The Toronto Raptors 2012-13 season has come and gone.
In fact, with the second-round of the NBA playoffs now in full swing, it feels like the season's been over for three months but in fact, it was only three weeks ago that another disappointing campaign for the Dinos, came to a conclusion.
However here at the HQ, we're just getting started in terms of breaking down the season that was, and as part of this process, we bring you the latest edition of our Raptors' Media Roundtable.
Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere, we go...
RaptorsHQ: So I'll kick things off like this: Forget grades, forget 4 and 19, forget Rudy Gay's field goal percentage marks for a minute. Do you think this season overall was a step forward for the franchise on the court?
Tim Chisholm: No. Last year this team was riding a wave of momentum, a wave that was based heavily on a quasi-breakout from Andrea Bargnani, a heretofore unseen quality of defence and tremendous cap flexibility heading into the offseason. This year Andrea Bargnani was awful, their defensive rating regressed back to 21st (since the All-Star break they were 20th) and now all of their cap flexibility is gone. Combine that with the fact that their offence was just as inefficient as last year and I find it hard to look at this season as anything other than a step sideways at best.
What they have is a team where maybe DeRozan and Gay can figure out how to play efficiently alongside each other, maybe Kyle Lowry and Dwane Casey will find a way to co-exist productively and maybe Jonas Valanciunas has star-power in him. As of right now there is no area where we can say "the Raptors are really really good at this and this can serve as the backbone for our future." Even if this basic configuration gets the Raptors into the 8th seed next season, do they have the flexibility to improve upon that the next year?
Eric Koreen: I think Tim mostly has it right. I would call it a small step back because I find the roster to be totally incongruent with Dwane Casey's coaching philosophy. DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross would all benefit from running often. Casey has trouble accepting the at-times poor shot selection and decision making that comes with it. And if you think Andrea Bargnani - even the healthy and productive version - would fit into a fast-paced offence, you are being willfully blind. Right now, the roster says one thing and the coach says the opposite. Despite a modest improvement in winning percentage, that is a near-disaster, organizationally. Last year, there seemed to be more of a cohesive vision.
Ryan Wolstat: Disaster was also where I was going, albeit maybe it has only been a minor one. A category 2 incident, not a full-scale meltdown. The season began with expectations, not spectacularly lofty ones either and ended as yet another disappointment. The playoff talk was a mild reach from the start, but the thinking that this was a team that could fight into April for the final spot wasn't crazy talk, as long as everything broke right for the club. It obviously didn't, the start was a disaster, Kyle Lowry not meshing with Dwane Casey was problematic, Calderon taking Lowry's job became an issue and it went from there. Casey went from the best thing going for the franchise to puzzling in his second act. There were too many mental and physical mistakes, too many losses snatched from the jaws of victory. The Rudy Gay trade brought some momentum and unquestionably upgraded the talent level, but where does this team go from here and can Colangelo and Casey get them wherever they are going together?
Joseph Casciaro: No, it has to be seen as a disappointing step back.
As Ryan mentioned, the season began with very modest expectations. Yet despite how low the bar was set (just compete for the 8th spot), the team managed to fall well short of those expectations within the first six weeks of the season. The 4-19 start was disastrous, and while there have been short bursts of momentum here and there (around Christmas and short after the Rudy Gay trade) to get the team within sight of the eighth spot, those surges were quickly squashed by disappointing and inexplicable losses. Other than maybe the first week of January and a few days in late February after the home win over the Knicks, I don't think there was any other time this season where you could look at the standings and say that the Raptors were really in the playoff race. For a team that set that chase as their goal this season and a team likely without a lottery pick, there's no way that can be spun in a positive light.
At the beginning of the year I said that even without a playoff berth, we would all be much more hopeful about the future of the franchise by the end of 2012-13. As I sit here writing this now, the only thing I'm completely sold on is that Jonas Valanciunas can be a future All-Star at centre. That's encouraging, but if a 20-year-old rookie big man is the only thing to sell hope on after five years out of the playoffs...UGH.
RHQ: So sounds like everyone's in agreement here, the season was indeed a disappointment for a variety of reasons. What about the final stretch, including the team winning five in a row to cap off the campaign. Was that fool's gold, or indeed a sign of "better times ahead?"
Tim: It was the worst kind of fool's gold: the kind that gets more foolish as time goes on. The Raptors spent April playing against mostly unhealthy and disengaged clubs, and while you'd rather win those games than lose them, they were not indicative of what NBA competition is really like. During the TNT broadcast versus the Atlanta Hawks late in the season, Kevin Harlan equated the contest to a preseason game, and that was a near-perfect assessment of the quality of play. The Raptors got whatever they wanted and that won't happen to a basement-dwelling offense when the games actually matter.
All of that would be fine, though, were it not for the fact that we all know the club's April record is gonna get dredged up again and again this summer as a sign that they turned some sort of corner in those non-competitive contests. They didn't. They beat up on indifferent competition, but that fact is going to begin to fade as the months roll on.
Worse, still, that late 7-1 run significantly buoyed the club's record with Rudy Gay, which was 10-17 before those late-season wins. Now the club gets to say that they were 17-18 with Rudy Gay, which while technically true is not an accurate representation of the club's productivity with him in the fold. That's not to say that 10-17 is, either, especially given his back troubles, but it feels disingenuous to me to act like the Raptors were a .500 club with Rudy Gay on board.
Eric: This is not a binary, yes-or-no question. Jonas Valanciunas was a big reason for the late-season surge, and it is pretty logical to believe that he will pick up from where he left off when the season starts next year. Kyle Lowry improved as he was given a longer leash, and hopefully that is a lesson the coaching staff has learned. On the other hand, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay combining to shoot 19-for-31 from three-point range over the last three games is so wildly in conflict with their season-long bodies of work that it is tough to believe in.
As Tim notes, the quality of the opponents also varied. The Raptors beat the beaten-up Bulls twice in April. Then again, a very similar team snapped the Heat's 27-game winning streak. Brooklyn and Atlanta also had something to play for when they lost to the Raptors, but they both looked oddly disinterested during large portions of the game. Let's not forget: The Raptors also lost to the Pistons at home during April.
If it sounds like I'm conflicted, that's because I am. I think the Raptors have sufficient talent to make the Eastern Conference playoffs (whether this is a goal worth setting in the first place is a good question), and I believe the team's late-season run displayed that. I don't think, all of the sudden, it means they're anything better than that without making a significant move or two.
Joseph: Some aspects of the good finish could be signs of better times ahead, like Valanciunas getting more comfortable on an NBA floor, Quncy Acy logging regular minutes and even the improved three-point shooting of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. But in terms of the team's actual won/loss performance over the final two weeks of the season, it's certainly fool's gold.
The Raptors beat a string of East playoff teams that were either really banged up or clearly just playing out the stretch of the regular season with little to no intensity, and they closed to within four games of an eighth-seeded Bucks team (who swept a three-game series with the Raptors) that was dropping meaningless games to teams like Orlando and Charlotte. In short, nothing about the 7-1 record in the final eight games really impressed me or gave me hope for next season.
Ryan: I'm inclined to agree with Eric (the horror!). There were some good signs that were legit, most notably Jonas playing extremely well, Lowry starting to resemble the player he can be, Gay bouncing back from some really poor games over the previous 1.5 months or so, Acy looking useful, etc. However, it's always easier to look better in the dog days of the season. When the pressure is off for non-playoff squads and when teams are shutting it down mentally or physically. Some of the late games were legit wins over teams still engaged, but some of them weren't. It's awfully tough to judge anything conclusively in the NBA that happens in the final three weeks of the year. The three point stuff definitely should be ignored. It was a hot stretch, that's it. DeRozan had another stretch like it earlier (around the time of his Orlando buzzer-beater, if I'm recalling events correctly), then went right back to being a non-factor from outside. Gay is what he is. There's more than enough evidence. He's going to hit about 33-35% of his threes over the course of a season. He'll do it quite unpredictably, sometimes having a red-hot month, sometimes shooting below 30%.
Tim is right that we'll hear endlessly about the final stretch as Bryan (Colangelo) justifies why he's being brought back and why the future is oh so bright.
And, I'll add, as PE says, "Don't believe the hype."
RHQ: Nice work on the PE reference, especially with them being recent Hall of Fame inductees.
So the answers given to the last two questions, one of the next logical questions is: "given that the season was overall viewed as a step back for the franchise, and that most aren't putting much stock in the late, late season win streak, should those responsible for the orchestration of the franchise, be shown the door?"
This obviously means Bryan Colangelo so a) do you think he should be given another shot as President/GM and b) do you think he will be?
And what about Coach Casey?
Tim: I've been struggling with this one for weeks. I've written about it three times down the stretch of the season and I'm still not resolved one way or the other.
After seven years you can make a VERY compelling case that Colangelo should be fired. His cap management philosophy is outdated, he's never built better than an okay roster in Toronto and, well, his teams have a terrible record overall.
As far as Casey goes, the asset that was supposed to be his calling card as a coach (his ability to construct a solid defensive system) was a total no-show this year, and the team's offense did not offset the defensive decline. The team also came out of the gates this year looking totally unprepared for the season and Casey's sour relationship with Kyle Lowry was a huge part of the team's marquee summer acquisition's poor play early in the season.
All that said, though, what this team needs more than anything else is some stability. Every year it's another makeover, or a coaching change or, if you go back a few years, a front office shakeup. Can you justify another one this year? Yes, absolutely, but at what point do you as an organization say: let's keep this together and try winning with stability and familiarity?
You can easily say after this season that this is not the GM/coach combo to go that route with, but if you keep turning over the personnel how will you ever known if you've found that right combination?
Clearly I have not resolved my feelings on this issue. I think both options are right and I think both options are wrong. Suffice it to say that both options have the chance of paying off and both have the chance of setting the team back. #analysis
Eric: Indeed, this is a nuanced issue. Stability is important. If they hire a new coach, all of the sudden DeMar DeRozan has played for three coaches in five years. So if his development stalls, is it really his fault? It is something to consider.
Ultimately, however, I have a tough time looking past general manager Bryan Colangelo's record. If you look at his five biggest moves since last season ended - the drafting of Terrence Ross, acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay, signing of Landry Fields and extension of DeRozan - can you honestly say any of them were definite positives for the franchise? Sure, the book is still open on all of those, but none significantly moved the needle this year. And, again, this was a team that fell short of its modest goal of playing meaningful games in April in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
This team has now missed the playoffs five years in a row. Some of that was by design, but it is pretty difficult to accomplish that in the East. And the organization is still barren of true elite talent (despite protestations from management about Rudy Gay's status): Jonas Valanciunas is the team's best bet to become a top-five player at his position, and that would require a significant wager on his potential. Even if the Raptors are on the right track - and I'm conflicted about that - I don't see what harm a new set of eyes would do. This is an expensive roster, and it needs to be assessed with, to channel my inner Eric Taylor, clear eyes.
As for Casey, this was not a good year for him. I wouldn't be opposed to keeping him around for another year, but I think Stan Van Gundy's suggestion at this year's MIT Sloan Analytics Conference that general managers and coaches be hired and fired together, is a good one. The last time the organization got rid of a GM, the old coach stuck around with the new regime. And Colangelo and Sam Mitchell never had a lot of trust in one another, and it arguably set back the franchise's coaching situation for years.
Whatever the case, if I were running MLSE, keeping Colangelo and Casey both on the final years of their deals (without extending either) would be my last move. This team is still far away from true relevance, and needs a long-term plan. Whether that plan is Colangelo's or someone else's, give them a little rope.
Joseph: The Raptors have the missed the playoffs five years in a row for the first time in an already pitiful franchise history. Part of the streak included the last couple of disappointing years in the Chris Bosh Era and the last three seasons in that five-year streak have been rebuilding years, so I can see why some say that the last three seasons can't all be put on Colangelo.
Having said that, after five years without a playoff trip and three years of supposed rebuilding, the franchise enters the off-season with likely no first round draft pick and no cap space to show for it, while the on court product is likely headed to a treadmill of mediocrity. In other words, if it was supposed to be a complete rebuild, it was likely a failed, half-assed one. It's time for a new vision.
As for what I think will happen, Colangelo will probably have his team option picked up for next season, the Raptors will finish somewhere between 6th to 8th in the East, and B.C. will reap the rewards of a few home playoff dates with a shiny new extension at that time.
Lastly, on coach Casey, I was disappointed with his performance this season (especially his rotation management) but still feel he should be given another chance, as the way I see it, he's had one impressive year and one not so impressive year in Toronto. His defensive ability was evident again over the final few months of the season, where the lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas emerged as a top-five unit in terms of defensive rating, and I'd like to see what that five-man unit can achieve in a full year under Dwane.
In the event that Colangelo is let go, I'd be able to understand a new GM wanting to hand pick a new coach. But if Colangelo is retained, there's no way he should be given the go ahead to fire Casey after two years when his own rope should have reached its end by now.
Ryan I think my recent column summed it up. From everything I'd heard pre-Tim Leiweke, Colangelo and Casey would be back. As I wrote, I think while it's a bit silly to let Colangelo come this far and then let go of him just when he is starting to make a string of better moves, I think his track record, especially the mishandling of Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh has to catch up with him at some point. Colangelo will get a chance to plead his case with Leiweke and others on May 7th and his future in Toronto is no longer the given it once was.
I think it's going to be very difficult for him to move Bargnani, given the optics, and a different GM wouldn't have that problem (wouldn't have to justify it based on the past). I also think fresh eyes not as married to Colangelo's players would help the franchise get to where it needs to go.
I think Dwane and his staff had a poor season coaching, but he's not a bad coach. Don't think he has
the pieces to coach his way here and I think there will be more dysfunction and more problems going forward if he continues to be the guy directing this group. The team needs to execute better, which usually means the x's and o's need to improve significantly.
...stay tuned for Part II tomorrow...