Rob Babcock hasn't held anyone's hand since he began his tenure as the General Manager of the Toronto Raptors a little over a year ago. He's made tough choices (trading Vince Carter, drafting Charlie Villanueva) and has come under a seemingly constant barrage of fire for them. Perhaps it will be a while before we really know the legacy of Rob Babcock, as opposed to say some like...oh George Bush. But one thing's for sure, Babcock is staying the course knowing full well that things in the short term might not be pretty.
Evidence of this is GM Rob Babcock's recent comments that he does not expect this year's version of the Toronto Raptors to win as many games as last year's squad.
The first question is why would he come out and say this? Sure we all know this is likely the case as we are younger, have lost some shooting, and are still determining whether or not Hoffa will develop, but does it need to be publicly stated? Perhaps Babcock has donned a new hat in addition to that of the General Manager...team psychologist. If the Raptors do have a rough season and fail to win even 30 games Babcock can say "well, I warned you about this" thereby resulting in a form of "self fulfilling prophecy." If however the team overachieves, maybe playing close to .500 ball, then Babcock's lowererd expectations make the season seem like a great success. Perhaps his words will motivate a group of young and hungry players who feel they have something to prove thereby resulting in a form of "self-DEFEATING prophecy" and a surprisingly successful campaign.
And perhaps neither of these is the case as it now appears that Babcock made these statements to protect Coach Sam Mitchell.
However are Babcock's statements really a fair assessment of this year's young and naive squad? On paper the Raptors DO look like they could have a difficult time getting to even the 30 win plateau. However stranger things have happened. The NBA in the past has been full of stories like last year's Bulls, Wizards and Sonics...all teams who came out of nowhere to surprise the so called "experts" and have much better seasons then predicted. In fact, in each case the turnaround was in large part due to the development of each team's respective young talent. In the Bulls case it was the combined emergence (finally) of Tyson Chandler and Eddie Curry along with the rookie play of Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon which helped lift the Bulls out of the NBA's basement. Add in a little international flavour in Andreas Nocioni and a tough, defensive minded coach and all of sudden you've got a top 5 Eastern Conference seed. The Bulls suffered through some growing pains, but now look to be building a young, strong team capable of making a serious run in the Eastern Conference in the next few years. Some comparisons in coaching style, young players (both Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva played at UConn and trained together in the offseason) and international ingredients ring true. The Raps could easily be on that same path, just a few years behind.
Fact of the matter is right now Babcock is probably right, we will likely win between 30 and 35 games, miss the playoffs and fight it out with Boston for the last spot in the Atlantic. The Celtics in fact make another interesting team for comparison sake. Like the Raptors who were forced to deal Vince and begin the rebuilding process, the Celtics seem to be on the verge of trading their All-Star and neither will make the playoffs this year. Babcock should take a closer look at what Ainge is doing in Boston and try and deal some of the remaining vetrans on the current Raps roster, in particular Eric and Aaron Williams, and simply fill the team with young guns.
The other thing Babcock should notice is that Ainge is not making statements about how this year's Boston team will fare, even if it means protecting current Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Mitchell, after another year or two of coaching, will be a better coach than Doc and doesn't need protecting.
Anyone who listened/watched post-game wrap-ups knows that Mitchell tells it how it is.
Some of the Toronto press view this year's Raptors squad as a total loss. No wins, and no optimism. Apparently all the Toronto press covering the Raptors are sipping from the same glass. Losing 50 games is never fun to watch, but it may simply be a bump in the road to great things. We are building a collection of talent, not simply to make the playoffs, but to one day win a championship. To suggest that this franchise is in a worse condition then 15 months ago is simply wrong. In neither case was the team championship material. The difference is Babcock is trying to assemble solid young players, something that was missing when he took over. Can fans actually say they'd rather have a team stuck in mediocrity forever (see the NY Knicks) then suffer through a few tough seasons in order to field a consistently winning squad? The only obvious mistake Babcock has made in trying to obtain this goal was letting Marshall walk away for nothing.
As an aside, more and more, the Toronto press attack Babcock's drafting abilities. If, for sake of argument Hoffa was a mistake (see Bralizian Beast or Bust) what did we learn? Don't draft for need. At the time the Raptors were desparate for a Centre who could contribute. Result? Less than 5ppg and 5 rpg. Then comes this years draft, and we take Villanueva at 7 and Graham at 16. The argument now is why draft at a position where we have our franchise player? Well if you don't draft for need, you simply draft the best player available. Villenueva can definitely play 4, will play some 5, could develop enough skill to play 3 and without doubt has more upside then almost anyone else in this year's draft. It's too hard to tell at this point whether the former Huskie will live up to these expectations, but if he does, all of the Toronto press will be eating some serious humble pie. The Raps front court has more youth and upside then ever before. This provides hope. And as a further aside, does the Toronto press simply miss out on the fact that we drafted Joey Graham? Have you seen his Raptors Rookie photos? He is going to be an athletic freak on the court. Let's just call a spade a spade and until the Raptors win a championship the Toronto Press will always be negative about this franchise. Hopefully like us you have already bought a sound-proof set of headphones to drown out this year's short sighted critics.