NBA Previews - The Toronto Raptors

Back from the honeymoon Howland takes part in the blogosphere NBA team Previews. With some time off to reflect on all the off-season happenings it may come as a surprise to some to see how he see's this team finishing.

After tying the knot and hitting California for 10 days things have finally settled down and I am now able to re-focus on all the goings on at the HQ! It been a long and much needed break, but with the season right around the corner I couldn't be more excited. 

As we have done the past few seasons we are partaking in the massive NBA Blogger Team Preview project set-up by Jeff at Celtics Blog. We of course are looking at the Raps, as well as Ryan McNeill over at Hoops Addict and Full Court Pest.

And with that...

Team Name: Toronto Raptors

Last Year’s Record: 33-49

Key Losses: Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker, Roko Ukic

Key Additions: Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright, Marco Belinelli, Reggie Evans, Amir Johnson, Jarret Jack, Rasho Nesterovic

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season? Bryan Colangelo is known league wide, as a man of action and a man dedicated to winning. This off-season was no different. After coming off a highly disappointing 2008-2009 campaign, Colangelo completely re-built his club’s roster, with a few noteable exceptions.

The Raptors were active early and often this off-season. Right off the bat Colangelo dealt free-agent bust Jason Kapono to Philadelphia for rebounder extraordinaire Reggie Evans. This highly applauded move was just the tip of the ice-berg.

The "biggest" acquisition in the eyes of many was the four-team mega-deal that really boiled down to the Raptors sending Shawn Marion to Dallas and the Raps acquiring Hedo Tukoglu. Originally it looked like Turkoglu was simply going to sign with Toronto outright after having backed away from the Portland situation. Fortunately for the Raps, with some serious capology work and willing trade partners, things changed. As a consequence of the deal, the Raps not only acquired Turkoglu but also maintained their exceptions and kept their rights to Carlos Delfino (who had spent last season overseas).

Keeping the exceptions and the rights to Delfino allowed the Legomaster to make far more moves than anyone could have expected.

Devean George, acquired in the above mentioned deal, was dealt for former summer league sensation Marco Belinelli who fits perfect with this team’s "United Nations" make-up. Having kept Delfino’s rights, the Raps traded Carlos and last season’s back-up point guard, Roko Ukic, to the Bucks for Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems. With their exceptions in tact the Raps were also able to go out and sign Jarret Jack to help solidify the back-court. To round out the roster the Raps also brought back former big-man Rasho Nesterovic.

Almost lost in all of this movement was the Raptors selection of DeMar DeRozan with the 9th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Despite a number of wing players on the roster, look for DeRozan to be given every opportunity to secure some PT and possibly even begin the season as the teams starting shooting guard. It’s been a number of years since the Raps have had an athlete like DeRozan on the wing and the team and fans alike will be looking to see what this youngster can do.

By the time summer had ended the Raps roster had more new names than old. The teams core of Calderon, Bosh and Bargnani remains in place, but if you slept on this team during the summer you will be shocked at how many new faces will be wearing Raptors red this coming season.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

On paper it looks like this team will have no problems putting the ball in the hoop. The roster is rife with shooters and offensive weapons. It will now be up to full time Head Coach Jay Triano to determine how a limited number of shots will be divided up amongst so many scorers.

Perhaps the team’s biggest strength however, is depth. The Raptors roster is now two deep at every position. Should the injury bug strike this year’s club they will be well prepared to deal with such a turn of events. Unlike last season when unproven players like Will Solomon and Roko Ukic were required to play heavy minutes the Raps are now playing with a full deck.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Despite all the moves made there are still some pretty obvious holes in this roster. Despite adding some toughness in Evans, Johnson and Jack, the players who will be logging the most minutes strike fear in the hearts of no-one. When you look at the Raps likely starting line-up of Calderon, DeRozan, Turkoglu, Bosh and Bargnani there’s little by way of grit and there’s even less rebounding ability.

When Colangelo decided to sign Turkoglu rather than Marion there were many positives. Turkoglu has proven himself to be an adept scorer and someone who can create his own shot. On the flip side, the Raps substituted a great rebounder in Marion with a very poor one. Hedo, despite his athletic abilities and size is a terrible rebounder. This would not be such a concern if the Raps had a good rebounding front-court to begin with but that clearly is not the case. Andrea Bargnani is a solid offensive player but he, like Hedo, is a weak rebounder. In his short career Andrea has shown little desire to mix it up in the paint and work the glass. Given the lack of rebounding support surrounding Chris Bosh it would be shocking if the Raps were not outrebounded on most nights. Although there are some good rebounders on the bench in the form of Evans and Johnson I am not sure the Raps can afford to play either of these players extended minutes.

For all intensive purposes if the Raps are going to see the right side of .500 they are going to have to win a lot of shoot-outs.

4. What are the goals for this team?

I think if you were to ask any of the players what the goals are for this team it would be to make the playoffs and hopefully make some noise. What is interesting however, is that there is little consensus as to whether this is a realistic goal. This team could win 50 games or it could win 30 and in either case I would not be that surprised.

Perhaps the biggest goal for this team is to prove to Chris Bosh that Toronto is the place where he would like to be long-term. The best way to do this is to win games. This season much hangs in the balance.

5. What can fans expect from Hedo Turkoglu?

The acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu did not come without criticism. Hedo has been given a handsome contract for someone who is likely on the downside of his career and there will be high expectations on him to perform near an All-Star level. The expectations as of today are very high.

Unfortunately when a player comes into a new situation with high expectations the results are often mixed. It will take some time for all of these new faces to gel and create solid chemistry. There will be some bumps in the road as Hedo, Bosh and Bargnani all learn to work together. What is concerning is that reports are indicating that Hedo is worn out after last seasons run to the Finals and this summer playing with his National Team. If Hedo does not come into camp fully healthy, thus delaying this team’s ability to develop as a unit, this could prove very detrimental to this teams aspirations. I fully expect a rocky start but hope I am wrong.

Projected Finish: 41-41

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