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The Forecast.....

As we enter this season it is hard to know what to expect. Training camp is underway, there is little “buzz” or optimism about this year's team, and many, including ESPN are predicting the 05-06 Raptors to be the worst team in the L. So as a fan, do you sit here and just hope the season goes by without too much drama and wait for the 2006 draft and a little more cap space? Am I going to be watching games at home and at the ACC in agony and hoping somehow, someway, that the Toronto media forgets the Raptors and focuses their negative energy on the 06 Leafs? (Who also won’t make the playoffs.)

How do you measure ‘success’ for this team when their season ends? What is the measuring stick? Is it as simple as measuring wins and losses or are their other methods whereby I, the fan, can look back and say “This was a good season”. We are rebuilding, everyone knows that. Perhaps it would be easier to live in South Beach and say that the Heat’s season will be a failure if they don’t win the title. Maybe running HeatHQ.com would be easier. But really, that would make writing this article much too simple.

I as a fan will not judge this season based on wins and losses. This franchise is in a building mode and as a result, will take their bumps and bruises along the way. There will be games where the team will get beaten and beaten badly......think Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed (Rocky IV). There will be other nights where the team comes out guns a blaze but will then score 12 points in the third quarter resulting in an insurmountable deficit. There will also be nights where this team shows character, plays together, and plays with heart. These games will give us hope, even if we lose by 20 in the process. I won’t make any predictions about record. I will say this however, this team will be better than everyone expects.

So what do I hope for the season? Well I guess there are two ways to look at this, from a general team perspective, and then from an individual perspective. I chose the latter and I’ll start from the top and work my way down to Gus the water/towel guy.

GM:

Rob Babcock: I really hope people get off this guy's back and provide him the opportunity to complete his re-modeling of this franchise. The Glen Grunwald and Kevin O’Neal era was a complete disaster. This team needed to be rebuilt and slowly Babcock is doing so. Rome was not built in a day and neither is an NBA Championship caliber team. With a full year under his belt I expect to see him deal with the scrutinizing media in a better fashion. I also expect him to continue to pursue means to improve this team. I think he needs to make a deal around the deadline this year, provided it is a smart one, to re-establish his credibility after the VC deal. I won’t bash the VC deal because the returns on that deal are not immediate and as you will see later on, one of the assets in that deal is going to leave what I believe will be a lasting impression on this city. I think Babcock needs to stay the course. I actually believe in what he is trying to do.

Coach:

Sam Mitchell: From Day 1 this was a good hire. This guy knows the game, knows what it takes to win and works hard. He wants his players to reflect that. He wants tough D, he wants effort all the time, and he wants to see people move the ball. He is also Chris Bosh’s biggest supporter. He made Bosh play through some tough situations last year, keeping him in games when the loss was inevitable. He wants his players tough, physically and mentally. He is the perfect coach for this team. Is he still inexperienced? Absolutely, but there is something about him that tells me he can coach. He has admitted that he is learning and that the transition from being a player to coach is not easy. I expect a smoother season in terms of locker-room feuds and coach-player relations. If Mitchell has a year where he develops strong bonds with the young players it will be a success. And of course I definitely still want the priceless post-game sound bits. References to un-“loading” early in the game are quality. Besides, is there really a better duo on the mike then Mitchell and Jim Todd? They really must be given a radio show....although I am not sure Mitchell would get much air time.....if fact, just give Jim Todd one question about any basketball related topic before the show and you’ve got an easy ½ hour broadcast.

Players: (Alphabetically)

Rafer Alston: Can Rafer really become the true floor captain for this version of the Raptors? Has he grown and reflected in the off-season or are we in for another, “Maybe I am not a good fit” tirade? Hopefully the past is the past because we now have too many inexperienced young guys looking for guidance and leadership to have this sort of BS. No one can complain with Rafer’s numbers although the means by which he acheived them is up for questioning. He will see quickly enough that Calderon can play and will pass the ball. Rafer could average 10 assists a game he just needs to keep his head. I still think Rafer could be the Raps answer at PG, but I will only give him this year to prove it. Success this year for him can only be defined by an event free, media positive, assist filled year. If there are any more blow-ups the only place I’ll want to see Rafer is on Springer or with Adam Sandler in “Anger Management II”.

Rafael Araujo: Part III of the Hoffa series is coming soon and Hoffa’s brief stint in the NBA thus far has been well documented. How do you measure a successful season for this guy? Provided Hoffa gets more comfortable on the floor that’s a step in the right direction. Last year there were times when he would have looked more comfortable hunting....with him being the deer. I can remember his highlights from last year; a nice up-and-under, a few put backs, and a call to replace that shark tattoo. But in all seriousness, Hoffa needs to play well enough to at least get the Toronto fans back on his side. Attending the last game of the season it was hard not to feel horrible for the guy as he was pelted with Boo’s. You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you run. I won’t wait in anticipation for the running, but this year he at least needs to get out of the crib, and I for one hope for that and more.

Matt Bonner: It has to be weird to be Matt Bonner right now. Last year's fan favorite, being paid a second round salary, he played with heart, energy and effort. All characteristics that this team is trying to be defined by. Then when free-agency hits, the market isn’t there, even from the Raps. Management turns to Duhon and when that fails then the team turns back to the Rocket. Was it a smart decision financially by the Raps to have him wait and not dish out $3M a year? You bet. But Bonner has to feel to some degree that he was second place at the country fair. The best part however, is that I don’t think it will effect him or his game. There will be no media circus about this, he is too grounded for that to happen. That being said he needs to develop. There will fewer open J’s for him this year so he will either have to swing the rock or drive. If he develops a decent first step and remains effective it has been a good year.

Chris Bosh: This is year three. I expect big things. At the Steve Nash Charity Game he was rocking a new dew and looked like he had hit the weight room this summer. What do I call a successful season for CB4? Well statistically I expect the following, 18.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 4.3 apg. These are Garnett’s numbers from his third year. Lofty? Damn right they are lofty but not out of the question. Bosh is now the leader of this team. He knows it. Management has told him that this is his team now. He doesn’t care about the “rebuilding” tag and he just wants to win games. Reading this makes me believe that he is ready to explode. He will. Other than that he needs to develop a good rapport with Charlie V. They are both so versatile and could be a lethal 1-2 punch down-low. Think a Webber-Miller combo from a few years back, just better. I also would like to see Bosh in the post more with his back to the hoop every now and again. This is a big year for Bosh and the Raps because wins aside, he is going to want to feel like the team is moving in the right direction before signing that extension.

Jose Calderon: A great Eurobasket tournament, as covered here. Luckily most fans are unaware of this. Jose is this years version of “Who is this guy?” No doubt there are going to be hundreds of people who walk into the ACC, see Calderon check into the game and ask that very question. The best part, is that these same people will likely leave the ACC saying, “Who cares, he can play.” One thing I won’t be doing is evaluating Calderon based on stats. I’ll call this season a success for him if the transition to the NBA game is smooth and he plays a good overall game. I guess the question going into the season is whether Calderon is good enough to push Rafer for the starting job. I wouldn’t be against it, but again he is an unknown and I look forward to seeing what every other NBA team missed.

Joey Graham: Well he is one-half of what the Raps got from the Nets in tems of first rounders for VC. I recently ran into Joey at the local market and he was more than willing to talk ball and the city while doing his, “Just Moved In" grocery haul. He sounded upbeat about not only camp, but the city on a whole. He genuinely wants to be a Raptor. I don’t want to be too optimistic but I think his hard-nosed, mega athletic game will push Babcock sooner rather than later to think about opening up the roster to let this guy start. He has flown under the radar being the 16th pick and because the focus has been on Charlie and to a lesser degree, Roko. This is a perfect situation for Graham, and he will flourish under it. And hey, if he gets bored during the mad Toronto winter’s he can always come across to unit 2008 to have his a** beat in a game of Madden or NBA Live 06.

Morris Peterson: In terms of wins and losses I think Mo P will have the greatest impact. What Mo P are we getting? Do we get the magician (disappears when not at the ACC) or the new Road Warrior that we saw at the end of last season? If we get the latter Mo may go down as the best late first round pick in the Raps short history. Peterson has been in the L long enough to know what kind of player he is. I think after the Kevin O’Neal stint his confidence took a huge hit, and as a result his game suffered. Mo P is a solid player when he puts the ball on the floor, and when he does good things always tend to happen (like making lay-ups with his headband around his eyes). This is one of those guys that could really make the Raps a surprising team. If Mo can play with the same confidence he displayed when driving that MAD Bentley he was rocking during Carribana, then look out!

Jalen Rose: As much as Mo P can improve this team Jalen has the same ability to be as equally detrimental. What is going through Jalen’s mind? He needs to teach and not worry about being the man. He will get his playing time and will likely be second on the team in scoring. He is a veteran now whether he wants to be or not. I think Jalen should play, and he will be on the court during crunch time. Watching him post-up the young guys is awesome. Josh Childress in agame versus the Hawks last year was eaten alive by Rose. Rose can be a lethal offensive weapon, that being said I want to see him pass the ball to the rookies and young guys. Will he be a Raptor at the end of the year? Not sure. But by playing like he cares, and as a team player it will only help the team and him personally. Hopefully we don’t get many Nash Charity Game performances! (2 pts.)

Pape Sow: I may be the biggest Pape Sow fan so it is hard not to be biased. Will he play in the NDBL this year? Possibly. Locking him up for a couple more years at a bargain was a great move. He obviously needs to develop a better offensive game and has a lot to learn but he is freakishly athletic and has worked his tail off all summer. He will never be “the man” but he has shown flashes of solid play. If it were a game of whoever tries the most wins, Pape would lead the Raps to the first ever 82-0 season. He needs more game time, and I would like to see him in the NBA now rather than later. He should get minutes before Loren Woods and arguably before Aaron Williams. He needs to develop and show improvement. If Hoffa is not careful Pape will become the man in the middle.

Charlie Villanueva: Consistency, consistency, consistency. As a rookie in the NBA, considered to have been drafted too high and into a poor situation I won’t ask for more than consistency. Charlie V. Must display consistent effort, consistent development, and consistent improvement. The jury needs to be patient with this guy (if you call Steven A. Smith and Jay Bilas jurours). One thing is for sure, and he has to know this, the Toronto media and fan base won’t stand for laziness or don’t care attitude. Everyone saw how the fans embraced Bonner last year for giving 110%. Charlie is going to be under a microscope all year and if he waivers from this mentality it will be well publicized. Fact is I don’t think this will be an issue, because if Babcock thought it was going to be there is no way he would have drafted him that high. Go hard Charlie, go hard.

Aaron Williams: I really thought he should have started last year. He gets rebounds and he bangs. He now needs to show Hoffa how to do these things. How will I view his season as a success? Probably through Hoffa’s play. Aaron has been around long enough to teach Hoffa positioning and the basics of being a 5 in the NBA. Aaron has been a true professional thus far by not coming out and demanding a trade publicly. Hopefully his professionalism continues. Any contribution on the floor will be a bonus.

Alvin Williams: Just be healthy. This guy when healthy makes us a much better team.

Eric Williams: So now Eric doesn’t want out and has publically stated he wants to be here. Even if this is a smokescreen this is what needs to be said. Eric Williams is a great veteran and can still play ball at a high level. I expect a bounce-back season. Being traded from NJ where his family is after just signing was not a good moment for him but, it sounds like he has come to realize that Toronto is where he is being paid to play. He is a tenacious defender and I expect him to be more vocal on the floor. A bounce-back season from Williams could be huge for this team.

Loren Woods: First off, let’s not get scolded publically by the coach during a game. Loren likely won’t see the floor often unless he manages to realize he is 7' tall and hard-core effort is likely the only thing that will keep him employed in the NBA. Remember the opener last year against Yao and the Rockets? He needs to bring that every night.

Gus, the Water Guy: Keep up the good work Gus and we’ll see you at the ACC!

Wins and losses I am willing to forget about this year, but I think everyone should guestimate and then add anywhere between 3 and 5 more wins. I want to get value in return for my dollars and time spent. If every player discussed here has what I would define as a successful season this team will surprise, and all the so called experts on ESPN and CNNSI can eat their words. Looking forward to seeing how this pans out!

And hey Joey if you read this let us know if you’ll do a Rookie Diary!

HOWLAND