ETA until Raptors Training Camp - T Minus four days.
Finally we're hearing some more basketball talk as Toronto prepares to open up training camp next week.
Expectations? Well, we'll talk about some of ours in the next two weeks here at the HQ but as for the Raptors' staff themselves? - Mum's the word.
Head coach Sam Mitchell has stated that he "feels good about the team, the chemistry, the attitude..." but beyond that, seems to want to let the team's results speak for themselves before making any predicitions. He has indicated that on paper the team looks to be improved, but knows that it's a long season and this team needs to come together to have success. It also seems that Mitchell is being cautious not to tread the same path as former GM Rob Babcock prior to last season.
But without a contract extension will Mitchell end up being disposed of much like Babcock? Mitchell doesn't seem worried. In a sense it's somewhat out of his control considering that current GM Bryan Colangelo at some point during the season is bound to decide Mitchell's fate based on the expectations Colangelo has for the team he's put together.
And what about this team? In past years the likes of Omar Cook and Tierre Brown were among those invited to camp with legitimate shots at making the team. This year? The Raptors invited only two players, Lavell Blanchard and Cezary Trybanski to camp, both of whom Colangelo and the Raptors are quite familiar with.
HQ readers may remember Blanchard from last season as he was a member of the Raps' Summer-League squad. Back then, here's what we wrote about him:
Lavell Blanchard: The 6-7 swingman from Ann Arbour Michigan is an interesting case study. Rated the nationâ€™s number one prospect coming out of high school, Blanchard chose to stay in his own backyard and attended Michigan. Blanchard, along with Jamal Crawford and Robert â€œTractorâ€ Traylor helped return the program to national recognition after the Fab 5â€™s departure. While a talented scorer and co-Big Ten Freshman of the year in 1999, Blanchard never stuck in the league and never achieved the status level of some of his under 20 National Team members such as Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince. Blanchard is a good rebounder at the Small Forward position and can score in a variety of ways. If he can play the shooting guard position he may get a long look from Babcock.
With a glut of players now at the 3/4 spots, one would presume that Blanchard would need to show some skills at the 2-guard spot or simply out-play Joey Graham or PJ Tucker in camp to have any kind of shot of sticking with the team.
As for Trybanski, the 7-2 Polish big-man started his career with Memphis in 2002 and has since made stops in Phoenix, New York and Chicago. He's still quite raw and has only averaged 4.6 minutes per game in the NBA however has the fundamentals to become a proficient backup big-man in the league. The Raptors could still use some help in the center department so there's no harm in bringing Trybanski in for a look. In fact Trybanski played under Colangelo in Phoenix before being dealt to New York as part of the Stephon Marbury/Antonion McDyess trade. Perhaps Colangelo saw something then and wants another look.
In any event, it's definitely no sure thing that either player are sure roster bets, especially now that Darrick Martin is back in the fold. As announced yesterday, Martin and the Raptors have agreed to a one year deal, a move we applaud here at the HQ. Since the off-season began we felt that bringing Martin back as a coach/third stringer just made sense considering the experience, leadership and stability he would bring to the overhauled club - not to mention his rapport with Jose Calderon and Sam Mitchell.
Also in the line of training camp updates, it appears that Andrea Bargnani will get a chance to be a starter. If Bargnani can show-off some of the traits that made him the top pick in this past summer's NBA draft, Mitchell may have no choice but to plug Bargnani in at the 3 spot sliding Peterson, Parker or Jones to the 2.
One Raptor who will be at camp but not participating in scrimmages is Pape Sow. Sow is making a faster than expected return from a broken neck, an injury he suffered almost three months ago in Summer League but is not yet ready to resume play. While he feels he's still at only about 85 per cent, and no timetable has been set for his return, it's at least encouraging that Sow's begun working out and running - two activities that he wasn't originally slated to begin doing for another month or two. It was also encouraging to see his neck holding up well under it's first test - seeing A Tribe Called Quest live at the Kool Haus a week ago where he was lounging at the back, nodding his head to the beats.
Away from training camp and as a follow-up to Tuesday's piece on Raptornomics, it looks like Raptor fans are buying into the Colangelo masterplan as season ticket-holder renewals are the second-highest in franchise history. Colangelo seems to have re-instilled a sense of faith among the Raptor faithful based on his shrewd off-season moves and there definitely seems to be a renewed interest in the club.
Either that or it's the new jerseys.
Recently, the Raps unveiled their new-look jerseys which have a distinctly Canadian feel, and look to emphasize the new beginning for the Toronto Raptors.
So is a new era of Raptor basketball truly upon us? I don't know about you, but when Mr. Happy, Dave Feschuk, is hopping on the Colangelo bandwagon, something's gotta be different...