Posts Tagged ‘Matt Barnes’

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.

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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!