When players and owners get greedy it usually leads to a shortened season, and one would think the Toronto Raptors might benefit from a shortened season because if they managed to string together a few wins they might just sneak into the playoffs before they hit a lengthy losing streak. At least that was the only hope that Raptors fans could hang their proverbial hats on last season. This season the only thing a full 82 game schedule means in comparison to a shortened schedule of 66 games is that there will be 16 more games worth of losing than there were last year.
While the Raptors do have some hope in terms of rookie Jonas Valanciunas fulfilling his obligations in Lithuania, defensive guard Kyle Lowry, and their 2012 draft pick Terrence Ross, for the most part the Dinos should be quite comfortably nestled at the bottom of the Atlantic division this coming season. The Raptors chances of succeeding in the NBA are much like that of a small-market baseball team in major-league baseball (a.k.a. the Toronto Blue Jays). It seems under the current collective bargaining agreement the Raptors are always going to be struggling for a playoff spot and hoping for a lottery pick when all is said and done each and every year. Although the team has made these new additions and there is a lot of upside in terms of future potential, it is not so much what the Raptors did or did not do this off-season, but what other teams in the Atlantic division did to join the powerhouses of the NBA. Let's take a look at what those other teams did shall we?
The Brooklyn Nets
Looking to make the move to Brooklyn with a big splash, the Brooklyn Nets created what I like to call the Diet Coke version of a big three in the team's bid to experience a complete reversal of fortune and be a contender for years to come. The team re-signed free-agent point guard Deron Williams to a long-term contract and managed to keep him away from the Dallas Mavericks. Signing Williams did come at a price though as the team had to show him a commitment to winning by trading for shooting guard Joe Johnson in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks. That trade made it no longer feasible for the Nets to acquire All-Star center Dwight Howard so they then proceeded to go ahead and re-sign Brook Lopez to an extension. These moves definitely make the Nets a playoff team this upcoming season and they are one of the biggest reasons that the Raptors are in for a long year.
The Sixers upset the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs last season and nearly knocked off the Boston Celtics in the second round. Of course no one can deny that they never would've made it out of the first round if it wasn't for the Bulls losing All-Star guard Derrick Rose to a knee injury. With that said the Sixers did not sit quietly in the off-season and they will be looking to improve on their performance from last year. Their key acquisition was center Andrew Bynum in the mega trade that saw Dwight Howard end up with the Los Angeles Lakers. This coming year will be Bynum's coming out party as he looks to establish himself as a true leader in the NBA and a consistent All-Star talent. He will grow in his maturity and become one of the most dominant centers in the league. Given that the Sixers managed to cut the fat by letting go of Elton Brand under the amnesty clause, the Sixers future looks bright and they will also be well ahead of our Toronto Raptors.
The New York Knicks
The Knicks finished last season seventh in the Eastern conference and it seems like they will end up with a similar result going into the 2012-13 season. The team lost guards Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields to Houston and Toronto respectively due to high priced offer sheets and proceeded to fill that gap by adding Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton to the squad. The Knicks are still a playoff team and although the loss of a guy like Jeremy Lin is quite a gap to fill in terms of marketing and team revenue, Kidd and Felton provide enough talent and experience to make the departure of Lin hardly noticeable. With coach Mike Woodson now getting a chance to see what this team is made of for a full 82 game schedule, expect the Knicks to progress rather than take a step back this coming season as they play more of a defensive style and become a bigger threat in the postseason.
The Boston Celtics
After being bounced in the third round of the playoffs at the hands of the Miami Heat last season many thought that the Celtics would tear down their big three of three of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and start fresh going into the 2012-13 season. The team did lose Ray Allen, who decided to sign with the Heat and chase another championship, but the Celtics did manage to replace him with free agent veteran guard Jason Terry who will be able to provide energy off the bench and enough of a scoring touch to fill in for one of the greatest scorers of all time in Allen. With a very solid season in the books for an up and comer like Brandon Bass and All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo still quarterbacking the team's plays, the Celtics will have to fight off the Nets and the 76ers for the division lead. That said each of those three teams will be in the post-season and that makes the Raptors chances of a playoff appearance slim at best.
When you put together all of the transactions that have shifted the balance of the Atlantic division, even a defensive minded NBA champion caliber coach like Dwayne Casey won't be able to draw up enough success for the Toronto Raptors going into this coming season. Though there will be some promise for the Raptors in terms of Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani should be poised to make his first All-Star appearance barring injury, the Raps just do not have the firepower necessary to compete with playoff bound teams in the Eastern conference. Unless Demar Derozan can greatly exceed expectations and somehow turned into and All-Star himself or the Raptors acquire an amazing up-and-coming talent in a lopsided trade for Jose Calderon, it is going to be a long season in Toronto.
The Raptors will be lucky to win 35 games in the 2012-13 season and finish dead last in the Atlantic Division, missing the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.