juices flowing like a good old-fashioned ‘All-Time Top 5’ list – let’s get our own going.

I decided to embark on a new five-part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’.  Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.

Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time

Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time

Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time

Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time

Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes

Let’s get to the fun.

Part II – Top Five All-Time Toronto Raptors

The junior franchise among the majors in Toronto, the Raptors have none the less given Toronto sports fans a lot of good/bad times, meaningful basketball mixed with some pretty obsolete seasons and boasts a pretty solid resume of basketball talent that has come and gone.  The team was established in 1995 and played their original seasons (and three more seasons) at the cavernous Skydome (aka Rogers Centre). 

The team has gone through a lot over the past 15 years including a monumental (for us) upset against the Chicago Bulls (during the Bulls run to another title and the 72-10 win-loss season), let’s just assume the Bulls had a great night on the town before playing that game, score an assist to the Toronto night life for that one!  Vin-sanity’s rise and fall, Chris Bosh and Bryan Colangelo, and the ever-growing record three-point field goal record.  The Raptors have been a very solid drafting team and can boast 8 First team “All-rookies” in Damon Stoudemire (1996), Marcus Camby (1997), Vince Carter (1999), Morris Peterson (2001), Chris Bosh (2004), Charlie Villanueva (2006), Andre Bargnani (2007) and Jorge Garbajosa  (2007).

Let’s just say the Toronto Raptors have had a tumultuous fifteen plus seasons and with the recent departure of Chris Bosh, a whole new franchise game plan is about to be implemented.  Let’s take a look at the five greatest Toronto Raptors contributors since the year 1995:

#5 – PG Damon Stoudamire, born September 3rd, 1973 in Portland, Oregon.  Ranks #7 in Raptors scoring, #3 in assists (2.5 seasons, 271 games, 5142 points, 2341 assists).

Potentially a strange inclusion on an all-time list consider the player was only with the Raptors for 2.5 seasons, but the impact felt by ‘Mighty Mouse’ still resonates and outside of Vince Carter was the most exciting Raptor of all time.  The former Arizona Wildcat standout was drafted with the first ever Toronto Raptors draft selection (7th overall) by GM Isiah Thomas who was enamoured with the quick but slight point guard.  Stoudamire had an outstanding rookie campaign for the Raps setting the record for three-point field goals made by a rookie with 133 (record since broken), ranked third in NBA history for assists per game by a rookie (9.3). 

Stoudamire went on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year (the shortest man to ever do so) and the team appeared to be in the right hands for a resurgence and hopeful quick rise to prominence for the expansion franchise.  In his next season, Stoudamire played a Raptors record (to this day) 3311 minutes and averaged 20.2 PPG, 8.8 APG and 4.1 RPG and still holds Raptors records for most assists in a season (709), assist per game (8.8) and minutes per game (41).

Tired of the constant losing, the final straw for Stoudamire was when Isiah Thomas had a falling out with ownership after a failed power play to gain controlling interest in the budding franchise, Stoudamire was shipped out on February 13th, 2010 to the Portland Trail Blazers for Kenny Anderson, Alvin Williams, Gary Trent, two 1st round draft picks, a 2nd round draft pick and cash.  Things quickly went south for Mighty Mouse and his career spiraled downwards after departing Toronto, run-ins with the law for a marijuana charge and plummeting overall stats, Stoudamire even admitted that leaving Toronto in hindsight was probably a mistake.

A spoiled brat upon his departure? Yes. But one of the most impactful Raptors in franchise history, even with only 2.5 years? As a day one Raptors fan, I say yes. Based on overall impact on the franchise (and assets we received in return) he just beats out potential top-fivers Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, Tracy McGrady and Charles Oakley.

#4 – PG Jose Calderon, born September 28th, 1981 in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain.  All-time franchise leader in assists (5 seasons, 359 G, 2364 assists) and amazing 4.1 assist/turnover ratio.

I can already feel the eye rolls and sarcastic remarks as you wonder how this ‘overpaid bum’ could ever rank on a greatest all-time Toronto Raptors piece, but fact is, Calderon has put up five pretty impressive seasons as the Raptors main point or backup point guard.  The franchise’s all-time leader in assists and assist/turnover ratio Calderon’s career averages (all with the Raptors) as a starter have been even more impressive (33.3 MPG, 12.2 PPG/8.3 APG/3.0 RPG), he is currently the 8th leading scorer in Raptor’s franchise history also.

Calderon, standing 6’3″ and weighing 210 pounds played six season as a professional in Europe and was signed by the infamous Rob Babcock on August 3rd, 2005.  Known as a pass-first, low-turnover playmaker, Calderon has also proved to be an effective overall shooter (49.6% FG), solid range (38.7 3P%) and of course one of the best free-throw shooters in the game (87.8% FG) having set an NBA record for free-throw shooting (98.1%) in 2008/2009.

Injuries have taken their toll on the Raptors efficient Spaniard point-guard (a curse of the Raptors) and his lacklustre on the ball defense has been much maligned, but fact is for a relatively baby franchise, a player who is the all-time assist leader and in the top eight in scoring all the while being a great teammate and unselfish ballplayer, Jose Calderon belongs on this list.  How much longer he actually remains in Toronto of course remains to be seen as a rumoured deal sending Calderon to Charlotte fell through in the much discussed fiasco involving Michael Jordan and the Bobcats.

#3 – SF Morris Peterson, August 26th, 1977 in Flint, Michigan.  Currently ranks #1 in all-time games played, #2 in minutes, #3 in all-time scoring and #4 in all-time rebounding (7 seasons, 544 games, 6500 points, 2064 rebounds).

Playing at the basketball crazy factory known as Michigan St under legendary head coach Tom Izzo, “MoPete” helped the Spartans [Mich St] win a National Championship in 2000  leading the team in scoring, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage and was subsequently selected 21st overall in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors.  Peterson quickly became a Raptors fan favourite for his gritty workman like style (371 consecutive games played between February 12th, 2002 and November 22nd, 2006) and all-around effective style.

Peterson is all over the Raptors all-time rankings as we noted, to summarize he ranks #1 in games, #2 in minutes, #3 in points scored and #4 in rebounding.  Peterson had a penchant for big-time shots at crucial times and he was always good for ridiculous half court heaves from time to time.  He made the NBA All-Rookie team in 2001 and #24 remains a popular player in the Toronto basketball scene.  It would seem ludicrous for MoPete not to be on this list and his overall game, longevity and numbers places him firmly amongst the Raptors greatest in my opinion.

#2 – PF Chris Bosh, born March 24th, 1984 in Dallas, Texas.  Basically re-wrote the Raptors record books, the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and minutes.

Drafted 4th overall in 2003 by the Toronto Raptors in what some call the greatest NBA draft class of all-time featuring Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony Bosh took his lanky and long frame to Canada’s lone franchise and would eventually establish records for essentially every major statistical category.  For his rookie season, Bosh averaged 11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 33.5 minutes in 75 games leading all rookies in rebounding and blocked shots and was named to the All-Rookie team.

Bosh also helped fans forget about the ugly divorce between then hero Vince Carter and the team and was anointed the new face of the franchise and really, Chris never looked back taking the reigns and putting up huge individual numbers though outside of a division title in 2006/2007 never could lead the team to the next level in the post-season.  A five-time all-star Bosh is the all-time franchise leader in points scored, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, total rebounds and RPG, blocks, free-throws made and double-double’s.

More discussion on Bosh located here, for whatever reason and whomever the Raptors brought into town (Jermaine O’Neal, Hedo Turkuglu, TJ Ford, Jason Kapono, Jarret Jack) it just never seemed to click with Bosh as the franchise player and he eventually opted out of his contract and ended up with the Miami Heat where both Dwayne Wade and Lebron James are members of the now infamous and hated team in South Beach.

So how could the all-time leader in basically everything Raptors not be its top all-time player?  Because the man at the top of the list was simply the best player to ever don the uniform and essentially put Toronto basketball on the map and at one point was considered among the games best players and a guy who fans will never ever forget.

#1 – SG Vince Carter, born January 26th, 1977 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  4th all-time in games played, 3rd all-time in minutes, 2nd in scoring, highest point-per-game and highest PPG in a season (actually owns the top three in that category).

Vincent Lamar Carter, aka Vin-sanity had the entire city of Toronto at his feet beginning in 1998 after being drafted 5th overall by the Golden State Warriors and quickly flipped to the Raptors for the 4th overall pick Antawn Jamison.   Carter’s rookie season was shortened by the NBA lock-out in 1999 and Vince started basically every game for head coach Butch Carter averaging 18.3 points per game and eventually won the NBA Rookie of the Year award. 

The very next year Carter was selected to the All-Star team and averaged 25.7 ppg, made the 3rd team All-NBA team and captivated the entire world after winning the greatest NBA Slam Dunk contest in history at the 2000 All-Star game with an array of high-flying, gravity defying throw-downs.  In 2000/2001 Carter averaged a career high 27.6 ppg, made the All-Star team and was voted to the 2nd team All-NBA team all the while leading the Raptors to its greatest season with 47 regular season wins.

In the playoffs, the Raptors beat the New York Knicks (3-2) and advanced the Eastern Conference Sem-Final, where they took the Philadelphia 76ers to a decisive seventh game, the same day Vince decided to attend his North Carolina university graduation ceremony and after missing a game-winning shot with 2 seconds remaining was heavily criticized by the ultra tough Toronto media on his decision to attend the ceremony.

However, the team was doing well on the court and raking it in off the court with the NBAs top draw and most exciting player Vince Carter firmly in tow, and the team rewarded Carter in the summer of 2001 with a MAX 94 million/six-year contract extension to what both parties hoped would be a successful marriage.  One could say that this was the proverbial beginning of the end for both Carter and the franchise and the next few years would prove painful (literally) for the team and the injury prone shooting guard.

Over the next three seasons Carter played 60, 43 and 73 games respectively and the chinks in the once bullet-proof Carter were starting to become very apparent in Raptor land.  Questions arose about his toughness, hustle and bad defense league wide and it all came to a head in 2004 when Carter became disenchanted with the direction of the franchise and in the 2004/2005 season suddenly stopped driving the hoop, swore off dunking and basically played like a sieve, giving up on the team.  Carter averaged 15.9 points in 30.4 minutes for the Raptors and upon being dealt to the New Jersey Nets on December 17th, 2004 (for Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two future 1st round picks) went on to average 27.5 points in 38.9 minutes per game, a pretty stark difference.

Carter even reference the marked difference in his play after the trade in an early January interview with TNTs John Thompson that he didn’t always push himself in Toronto.  The fan base in Toronto felt betrayed and letdown and considering the team didn’t add a single tangible asset for the greatest player in its history, it also set the franchise back several years.  Carter is still roundly booed upon his return to the ACC.

So why Carter?  As painful as it is to admit, Vince Carter was Toronto basketball, the team never had more success than during the Vin-sanity tenure and individually Vince was the greatest player to ever play for the team, period.  During the height of his popularity, people often included Carter in talks for the games greatest player, and on countless occasions Vince literally put the team on his back and was almost single-handedly responsible for some of the best Raptors basketball in team history, and for those reasons I have to rank Vince Carter as the greatest Toronto Raptor of all time.

Losing a player with the abilities and talents of Chris Bosh is a tough pill to swallow.  Bosh was a gamer and a highly skilled player who was also fiercely competitive, his 24 ppg and 10 rpg is something you do not simply replace.  Chris Bosh was a star player, and in the NBA that means a few things.  First, you get calls (even marginal) and that will send you to the free-throw line, a lot, Bosh had a career high in FTA and FTM last season.  Second, you draw attention and the extra man, which frees up teammates and allows them to get into open space and hopefully take advantage offensively. 

Chris Bosh was also a facilitator, he often had plays run through him and he was excellent at reading the double team and finding the proper outlet, a skill that simply takes years to hone.  How often do you see a newbie big man dribble himself into trouble or turn the ball over repeatedly as they just do not have the court vision or awareness that year’s in the league brings.  Chris Bosh was also a solid teammate and an above average defensive rebounder given his relatively slight frame for the power forward position.  Bosh really stepped up his hustle game and made sure he was consistently attacking the basketball – that is all that makes a league average rebounder, hustle.

However, Chris Bosh was not without his weak points also.  Bosh was not a dominant low post player, he has shown he can be easily pushed around by a stronger big man and in all of the years he was with Toronto he could never quite carry them to the next level for any real extended periods of time.  His supporting cast, while not legendary was never completely horrendous.  Another worry for me with Bosh long term is the wonky knee, have you seen the size of that knee brace?  Images of a Jermaine O’Neal type decline just cannot escape my mind and I think he has already shown some signs that he just might be beginning to slowly break down. 

Bosh has improved his physique over the years which will bode well for the coming battles with Dwight Howard, but the Miami Heat better hope they pick up some much needed size and physicality to match up against some of the other bigger Eastern teams or they will get pounded down low.  I foresee some extremely intense battles in the coming season against the Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal, even if he doesn’t guard O’Neal, it appears O’Neal has a grudge against Bosh in some shape or form (think RuPaul)  so the bodies and elbows might be flying and that is a battle Bosh simply cannot win.

The biggest question remains how will the Raptors manage without their franchise star forward?  It appears they want to play an extremely up-tempo offensive game and they have even reworked their roster to be a little more defensively aware.  It’s hard to blame Bryan Colangelo for the Bobcat trade being reneged (would have landed them a solid centre in Tyson Chandler and swingman Boris Diaw while also disposing of the terrible Jose Calderon contract), he has proven to be a mover and a shaker and I think the team is still in great hands and in fact I think the franchise will be better sans Bosh going forward. 

The question was asked internally and will probably be questioned by his current employer in a few years, is Chris Bosh really worthy of being a MAX guy?  Even with Bosh’s weaknesses and drawbacks you just don’t simply replace the man you decided was your franchise player and the 24&10 that accompanied him on a nightly basis.  But we have discussed Chris Bosh ad nauseum and it’s time for all to move on and set our sights on the future, which certainly isn’t as bleak as most think. 

For any immediate success the Raptors will have to see some serious internal development year over year and two prime candidates for breakout seasons have to be the new power forward Andrea Bargnani and our 1st round pick from last season shooting guard Demar Derozan.  With Bargnani sliding into his natural position (or best suited) I think the best is yet to come with the silky smooth 7’0” Italian born shooter.  With improved strength and increased overall confidence I think Bargnani will definitely average 20+ points per game and with a little extra hustle (the key ingredient to a successful rebounder) could bump his rebound totals to 8-9 a game.  In short, I think Bargnani will take his game to a much higher level this season.

Demar Derozan was the talk of the latest NBA Summer League as he basically dominated each game from beginning to end, which was the reasoning behind sending him.  When I watched Derozan he reminded me of a young Tracy McGrady in terms of raw athleticism and natural ability.  If Derozan takes a big step forward in his development this season, that could go a very long way in helping to replace the 24 points coming off the books [Chris Bosh departing].  He has packed on some additional muscle and with the increased strength should come an even more explosive attack the rim style.

Another player I am extremely excited to watch game in and game out is the “Brazilian Blur” Leandro Barbosa.  Although he has battled injuries the past few seasons he has the ability to be an impact scorer (he averaged 18 PPG off the bench in Phoenix only a couple seasons ago) and it will be interesting to see how Jay Triano utilizes his new guard.  Will he save him for the second unit and the first man off the bench to hopefully punish the opposition guards (and wear them out) or will Barbosa find himself in the starting unit for basically the first time in his career? 

Small forward Linus Kleiza brings more of an edge and can be a fairly reliable bench scorer and possible starter.  Everybody remembers the baseline dunks that he will showcase from time to time and he brings the toughness and grit that we have been seriously lackingSonny Weems shouldn’t be underestimated and he has a lot of reasons to improve his overall game, money being the primary motivator after seeing his good buddy Amir Johnson sign a shiny new contract don’t think Weems doesn’t want to get his.  Weems has all the tools and raw athletic ability you could ask for but he needs to continue to develop that mid-range jumper and overall consistency to his game.

Speaking of Amir Johnson I have to admit I am a huge fan of his game, the guy gets up and down the court, is an outstanding rebounder and I believe has untapped offensive abilities but does not dominate the ball or require plays run through him to be an effective scorer.  Foul trouble has haunted him over his career but something tells me we are going to see a much improved and matured version of Johnson over the life of his contract, his best basketball is still to come.

It appears now that the chances of trading Jose Calderon are slim to none and our point guard situation will again be the two-headed monster of Calderon and Jarrett Jack, which isn’t the best duo in the league but teams could do worse.  Calderon for all the criticism has been a fairly consistent offensive player for most of his Raptors career, he is extremely efficient running the team’s offense and if a defensive scheme or system can be put in place to lessen the impact of his woeful on the ball defence the Raptors would still get plenty of value out of Calderon.

Wildcards for this season include Julian Wright (6’8” swingman who is an athletic defender) and Ed Davis (undersized but very athletic rebounder and strong defender).  Hopefully there is some available playing time for them to develop.  Joey Dorsey (likely NBADL bound)honestly has the physique of Dwight Howard and he looked liked an absolute monster in the summer league, he obviously isn’t even close to the same type of super-athlete that Howard is, but man that body.  Solomon Alabi is another intriguing big man who will likely see limited minutes and opportunities in a suddenly relatively deep pool of big men.

The Raptors have the trade exemption still firmly in hand, and with a few teams looking to unload, this could prove to be a valuable chip.  We also have more long term financial flexibility and what I feel is at least the beginning of a stronger team overall given the system we wish to employ.  Although though they are criticized for being too Euro-centric in their draft/sign strategy, I am afraid this will have to likely continue as it has become abundantly (and loudly) clear that American born African-American ballers just do not see Toronto as a serious and viable market for their tastes. 

Most will agree and some players have gone on record saying TO is the spot to visit for road trips (almost all the NBA ballers hit up Caribana annually) and even Sir Charles Barkley recently called Toronto “One of the ten best cities in the world” but whether it be the cultural differences, hockey mania, higher taxes or just the fact they do not get the desired American TV exposure (and the potential for milk moustaches) they do not want to commit their prime playing years to this city and scene.

Still, fact is, money talks and the Raptors will have some to spend in the coming years, and lets be real outside of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, is there really a better all-around city in North America to spend prolonged time in than Toronto?  We will still continue to bring in talent, as we always have, this time we need to add the missing equation – sustained meaningful and winning basketball. 

What’s the old adage, if you build it, they will come?

So my television went through a hot tub time machine yesterday afternoon, all the way to the year 1999.  Ok, so in actuality I just tuned into Raptors TV on my day off from work and they were showing a retro game from 1999 featuring the Toronto Raptors against the Los Angeles Lakers.  Although I actually remembered this particular game and the end result I couldn’t bring myself to turn the game off.  The Raptors were in Los Angeles playing a prime Shaq Diesel, Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Glen Rice as well as youngster Derek Fisher, among others.  Kobe Bryant wasn’t dressed for the game, but he and his afro did make a few cameo appearances during timeouts.

Watching an absolutely lethal Vince Carter operate with a youthful and reckless abandon was of course painful to watch.  To make matters worse Carter even toughed out a fairly hard foul from none other than Shaq and after heading to the dressing room for some repairs Carter actually made it back onto the floor and amazingly played even harder.  Tracy McGrady was getting some playing time off the bench and showing all of the early signs that a star was looming underneath that long and scrawny body, he made a few dazzling plays. 

But this isn’t another if we could’ve only kept Marcus Camby, Chris Bosh, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Damon Stoudemire/Chauncey Billups (what, you were expecting Kenny Anderson?) though seriously, to say Toronto hasn’t been a talent magnet would be a lie.  The thing I wanted to discuss was something that was so visibly evident while watching and clearly missing from today’s version of the Toronto Raptors – toughness. 

The Raptors were not pushovers for one second of the game, not even the huge frame of Shaquille O’Neal could push around or intimidate a Raptor without some form of retribution.  No, Colton Orr didn’t jump onto the court and pound somebody into oblivion but when Vince Carter was hammered by Shaq and sent to the floor, there was somebody else in his ear after it occurred – his name was Charles Oakley.

Outside of the hard foul on Carter, Shaq was relatively “well behaved” and while watching the game it was refreshing to see a level of compete, a level of disdain for our opponents and a measure of grit and toughness that I have honestly not seen from the Raptors in years.  Our toughest player last season (in terms of action shown) was Jay Triano – need I say more?  When I heard we were on the brink of adding (supposedly) Tyson Chandler and Matt Barnes I was excited more for the intangibles, edge and toughness they would hopefully bring to the team.  In our best years the Raptors were a collection of veteran defensive minded big men who played with an edge (in 1999 led by Butch Carter) with solid wing play (Carter and McGrady) and strong overall athleticism. 

Our roster against the Lakers in 1999 featured tough, strong and fierce competitors in Antonio Davis, Kevin Willis, Charles Oakley, Doug Christie, Alvin Williams and Dee Brown.  Needless to say we weren’t pushed around and Vince Carter’s defence didn’t look so porous when he was being helped by the rugged Davis, Oakley and Willis.  Our bench even included the little general Muggsy Bogues and the sharp shooter Dell Curry.

Fast forward to the 2010/2011 Toronto Raptors and the level of compete and intensity is cranked down about 100 km/h (or for Bosh, 60 mph) when compared to that 1999 team.  A part of me thinks the game has changed and the league no longer values the intangibles that an Oakley, Davis and Willis could bring.  Look around the league and try to name a player or two that are even comparable to the above mentioned trio of big men.  Outside of Reggie Evans, the Raptors roster is certainly void, and around the NBA the names aren’t exactly abundantly clear – maybe Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Bogut, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes or Kenyon Martin?

But if there was one area where I think we can all agree we need to address, and address it now, is our team toughness.  Colangelo obviously agrees as he was almost successful in retooling the roster by adding the aforementioned Tyson Chandler and Matt Barnes.  It would’ve almost been like adding Antonio Davis and Doug Christie all over again, and it would’ve been well received, Barnes would have assuredly become a huge fan favourite in Toronto given his blue collar style of play.  No offence to Reggie Evans (and maybe he comes into camp in shape this year) but a guy playing a tough, hardnosed style for 8-10 minutes a night just isn’t enough for this current roster.

Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, Demar Derozan and Ed Davis should be forced to watch these old ballgames and almost be mandated to incorporate some of the edge and toughness shown from that group into their own games.  I watched Demar Derozan in the summer league a few weeks back and he looks noticeably bigger and stronger, his handle still needs work but he was being very aggressive at both ends of the floor.  I am not saying he will ever develop into this type of player, but he honestly reminded me a lot of a young Tracy McGrady with his raw athleticism and lean frame – this was also reaffirmed slightly after watching the retro 1999 game versus the Lakers.

It’s hard to question Bryan Colangelo’s insistence on turning the Raptors into a more European centric model, as the best American born players simply do not want to commit their prime playing years to the city of Toronto, do I need to go into examples?  Even role players or aging veterans weren’t exactly lining up to come here as we had to bribe Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley was on the last legs of his career and Kevin Willis was running out of options elsewhere.  But for the Raptors to truly start competing on the highest level again in the future we will have to look to our past and regain an element that has been lacking for far too many years whether of the European or American variety – balls.

BallHype: hype it up!