3 In the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. Suns

It's not quite the same Vince that the ACC faithful is used to, but expect plenty of boos tonight nonetheless this evening.


The NBA's trade deadline brought a flurry of moves however the Toronto Raptors didn't get involved in a single one of them.  The HQ give their take on this, and yes, preview an interesting match tonight against the Phoenix Suns.

So that's that.

Even though yesterday represented a fairly busy day in terms of trades at the NBA's deadline, there wasn't a peep from Bryan Colangelo and his team.  The Toronto Raptors chose to stand pat, and will take their rag-tag current group through to the end of the season.

How do I feel about it?

Well, hearing some of the names that were bandied about, and the fact that some teams seemingly gave up very little to get solid pieces, an obvious first reaction is one of frustration.  Gerald Wallace is no spring chicken, but couldn't Toronto have made a similar deal with the 'Cats, parlaying the expiring deals of Reggie Evans and Julian Wright in addition to some other cap fodder and a future pick in order to grab him?  I know TO is in "rebuild mode," but at some point the club needs to also add some quality veterans.

That being said, after sitting on the deals for a while, and looking over the landscape of trades, perhaps not making a move was actually the right one.

The fact is that the Raptors, have very little in terms of assets to give up, and if you notice, most of the big moves made yesterday were done by clubs that either had a litany of valuable pieces (OKC sacrificed Jeff Green), or significant cap room (Sacramento) to facilitate movement.

Sure, the Raps are still holding that TPE (approximately $9.1M of it remaining according to BC), but it doesn't die now that the deadline has passed, and Toronto can still use it up until approximately 11 days after July 1 apparently. This means that they can still be a player around draft time, perhaps grabbing another pick in exchange for taking on another less-than-desirable contract, maybe one that is actually of use as by that point, they should know in what direction they're going via the draft.

Say for example the club ends up with the 3rd pick in the draft and has targeted a bit man like Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, or Arizona's Derrick Williams, knowing that Kyrie Irving will be gone.  Then perhaps the club looks to take on a slightly over-priced true C or PG (the draft's two weakest positions), in order to head into July with a re-stocked cupboard.

I don't mind this plan at all, but once again it hinges on Colangelo making the right choice in the draft.  It's too early to get into this now, but the Raps simply have to hit a home run in this one, or at least a solid triple.  The top clubs in the league still build via the draft, fill in the missing pieces via free agency, and hope the whole thing works out.

In fact Toronto's opponent tonight is a good example of this.

The club, ironically under Mr. Colangelo, hit home runs in the draft via Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and even before that, Steve Nash, and were able to surround the trio with enough pieces to be a dominant team in the West for most of the 2000's.

Now though?

The club seems to caught in that NBA Never-Never Land of being decent enough to fight for a playoff spot, yet not good enough to actually win a round.

I asked Seth Pollack from SB Nation's Phoenix Suns' blog, Bright Side of the Sun, his take on the team in this week's edition of "Blogging with the Enemy..."

 

1.  RaptorsHQ:  Now that the Carmelo Anthony business is finally dying down, the NBA rumour mill will turn to other possible stars who could be changing addresses before the NBA's trade deadline.  What's your take on Steve Nash's future with the Suns?  SHOULD they move him now?

Seth Pollack:  No. Moving Nash makes no sense for the Suns. The market for him isn't that high and his value here in Phoenix is far greater than any second tier parts they could get for him now. 

2.  RHQ:  What about a deal that did take place that involved Phoenix recently; how have Carter Pietrus and Gortat worked out so far?  Was this in fact a good move by the Suns in your opinion?

SP:  I am not sure. Carter was obviously the price they had to pay to undo Sarver's Hedo mistake and to get Gortat. Marcin is a solid player. I think he's fairly limited offensively and he's not as big or athletic as you might like but he gets it done. Pietrus is an interesting guy. He's very inconsistent. He can be brilliant and he can leave you wanting to throttle him all within the same game. 

Overall, I still believe Hedo could have worked out in future years and I loved Jason Richardson as a Sun. I also believe that Robin Lopez will develop into a better center than Gortat given time. I still don't think I like the deal but I don't hate it.

3. RHQ:   Keys to tonight's game.  What do the Suns have to do to get the W?

SP:  For the Suns, the keys lately have been consistent bench play from guys like Gortat, Pietrus, Dudley, Warrick and Dragic. Even more important is Channing Frye. He's tearing it up right now with a 22 ppg average over the past four games and over 77 percent shooting! He's rebounding, defending and playing well. When he's going like this, the Suns are hard to beat because the defense has really improved enough that Suns actually are more prone to lose when they can't score as opposed to getting beat on the boards or on defense.    

 

On the Raptors' side, they're of course coming off a big win over the Chicago Bulls, and will be looking to build on the momentum created from that win.

Add in a visit from Steve Nash, always a big night, a Vince Carter appearance, and the fact that it's a Friday night game at the ACC, and this could be one of the better viewing experiences of the year for fans.

Here are our 3 keys:

1)  Intensity.  The major difference for me between the Raptors' win over the Bulls and most of the games they've played this season was the level of intensity that the club played at.  It started right from the tip and as opposed to recent fourth quarter let-downs, extended throughout.  Yes, James Johnson was instrumental in this early, but players like Andrea Bargnani and Sonny Weems carried the torch after that.

Against a hungry Suns team that is 7 and 3 in their last 10 games, and only two games out of a playoff spot, this intensity has to be there again.

2)  Andrea Bargnani.  I didn't know who that guy was playing at center for the Dinos last game, but he had Bargnani's jersey on.

In all seriousness, that was one of the best games I'd seen from Bargs all season.  Yep, his shooting percentage from the field wasn't great, but he got to the line 11 times, mixed up his O, grabbed some tough boards, dished out four assists rotated well on D...he was essentially the anti-Bargs.

It's games like this that tease fans to death and he simply he needs to start playing this way on a consistent basis. Tonight he should be matched up against big men that are a lot less mobile than Noah and co, and the team needs him to take advantage once more.

3)  Lock-down the Perimeter.  The Suns without Amar'e don't do much of their damage in the paint anymore, but are absolutely deadly from outside.  They have one of the league's most efficient field goal percentages, best true shooting percentages, and are currently fifth in the league in terms of team 3-point percentage.

Tonight Toronto absolutely needs to keep the Suns' shooters in check, although some of this is predicated on stopping Steve Nash from getting wherever he wants on the court.  Calderon got lit up by Derrick Rose Wednesday night, but against Nash he should be able to hold his own a lot better.  DeRozan, Weems, Johnson, Barbosa...all need to be focussed on containing Phoenix's perimeter types in order to try and get a W.

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