Although the Raptors finished with one of their worst records in franchise history and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year, there was a definite glow around this team going into the offseason - the biggest and brightest of course coming from Chris Bosh.
It was announced yesterday that Bosh has agreed to sign a long-term extension with the club this summer making him the franchise's center-piece and the key part in this team's rebuilding plans. While the decision is a no-brainer from the Raptors' perspective based on Bosh's on-court play, GM Bryan Colangelo explained that it was Bosh's presence, attitude and off-court personality that also played a large role in keeping CB4. Bosh now will play-out his final year of his rookie contract and his extension would thus kick-in beginning in the 2007-08 season. No financial deals have been released as the official contract signing would not occur until sometime later this summer.
Unfortunately an announcement as large as Bosh's could have been more potent to the city had MLSE's other enterprise (no, not the Poker one which runs bizarre commercials featuring knights with chainsaws) the Toronto Maple Leafs, not decided to fire their coach/general manager on the same day. As our colleague Chris Young from the Toronto Star correctly pointed out, it's decisions like these that really make you wonder as a Raptors' fan if the club will ever get even CLOSE to equal billing in this hockey-crazed city. I'm not naive, the Maple Leafs will always be the big draw in Toronto (as evidenced by countless sell-outs this season even though the team was a much bigger disappointment than the Raptors) but it would be nice for MLSE to ATTEMPT to run both franchises on somewhat of an equal footing. Waiting a week to fire Pat Quinn would have given the Raptors the spotlight concerning Bosh and co. and would have been a much wiser PR move for a team looking to increase seat sales going into next season.
With the Bosh question down, who's next? Probably Mike James. James' has made quite a name for himself with the media this season and it's perhaps starting to impact his image. Last night on RaptorsTV's "Hoops" phone-in show many callers expressed not-so pleasant opinions of James with some even going so far as to compare him to Rafer considering his recent outlandish statements to the media. James appeared on the Flow 93.5's "Morning Rush" earlier today to discuss some of his recent comments and above all-else it's quite obvious that James just loves to play.
Yes, he may have been singing R Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" on Raptors TV not knowing that he was live.
Yes, he's considering chasing his pitbulls instead of chickens this summer as part of his off-season boxing regimen.
And, yes, he entered the Flow93.5 studios wearing an "iced-out" championship belt from his days as a Detroit Piston that read "I'm Mike James beeeeeeeeeeeeeeatch."
What fans need to realize is that this is just James. He's one giant soundbyte and regardless of his colourful off-court personality, the bottom line is whether or not James is a player that Bryan Colangelo feels fits in with the team he is attempting to build on the court. Colangelo was very non-descript yesterday in addressing the James situation and right now it looks to be about 50/50 as to whether Mr. Space Mountain will return next year.
Which leaves us with Sam Mitchell. From all accounts it looks like Mitchell will be the coach of the Toronto Raptors when the 2006-07 season gets underway next fall. Colangelo backed Mitchell for the job he did this year and while he emphasized that the team needs to get much better defensively, Colangelo wants to give Mitchell a chance to "succeed or fail with the group we're going to put on the floor next year." While this gives Mitchell some breathing room it could be argued that indeed it's very little. If Colangelo does not see improvement in spite of any players he brings in this off-season to help the team, Mitchell may be on a very short leash.
The main theme for this year's "end of season wrap-up" seemed to be optimism. From Morris Peterson to Chris Bosh everyone talked about how the team is headed in the right direction and is excited about what this off-season may bring. Peterson even went so far as to say that he wanted to go and workout yesterday just from pure excitement and several members of the Raptors discussed hitting the magic 40 win mark next year. That number sadly in the Eastern Conference was all four teams basically needed to get into the race for the fifth seed in this year's playoffs and again next season should be a number to watch in terms of playoff desires. Getting there most certainly would be a huge jump for the Raptors equating in 13 more wins and would not be easy to come by. However considering how many closes losses the Raptors endured this past season and the omnipresent optimism felt yesterday, perhaps 40 wins isn't that far off.