I missed the first run of post-season speeches but thanks to our readers and some replays last night on Raptors TV, got all caught up.
There was nothing too ground-breaking to take away from them, mostly the standard "we need to improve" and "it’s a business, anything can happen" type responses.
However before we move onto Friday’s grades, I figured it would be a good time to take a look at some of the issues worth following this off-season. Last year with no picks and limited financial flexibility summer seemed to last forever but this year should be different...although from this breakdown of the team's salary, there still isn't a ton of wiggle room.
Toronto of course has a first round pick, slotted to be seventeenth overall barring trades etc, and while their second-rounder was dealt last year, the depth of this draft may mean that Bryan Colangelo gets involved there as well.
On top of this, Toronto has a number of expiring contracts after next season which may be able to be moved about and with the disappointment of the season, it’s more obvious this summer than last that moves need to be made.
Let’s take a look at 10 questions concerning this current Raptor club.
1) Can the Raptors continue on with both TJ and Jose? This is the biggie obviously. Yesterday both Ford and Calderon reiterated that the relationship they have is a solid one and that there is no ill will between the two. I’m certain that that’s true however when Ford is adamant in his post-season interviews about being a starter, and Bryan Colangelo is adamant in his about keeping Jose (likely at a starting point guard salary) , something’s gotta give as they say.
I think BC will talk with both, talk with his coaches, and then make a decision in regards to this issue. Jose is one of a kind in that I’m sure he’ d be willing to come off the bench behind TJ if meant more wins for the team. However that’s no longer a sure thing as Calderon in many ways has surpassed Ford in terms of on-court play. Add in Ford’s injury concerns and attitude and it certainly makes a lot of sense to move him.
However the other side of the equation is just what can you get for an under-sized and under-performing point guard with a history of serious injuries? Colangelo may decide to move Ford, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to find a taker.
So to answer the question, no I don’t think the Raps can continue on with both players. I think Jose should stay with Ford being sent packing. However deep down I think we’ll see both on the roster to start next season. I’m just not sure Ford’s trade value is high enough right now but perhaps with a healthy start to the season and good production, Colangelo will be able to swing a deal. An interesting idea might be swapping TJ Ford for Boris Diaw. Maybe Ford won’t be so happy coming off the bench but on a team with Nash, Shaq, Amare and Grant Hill, he’ll probably fall in line. Plus with Nash wearing down (sad but true after watching him against San Antonio), he’ll get a ton of minutes. The problem with this deal, even though it makes a lot of sense on paper for both teams, is that both Diaw and Ford are Base-Year Compensation players making the financial aspects of something like this quite tricky. In fact, with TJ being a BYC player, any trade is going to take some creative accounting.
2) Who will be coaching the team next season? I think it will be Sam Mitchell. Bryan Colangelo was extremely adamant during his talks with the media that the rumours of Mitchell’s demise were just that – innuendo and extrapolations based on the situation with his former coach Mike D’Antoni.
We’ve seen the past few seasons that a good number of NBA coaches are only as good as the talent laid in front of them and this Raptor team definitely needs more.
However with Phoenix being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by San Antonio last night, who knows what happens with D’Antoni. And I for one would love to have him behind the bench in Toronto.
So for now I think that Mitchell’s safe but like Andrea Bargnani, I think next year is do or die.
3) Is Andrea Bargnani a bust? Speaking of Bargs, here’s the next question and another biggie. Did Colangelo over-reach on the young Italian by making him the top pick of his draft class? Right now, it’s still tough to say. Bargs definitely regressed this year and strangely in the playoffs looked like the complete opposite of last year’s version of himself. Against Orlando he displayed some solid low-post defense and toughness in the paint. He also played through two quick fouls on many an occasion. However unlike last year against New Jersey, his offence was woeful and his shooting touch from long-range, something that was such a big factor for Toronto last year, was MIA. Perhaps then next year will see the combination of both alter-egos and Toronto will have a deadly shooting, solid defending 4-5?
Thinking back, Andrea really was the X factor for the team against Orlando. If he had even managed to average 15-18 points a game, wouldn’t Toronto still be playing right now? No one was expecting Moon, Delfino or even Parker to put up those numbers on a consistent basis offensively but Bargs should have been able to based on last year.
This was further reinforced by Bryan Colangelo in his media chat whereby he stressed that "Bosh needs help." "This is the sum of it all: we need to get some more help for Chris Bosh," he said. "Whether it's protecting him inside in the paint, getting a little bit more of a presence in there, to just getting him another scorer that's going to shoulder some of that burden, it's something that's clear we have to get better."
BC went on to mention that that help meant improved scoring, rebounding, defence, all areas that Bargs was drafted to help in. Next year Il Mago needs to show that BC made the right decision.
So is he a bust? I still think we’re about eight months away from being able to give any sort of definitive answer to that question but right now it’s clear that he has a lot of work to do. Maybe he never achieves "franchise player" status…but it would be nice at least to see him turn into a taller version of Glenn Robinson.
4) Can Chris Bosh continue to improve or has he reached a plateau? Another good question and one that will be important for BC and his crew to address going forward. Bosh is one of the best in the league, and a player who is a perfect fit in this market. However this year showed that he still hasn’t reached that upper echelon in which players like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Tim Duncan currently reside. I’d put him one level lower along with the Carlos Boozers and Tracy McGradys…guys that can dominate games but don’t always raise their games when it counts most.
But I do think he can continue to improve, especially in the area of rebounding and defense. He’s got a very good offensive arsenal right now, including 3-point range, but there’s still lots of room for growth at the other end of the court. Last season his rebounding average dropped below nine a game and I’d like to see that jump to about 10 next year, something he’s completely capable of doing.
Forget bulking up though (and therefore forget any Manute Bol comparisons Stephen A.) I want Bosh to remain wiry strong and active on the court. Too much size will slow him down and limit his quickness, something that’s a huge advantage over other players in the post. Perhaps CB4’s improvements over the next few seasons will be incremental in scope, but I don’t feel he’s reached his peak yet as a player.
5) Who stays next year? Prior to the Orlando series I had stated that I had only six returnees on my dance card for next year. But now that Jason Kapono showed how valuable he can be when used correctly, I’ve revised my list to include Bosh, Moon, Bargs, Jose, and Kapono.
Yep, almost everyone else is on the fence or out the door (ahem TJ.) We’ll have an entire article devoted to this question later on but right now I have no qualms about moving anyone other than the aforementioned five. And even then, if the price was right, Kapono, Moon and Bargs would be a-ok to be traded in my books.
6) What are the biggest concerns that the Legomaster needs to address this off-season? The top two for me are rebounding and the lack of someone from the wing who can create his own shot and get to the rim. In fact, it would be great to find a player who can do both.
BC may try and address these issues via the draft, more on this in a moment, or look to make a splash via free agency. Right now the options via free agency aren’t great as most of the top dogs are likely looking for major paydays (those with early termination options), are restricted free agents, or others who fit one Toronto need, but not another. Nevertheless, here are some options, first the restricted ones:
-Corey Maggette (early termination option)
-Ron Artest (early termination option)
-Trevor Ariza (early termination option)
And of course Toronto’s own Carlos Delfino.
From the unrestricted camp:
We’ll get into these players and others in more depth as we near the July 1 free-agent signing period but as you can see, there’s not a lot of great low-cost choices. Perhaps Pietrus, Tony Allen (athletic slasher, solid perimeter defender), Dorrell Wright (still improving offensively but great rebounder at the 3-4), Walter Hermann (criminally underused) and Trevor Ariza (the closest thing to a slasher that won’t cost over $8 million a season from this list) might spark some interest however.
Outside of this list though, the two free agents I’d be watching the most are DeSagana Diop (shot-blocking and size besides Bosh) and Chris Duhon (assuming TJ goes.)
Of course in addition to the rebounding and "slashing" issues, this team could also use an injection of testicular and mental fortitude, some more leadership, higher basketball IQ, and improved defense.
Yes, the Legomaster has his work cut out for him this summer.
Could Diop be manning the paint for the Raps next year?
7) Can Jamario Moon develop into that slashing 3 the team needs? I don’t think so. I love Moon. I had the pleasure of seeing him first suit up last summer for the Raps in their pre-draft tryouts and he’s already one of Toronto’s most valuable assets. He had a great season and it’s scary to think just how important he was to the team’s success considering it was his rookie season in the league.
However I just don’t think he has it in him. In the NBA, players that attack the rim rarely develop that mentality after college. Guys like Corey Maggette, Andre Iguodala, Allen Iverson and Kevin Martin looked for contact even in college as that was simply their style of play. Moon is as good or better an athlete than any of the aforementioned players but getting to the rim in traffic is not something he does. I expect that we’ll see him do a better job next year, but between his demeanour and style of play, I think he’s better served coming off the bench.
Next year I think this team really should have a starting line-up of Rasho at the 5 (assuming he’s still a Raptor next fall, yet another tough question actually), Bosh at the 4, a slasher at the 3, perhaps Parker at the 2, Jose at the 1.
Then off the bench you have a defensive presence in Moon who can play the 2-3 and even 4 in a smaller line-up, a defensive-minded back-up PG, Bargs to play the 3-4-5, Kapono gunning away, Garbs for rebounding and D, a pseudo-slasher in Delfino (if he can be retained at the right price) and then Hump and Graham to round out the 12.
I think Moon can be a very important piece for this team, but he’s not the answer at the 3 at this time.
8) What can the team expect from Jorge Garbajosa next year? Here’s one I’m not sure how to answer. The Jorge we saw early in the season was definitely not the same one from the year before. He laboured defensively, saw little action on the court, and didn’t have the same shooting touch for the most part. After suffering such a serious injury at his age, my gut says that he’s nearly done.
However Bryan Colangelo seems to disagree and during his post-season talk with the media made it quite clear that he thought losing Garbs was the main reason things fell apart this year.
I’m not sure I’d go quite that far but his presence was missed, especially I think in trying to close out games, something the 06-07 version of the team did a lot better than the one that just finished their season.
Furthermore regarding Jorge, BC stated during the press conference that he would essentially do everything in his power to prevent Garbs from playing for Spain at the upcoming Olympic Games.
"I think it's a safe assumption that he will not be playing in the Olympics as long as he's under contract to us," Colangelo said.
So it sounds like a healthy Garbs may finally report for duty come October. I’m not sure he’ll crack the top eight on the team’s depth chart, but considering the guy’s heart and tenacity, this is one question I think we’ll have to wait to answer.
9) Will Colangelo keep his first-round draft pick? Another question I’m not sure I can answer right now. I think this one will depend on a number of factors, first of all being if there is anyone in the draft that Colangelo and his team covet. If so, perhaps we’ll even see him trade up or down to go after that player, as in the past with Marcus Williams, BC has shown no reluctance to go after the man he wants. However if the dust settles and the Legomaster feels that he’s better served packaging the pick than taking a flyer on a rookie, he’ll probably head in that direction. I think closer to the draft and once we see the workout schedules we’ll have a better idea of what direction he’s leaning.
After all, the NBA playoffs are still in the first round so many potential trade partners have their minds on other things. Once the playoffs conclude and teams begin to assess where they currently stand, things should become more clear.
10) Are BC and Sam Mitchell on the same page? I left this question until the end because it’s the one thing that stuck out for me the most from yesterday’s press talk. Colangelo acknowledged that while Sam stated in public that he was content with the season and 41 wins, in private he would say he was disappointed and BC would concur.
"The fans deserve more, the organization deserves more" BC reiterated.
I spoke on this subject late in the season and I think yesterday’s media discussions only served to further my point; there are several things Colangelo would have liked to have seen Sam Mitchell handle differently this past season.
Exhibit A seems to Andrea Bargnani and the starting, non-starting, starting, non-starting mess. And from there we can get into the point guard situation (something Colangelo conceded was the team’s "Achilles Heel" ) and various other matters that were present this season.
I don’t think this means that the two are at an impasse, but I think it does mean that both acknowledge that perhaps they weren’t quite on the same page with various issues and this off-season, they’ll need to spend some time to get back on track. This team next year simply can’t head into the playoffs without any set rotation, something I saw as a product of miscommunication throughout the season between the coach and GM.
So there are my top 10 questions, and we here at the HQ will be looking forward to seeing how Colangelo and co. answer them this off-season. One thing is for certain, I expect BC to tweak this roster and do everything in his power to push this club to the next level. Hearing him speak yesterday reignited my confidence in the direction of the team and I’m now extremely excited about the off-season.
Perhaps not as excited about the off-season as I might have been had Toronto advanced past the first round…
…but certainly more excited about it than fans of the Mavericks and Suns this morning.
PS – A big shout out to the Raptors’ media relations guru Jim Labumbard for being voted "media relations executive of the year" by the Basketball Writers Association. We’ve dealt with Jim on many an occasion and he’s always been a pleasure to work with. Hopefully we’ll get to work with him more closely in the future and kudos to him on a well deserved award.