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When Barkley and Smith are back in the TNT studios, that means it's NBA time again...

When Barkley and Smith are back in the TNT studios, that means it's NBA time again...

The tease is over!

No more 17 foul-filled summer-league games.

No more draft and free agent speculation.

No more preseason games where players like Gabe Pruitt can light up the scoreboard one night, and find themselves on the cutting line for the D League the next.

Instead, real basketball is upon us at last.

This morning our newest correspondent, Kinnon Yee aka Vicious D, looks at some questions he thinks the Raptors are going to need to answer over the course of the season before they can get to that "next level."

Andrea Bargnani is central to this line of thinking and yesterday, the Toronto Raptors announced that they had exercised the fourth year team option on the Rookie Scale Contract of Andrea.

This was really a no brainer and Bargs is now guaranteed through the 2009-10 season. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed but I’m sure hoopshype’s salary section will have all the info at some point.

Also tonight, NBA TV Launches some new shows for the 2008-09 NBA Season and get this…will have "NBA vets Chris Webber, Gary Payton, Eric Snow and Steve Smith in the NBA TV as studio analysts."

Um…Gary Payton?

Last night Howland and I were joking that between his southern drawl and Eric Snow’s mumbling, it could make for an unintentional comedy masterpiece.

And for those ball fans with RaptorsTV, they’ll get things underway nice and early tonight with a 5 p.m. ET live studio chat. Later in the evening they’ll feature an interview with NBA commissioner David Stern in addition to the regular crew of EJ, Barkley and Smith.

Finally, CB4 will also be chatting live from Philly at 6:40 p.m.

One other interesting note on the new NBA TV programming; this season fans will have the opportunity to vote for the games they want to see televised nationally.
Here’s how it works:

"Beginning tonight fans can log onto NBA.com and select from a number of games taking place around the league and vote for the one they most want to see televised on NBA TV on Nov. 4. Voting will take place each week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; the selections will be announced Wednesday nights on NBA TV. The Tuesday night pre-and post-game studio shows will be hosted by Ahmad Rashad and Chris Webber."

Of all the features, I think this one is the best of the bunch as it will allow fans to avoid some of the painful scheduling that viewers fell victim to last year. Remember when TNT assumed that the Bulls and Heat were going to be the East’s two best teams for the next five years and therefore had them playing almost every night?

Well no more!

And with that, we turn it over to D…

With the pre-season behind us, the Raptors can look forward to testing themselves against real competition, in real games. Undoubtedly, Chris Bosh is aiming to take the team far ahead from the get go, but as we saw during the pre-season, most of the team is going to take some time to get there. Pre-season has indeed left a few questions for the faithful and I, for one, think that the Raptors need to address a couple situations.

1. Resolving the SF situation

If Jamario Moon learned nothing in his last year as a Raptor and made no substantial improvements to change his game, there's no doubt that he should be benched. I may be overly critical of the young man from Alabama, but he's 28 and not getting any younger. As much as people laud him for his athleticism, it is that same athleticism that could be his downfall. Too many times does he not push himself to be 100% involved in each play, each defensive scheme, and on each break. How many times have we seen him broken down on the defensive side, only to try and catch up to his man for a blocked shot from behind? How many times have we seen him lay up a ball, completely avoid contact, and come away with nothing?

On the flip side, one Mister Joey Graham is like a bull in a china shop. Originally an undersized PF, the Raptors have tried for three seasons to groom him into a SF/SG combo. This year, he seems to have made a determined stance to try and break down defenders and take the ball to the rim on a more consistent basis. One never forgets however that Joey in all his years has never been consistent. The Raptors and their faithful have to be waiting for the other shoe to drop and unfortunately, history has taught us it's only a matter of time.

Nevertheless, out of our two options, it seems that Joey Graham is intent on shoring up a deficiency the Raptors clearly have. With everyone in the SG/SF position being a good to great jump shooter, Graham's decision to take the ball down the gut of defences give the Raptors an added dimension that goes beyond Moon's less than stellar shot selection and outside shooting. After all, we already have Kapono and Parker there who shoot at a much higher clip than Moon. Toss in the fact that Graham is playing for a contract and may be a tradable commodity, and there is little reason to start Moon.

2. Which Andrea Bargnani will show up?

The shooter or the slasher?

The rebounder or the pylon?

Over the course of the pre-season, we've seen hints of a new game, but also a return to tendencies as pre-season wore on. Perhaps one of the most telling things was that against a big L.A. Lakers team, Andrea ended up being an outside shooter for most of the game. In fact, his most prolific plays came against teams like New York and CSKA Moscow; teams that don't exactly have a wealth of talented big men. (Unless you think Eddy Curry and Jerome James qualify!) Of course I also saw Bargnani post-up multiple times in pre-season, but with a point guard like Will Solomon, he seldom gets the proper pass at the proper position. Heck, sometimes, he's altogether ignored when he posts up in the lane. And this is PRE-SEASON.

Which leads me to...

3. Bench Point Guard play

The most important thing to keep a focus on is the future. In two or three years down the line, who do we honestly suspect will be the backup behind Jose Calderon? My money's on Ukic, and while everyone acknowledges his defensive problems, I think most people will agree that after this year, either Will Solomon gets traded to another team for a larger contract, or heads back to Europe to get paid big bucks. So if you have two backup point guards, neither of which is really the answer, who do you play? Well, my money is on Roko.

To be honest actually, unlike my colleagues, I believe that we are blowing the point guard situation out of proportion. Is it a factor in getting people quality possessions down stretches? Yes. But I think as Raptors fans, we've been spoiled with having such great point guard play for two seasons. We don't quite realize that the norm is to have one great point guard, and another who doesn't have all the tools a normal PG has. Part of what makes Roko Ukic so enticing is that he's raw, but he plays with the ability of a point guard rather than as a shooting guard who moved over to the point like Solomon has. So if he continues to develop gradually over the season, we may find that second point guard under our noses. If not, hopefully he can spell Calderon for at least 10-15 minutes a game.

Will the Raptors back-up pg come out firing like Solomon, or silent and deadly like Roko...

Will the Raptors back-up pg come out firing like Solomon, or silent and deadly like Roko...

That's all we need after all.

As for a battle between the two potential backups, I've made no attempts to hide my displeasure at the way Solomon handles the point. A guard who cannot even make the simplest of passes or makes poor decisions on when to pass the ball is not simply a player that hasn't caught up to the speed of the game. This man is not some simple 20-year-old rookie. He's a 30-year old man with experience. If he hasn't learned things by now, there is a much lower chance that he'll catch on and understand the game. Guys like Jorge Garbajosa, Anthony Parker, and even a rookie Jose Calderon could at least play offense at the speed of an NBA team. Offense is something that is vitally important for a point guard to dictate since that's his main purpose on the floor. On the defensive side, as long as he communicates, he can usually get some help with his man if he has problems guarding him. We've seen it dozen of times with other teams such as Detroit and the Raptors even have three "bigs" who love to block shots now. But offense? The point guard is on his own and has to make the proper decisions for the betterment of the players on the floor.

Solomon clearly isn't that guy.

Nevertheless, with pre-season behind us, we can start to truly evaluate this team. Guys like Bosh, Bargs, O'Neal, Parker, and Calderon clearly have shown in the past that pre-season is one thing, and regular season is a completely different beast.

Rejoice everyone, as a new year is about to begin, and questions will be answered which I’m sure will set up a to-do list for Mr. Colangelo as the season moves forward.

I, for one, can't wait for that ball to get tossed up in Philly tomorrow night.

Vicious D