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In Hindsight....Part I

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Way back when, former GM Rob Babcock looked everyone straight in the eye and said that the 05-06 team would likely be less successful than that of its predecessor, the 04-05 Raps. Debate swirled, some commended Babcock for taking the pressure off his team, others disagreed with the tactic and felt it was more or less a self-fufilling prophecy. Now whatever the motivation behind such a move, (one I highly doubt we will see Colangelo make) real Raps fans had to look at this new, exceptionally young squad and realize that the playoffs were...well...a pipe dream.

With that in mind I am going to go back and see what I thought then...in hopes of coming to some sort of conclusion on whether this season in my mind was a success. Whatever the result of this exercise it was in the Forecast Part I that I did say the Leafs would miss the playoffs. Mind you I would not exactly call that a BOLD prediction.

And away we go....

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.

Ok, so obviously I did not see the mid-season firing. I don't think anyone else did either. With the firing however, Babcock's season was obviously a failure. For the team? Whenever you bring in an executive of the year and respected basketball guy that is NEVER a bad thing. That being said, I think Babcock needs some props here. Although he was never media savvy, if the reports are true, he was maker of the Jalen Rose and Aaron Williams deals and Embry simply pulled the trigger. Now had Babs pulled the trigger on those, or had the opportunity to do so, he would have done exactly what I was hoping, re-establish himself.

It's difficult to get a sense on what went wrong with Babcock. Obviously MLSE is a very political place, and he went the way of Paul Martin. When even more reports come out that it was Peddie that bought Mourning out, you just have to feel bad for the guy. It is not such a reach to think that we, as the fans, if all the reports were true, would be just as optimistic today about the franchise with Babcock in charge as with Colangelo. If Rob had made the Jalen deal and the Aaron Williams deal we would have the same cap space, the great young guys chosen by him, and a high pick (let's also not forget he brought in Mike James). It would still be an exciting off-season.

Of course with Babcock there would always be that seed of doubt whenever he would make a move, and I am highly skeptical that Bosh would have come out a day after the season ended to report after his meeting with the GM that he was ready to re-sign. The credibility would have been an issue for quite a while. As an aside, does anyone else not find it funny that Bosh came out earlier to say he wanted James to be re-signed and that doing so would impact his desire to stay, yet there is no indication now (at least publically) that James will definitely be re-signed? My guess is Colangelo's hiring made Bosh' desire for James of secondary importance...there's that credibility issue again.

All this said, if I evaluate the GM position on a whole for the 05-06 season...

OUTCOME: Very Successful.

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.

Well, if I look back at what I wanted, the season has been a success. Mitchell has built an unbelievably strong bond with his players. It is not everyday that players will come out publicly politic for their head-coach. Mitchell does know his guys and this is a great thing. It has also been an extremely smooth year in terms of off the court issues. Other than Eric Williams saying he wanted out again there has been little to report that is non-basketball related. There have been no wrestling matches, no sideline spats with palyers being asked to leave the bench, and no guys threatening to retire and questioning their fit on this team. That has been one HUGE difference between this year and last, there is now a bond between the coach and the players.

That's where the praise ends however. In some ways I question whether Mitchell really "knows the game". Although his blue collar attitude has rubbed off on this squad, his hard nosed defense definitely has NOT. Now maybe this is where my ignorance comes into play. Is it that Mitchell lack's the required basketball IQ to be a great coach and as a consequence this is rubbing off on his players (hence limiting their ceiling), or is there a real and true learning curve when it comes to coaching in the NBA. My hunch is it is a bit of both. People are going to debate whether Colangelo is doing the right thing when it comes to putting Mitchell in the sitting duck position for next year's squad. I think it is a bright move. Mitchell needs to develop faster than the players around him and he needs to demonstrate that development and growth right away next season. If he doesn't expect him to make like the Raptor... extinct.

Oh, and one last point. I have been somewhat disappointed with the sound bytes this year from Mitchell. The Jim Todd interview with Norma remains a highlight of a Raps'broadcast but Mitchell has really turned it down a notch.

OUTCOME: Moderate Success.

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”.

Obviously I wrote this prior to the robbery. The Mike James experiment can only be described as a successful one as I have harped on many times. I won't get into a huge Mike James discussion (he is getting a ton of ink these days) other than to say this...thank whatever deity you need to for not having Rafer Alston and his crazy contract on our team. He is simply another guy that just does not get it. Upon arriving in Houston he was in Van Gundy's dog-house almost immediately. Dealing him saved the franchise and the fan base a ton of headache...in fact I hear Advil sales are down in the GTA.

OUTCOME: Very Successful. ...Funny how dealing a guy gets a successful grade.

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.

Well when you don't set high standards in most cases it is hard not to meet them. Hoffa does look much more comfortable on the floor and there were games late this season when you could see the light go on. Unfortunately someone would quickly climb into his head and flick off the switch. There may be no other player that the Raps fan want to succeed so badly, yet love to hate as much as the Brazilian. In the end the Hoffa experiment remains an unmitigated disaster....much like the TBS reality show line-up from the past couple of years including "Daisy Does America" and "Minding the Store".

One could argue that Hoffa has climbed out of the crib. The problem is that I think we are seeing what could be the best of him, at least in a Raps uni. Colangelo needs to move him. If he suceeds elsewhere the more power to him, but if the goal is to build a running, athletic team this is not the answer at the 5 spot. He has been moderately successful at getting the Toronto fans back on side, atleast he does not get booed every time he touches the rock, and that has to be good for his confidence. In the end it is a lack of basketball IQ that will kill Hoffa's career.

In order to stay true to the exercise here I will only evaluate based on my expectations. Don't forget this is a moving scale for each player/member of the Raptors franchise.

OUTCOME: Success (In that he has lost the deer in headlights look).

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.

Bonner has had a rough year. He has been put in some tough spots (guarding Shaq is one that comes to mind) and he has had an up and down season when it comes to shooting the rock. On a number of occassions Bonner has been the culprit of some extremely bad defense and slow rotations yet he still plays with hustle and does bring some things to the table. He does maximize the return on his skill and althetic abilities and when compared to last season he does have a better first step. Unfortunately Bonner's step will always be much much slower than even the average NBAer.

One thing is clearly obvious....this guy is not worth Brian Scalabrine money, $3M per, (of course neither is Brian Scalabrine) and Babcock made another great decision in not over paying. I expect Bonner to improve again in the off-season but nothing terribly noticeable. The blunt reality is he has a limited ceiling and should never get more than 10 minutes a night unless he is filling it up from the outside. In the end Bonner had some shooting woes this year and that is his bread and butter.

OUTCOME: Marginally Successful.

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.

Well call me Nostradamus. Bosh's numbers for the year? 22.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 2.3 apg. What else can you say about Bosh's season? He has becoming the ultimate big-man weapon. He has sniper accuracy from a deep range and he can go zero to 60 quicker than a 911 Turbo. I had really high expectations this year and he met them all, including his first All-Star appearance. To say he elevated his game from last season would be a huge understatement and a disservice to his game. That's not to say I won't put even higher expectations on him next year. The assists need to go up and he needs to help establish a defensive mentality for the team.

When it comes to leadership, not only does Bosh know he is the leader he is now embracing it. He is not shying away from his responsibilities unlike the last max player to wear a Raptors jersey. When he annouced he wanted to sign the extention he elluded to being the leader and wanting to create something. Money aside, his desire to be a true leader and to help change this team seems genuine. Perhaps the best part is that it seems like he is willing to do whatever it takes to build a winner. He will be getting into the ears of some of the guys at the USA Camps this summer. With Colangelo in town and him showing his long-term commitment it will be hard for many of them not to listen.

When it comes to him and Charlie Villanueva, don't you just get the feeling that they have just scratched the surface? Find me another team with two 6'11' guys this versatile and so young. As these guys grow they will become a deadly duo on the offesive end. There is definitely some chemistry there and with CV Smooth's passing ability you can expect that to grow. Bosh has met and exceeded all my definitions of a successful season.

OUTCOME: HUGE Success.

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.

Calderon, like many rooks, had a very up and down season. At the beginning of the year he did exactly what I expected. He turned heads. He player hard and there were times when people questioned whether he would be better starting than coming off the bench. All that talk was stemmed when his body started to feel the wear and tear of a full NBA season. The injury bug hit and for most of the middle part of the season you could tell Calderon was struggling.

One thing can be said about Calderon. He was a great signing. Not solely on what he did this season but what he COULD do in the years to come. Calderon has shown he has a good handle, can change speeds, and can definitely make the hard and pretty passes. Everyone knows about his shooting woes and that sometimes he gets pushed around on the defensive end but considering this guy was never drafted and we signed him while giving up nothing?! A great investment.

Obviously the pushing Rafer for the starting job is moot, but he has made a relatively smooth transition. Calderon did pick his game up again at the end of th year and with the summer of International ball ahead of him and a strong work ethic, you have to be pleased.

OUTCOME: Success.

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.

Ok so perhaps not surprisingly I am still waiting for my game of Madden...maybe it's because I changed units. I digress. Funny, when I look at what I wrote about Joey it is clear that my expectations were too high. Joey had a difficult year making the transition from playing the 4 in college to guarding the likes of Paul Pierce, Antawn Jamison and other NBA stars. That is a tough transition for any rookie and such a difficult transition obviously had a serious effect on Graham's confidence.

One thing we learned about Joey G. this year is that he is a confidence player. When he does get into the groove he makes smart plays, is aggresive and is a definite asset. The other thing we learned about Joey is that he still has a lot to learn and needs to work extremely hard in the off-season to have a better sophmore campaign. His dribbling needs a lot of work to play the 3, he needs to stop pushing off, and his foot-speed on the defensive end needs drastic improvement. He knows what he has to do now and it will be interesting to see what the results are when summer league comes around.

The biggest surprise for me this year about Graham was his shooting range. His ability to hit the three was unexpected. In the end though Joey did not flourish. He did however, show flashes.

OUTCOME: Marginal Success (Mostly based on my high expectations).

So far when I look at the break-down I actually feel pretty good about this season. Well at least for most of these guys....we are yet to get into the "Williams" zone. We may have hit a peak here, but with Mo P and CV Smooth to look at later on this week hopefully as fans (or at least me) we will feel better about another losing season.