Whether it is at work, at dinner parties or just out and about I have found myself talking Raptors ball a lot lately. There seems to be some genuine excitement in the city about this team. The excitement is not misplaced, but what will it take for the Raps not to disappoint?
We can all agree that BC has done a pretty darn good job changing this team. With the additions of Hedo, Jack, Rasho, Wright, George and DeRozan he has completely remade the roster and addressed most of the weaknesses that were so readily apparent last season.
This team definitely has more grit and toughness, it's deeper, and finally there is a guy who can create off the bounce and be (hopefully?) the clutch scorer this team has been desperate for.
There is reason to be excited. As of today, the debate amongst readers is how high a seed the Raps can grab this season rather than wondering if the playoffs are a possibility. There is a sense of optimism in the air.
I am also excited about the season. Late last year recapping games became more of a chore than anything else. The fans were down and out and all the while we were forced to listen about how that Raptors team with Marion might be able to turn things around. It was a bit of a farce. This year the Raps should be competitive and that will make for covering this team a lot more enjoyable.
My expectations are tempered however. The top three teams in the East are absolutely stacked. The Celtics, Cavs and Magic will undoubtedly be the class of the East and each of them will be entering into the season with a "Finals or bust" mentality. Toronto, despite all the recent moves, is just not there yet.
That's not to say the Raps can't have a very successful 2009/2010 season, but the margin for error is small. We have seen recent Raptors teams play good ball all year and then get knocked out in the first round. Been there and done that. This team will be looking to go deeper into the second season. We all know BC didn't make these moves to see this team make the playoffs and then in turn make a quick exit. I fear however, that this will be the result should the Raps not manage to secure at least the fifth seed in the East. This year the sixth seed won't be any better than the seventh or the eighth...they all result in a first round match-up with one of those top three teams. They will all result in a disappointing ending to the season.
There will be a number of teams fighting for that fourth spot. Finishing fourth will not only ensure avoiding a dreaded first round match-up with the elite but it also means home court advantage. Given how crazed Raps fans are come playoff time this advantage can't be overvalued.
Toronto will likely find itself in dead heat race with that second tier of teams including Atlanta, Washington and depending on an Odom/Boozer acquisition, the Heat. All of these teams will be battling for that precious fourth spot and it will be the games against these teams that will really capture my interest come the fall.
So the goal for this season is a simple one...place fourth. It doesn't sound too lofty a goal but it is not something that will be obtained easily. A fifth place finish wouldn't be the end of the world but the goal has to be four. Should they finish 6-8 it doesn't take a crystal ball to see what the result is likely to be. Do the Raps have enough to challenge for it? To do so would require a pretty big leap based on last year's results. Based on our poll from last week however, the answer seems to be yes.
Hopefully that optimism is a sign of things to come.