Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors’

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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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.

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?

This is the re-write, the first read very harsh and abrasive towards Chris Bosh and the way he ended his tenure, I think the word RuPaul was fairly prominent.  I have come to realize I will miss Chris Bosh but perhaps not as much as he might end up missing Toronto, where he was without question the main attraction.  In the end, life goes on, enjoy.

To discuss Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors, follow me on TWITTER!  @tdotsports1

*UPDATE – May 24/2011* Lebron James showing the NBA why he is the best player of all time, why the Miami Heat will beat the Chicago Bulls and make it to the NBA finals in their first season together.

Based solely on numbers it is hard to argue that Chris Bosh wasn’t the best Raptor player in franchise history.  If Vince Carter though enigmatic at times was the most talented then Chris Bosh was the most productive.  However I have a feeling Chris Bosh will be the easier of the two to get over and slowly forgotten, something that cannot be said for Vin-sanity.  Make no mistake Bosh will be booed heavily upon his return, that you can guarantee, and the first game back will be genuine ‘from the heart’ boo’s, but after that, they will boo because they feel they have to, not because they really deep down ‘Vince Carter hatred’ want to boo. 

During last night’s interview with ‘Sportsnet’ (a pretty weak effort I must add, not exactly a tough line of questioning) Bosh said he does not regret the past seven years and what was accomplished with the team.  I tried to do the math in my head quickly to try and comprehend the fact that Chris Bosh was a Raptor for seven years, it seemed like a lot less.  For one, he had an NBA body for maybe two of them with a few meaningful games mixed into a mostly unremarkable tenure, even forgettable.  Fact is trade Bosh for Lebron James in Toronto last season and the Raptors are making a deep playoff run.

Just like basketball fans across the world have already forgotten about Chris Bosh, as Dwyane Wade and Lebron James are the two big ticket items in Miami.  Legendary figures Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan didn’t even as much make mention of Chris Bosh when they weighed in on Lebron’s decision to ‘take his talents’ to South Beach.  Chris Bosh can say (and tweet) all the right things and act like it doesn’t bother him, but I can almost guarantee that if he would have known Lebron James was going to ride into town and essentially make Chris Bosh the forgotten and dreaded third wheel almost immediately he might have chosen a different team, maybe even Toronto.

Chris Bosh is a very solid basketball player, but his game has excelled the past few seasons because the ball has been in his hands and he has been counted upon to be a playmaker.  Bosh is not great off the ball, he does not possess the size or strength needed to push his way onto the block or get great position down low.  He gets the ball from 15-feet with his strong face-up game and punishes the normally bigger and slower defender.  As the third option, his numbers will plummet, and the things that the third option normally do (rebound, shot block, hustle, lockdown D) are the things we as Raptors fans know he does not excel at. 

Bosh was our go-to scorer, for better or worse, but he was anything but a clutch rebounder, big time hustle guy or lockdown defender.  You cannot blame one man for a team wide problem but when your power forward is not a huge body or a solid defensive rebounder, it shows, and how many nights Raptor fans were frustrated when the other team just killed us on the glass.  Bosh lacks that toughness, that intestinal fortitude that screams “SPARTA!!!!” 

Chris Bosh will still get his touches and a chance to chip in offensively, but one has to look no further than the defending champions in Boston to realize that for Bosh to contribute to the Heat in a meaningful way, he is going to have to make an effort to adopt the role Kevin Garnett has with the Celtics. 

KG’s PPG dropped from his career high of 24.2 (2003/2004) to 18.8 in his first season with the Celtics.  While Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will never be confused as pass first players, I’d venture to say Lebron James (20 attempts a night, 29.7 PPG last season) and Dwyane Wade (20 attempts, 26.6 PPG) dominate the ball a great deal more than the Celtics duo.  For their careers, Allen has averaged 15.9 attempts per game (12.2 in 2010) and Pierce 16.6 (12.2 in 2010).

What made the Celtics great was Garnett did everything the other two would not.  He was completely selfless as he set screens, hustled down every loose ball, rebounded with reckless abandon and played with an in your face toughness that dared a defender to drive the lane on him.  The Celtics MVP might have been Paul Pierce, but everybody knew who made that team tick, it was a healthy Kevin Garnett.  Chris Bosh is not on KG’s level in any of those categories, this isn’t to slam Bosh as a player but it’s just not what he developed into and what made him so valuable to the Toronto Raptors.

Like I mentioned above, nobody for better or worse will ever forget Vince Carter.  Carter was silky smooth out of the basketball hotbed of North Carolina, we felt lucky to have him and during his peak I think the feeling was mutual.  Bosh was goofy, almost nerdy, with his Kenyan marathon runners build and tiny head perched on top of that long body.  He was tech savvy long before it was trendy, he made funny ‘You-tube’ videos but didn’t convey (and still doesn’t) the ‘South Beach’ style.  Seriously, can you even picture Chris Bosh at a bar or club? 

During the latest interview Bosh awkwardly mentioned Toronto was “different”, again.  This time his defence was the metric system, “You hit the freeway and you see 40 KM per hour and you just know something is different”, relax it’s called the metric system and the speedometer on your Range Rover supports both.  He stated prior that Toronto “even smelled different”, yeah fresh air (compared to Miami) does smell different Chris, you’re right.  He could have mentioned in a country (USA) with a sky-high murder rate Miami (according to recent data) has 2.5 times the National murder rate – that’s different.  Ok, I have wandered off topic.

We’ll have to wait and see how Bosh handles being the forgotten man on the most unforgettable team ever assembled and whether the game and style he brings will mesh well with LBJ and Wade.  He likely envisioned playing second fiddle to Wade but still being highly utilized for the next five or six seasons but that is unlikely now and Bosh and his wonky knee will have to hope his body can grind out the type of work the Miami Heat are going to need out of him to be successful, because it certainly isn’t the 18-foot jump shots he is accustomed to taking.

The sobering reality is they just don’t make enough Roy Halladay’s, one of the greatest athletes to ever play in Toronto, hardworking and classy to the very end.  How did Roy end his time in Toronto, he sincerely thanked the fans, he took out a full page ad in a Toronto newspaper and more importantly did not call us “weird” as Bosh essentially has with his odd and awkward statements. 

Halladay is a CY Young winner, the very best at his position in all of baseball.  Not some skinny, injury prone, undersized power forward who gave us one shallow division title (before the Celtics were re-born) and no playoff success. 

Toronto fans are hoping the next chapter of the Raptors without Chris Bosh is also ‘different’, with sustained winning and meaningful basketball being that missing ingredient.

Ok, so I can readily admit it, I am a sports addict, obviously.  Anybody who devotes as much time as I do to a writing a sports blog (which may or may not ever be read by another human) would be in denial if he didn’t just admit otherwise.  Let me save you the time and anguish and say if you are reading this we will just assume you are likely one too. If I am not actually playing sports, I am writing, discussing and usually thinking about them in some manner – doesn’t everybody have a few fantasy teams out there to worry about?

I will always love sports because they provide a great outlet from the everyday grind, for me watching the Maple Leafs lose another game is a great way to unwind and escape the “real world” for at least three hours.  As a former athlete who played sports 24/7 I love watching the absolute best compete against each other.  Most of my friends are fellow sports lovers so it is a great social outlet also, nothing beats having a few beers discussing the current state of your favourite team while watching the game on the tube (or live). 

I was lucky enough to have taken in Justin Verlander’s no-hitter a couple of seasons back with my friend (he still owes me for that one) and we still talk about that game to this day, the tension, the electric atmosphere, and the sheer euphoria that ensued when “Mags” (Magglio Ordonez) caught the final out to complete the “no-no”.  It was a priceless moment which a good book just can’t always (or ever) deliver.

However, today I wanted to discuss the opposite end of the spectrum as I am sure we have all known (or heard of) one or two males belonging to this strange breed – the non-sports fan.  They are normally fairly easy to spot as they are either totally silent during any conversation involving sports or they are the one looking perplexed during a simple “Halladay or Stieb” debate.  Sure, sometimes they will try to throw you off the scent and will throw in a “Yankees sure look tough” from time to time, even if they are currently mired in an eight or nine game losing streak, but for the most they aren’t hard to spot.

To quote Seinfeld: “Not that there is anything wrong with that”, and there isn’t, to each his own.  I have a multitude of non-sporting interests, including poker, politics, fitness & exercise and I am also a confessed stock junkie but sports is something that I always come back to and cannot live without.  If it isn’t sports then I have to ask, what consumes your time, what are you passionate about and what the hell do you watch on TV?  When I have asked this question I normally receive the following standard answers:

1)      I read – I love a good book and I have even been known to read a few from time to time, including non-sports books!  Still, how much alone time does a man need, or have?   

2)      Music – Sorry, I have over 10,000 MP3s and counting and even play the guitar relatively well.  This will not end my love affair of sports and in fact they normally go together beautifully.

3)      Movies – Again, if you have seen the size of my DVD collection you will understand my passion and love for movies.  Goodfellas, 25th Hour and The Unforgiven among my favourites.

4)      Time – They just don’t have time.  Hard to argue that, and sometime a 3 hour ballgame can be redundant, but what else are you keeping tabs on, celebrity gossip?  Of course, this is also the same guy that is lighting up your email with terrible jokes and frivolously updating you on his every move via facebook.

5)      Girlfriend /Significant other – This one isn’t always easy to get around as some guys might want to watch sports (a lot more sports) but they cannot successfully navigate the always tricky “what is on TV” argument.  Maybe I am lucky in that regard, I am normally in charge of my remote control.

6)      Kids – Can’t argue this one, but get them involved in sports at an early age and you will gain an extra vote (and hopefully a small majority) in the household TV voting democracy.

This isn’t directed at the casual sports fan, nothing wrong with taking a smaller interest in your favourite team or sport so you have time to partake in all of your hobbies and interests.  I am more curious to find out how a male basically comes to lose touch with sports all together, and completely.  Is it simply a lack of interest, general knowledge, athletic ability or does the girlfriend/spouse simply wear the pants?

Gentlemen, what am I missing?

BallHype: hype it up!

Why did I have trouble getting to sleep, was this really worth of all the fuss and attention, did I just get caught up in all of the hype created by ESPN?  Whatever it was, it had the whole world captivated during a horribly produced, lacklustre and at times boring/awkward one hour special called simply “The Decision”.

As a fairly serious and relatively experienced poker player I wanted to try and read Lebron James body language.   Upon hearing the mumbled words “Miami Heat” I looked at James reaction, his facial expression and overall demeanour.  My first thought was it appeared that he regretted his decision almost immediately, his eyes instantly peered downward and he looked deflated and maybe even slightly defeated, he certainly didn’t come across as a man fully confident with his choice. 

Lebron James choosing the Miami Heat, with superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh firmly in-toe was James admitting that he was not capable of being “the guy”, that he needed help in his quest for greatness, for a championship.  I often get annoyed when all great young ballplayers have the inevitable comparison to the greatest champion and player of all time – Michael Jordan.  But as “The Decision” was being rammed down the collective throats of sports fans worldwide I could not help but think “what was Mike thinking”.

Michael Jordan is the biggest icon and marketing machine nearly of all time, his brand and his name has never ‘lost it’, his style and swagger have persevered through a few rough patches – an awful minor league baseball career, stories of gambling and adultery, “Floor Jordan” in Washington and the controversial Hall of Fame acceptance speech that left more than a few people empty and a bit sour.  However, in his prime playing days, would Michael Jordan have put the city of Chicago through what Lebron put Cleveland fans through?

Imagine for a minute that back in the 1980s Michael Jordan after being defeated in a playoff series after clearly not playing his best basketball hold a news conference and state to the world, “I cannot beat them, so I am going to be joining the Pistons.”  Michael Jordan at one point was defeated while playing some of the best basketball in his illustrious career.  He was defeated for the first seven years of his career, just like Lebron James.  Admitting he wasn’t capable or talented enough to lead a team on his own was not part of Jordan’s DNA code and Jordan’s response to his adversity was simply to work harder, practise longer, sacrifice, battle and endure.

Lebron James for all the talk of winning championships (multiple according to him) took the easy way out as he is about to join a super-team, a team that will be soundly booed league wide, and a team that will have three superstars used to the bright lights and spotlight shining firmly on them, and only them.  James was on a path to immense greatness and the personal stats (nearly an average of a triple-double) he put up in his first seven years are on par with legends past.  Simply put, he was starting to be in the conversation of the greatest ballplayer of all time, I feel that conversation is over.

One championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers would have been worth three or four titles in Miami, the city of Cleveland is starving for a champion, for a glimmer of a champion, for a glimmer of hope.  Lebron James built that organization into something of a marvel, Cleveland basketball was relevant and even influential.  James isn’t leaving some sad-sack team that just couldn’t compete with the big boys, they were the big boys – the Cleveland Cavaliers had the top record in the NBA in 2009/2010!

The Miami Heat will be a force to be reckoned with, this point I cannot dispute without being a fraud.  They might not win in their first season together, but if/when the pieces start to fit together and if the ego’s can be firmly checked at the beach the Heat could be something extraordinary.  But the plain truth is that the individual legacy for Lebron James will be forever tarnished. 

After he made his choice to go to South Beach I had to turn on NBA TV to see what the pundits and experts were saying.  “The heir to Michael Jordan now dies with Kobe Bryant” Chris Webber stated.  “I think we can safely take Lebron James out of that equation.”  Most of the reaction was similar, that he was admitting defeat, that he was a front-runner, he couldn’t be the man the way Michael Jordan was the man.

James numbers are going to surely decline as there is no way around sharing the ball and touches with Dwayne Wade (who absolutely dominates the ball when he is on his game).  James has been a scoring champion, and MVP twice and basically the league’s pre-eminent player since his rookie season.  The NBA is a numbers oriented game and its players are judged by their stats accordingly.  If his numbers slip from 29/8/7 to 20/6/5 in my mind unless they reel off five or six championships in six or seven seasons his legacy will be forever lessened. 

MJ not only led the league in scoring and took his game to heights not yet seen, he also led his team to the Promised Land on six occasions, sure he had Scottie Pippen to ride shotgun, but mostly the teams assembled in Chicago were built entirely around Michael’s skills and talents, almost perfectly I might add. 

The Heat undoubtedly owns the best 2-3-4 combo in the league, but they are not without some lingering doubts:

*Are Wade and James going to be in sync, able to defer and play off each other as opposed to dominating the ball for long stretches of games?

*Who takes the final shot?  What animosity or jealousy will build due to this?

*Will Chris Bosh (oh yeah, he is on the team too?) live with being the forgotten man?  When we talk drop in numbers, could Bosh’s PPG be cut in half – Bosh averaged 24 per game last season?

*Injuries – Have you seen the size of Bosh’s knee brace, is a Jermaine O’Neal style decline not out of the question for the slightly built Bosh? 

Dwayne Wade has not exactly been the model of perfect health himself and the reckless abandon his style of play produces isn’t exactly a pre-cursor for future health – think Allen Iverson.

*Salary cap – The Heat still need to fill out a roster and will have 70-80% of their payroll tied up in three players, albeit three great players, this is still a legitimate concern.

*Chemistry – Some say this is overrated, but it can be a tricky thing for a basketball team, especially one under the microscope this one will be under.  Reporters will be searching for angles, stories, dissension in the ranks and any chinks in the armour.  How long until the first story breaks that one of Wade or James are unhappy with the current situation – even if it is not founded? 

So how does the story end?  Well, the players are signed for five or six seasons – depending on player options.  There will be a honeymoon phase, a transition period, a championship season and a moment of clarity.  We are clearly in the honeymoon phase, where nothing can possibly go wrong, and it’s all smiles, hugs, twitters and parties (in Miami). 

The transition period will start after training camp this October when it becomes real, when reality hits that suddenly they are the only player on the team that matters, that the ball does not necessarily run solely through James/Wade/Bosh.  This is clearly the most important period, when the ego’s must be checked, when the players must look in the mirror and backup their rhetoric about winning being the only thing that matters.

I would have to think the Heat will win at least one NBA Championship, they will straighten out any roster or salary cap issues for at least one season and get the ring that James and Bosh both covet.  But the NBA will adjust, teams will find a way and other big moves will be made – there is already talk of a New York trio of Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, could this be the new trend for team building? 

The moment of clarity could come at any point, and it could come to one of the “Big three” at any moment in time.  The realization will come that their talents are rare, and they are being stifled and wasted, that they should be leading a team and taking their games to new heights as opposed to passively deferring.  Therein lies the danger of such an unprecedented move for an NBA franchise, never before has this been done so we do not have a barometer for success or failure or a model to judge it against.  With all due respect to the Celtics trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce I do not think anybody would argue that all three were in the early stages of their prime years.

All I know is as much as I try to pretend not to care about the NBA anymore; the truth is I couldn’t be more intrigued to see what the future holds.   I lost about half a night worth of sleep, I wonder if Lebron James will lose more when he suddenly realizes that “The decision” was the wrong one if he wanted to ever truly be considered the greatest basketball player to ever live. 

This loyal Raptor fan says “GO Lakers!”