Media Day was in full swing yesterday at the ACC and the question on many attendees' minds were what the team's prospects going into the season were. Many in the local media brought up the fact that the Raptors' were being "pegged as bottom feeders" by many US sporting authorities. Reiterating this was ESPN.com's Insider report on the Raptors' this season written by John Hollinger. While slightly more optimistic then his collegue Mark Stein's pre-season rankings, the Insider report had this to say:
Raptors overview: Rooks have any bite?Site: Brock University
Location: St. Catharines, ON
Start date: October 3
2004-05 Record: 33-49, T-11th in East
1. Can Chris Bosh stay at center without getting killed?
The good news is the Raptors have one of the most promising big men in basketball.
The bad news is he might not be in one piece by the time he hits his prime. Rail-thin Chris Bosh has been pressed into service as a center for much of his career, and this season he may play the middle even more than he did in the past.
With last year's selection of Rafael Araujo turning into a disaster and NBA nomads like Aaron Williams and Loren Woods providing the only other centers on the roster, it will be up to Bosh to man the middle despite giving up 50 pounds to his opponent on a nightly basis.
Coach Sam Mitchell has tried to shield Bosh from some of the effects by playing a lot of zone defenses, but more often than not it's still Bosh who has to fight a 270-pound behemoth in the post and block him out on the glass. The question is how much wear and tear that produces on the Raptors' best player.
Bosh averaged 16.8 points and 8.9 points as a 20-year-old last season, and thus far he has managed to hold up to the pounding in the paint. But there could be a cumulative effect from all the pounding, especially if he gets less relief this year.
Finally, there's another aspect to consider: Will Bosh want to stay a Raptor when he becomes a free agent in two years if he's continually subjected to such punishment?
2. Will the rookies make a difference?
Toronto's only hope of staying remotely competitive this season is if it gets major contributions from its three rookies: point guard Jose Manuel Calderon, small forward Joey Graham and power forward Charlie Villanueva. Each has enough markers in his favor to suggest he can be productive.
Calderon is among the best guards in Europe and at 6-foot-3 is big enough to occasionally move to the shooting guard spot alongside Rafer Alston. His numbers from overseas project to an above-average backup point guard, although it's premature to start shopping Alston just yet.
The two first-round draft picks also should help. The Raptors' front office was skewered for drafting Villanueva, but his rebounding skill is undeniable and he has the makings of a nice inside-outside game. Graham tested out as the best athlete in the draft, although that athleticism became hard to discern once the games started. Nonetheless, his defense should be welcomed on a team that provided an open freeway to the basket last year.
3. Why are Rob Babcock and Richard Peddie still employed?
Babcock has taken most of the heat for the franchise's misdeeds since 2004, and deservedly so.
Maneuvers such as the trade of Vince Carter for a bag of pretzels and the inexcusable selection of Araujo have set the franchise back years, leaving Toronto with a roster consisting mainly of has-beens and failed prospects. Other than the blind-squirrel-finds-a-nut addition of Matt Bonner, it's hard to identify a single personnel move that has turned out well in Babcock's tenure.
Making matters worse, Babcock enraged his players over the summer when he essentially admitted to a Toronto paper that the team would probably be terrible this year.
Nonetheless, all the attention on Babcock has deflected attention away from the man overseeing the mayhem, team president Richard Peddie. The Raptors were a dysfunctional mess long before Babcock arrived, with previous general manager Glen Grunwald and former coach Kevin O'Neill spending the previous season mired in vicious infighting that Peddie did little to calm.
Additionally, Peddie's bizarre general manager search a year ago became a running joke, which is one reason he had to settle for Babcock rather than nab a higher-profile candidate. While nobody up North would complain if Babcock weren't invited back, it's unlikely things will change much until Peddie is shown the door.
OFFSEASON PLAYER MOVEMENT
Players lost: Donyell Marshall, Lamond Murray, Milt Palacio
Players re-signed: Matt Bonner, Pape Sow
Players added: Jose Calderon, Joey Graham, Charlie Villanueva
As previously mentioned Hollinger seems to see some light at the end of the tunnel depending on the play of rookies Graham, Calderone and Villanueva. However his final paragraphs are telling of the overall view that the sports media views this franchise in. It's obvious that some of Babock's moves panning out or an overachievement on the court this year are the only ways this franchise is going to start to change public perception.
Some players like Morris Peterson however are using this negative perception and press as a stepping stone to surprise critics and Chris Bosh ads that "we all love it, it's nothing but motivation."
One player who has been the most vocal this offseason whether it be in response to GM Rob Babcock's comments or concerning the team's prospects this season is Jalen Rose. Jalen was his usual self making jokes and showed up late for media day. While some Raptors' officials joked that Jalen's tardiness was "due to him being delayed taking off all his jewellery," Rose was his usual candid self and discussed his role with the team this season.
Another Raptor who was the subject of many queries on media day was Alvin Williams. Williams spoke to the media concerning his rehab progress and expectations for the season while indicating that he was still not 100%. Raptors' coach Sam Mitchell said he was "anxious for Alvin" and was really hoping to get an opportunity to coach the player he had so admired when he himself was still a player.
Charlie Villanueva told the media that he's come to camp with "a chip on his shoulder." The chip being the large proverbial one placed by Screamin' Steven A. Smith and his ESPN counterparts who belittled Charlie V. and Raptors' management on national TV in an unprecedented display of unprofessionalism. Villanueva is vowing to prove these same critics wrong and talks about his excitement to get the season underway in his first installment of a training camp diary for the Toronto Star. And if anyone still believes he's the lazy New Yorker who attempted to make the league straight out of high school...check out his offseason workout regimen.
All in all there was a prevailing sense of optimism at media day. With so much negativity surrounding the team, many in the media felt that the Raptors' therefore had nowhere to go but up and would end up being one of the leagues' surprises. Even our usually downtrodden, doom and gloom, all hope is lost friend Dave Feschuk had a slightly positive spin to put on things. In his article discussing Rafer Alston, Feschuk writes "that the law of averages suggests Raptor fans, after enduring a predictable downward spiral, are due for a pleasant surprise."
And perhaps the biggest "feel-good" story heading into camp was that of camp invite Corey Williams. Williams has toiled in obscurity for most of his playing career but now has the chance to fulfill his NBA dreams and has a shot at the vacant third point guard spot. Of the three candidates for the 3rd string role, Williams might be the best suited for Coach Mitchell's up-tempo, hard-nosed, high-paced style and here's to hoping we inherit "Homicide" for this role.
However we'll leave the last words from media day to Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva. Villaneuva claimed, with a mostly straight face, that he can play all five positions on the court, including point guard. Bosh however wasn't so sure and with a smile said: "He can try, but those little guys are something else."
And with that we bring this look at media day to a close.