In it, we touched on many of the macro issues surrounding the club at present, from the team's overall performance last season, to the future of Bryan Colangelo and Dwane Casey.
In part two today, we delve into more of a micro view, focussing on team needs and individual player discussions.
So without further ado, on we go...
RHQ: Regardless of who's running the show for the Raptors next year, what would you say the team's biggest needs are going into the off-season?
Tim: Three-point shooting and passing. In the modern, analytics-driven, Thibodeau-defense-mimicking NBA, those are two absolutely invaluable assets and Toronto is terribly weak in both areas.
Toronto was fifth from the bottom in three-point shooting after the Rudy Gay trade, and as we all know, that had a deleterious effect on Toronto's ability to score with efficiency. Not only do the Raptors often settle for less-than-stellar shots because they don't have floor-spacers to help spread the defence and open driving lanes, they also shrink the floor for themselves which makes them easier to defend and is a huge contributor to their 21st-place ranking in turnovers per game.
So, not only did the club's lack of three-point shooting contribute to their tenth-worst offensive efficiency in the NBA after the Rudy Gay trade, but they compounded their ability to run effective sets because their shrunken playing space made it less of a gamble for opposing players to jump into the passing lanes because they didn't have as far to travel back to recover to their man.
Of course, the team's lack of passing skill also contributed to their pathetic turnover ratio. The Raptors ranked 26th in the NBA in assist percentage after acquiring Gay, and 29th in assist ratio. It isn't that they have a selfish team, they just have a team of heavy-minute guys that either can't see the floor (DeMar DeRozan) or can see the floor but are poor technical passers (Gay). They also have a good passer that can't find minutes because he can't shoot (Landry Fields) and a point guard that can pass but is better utilized as a scorer (Kyle Lowry). Amir Johnson proved to be a much-improved post passer this season when he was playing with Ed Davis, but he and Jonas Valanciunas have not yet developed that level of chemistry as as a one-two punch.
The problem is that these aren't areas that can really be improved upon on the fringes. These are skills that need to be present in large doses in today's NBA and the Raptors do not have a core that possesses these skills. This roster makeup looks to me like the kind that would have had a lot more success pre-D'Antoni and pre-Thibodeau, but nowadays too many teams are designed to exploit exactly the weaknesses that hold Toronto back.
Eric: The Raptors need three-point shooting and perimeter defence, but there are some candidates on the roster to help in both of those areas. IF DeMar DeRozan can become a respectable three-point shooter and IF Terrence Ross can focus in on every possession and IF Landry Fields can find his missing stroke, the Raptors should have the equivalent of the en-vogue three-and-D swingmen. They probably need two of those three things to happen for the Raptors to not be a beacon of inefficiency on the wing.
And that shines a light on the Raptors real need: offensive efficiency, in whatever form it comes in. Some of that might be addressed by coaching and strategy - if Dwane Casey trusts Kyle Lowry to run the pick-and-roll more often with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, and Valanciunas continues to develop his post game, the Raptors should fall into a more productive offence. However, the Raptors built their offence around DeRozan and Rudy Gay after the trade, and there is no sign that the team hopes to change that. So, they are going to need more options: whether that is a more capable three-point option or a reliable post scorer, the Raptors cannot assume internal growth will rule the day.
The defence was worse than the offence in 2012-13, but Valanciunas's development should help that along nicely. If you look at nearly every top defence in the league, you will find an interior defender that can a) deter shots in the paint; and b) play elite help defence. The Raptors will not improve without Valanciunas stepping into that roll, but getting a tough-nosed perimeter defender could not hurt. (Let's face it: I just want Tony Allen here, because he is quotable.)
Ryan: As previously mentioned, outside shooting either in the form of a stretch four (once Bargnani finally is given a new address) and on the wing would be the biggest needs. Unless DeMar DeRozan suddenly becomes a three-point threat and Terrence Ross shows up ready to play every night, there is a huge need for outside shooting. I would expect Landry Fields to find his stroke a bit, but thinking he can get back to his rookie level is probably asking too much, unless shooting coach John Townsend can duplicate his success with Ed Davis last summer.
I don't believe DeRozan is suddenly going to "get it" defensively and Gay doesn't bring it on that end often enough, so there is also a significant need for a very good wing defender (though I think Fields is solid and Ross can be good in that area eventually).
With limited money to spend, it's hard to see where the help comes from. I would explore what could be acquired by packaging DeRozan with Bargnani.
Joseph: Other than the obvious need of most teams in the NBA (a true superstar), the Raptors have three areas to address this off-season:
- A pass first backup point guard who can be at least an average defender
- A consistent, dependable three-point shooter
- A third big man (preferably a more veteran big man) who can log heavy minutes with Valanciunas and Amir
RHQ: A lot of consensus on the team needs, and a few that could potentially have been taken care of had we seen the magical "13 Game Andrea" reappear this past season. To none of our surprise though, we did not, and therefore moving onto the lightening round here, does Andrea get dealt this off-season and if so, do the Raptors get anything of value back personnel-wise?
Eric: No. I'm assuming Bryan Colangelo will be in charge still. I don't think he will be willing to give up on Bargnani for what's out there. At the trade deadline, virtually nothing was out there for the 7-footer.
Tim: I cannot fathom a situation where Andrea Bargnani comes back. I cannot remember a player with a perfectly fine disposition that has poisoned the well as badly as him. Fairly or not, he has come to represent so much of what fans (and some players) loathe about the organization that he simply cannot be there on opening day in October.
Now, as to the matter that the team can pull in something of value for him? That's something that Colangelo insinuates can be done yet he's been unable to prove it to date. It'll be a real test of his ability to wheel and deal. Bargnani's perceived value has fallen as he's failed to grow and mature as a player, but whether that perception reflects reality remains to be seen.
Ryan: He has to go, at almost any cost, but if Bryan Colangelo is back, he needs the optics to be right, which makes a deal far tougher. Bargnani might be back because Colangelo won't be able to justify getting scraps back for a guy he constantly told the board was worth building around because he'd be a star.
And all bets are off if Tim Leiweke recommends Colangelo's exit.
The best opportunity to get something good for Bargnani probably would be packaging him with DeMar DeRozan.
Joseph: I've learned to never say never when it comes to assuming Bargnani will finally be shipped out of town, but having said that, this absolutely has to be the summer for Colangelo to cut bait with the "enigma of all enigmas." The offers would likely include a bad contract or two coming back the other way, but if it makes the team better and the bad contracts coming back aren't absolute financial killers, I'd like the team to try addressing some of those aforementioned needs we already discussed (backup PG, three-point shooting, third big man).
If nothing worthwhile is available to the Raptors after scouring the market for Bargnani, then the next best decision from a basketball perspective would be to amnesty the final two years and $22,225,000 of Andrea's contract. Of course, that's likely wishful thinking, as Colangelo would never amnesty his former No. 1 overall pick and MLSE likely wouldn't accept that they have to pay a guy so much money just to go away (amnestying Kleiza's $4.6 million option is one thing, amnestying Bargnani's $22+ million contract is another).
RHQ: From Bargs we move onto Rudy Gay. Operating under the assumption that Colangelo is back next season, does Gay get the hefty contract extension this off-season that had been rumoured?
Tim: MLSE should cut the line between Colangelo and Gay's agent. If he were to extend him this summer it would, in my opinion, leapfrog DeRozan as the most unnecessary move of his Raptors tenure. It would be so ill-advised I even have trouble giving credence to the original rumor.
Eric: I haven't heard anything that confirms that this rumour is credible, save for the very reputable journalists who reported the extension was being considered in the first place. The answer to both "Should Gay get the extension" and "Does Gay get the extension" is no, then. Completely unnecessary, and I think the presence of Tim Leiweke will make it, at the very least, more difficult for Bryan Colangelo to double down on his past decisions.
Joseph: Simply put, no. Not this off-season.
Even if Colangelo is back, as Eric said, I'm not sure he gets to make that short-sighted move under Leiweke's leadership.
Ryan: No. Things are far too up in the air and the idea of an extension never made much sense.
RHQ: Some final fun ones. Any shot of the Raptors landing in the top three of the upcoming lottery and keeping their pick?
Tim: Well, the odds are pretty clear on that one. However, given the uncertain nature of the coaching and management situation since Leiweke took over MLSE, getting that pick conveyed to OKC is very important to put the club's future assets in order. For the first time, the Raptors may actually be rooting against moving up in the draft.
Eric: There is a 2.5% chance that they land in the lottery and keep their pick. Or: about one-seventh of the likelihood of a Landry Fields three-point attempt from 2012-13 going in.
Ryan: The odds say they will stay put, which, as has been pointed out, isn't a bad thing this year, though Brampton's Anthony Bennett would be a pretty ideal fit (can stretch floor, rebounds, has great motor, local kid).
What about Phil Jackson? Anyone think he'll make up some part of the Raptors' front office when the 2013-14 campaign kicks off?
Tim: Well, no, but I would have said the same thing in the weeks leading up to Bryan Colangelo getting hired. Too much of the Raptors' history is about missing out on big things to have an optimistic feel about possibilities like this, though it must be said that the Leiweke connection at least takes the conversation from laughable to interesting.
Eric: It's possible. Tim Leiweke certainly sounded like a guy who wanted to make big changes to the Raptors when he took over, and Jackson would qualify. I don't believe that it would happen, simply because it doesn't fit Jackson's M.O. to join a team so far away from contention. But I've heard in passing that people like money.
Whether or not he's the right person for the job remains to be seen. He's never run a team before. San Antonio, Oklahoma City and many others all have top basketball executives that did not have much name value when they were hired. Saying Phil Jackson will fix the Raptors is kind of like saying Rudy Gay will fix the Raptors. "Star power," or whatever you want to call it, is meaningless if a franchise's core methodology is flawed.
Joseph: My thoughts on this are pretty much the same as everyone else's. I don't think we'll actually see Phil Jackson land in Toronto, only because that would be the kind of major splash that this franchise usually so famously whiffs on. But I also think The Zen Master is at least intrigued by the proposition, and that's not something I would have said a week ago (before the Leiweke hire).
Between the Leiweke connection, Phil's thirst for power/influence, Seattle being out of the equation and the deep pockets at MLSE (as Ted "The Million Dollar Man" Dibiase used to say, everybody has a price), the chances of Jackson running the Raptors have probably improved from impossible to unlikely.
Lastly, as many have pointed out, there's no guarantee that one of the greatest coaches and personality/ego managers in sports history has the makings of a great executive, especially when the current team President has sort of tied the next President's hands. But based on the at least short term credibility and spotlight the move would give this often inconsequential organization, MLSE should do whatever it damn well takes to get it done.
Ryan: I'll set the Phil odds at 20%. There's a chance, but it's not a great one. But, as Eric said, money talks, and nobody will offer more dough than MLSE.
RHQ: One final question: The season that was. If you could describe it with one song, or one album, any genre, any era, what would you pick?
Eric: Belle & Sebastian - "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying." For all the fans that keep watching, cheering and hoping, despite their better judgement.
Ryan: I wanted to play off of Lowry's we're in a four feet deep hole, but Four Feet Deep and Dropping isn't a real album, unlike Three Feet High and Rising. Six Feet Deep doesn't really work either.
So, I'll go with Late Registration, since they didn't figure out the season had started/how to play basketball on time.
Joseph: Great question. I can't necessarily think of one song title, theme or album off the top of my head that describes this Raptors season, but I will admit that Axl Rose's voice screaming "Where do we go now?" from Sweet Child O' Mine seems like as appropriate a musical moment as any to describe my feelings about the Raps right now.
Tim: How about 'Empty Glass' by Pete Townshend? This team is near the bottom in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and they're capped-out. They came in expecting to challenge for a Playoff spot and instead opened the season 4-19. Their marquee offseason acquisition had his worst season in three years. Andrea Bargnani proved once and for all e cannot be depended upon. The team's starting wings can't shoot threes in an era where the three ball is more important than ever. Yeah, I think 'Empty Glass' just about sums it up.