RaptorsHQ (Franchise & Howland)
Q1: Here's a fast one: Raptors Win-Loss record, and positioning overall in the conference.
Ryan McNeill: I think the Raptors can win at least as many games as last season because there were a half dozen games they lost in the dying seconds. Because of that I'm going to pencil the team in for 50 wins.
It's tough to predict the position because so many teams have injury questions. Can GPA (Garnett-Pierce-Allen) in Boston stay healthy? When will Wince Carter fall to injury? Is Bosh's foot able to withstand the grind of 82 games?
If all of the Atlantic's division's stars stay healthy - something that I doubt will happen - then I think Toronto will snag the top spot, New Jersey will claim second and Boston will manage a playoff spot. Even though most fans and writers love the idea of GPA in Boston I'm not sold on them as a team. Say what you want about forming an All-Star team but I feel the lack of an established point guard and centre will hamper them. Plus, who can step up on the roster if any of the three stars goes down for an extended period of time?
Am I drunk the the Raptors Kool-Aid? Perhaps. But I'm happy being drunk with optimism.
Jeff Wong: Raptors won-loss record? I'm going to say they even last season's mark - 47 wins. Hey, I hadn't heard the GPA nickname yet for the Boston Bunch. That's a good 'un. After the discussion Kinnon and I had about them, I'm not sure that they'll all fall to injury, but I'm not sure that they'll mesh either. Boston will be a tough draw either way.
I think the Raptors' good team chemistry, team-first philosophy and relatively unchanged roster will get them top spot in the division, er, 3rd overall.
Austin Kent: Call me the skeptic of the bunch, but I can't see the Raptors doing any better than last season. I'll say they finish this season at 46-36. I think the loss of Morris Peterson, combined with the additions that Boston and New York made, will make winning the Atlantic Division this year a tough task. Unless Andrea Bargnani turns in an incredible sophomore season I have a hard time believing we're the best team in our division. I hope I'm wrong though. Either way, Jason Kapono and Carlos Delfino are not the answer. Last year's playoffs revealed that, as much as we love this team, we've still got a ways to go before we consider ourselves contenders, even in the East.
Gagandeep Gandhi: The Raptors have better scoring, better defense and better depth this season, so I am going to peg them to get an even 50 wins. They lost Morris Peterson, but he wasn't being used a substantial enough amount to be considered a "major" loss. They added a major three-point shooting threat in Jason Kapono and the acquisition of Carlos Delfino might be the steal of the summer. Bryan Colangelo once again improved this team in the off-season and that's all you can ask for as a Raptors fan.
Raptors finish the season at 50-32, therefore being first in the Atlantic and 2nd overall in the conference.
Kinnon Yee: 51-31. Raptors finish 1st in the Atlantic, and 3rd overall.
Oh wait, you guys wanted more? They finish 1st in the Atlantic, because I think they'll start off a little slow as the team's got to integrate some essential personnel, while fighting some elite teams. Then, they'll pick up the pace in the same way that they did last year. I'm not sold on Boston being injury free the entire year, and I don't believe that the Nets have made enough improvements, especially with the loss of Marcus Williams. Individually against the Raptors, both teams may post winning records, but if we're talking about the overall season, the Raptor's consistency throughout their lineup cannot be beat. However, I think on the other side, Washington, Cleveland, and Chicago will make things hard for the Raptors to finish higher than 3rd.
RaptorsHQ: Tough question indeed...do the additions the Raptors made over the off-season put them above 50? Or do the additions their division and conference rivals made cancel this out?
I'm going with the latter and say that the Raps land right around where they did win wise last year so 48 wins. I had the bar set at 38 last year and they smashed through it so here's to hoping for a repeat. As for conference and division standings, I think the Raps take top spot in the Atlantic edging out the Nets and that's good for third overall in the East.
Q2: Who is going to be the surprise of the Raptor's squad this year? That difference maker who is going to out play our expectations?
Kinnon Yee: I've got my mark on Carlos Delfino. I'm looking for the coaching staff to get him to slash-slash-slash opposing defenses, while providing an additional lock-down defender on the wing. Out of all the players on the team, I think he'll have the most potential for greatest unexpected impact on this team, especially with his coveted rebounding and defensive skills. He's been overlooked largely due to those sporadic minutes he's had in Detroit, and I think finding consistency in the Toronto rotation will make him a valuable commodity. To pile things on, it's also a contract year, so I think it's possible he'll play out of his mind.
Jeff Wong: Aw, you took my answer, Kinnon!
Okay, I'm going to go with Luke Jackson. Yeah, I know, stupid answer, but I like the underdog. "Cool Hand Luke" was a first round pick chosen by Cleveland but had his career derailed by injury. He's 100% healthy now, I think, but needs a chance to show he's worth keeping. He has all the abilities that the Raptors look for in a player in the fundamental triple threat of court vision, ball handling, and shooting. What's going against him is the depth at the 2/3: Parker, Kapono, Dixon, Delfino and Graham. But you can't have too many small-salaried shooters on your squad -- um, unless your over the roster limit.
Ryan McNeill: I'm going with Juan Dixon. When he first arrived on the team he averaged 13.1 points per game off the bench in March but was slowed with a wrist injury late in the season. After chatting with him on media day he sounds confident about the upcoming season and is poised to be one of the veteran leaders of the team.
RaptorsHQ: It's a toss-up between Juan Dixon and Jamario Moon. I think with a full season under his belt and a healed wrist, Dixon is going to give this team some more firepower and swagger.
However it's Moon that's my real sleeper. Not only do I think Moon keeps a roster spot, but I think he'll become a Sam Mitchell favourite for various defensive match-ups. I'm not sold on Joey Graham, never have been, and I think Moon might steal some of the few minutes he was getting. In addition, when the HQ interviewed Moon he said he'd probably play some 2-3...so yep, that logjam you mentioned Jeff is going to be crazy...
Austin Kent: It might not be the biggest risk here, but I'm going put my money on T.J. Ford. I can see him establishing himself as the undisputed best point guard on this team as well as one of the elite team generals in the league. This is no knock on Jose Calderon. I believe that he too will continue to improve, but I've never been sold on the thought of him and Ford being equal players. Ford's athleticism is, for the most part, what sets him apart in my mind, but that combined with his slightly younger age and his familiarity with American-style basketball leads me to believe that he has a higher ceiling. As slippery as Calderon is driving into the key, there are very few players in the entire league who can match Ford's speed, and having a player that can whip around the court with total ball control is something that gets over looked in the league. I can see Ford coming out this year and making a more significant impact in big games, instead of relying on Calderon to provide the cajones off the bench.
Ford has the ability to jump into that top tier of point guards in the league, it's just a matter of whether he takes it or not. With the amount of international talent that the Raptors have on this team, it gives Ford a unique, but great, opportunity to use their style to compliment his own.
Gagandeep Gandhi: I am going to go off the board a bit and not select a bench player. Andrea Bargnani is going to exceed many of our expectations this season. He has the skill set and it really seems like he has all the training dedication in order to try and become the best player he can be. Starting training camp this season in his home-country of Italy will surely motivate him for the upcoming season.
He was pretty good as a rookie in finding the open spot on the floor and became known for his catch-and-shoot form. The best part about Andrea is that he will be taking the league by storm at only 23 years of age. He is going to get the most minutes on the Raptors squad except Chris Bosh and because of that he will be sure to exceed expectations just like he did in his rookie season.
Q3: What's going to be the test of the season for this Raptors squad?
Austin Kent: The test for the Raptors this year will be to show that they are more than just the best team in a crappy division. After watching the New Jersey Nets send them home without breaking a sweat, they have to be thinking of ways to set themselves apart from the rest of the one-hit wonders. Sure Jorge Garbajosa missed the playoffs, but Raps fans need to ask themselves, "Would he have really made that much of a difference?"
Going from a basement dweller to a legit contender is a big change, and a lot of it is mental. The Raptors need to prove that they're ready to make that jump, proving game in and game out, that they are one of the elite teams in their conference. There will be no more surprises this year. Unless the Raptors can adopt the philosophy that they are one of the best team's in the league, then this year might be a bit of a disappointment. It's up to Sam Mitchell to convince his team they are legit contenders, the talent is there and the ability is there.
RaptorsHQ: Couldn't have said it better myself Austin. The biggest test I agree will be to prove that last year wasn't a scenario where a decent team looked great due to poor competition. The experts are already saying this (see John Hollinger's recent conference breakdowns on ESPN.com) so hopefully that will be the fuel for the Raptors fire. And like you I think that this is where Sam Mitchell really needs to take the reigns and reiterate that his coach of the year victory was well-deserved.
Kinnon Yee: I think the biggest test for this squad has got to be to show remarkable improvement from within just to keep pace with other teams. It's going to be tough going for this squad, because I think we'll see a lot of guys step up and improve, but we might not see a lot of change in the win-loss column for the entire year. It's one thing to go through the euphoria of being one of the worst teams two years ago, into Atlantic champions the previous year, but it's not going to have the same kind of "wow" factor for this squad this year. It's going to require mental toughness to fight every night just to keep what they had the year before. This will be the year that will show us if this club is truly going to be elite for years to come.
In addition, I'm not sure the Raptors have addressed the need to attack a zone defense. The one thing we learned from playing against New Jersey last year, is that this squad struggles, and I'm not sure the Raptors have assembled a coaching staff that can properly attack a zone. At the end of last year, I believed the Raptors required an additional "European coach" to be hired to prepare our boys, but it never materialized.
Jeff Wong: I guess this is related to what you're saying, Kinnon - improving from within, specifically on defence. Last year the Raptors were middle-of-the-pack (15th overall) in defence, and they have to improve using essentially the same players. Adding Carlos Delfino should help in the perimeter, and having Jorge Garbajosa for a full season (hopefully) closer to the post, where he belongs, should help too.
Ryan McNeill: The biggest test will be how the training staff deals with all of the injuries that are lingering and will pop up as the season progresses. Carlos Delfino has a history of knee problems, Andrea Bargnani had back problems this summer, Chris Bosh is still dealing with plantar fasciitis and a knee injury, TJ Ford will always have nagging injuries because he plays with reckless abandon and Jorge Garbajosa had major surgery last season and it still remains to be seen how he'll bounce back. The Raptors roster could resemble a M.A.S.H. unit by the All-Star break and the training staff will need to be proactive instead of reactive.
Gagandeep Gandhi: The Raptors proved last season that they have the skill and ability to win games in the dying moments of a game. Now the real test begins. Last season, Toronto was under the radar, but now 29 other teams know how good they can be so it is going to be even harder to win games. The best part about the Raptors is that they play as a team. However because of that they need all their players firing on all cylinders from game one on. Besides that, there is a three-headed beast that has formed in Boston that Ryan has dubbed "GPA."
Q4: Finally, who's going to be the better player down the road... Chris Bosh or Andrea Bargnani?
Jeff Wong: The Andrea vs. Bosh Q is a toughy. Dr. Greenberg said that, based on Caliper test results, Andrea has the stuff to be a top-10 center of all time. However, the test also underestimated Chris Bosh. So I'm going to wimp out and say it's too soon to ask that question.
RaptorsHQ: I think it will be a lot easier to answer this question after this season. I am not sure anyone really knows what to expect out of Bargs right now. Last season Andrea was not asked to do much more than play in his "comfort zone", a smart move when trying to build a rooks confidence. This year he will be asked to do more. Penciled in at the 5, a traditionalist would suggest that he will play more with his back to the basket and see more opportunities within 12 feet. Bargs post play is really an unknown factor right now. Can he become a consistent rebounder? Can he use his big frame to make space? If so the "who's going to be better question" takes on a whole new meaning. Right now, it is a hard comparison to make because I don't think anyone has a true sense of what he can and cannot do.
That being said I think Bargs has more of a "killer" mentality and will be the guy the Raps go to down the road when they need the big shot. Don't you just get the feeling that he spent last season sizing up the competition and now is ready to strike? Bosh is great and definitely the leader, but Bargs could end up being the go to guy.
Gagandeep Gandhi: Although Chris Bosh is the number one option in Toronto at the moment, Andrea Bargnani will become that down the road. Bosh is probably going to be an all-star every season unless he gets hurt, so it is hard to argue how Bargnani would become better. I do believe, however, hat Bargnani has a higher ceiling than Bosh and that one day he will be an all-star himself. There is a reason Bargnani is coined "Il Mago," the plays he made in his rookie season alone are enough for a 7 minute highlight reel. The creativity, enthusiasm and magic he showed his first year is more than what Bosh showed during his first season.
Bosh is going to be Toronto's leader, no questions about it. However, when the game is in the dying seconds and the Raptors are down a point, it is Bargnani who will have the ball in his hands.
Austin Kent: At this point in time, I think you absolutely have to say Chris Bosh. As much as I love having Andrea Bargnani, I really can't even convince myself that Bosh isn't the man in Toronto. Bosh is the perennial all-star, Bosh is the one that can drop 20 points and 10 rebounds every night, and Bosh is the one who has, for better or worse, taken full responsibility of the state of the Toronto Raptors
Who will be better 10 years down the road? Only time will tell, but I couldn't fall asleep at night if I didn't say Chris Bosh, who lest we forget, is still only 22-years-old. And that's not to be a knock on Bargnani because, to be honest, I hope I'm wrong. Sure Bargnani was impressive in his debut, and will spearhead the Raptors' international revolution, but Bosh has already proven himself to be one of the best power forwards in the entire league. It's a lot easier to predict that Bosh will maintain his performance than it is to say that Bargnani will catch up and surpass him.
Yeah, Bargnani may turn out to be the next Dirk Nowitzki, but keep your pants on... I'm still hoping that, in Chris Bosh, the Toronto Raptors have themselves the next Kevin Garnett. No harm in being optimistic.
Ryan McNeill: I feel like a wuss for doing this but I just can't gauge a player when he hasn't played 82 games in the NBA. Throw in the fact that big men generally take longer to develop and you could argue that even Bosh hasn't reached his full potential yet. I'm hoping that these two players can mesh because it would be a shame if BC had to pick one of the two to move forward with.
Kinnon Yee: I'm going to answer it in a sort of half-way. Going by skills, Bargnani's going to be the guy that just amazes you with his creativity and his ability to do things that boggle the mind. He's already shown spurts of this with his touch passes, the failed behind-the-back alley-oop, and his dizzying array of dribbling moves. However, the leader of this team will always be Chris Bosh. He's the guy that's "the voice" and the guy who is going to get you what you need to absolutely win. That is, rebounds, trips to the foul line, and bread and butter plays. I believe that statistically in pools and such, Chris Bosh is always going to be better than Bargnani, but Bargnani will always have the ability to add that touch of the impossible, and you know what? I think it makes both players better than they would be alone.
So I guess it depends on your criteria. A leader like Bosh is not born everyday, and having him as your franchise player insures that everyone works hard. But at the same time, a guy with Bargnani's skill set is also rare, as he's able to make plays that just make people gasp in awe and shake their head.
Thanks to everyone for participating in this roundtable.