Ok. Here we are, a few weeks away from training camp. Then pre-season games and before we know it BAM basketball is back! By now we’ve seen the direction BC has steered the team and we have a solid idea of what our roster is going to look like this season. That means it’s time to tell the world how "we would have done it better!" Or at least differently. I am going to take a different approach. No grades for how we got to where we are, no second guessing of "could haves" and "shouldn’t haves". None of that. We are where we are, we know where we stand today. If I replaced BC today this is what I would plan going forward. Training Staff / Personnel decisions aside, I will summarize my thoughts as they relate to the current roster and player decisions. I will simply go through the lineup, current starters-through-scrubs, and then address any gaps afterward.
Jose Calderon ‘12/’13 Role: Backup PG / Mentor
Jose is a true professional who has been loyal to the organization and is a valuable asset. At this point he is playing at/near his best basketball of his career and although he is not the future of our point guard position moving ahead, Jose should be able to provide immediate positive impact to another team in need of top level playmaking skills. As Kyle Lowry takes the reins of this squad Jose will provide invaluable knowledge while offering nearly no drop off in on court production when we go to our bench.
Prediction -> Trade for pick (and contract as necessary)
DeMar DeRozan ‘12/’13 Role: Starting SG
DeMar’s time is now or never. His possible usurper(s) is (are) already under contract. He is in a contract year and the sharks are circling. At this point he hasn’t shown anything that makes himself hard to replace. He can score in bunches, yes. Guess what? The lineup of guys with that on their resume is thousands of bodies long. DeMar has been gifted minutes in the past and his closest "competition" for his spot was Sonny Weems. He needs to seriously step up to prove he can even be a role player in the league, let alone the "star" that many hoped he would become. In my books, at best, DeMar shows very well early and we trade him while his value is high. At worst he shows us more of the same and we don’t re-up his contract. The bell is tolling on DeMar’s time with the Raptors.
Prediction -> Included in a trade for a veteran backup SG with an albatross of a contract.
Linas Kleiza ‘12/’13 Role: Starting SF
Linas got a bum rap, plain and simple. He was injured just before his time with Toronto began and he is only now standing on solid legs again. Kleiza had a very strong showing this summer and looks to be playing on the level that was expected when he was first signed. If he can play inside his defined role and stay on playbook, the starting spot is his to lose. An eager Landry Fields is immediately in line for any minutes he gives up however and he will need to play some serious mistake free basketball to maintain his position.
Prediction -> Steady production from Linas makes Landry Fields a quite expensive bench player, but facing certain matchups (ie. Agile SF’s) Fields may get the nod.
Andrea Bargnani ‘12/’13 Role: Starting "Big"
Andrea, for all of his impervious personality tests, liked the talk of himself as an All Star. He finally got a taste of popularity and accomplishment. The most steeled ego in the world could not have ignored the sudden "validation" and just as sudden collapse due to injury. Finally Andrea looked like a player passionate about basketball success instead of mimicking a starving artist. Whatever the real reason behind the boost in his play, the emergence of Andrea "13 Game" Bargnani was the first of two defining moments in the rest of Andrea’s career. He was filled with a sense of pride and passion, maybe for the first time in his basketball life. Then an injury ripped it away. The strange thing is, he actually cared about it. Andrea was upset about falling off that horse (read unicorn) and he desperately wants to get back on. With Casey’s continued influence I believe Andrea’s second defining moment is coming.
Prediction -> Andrea becomes one of the most talked about big men in the league. Even if he narrowly misses the All Star game.
Amir Johnson ‘12/’13 Role: Starting "Big"
Amir Johnson goes hard. He is smart, athletic, big and mobile. When he’s healthy he provides defence and offense. When he’s under control, he stays on the court. With J Val and Gray on the roster to bang with the biggest of the bigs we face, Amir will get most of his burn against similar athletic and mobile bigs. Amir provides energy on defence, both in man and help situations, he grabs rebounds at a very high rate and he can run on a fast break, even his jump shot is becoming reliable. Expect Amir to defend the more mobile opposing big while Andrea takes the slower opponent and expect him to know he needs to help make up for Andrea’s rebounding deficiencies. Amir the warrior is a huge asset to any team. The speed of Jonas’ development is the only threat to Amir’s status.
Prediction -> Amir shows up. Amir works HARD. Amir leaves it on the court. Repeat.
Okay, so that was last year’s starters, on to this year’s. The only left there is new acquisition, Kyle Lowry.
Kyle Lowry ‘12/’13 Role: Starting PG
Kyle Lowry is the Raptors new best player. Flat out. He provides offense and defence at a high level while demonstrating playmaking abilities that make his teammates better. He has stiff competition for Eastern Conference All Star PG; Rose, Rondo, Williams, I’m looking at you; but regardless of his actual All Star status he will play at an All Star level. Kyle’s natural strengths and abilities match up perfectly with this team’s deficiencies and as such he finds himself in the perfect situation to excel. This team struggles with ball handling and shot creation, two of Kyle’s best traits. The team has been soft on defence and poor at rebounding. Kyle Lowry is neither of those things. He has defied odds with clutch late game shooting and has a killer instinct that will reveal itself countless times in future seasons. The Lowry era has begun in Toronto, mark your calendars.
Prediction -> Lowry becomes the most loved Raptor of all time (so far).
Landry Fields ‘12/’13 Role: 6th Man, Bench "Wing"
Fields is another young player with something to prove, albeit he already has his contract. It remains to be seen what level of talent is possessed by the "real" Landry Fields. Whatever the reason for his rookie surge and sophomore slump, Landry will get a chance to show what to expect from him as a player. In an environment of team play and ample opportunity, Landry needs to prove his mettle. Expect him to be the first sub in the game, spelling either DeMar or Linas on a nightly basis (unless Amir gets slap happy).
Prediction -> Fields proves to be an unspectacular, yet reliable, role player for many years to come. Guys like Ron Artest will always have a place in the league.
Ed Davis ‘12/’13 Role: Bench PF
Ed, much like Linas, has yet to have a real fair shake as a Raptor. This year will mark Ed’s first actual full training camp in the NBA. As unfair as it may be however, his detractors are vocal and numerous and his future is truly in his hands, slipping through his fingers like sand. Ed will need a breakout season full of ferocious effort and man-sized banging to give himself any hope of sticking around. The two players who come to mind when I think of Davis’ position are Marcus Camby and Jermaine O’Neal. Both of these guys took multiple teams to fill out their frames and cement themselves into decent role players. Unfortunately for Ed, he doesn’t project to fair any better than either of these two. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have had Camby in his prime on my team, but that was his third team before he hit that stride.
Prediction -> Davis shows improvement but without one exceptional specialty to make him stand out, he is redundant on this roster and is packaged in a trade. Enjoy your excellent career you are sure to have elsewhere.
Jonas Valanciunas ‘12/’13 Role: Bench C
"The King is dead! All hail the King!" No pressure big guy. You only have half of the fanbase expecting you to immediately chase Andrea out of town and the other half expecting you to be another BC "Euro-Fail". Jonas needs to take a page from Andrea if he wants to succeed. No, I mean it. He needs some of Andrea’s ability to tune out everybody (except coach(es) for Jonas). The key for Jonas is going to be playing basketball as he is directed by Casey and ignoring everything else. Timetables for greatness, fate of failure, etc. etc. Invest in some quality ear plugs young man and do what you’re asked. Success will find you.
Prediction -> Jonas will show his potential, he will struggle with fouls, he will mature quickly and may win the starting role by the end of the season.
John Lucas III ‘12/’13 Role: 3rd PG (Until Calderon trade)
Lucas performed admirably in the void left by D. Rose in Chicago. He was no threat to be an All Star, but he got the job done generally. He even showed flashes of brilliance with some key clutch shots for the Bulls. Personally, I could flip a coin whether Lucas or Uzoh deserved this roster spot, but like I said earlier, we are where we are. Early on Lucas will get no minutes behind Lowry and Calderon but after Jose is dealt he will have to step up to lead the second unit. Temper your expectations and hope Lowry catches his breath quickly.
Prediction -> No minutes initially to some minutes post-Calderon. Expect a better backup PG to be searched out in the near future.
Terrence Ross ‘12/’13 Role: Bench SG
Terrence will be fighting for minutes behind the combination of DeRozan and Fields. He will make rookie mistakes and take time to adjust to the NBA game. Terrence will also be in position to put a lot of pressure on DeMar to elevate his own game though. On the surface it would seem that adding some muscle to his frame is the lone department where Ross is lagging on DeMar. Granted he has no NBA minutes yet, but basic observations are that Ross is a better shooter, ball handler, defender and play-maker than DeMar already. Once Ross’ body catches up to NBA standards DeRozan is at serious risk of having his position in the pecking order taken away from him. I don’t expect Ross to make a huge impact in his rookie season, although he will add some much needed perimeter shooting, but by year two he should have a much expanded role.
Prediction -> There will be some bumps in the road but the SG position is finally travelling in the right direction. Depending on his competitiveness he may be a pleasant surprise.
Aaron Gray ‘12/’13 Role: Large Body on the Bench
Gray is a solid bench C that will always have a useful place in the NBA. You can’t teach size as they say. While he won’t ever be a 10 and 10 guy, he has proven he can be a mitigating force against powerhouse C’s on the defensive end and he will grab you a half dozen boards per night on a regular basis, seemingly regardless of minutes. Look for Aaron to check in against the physically dominant C’s as Jonas settles in to his NBA rhythm.
Prediction -> Hard working, bench minutes providing 5 hard fouls upon request.
Dominic McGuire ‘12/’13 Role: Depth at SF/PF
If McGuire sticks through training camp he will likely find himself as 2nd or 3rd option at SF while being available for minutes at our over-crowded PF position. Depending on how much time at SF Fields and DeRozan end up seeing McGuire may find himself as little more than a practice player and garbage minutes guy. If either DeMar or Fields disappoints Dwayne Casey however, McGuire may be in position to see some game time as accountability lessons are administered. Also if Ross proves unable to be competitive at the SG spot, SF minutes will open up, but I think this is largely unlikely.
Prediction: Why yes, I would like a towel and another Gatorade, thank you Dom!
Quincy Acy ‘12/’13 Role: Heart / Hustle Co-Captain w/Amir Johnson
Quincy isn’t likely to see the court much at all with Toronto this year. He may even see some D-League time to get him some development minutes. He will provide excellent energy in practices however and he seems to have multiple similarities to Reggie Evans. Obvious beard comparisons aside, both were undersized 4’s who use athleticism and smarts to position for rebounds, both seem to have 2 speeds (full speed and turbo) and both guys are comedians. Acy is a much better ball handler than Reggie is, but that won’t be a skill he will be asked to exploit. Expect Acy to be a sparkplug in the locker room and someone that keeps morale at a high level always. If there is an "All Dunk" mid-season Exhibition Game put on, expect Acy to fight for MVP. Otherwise, get used to him being a sparkling grin from the end of the bench.
Prediction -> Reggie Evans 2.0, minus the opportunity for minutes.
Alan Anderson ‘12/’13 Role: Emergency Depth at "Wing"
Should anything go disastrously wrong for the Raptors at SG/SF, Alan Anderson is available for spot minutes. In his time with Toronto last year he shot well enough and defended well enough to keep himself from being tossed back to the D-League. He will see next to no game time with the team this season however, unless Linas tears DeMar’s leg off and beats Fields to death with it, summarily eliminating 3 wing players in one fell swoop. Short of that happening however, expect the only Anderson jerseys you see in the crowd to be old David Anderson jerseys... ah, David Anderson...
Prediction -> Less Alan Anderson sightings than Solo Sightings...
And then there’s Jamaal Magloire. He will help break guys in / down at training camp, then he should be offered a coaching role. Which we hope he takes because he’s awesome. Like they say, "those who can’t do, coach!"
So, there you have it. That’s how I would proceed with this roster from today. Let me know what you think. I am open to any criticisms, as long as they are about what I actually said and not what you think I inferred. If you want me to clarify anything, just ask!