The NBA off-season can be about as dull as watching darts, lawn bowling, a boggle tournament, or televised sailing.
Well, ok, maybe televised sailing is the exception, but you get the idea.
And for fans of the Toronto Raptors, usually faced with an extended off-season that starts in April (or technically October, but who's counting) it's even more egregious.
However for us here at the HQ, the off-season is the exact opposite. Yes there isn't a lot of Raptors' news floating about the NBA blogosphere, but as a result, it gives us a chance to recharge our batteries a bit, and more importantly, without 82 games to preview, recap, liveblog and analyze, it gives us some time to let our creativity bubble.
Longtime readers know that August and September usually means a look at some topics that we don't usually get a chance to undertake during the regular season, including various interviews, many of which we repeat each off-season.
One of these series' that we started up two seasons ago, was a chat with Toronto Raptors' Assistant Coach Eric Hughes.
Having been with the club since the 2007-08 season, Coach Hughes is one of the longer tenured staff members on the Dinos. His specialty of course is player development and each off-season he not only works tirelessly with the Raps' younger players, but also can usually be found heading up Toronto's Summer League contingent in Las Vegas.
I spoke with Coach Hughes recently from Vegas, where he was lending a hand at a three-day NBA sanctioned mini-camp, and the following is a transcript of our discussion, touching on everything from Ed Davis and his development, to last year's shortened season and the impact it had on the Raptors.
RaptorsHQ: First off, big congratulations on the wedding!
Eric Hughes: Appreciate it, appreciate it. That was about a week before Summer League started so yeah, it was kind of a whirlwind summer but a lot better than the last one when we didn't do anything!
RHQ: There's so much excitement and anticipation involved leading up to a wedding normally, but then to top it off, we were hearing media reports of everyone getting on a jet and flying to New York the next day to talk to Steve Nash!
EH: That was pretty big time to have Bryan (Colangelo), and Mr. (Larry) Tanenbaum, and Marc Eversley, and Coach (Dwane) Casey and Johnny Lee, our strength coach, who all went to New York the next morning to meet with Steve Nash, there. Mr. Tanenbaum was gracious enough to fly them all out. I think they were all coming anyways, but the fact that he (Larry Tanenbaum) took his plane and flew everyone to LA and then turned around and flew everyone to New York at midnight for the meeting the next morning was pretty special, and we felt pretty lucky that those guys did that for us.
RHQ: No question, definitely an exciting time period.
So tell us a little bit now about what's going on in your world basketball-wise?
EH: Well we finished Summer League and I'm lucky enough that I live in Los Angeles in the off-season, so you know DeMar (DeRozan) lives there, Amir Johnson lives there, Ed Davis spends a lot of time there because his agent lives there, Terrence Ross, same thing, his agent lives there, Landry Fields, who we just signed, lives in Long Beach which is, you know, a half hour down the road; so we've pretty much been working out three to four days a week down in LA since we left Summer League. And then actually today (Sunday, August 5, 2012) I flew to Vegas, and Ed Davis, Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy are gonna join us here. There's an NBA Skills Camp that the NBA allows teams to send players to and it's run by Tim Grgurich, who's probably the godfather of workout. He puts on a camp every year and the NBA sanctioned it and every team in the league sends three players and a couple coaches and we work guys out as a group starting tomorrow morning (Monday, August 6, 2012) through Wednesday night (August 8, 2012). So like I said I got here today, the players have flown in, we'll have a little kick-off tonight and then we'll start up tomorrow morning.
RHQ: And then after that camp, what's on the schedule?
EH: I'll head back to LA and Amir and DeMar and Terrence and Landry will work out with us for a couple more weeks, and then I have actually not gone on my honeymoon yet , we postponed it until the end of the summer, so we are going to go on our honeymoon at the end of August for a couple of weeks, and then back to LA, and then right up to Toronto and we start getting after it for the preseason stuff before Training Camp starts.
RHQ: Go, go, go. I was actually wondering when the honeymoon was fitting into all of this!
EH: Yeah, we actually went just North of San Diego for two nights right after our wedding but you know, summer time is my busy time. You can get stuff accomplished during the season but the time when the guys make their biggest strides is in the summer which is what we didn't have last year unfortunately. Summer is a busy time but obviously I'd be married and divorced real quick if I didn't go on a honeymoon!
RHQ: (Laughing.) No kidding.
So let's go back to Summer League for a minute. How did you think the team played, and in particular, how did some of the key players fare?
EH: I thought all three of our key roster guys had good performances. The thing I think that's hurt Eddy Davis' development is playing time. I mean, Eddy's rookie year he played Summer League but that year when he played Summer League was when DeMar, Sonny Weems, Joey Dorsey all played too. I mean, we had four roster guys so it was hard for Eddy to get shots.
Then Eddy got hurt after Summer League that year, missed the Skills Camp we're working right now in Vegas because of his wrist injury, he got healthy from the wrist injury, came to Toronto, and then blew out his knee and had to have surgery.
So then he starts in the D League, and his rookie year was kind of a wash so to speak because he didn't get to play, didn't get to start with everyone else, and then as soon as the season ended, we had a lock-out, and we didn't see Eddy again until December!
Eddy's development has slowed a little bit because he hasn't had the opportunity that a normal player gets as far as his progression goes. Eddy's a guy that wants to learn, he never shies away from workout out and wants to get better. But during a lock-out you can only do so much. So I thought Eddy made great strides in Summer League and I'm glad that he decided to play.
Quincy Acy obviously got hurt in the second game and didn't play the last three games, although he probably could have played if it was the regular season. But they (Raptors' medical staff) felt that for precautionary reasons it would be best to hold him out. I thought Quincy though showed some great signs and Terrence Ross obviously had a great Summer League.
Ross was our go-to guy along with Eddy and I think he got a little tired though towards the end. That's a lot of games in a lot of days and I don't think college guys are used to that yet but it's all part of the learning process and I think he handled it well. I thought Terrence had a great Summer League though and he's continued his workouts throughout the summer. We'll get him for a couple more weeks before he moves to Toronto and gets started. Like I said, I'm happy with his progress thus far but the first year is always a learning curve so he's got more work to do.
RHQ: There was a lot of talk during Summer League about Ed rebuilding his shot and watching the games, indeed it did look not only like he had smoothened out some of the kinks, but that he was shooting it with more confidence.
EH: You know what, our shooting coach John Townsend, who we hired last year, spent roughly three weeks from the time the season ended, with Eddy in Richmond Virginia, Eddy's home town. I take my hat off to JT for that work, I really had nothing to do with it, that's JT's expertise and he did a great job with Eddy and I think that goes back to what we were talking about earlier. We knew at the end of Ed's rookie season that we needed to make some changes in his shot but like I said, you go through a lock-out, and you don't get a chance to work with him on it. And during the season, it's not only that you don't have time, but I don't know if changing someone's shot midway through a season is at the top of the priority list. You definitely work on every aspect of the player's game, but the summer when you have an extended period of time is when you work on that.
And hats off to both JT and Eddy for working on it because I agree, I don't think there's any question his shot is much improved and it's going to be a huge part of his progression and getting better in this league. He's going to have to become a better shooter.
RHQ: Looking towards this season, what else do you think you need to see from Ed in terms of development? The concern of course is that it may be tough again for him to get minutes at that four spot with so many other bodies.
EH: Yeah, Eddy's biggest thing is that he's got to become physically stronger and not shy away from contact and accepting contact and sometimes that's hard to do in practice and the only way you can get better at it is by playing games. So again, that's why it was so important for him to have played in Summer League.
But the drills we've been working on with him this summer have been built around banging him, and being physical with him, and playing one-on-one against his teammates. You can do all the drills you want though but nothing takes the place of actually scrimmaging and playing and that's something we've been trying to focus on with Ed on top of obviously trying to fix his shot.
RHQ: And talking about Terrence Ross, you saw a lot of the qualities on display that made him such an appealing draft pick out of Washington. Can you talk about some of his strengths?
EH: Obviously his biggest strength is his ability to shoot the basketball. I went up with Jim Kelly, and one of our scouts to watch him work out a couple times in May, a slow time for us as you know, and the one thing I noticed about his shot right away is how fast he gets it off. That's a hard thing to do. A lot of guys come out of college and they're really good shooters but to be able to get out with that kind of release, which I call an NBA release, he definitely has that and I saw it from day one. That was part of his success in Summer League and I think will help him progress that much faster than the other guys right away.
Physical play is something he needs to work on right away. A lot of times this summer he settled for his jump shot instead of attacking the basket and making contact with the defence and that's something DeMar DeRozan is still working on, not shying away from contact and a term we use called "fouling the defence" - get into their body and foul them before they foul you.
It's all those things we're working on you know, Terrence needs to become a better handler too, but those are all common things for rookies that you work on. There's nothing hugely out of the ordinary with Terrence that's like "oh my gosh, this is going to take a while." His things are minor things, his things are things that can be built with confidence and better strength and physical conditioning and just getting used to the grind of an NBA season.
RHQ: It's funny, I think the last few times we've talked, whether it was DeMar or Sonny, these same issues came up so it seems to be a common theme with most young wings entering the league.
EH: Definitely. You look at DeMar, he led our team in free-throw attempts last year but you look at his numbers compared to the elite wings in the league and it's not even close in terms of how many free-throw attempts he creates. But those free-throw attempts come from winning games and from the referees respecting you and how you play and if you shy away from contact they're not going to give you anything. But if you prove that you're going to get to the free-throw line 10 to 14 times a game like a lot of those elite players do, you're going to get those calls and you're going to get the respect. So we've definitely harped on that with DeMar and he's gotten better at it and like I said, we continue to work with him on it with drills in the summer, because if he's going to take his game to the next level that's what he needs to do. You know, he's gotten better every year but still not to that status that I think he wants to be at, nor where I think he should be at so it's a work in progress.
Even though DeMar is going into his fourth year next year, which is kind of hard to believe, he's still got a lot of upside and we're going to keep working with him. The lock-out hurt DeMar as well, the lock-out hurt a lot of players, but he's had a good summer this year. Johnny Lee our strength coach has done a great job with him and DeMar hired a strength coach in LA because that "physicalness" that the Dwyane Wade's and the Kobe Bryant's and the LeBron Jameses and the Carmelo Anthony's of the league have, DeMar has to attack the game both physically and mentally if he's going to take another step up.
STAY TUNED FOR PART II TOMORROW...