So I may have been a bit hard on Hoffa in my last post. The article was a bit tongue-in-cheek and yes, slightly sarcastic. I guess the situation was just too humourous in my eyes not to discuss considering what we, as Raptor fans, have seen from Rafael Araujo...
However I should say that I was actually one of the big Brazilian's staunchest defenders for the first few seasons. I hated the pick when it was made yes, but always hoped Araujo would develop into somewhat of a serviceable backup option as he slimmed down and gained more NBA experience. You know the old adage - big men take longer to develop. I too was hoping that Hoffa would fit into that mould.
So far in summer league he's had a rough go of things. However one thing is for sure - you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who tries and plays harder than Araujo and under Jerry Sloan's disciplined system which rewards such an attitude, maybe Hoffa will finally get some shine.
However the point of this piece is not to discuss the "tails" side of Araujo's career and what lies ahead for the Brazilian. No, this entry is the result of some comments made by our readers to that last piece, some which made me think..."hmmm...good point."
Which comments you ask? Well many readers alluded to the fact that what Hoffa did bring to the table each night was toughness, effort and a "won't back down" mentality. It was pointed out that Mike James and some of the other recently departed Raptors also brought similar traits and in these players' absence, who will step up to fill their shoes?
Chris Bosh has played with more fire each year he's been in the league and is this team's leader. He brings a great amount of passion and intensity everytime he steps on the court...but he's no trash-talker. In fact he's still much more of a "lead-by-example" type in the Tim Duncan mould and while every team needs players like this, he's not going to replace the charisma of a Mike James. So who else will?
Jose Calderon? - Next...
Joey Graham? - Graham has potential to be a tough, hard-nosed player but we've only seen glimpses such as when he put the hurt on Vince Carter in a game last season. Graham did lead the Raptors though in fouls per 48 minutes last season with 6.9...but that doesn't necessarily make him tough. It more likely means he needs to work on his defence...
In fact glancing at Toronto's current roster, one of the problems is that we simply don't know enough about the playing styles of many of the new Raptors to determine who will provide what qualities; be it toughness or even on-court leadership.
I mean TJ Ford is definitely tough - you don't undergo the back surgeries and injury rehab that he did without having some grit. But will he be the first to jump to his teammate's defence after a hard foul? Maybe Mike James was a bit brash at times...but his swagger was a welcome injection periodically, giving the team some much-needed fire.
Likewise, Jalen Rose, while overpayed, also had enough "persona" to go around and no one was better at getting the crowd at the ACC revved up.
And finally Matt Bonner. Bonner? - the Raptors' former media darling? Yep, that same one. Bonner actually averaged 6.1 fouls per 48 minutes and had 2 flagrant fouls assessed to him last season.
So who replaces the swagger, toughness and mettle of these players?
For starters, I'll go with Morris Peterson. Peterson wears his heart on his sleeve and brings it every game. While a class act off the court, on-court, is a fiesty competitor who actually lead Toronto in technical fouls last season with seven, and was ejected from one game - a memorable small altercation with Vince Carter. Peterson isn't afraid to let the other team know when he's knocked down a few threes in a row either...and with the growth we saw in his game last season after Jalen Rose was traded, here's hoping that mix of substance and swagger will help to lead the team next season.
Kris Humphries - After watching Humphries through the first few Summer League games, I'm wondering if he'll end up being a steal for the Raptors. Besides his excellent mid-range game, he's strong around the basket and doesn't shy away from contact. In fact last season per 48 minutes with Utah, he averaged 6.3 fouls so he's no wilting flower. That easily replaces Matt Bonner's foul production from that spot and Humphries rebounding at 12.1 per 48 minutes easily eclipses Bonner's 8 in the same time-frame. Humphries will have to play within the system that Sam Mitchell sets out, but looks to be a perfect contributor off the bench in terms of grabbing a key rebound, scoring some points or even adding some toughness inside.
Jorge Garbajosa - Garbajosa is expected to sign with Toronto any day now and could be the real answer to the "toughness" question. Garbajosa has been desribed as one of the toughest players in Europe and a good rebounder with a nose for the ball. Hopefully this description is true as Toronto will need these qualities next year if it hopes to compete for a playoff spot in the East.
Anthony Parker/Pape Sow - I've lumped these two together due to Sow's recent injury. Parker will be expected to bring a solid "well-rounded" game to Toronto and with that should be a solid defensive and rebounding presence at his position. Sow, when healthy, is one of Toronto's better on-the-ball defenders and while can be a bit over-aggressive, does give the Raptors a nice boost off the bench in terms of swagger and intensity.
Last year the team was an offensive juggernaut that couldn't stop anyone. The team did not defend or rebound the ball well and this cost them many a game. With the additions Colangelo has made, this team should be even more competitive this year provided the chemistry is there. Will the team be lacking in the "trash talk" department? Maybe so. But I don't necessarily think this will detrimental to the team and I think looking over this roster, even with Hoffa in Utah, the team will still be tough enough. In fact this will be one of Sam Mitchell's true tests as a coach. Mitchell coaches with the fire, swagger and intensity he expects from his players so perhaps this season, we'll finally get to see some of his teachings, ideal and attitude, spread to the rest of his team.