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The Forecast.....Part II

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We have taken a look at what would make a “successful” season in Raptorland. Since that article obviously a bit has changed, in particular with the trading of Skip for journey-man but hard nosed defender Mike James. On a whole, the consensus seems to be that this was a great move by GM Rob Babcock in terms of the franchise’s long term health. I personally try not to judge deals immediately after they happen and like to give it a year before determining who robbed who. The lone exception was when the Rockets picked up TMAC for a sack full of crap...part of which became something worse....Doug Christie. All this is to simply say that the lay of the Raptors' land has changed drastically....in the amount of about $18M.

Regardless, I have given my definition of “success” for this coming season. That being said nothing ever goes as planned.....just ask Glen Grunwald after locking up AD, Alvin, JYD, VC and Hakeem just a few years back. Or better yet just ask George W. It is going to be a difficult ride this year in terms of wins and losses. Sure we may surprise, but to think we win 40 games raises the bar quite high. There are still lots of questions to be answered about this team, and there could and likely will be some issues on the way. Instead of looking at what could make a good year, I’ve decided to give my top ten things that could foreseeably happen making this year one we hope to forget.

10. We Don’t Change the Intro Song

It is pathetic to me that we have Kid Rock as our opening song. Kid Rock?! WHY?! To make matters worse that the same opening song they use in Detroit. For Detroit it makes sense...Kid Rock is FROM THERE! This terrible intro, in particular in this hip-hop generation of ball players, can’t really do anything to get the players excited. In no way am I a hip-hop expert, hell I make up lyrics when I have no idea what they are saying, but please let’s try something new. Maybe a little “Encore” with Lincoln Park and Jay-Z, or something with a beat by one of the G-Unit members, whatever, but fix this intro now. My colleague here at Raptorshq, Franchise, could probably write an entire article on this topic and definitely will if he goes to the opening game and we're still being tortured with the Ba Di Di Ba...

9. Hoffa Does Not Improve

We have harped on this guy almost long enough (Part III of the Hoffa series is coming). Even though rookies sign a three year deal plus a one year team option, this year is key. Please improve Hoffa, for your sake and mine. Although Babcock was killed by most for this pick (and rightfully so to date), other than Iguodala and to a lesser degree Josh “Overrated ‘cause I can Dunk” Smith, there was really no other rookie that made a significant impact after the 9th pick. That being said expect a whole lot more from the Class of 2004 this year. I expect Telfair, Biedrins, Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen and even the Russian Mob (Monia and Khryapa) to make significant contributions to their respective teams. Something is wrong if Chuck Swirsky expects Loren Woods to see significant time this year. Hoffa, step up or expect the last year of your Raptors stint to be in the NDBL...not to see your game develop, but to save you from the chorus of boos.

8. Playing Time Takes Priority

It is going to be another tough year on Coach Mitchell as he has a lot of players that are going to want to see the floor. Take the SF position for example. Rose is going to start and let’s be honest; having him come off the bench last year was simply a bad idea. But Eric Williams, new attitude aside, is going to want minutes, and he will need them to be effective. Two guys at the SF position is ok, problem is we have a rook named Joey Graham who can play the three. If we are rebuilding then the rookies are going to need time. Hopefully the “team” concept shines through because if minutes, or lack thereof, start taking priority things could get ugly in a hurry.

7. Charlie Villanueva Disappoints

I think Charlie is going to be a player provided he keeps his mind in the game and shakes anything that even resembles a lazy attitude. Villanueva claims he can play all five spots, but let’s just hope he focuses on one or two for now. It will be interesting where Charlie gets his minutes this year, but when he gets them he needs to play within himself and the system and show glimpses of why he was picked number 7. If he were to have a Hoffa like season (unlikely, but you never know) this could be the end of not only Babcock but the whole scouting staff as well. In this league where a franchise can be made with a few good draft picks (just ask the Bulls, Spurs, and to a lesser degree Warriors) you can’t blow two lottery picks. Besides if I have to hear Steven A. Smith at next years draft saying “I told you so” I may need to call Air Canada for some sickness bags.

6. Calderon Burns Out

Mike James has a lot of good characteristics, and Rafer was a wild card, no question. But one has to assume that the Raptors Brass thinks Calderon is going to play and play well. After the Eurobasket Tournament I don’t think this is such a bad idea. Problem with this is that there are 82 games in a season and Calderon has never come close to playing this many games in such a short period of time. He is also coming off the Eurobasket Tournament and a summer of work, not rest like most NBAers. We could easily see a drop in Calderon’s play as the year goes on and whoever gets that third PG spot better be ready to play some minutes. Unfortunately I have no reason to believe the camp invitees are going to do anything to impress. PG is such a key position on a team, we again could be having serious issues here.

5. Vince Wins the MVP

Ok, ok, I hear the complaints already. Like I said above though I am simply talking about things that COULD happen. Is he my pick for MVP this year? Definitely not, but it is possible. The Nets look like a solid team. J Kidd and RJ are healthy, Kristic is improving and Antoine Wright is going to be a baller. We all saw what Vince did after the deal last year and with a full season of Kidd and RJ alongside, Vince Carter is going to be LARGE this year. If he wins the MVP, or is even considered for it Raptors fans really will turn purple in rage, and envy. I am really looking forward to seeing Graham play D on Vince. Oh and my early pick for MVP is Lebron.

4. We Don’t Move Up the ESPN Power Rankings

LAST?! Doubtful. It seems to me ESPN is going in the wrong direction in terms of NBA expertise. Last time I checked New Orleans doesn’t have a home (extremely unfortunate and a terrible situation for all involved) and are banning players from training camp, the Hawks blew their opportunity to improve by passing on Chris Paul and drafted Marvin Williams instead not to mention overpaying in a big way for Joe Johnson, and the Knicks have more chuckers’ than the AL East. And speaking of ESPN, I though Chad Ford was leaving? I have had to postpone my no-more Chad Ford party for way to long now.

3. Chuck Swirsky Doesn’t Call Pape Sow “SPIDERMAN”

We’ve coined it and it works. Come on Chuck, you know you love it

2. Somebody Demands a Trade

So sick of players wanting out of a situation, you are getting paid to play. Be professional, and lastly recognize that playing for a “contender” is not a legal right. If you are not on a contender it is because you have not made it one. Winning an NBA Championship is not something every player does, it is earned. In no way shape of form is whining an acceptable way to get into a situation to win. I really think the Raptors players can gel regardless of wins and losses. But when was the last time the team had a season that didn’t resemble, at least to some degree, bad daytime TV? If I was a betting man I say Jalen would be the first to ask for a trade, but if he did I can see him being professional about it and not going through the press.

1. Bosh Gets Hurt

If this happens this might become more painful then what fans had to endure when Lenny Wilkins coached his last season. Without Bosh this team could easily have a winning percentage below .250 and people will lose interest in this team in a big way. He can’t get hurt. This is the most important thing this year, he needs to have the opportunity to continue to grow as a player and create good chemistry with the other key components of this teams future. This is his year to become the true leader of the franchise, not to mention a possible All-Star, and being hurt won’t allow for this to occur.

Now here’s some random thoughts....

- I don’t think people are giving Washington enough love early on. This team is going to be better than they were last year and I think Caron Butler finally breaks out.

- I hope Eddy Curry gets a DNA test for his sake. If basketball really could threaten his life he needs to put the millions of dollars aside.

- I think we are really going to see what kind of coach Phil Jackson really is this year. No Shaq, no Jordan, no championship that’s for sure.

- What ever happened to Marcus Haislip? He played ok ball in summer league, but to not get a training camp invite?

- I question the Bulls matching for Duhon. He is worth the money but I expect Gordon to want to start sooner rather than later.

- Why do I always look at the Clips in the pre-season and think, “This could be the year they make the playoffs.” For the record, I think this again. I am 99% sure I call myself stupid by the All-Star break.

- While we are on the predictions bit.....Western Conference Finals will be Spurs and Houston. In the East it will be Indiana and Miami. I have not picked my Finals winner yet.

- I really hope Amare is not that hurt, if so it kills my chances in my fantasy keeper league.

- I can’t wait to get my first taste of ball this week when I go to the ACC on Weds.

HOWLAND