Heading into the off-season there were a number of questions that needed to be answered regarding this Toronto Raptors team. We dealt with some of them in yesterday's preview, and others were examined by various Raptors' bloggers over at Celticblog's recent NBA team previews.
Well, the summer has come and gone and now that the weather has started to turn, it’s time to look back at those same questions and see how, if at all, they have been answered.
For the second part of our season preview, something a little different.
Here at the HQ we’re going to not only look at our original 10 queries to see which have been answered, but we’ll pose another follow-up question in each case, something to keep in mind as the season goes on.
Like Kardi and the Clipse, let’s set it off…
1) Can the Raptors continue on with both TJ and Jose?
Well the quick answer to this is no. It was clear to anyone who watched the latter half of the season that despite the tremendous benefits that could have been reaped from having such a lethal point guard duo, it was too good to be true. As we discussed yesterday, TJ Ford was not willing to play second fiddle. However, let’s not forget to point out that Calderon was adamant about having the starting gig here in Toronto once his contract had expired. Had Colangelo not been quick to address this issue there’s no telling what could have happened. We doubted what sort of value Ford would have on the market at the end of last season but much to our satisfaction BC once again appears to have hoodwinked another of the league’s GM’s.
The bigger question now, is can Jose run this team for 82 games. Yes he was phenomenal as TJ’s replacement while Ford was out due to injury, but many forget that in the season’s waning days, Jose looked exhausted. By the time the Orlando series roled around, he was almost a non-factor and both he and TJ were severely outplayed by the less talented Jameer Nelson.
With two back-ups with very little NBA experience, the Raptors are going to need a healthy Jose this season more than ever.
2) Who will be coaching the team next season?
Well, another easy answer here, it’s still Mitchell. But let’s not be naïve here. If this team is healthy but under-performs, the calls for Sam Mitchell’s head will be loud and clear.
We both debated the merits of keeping Mitchell at the end of last season (in particular in lieu of the D’Antoni situation) but in hindsight keeping Mitchell was the right choice. There is a lot of value in having consistency and familiarity between the coach and his players.
There is also the argument that Sam still needs more help in terms of talent on the court. We’ve seen a similar situation with Doc Rivers in Boston and now for Mitchell, there will be almost no excuses for a sub-par year. (Injury decimation aside.) This will undoubtedly be the most important season yet for Mitchell as the talent is there to be an upper echelon team in the Eastern Conference. Can Mitchell help get Bargnani back on track? Will he take the next step as a coach in the world of X’s and O’s, especially now with superior talent to work with? Yes, these are now the follow-up questions which bear watching as the season progresses.
3) Is Andrea Bargnani a bust?
It will be an interesting season for Il Mago. Much of the discussion last season was weather Bargnani could become the player needed to help Chris Bosh and obviously Colangelo wasn’t going to wait around to find out. It could be a difficult season again for Andrea as his role this season is not tailored to help rid him of the "bust" label. Looking to come off the bench the expectations will be high as he will be matched-up against lesser players. If he succeeds and plays well as a sixth man, then that’s still nothing to really write home about right? I mean, he’s the former number one overall pick! If he fails…we expect many a rant about how the team should have selected Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay etc. Bargnani is going to have to prove himself not only on the offensive end but also on the defensive end. Last season he showed flashes of toughness in the paint. If he can contribute on the defensive end as well that will reduce the amount of minutes needed out of Jermaine. As per reports like this, Bargs has looked good so far, but the games of course have yet to begin for real.
So our next question for this season then is, what are the long term prospects for Andrea?
It’s sort of the pink elephant in the room but isn’t the acquisition of O’Neal in some ways simply prolonging the verdict on Bargs? If the team has a great season and Bargnani is a key part of this off the bench, that room may become big enough that the pink elephant fades a bit into the background. But another first round exit or worse, missing the playoffs altogether, is going shrink that room to the point where the elephant is going to front and centre. With an option for an extension coming in the near future, the Raptors need to decide if Andrea can be option 1a alongside Chris Bosh, or if they need to make other plans.
4) Can Chris Bosh continue to improve or has he reached a plateau?
The 2008 Olympics may be the best thing that ever happened to CB4. During that tournament CB4 and his strong play helped him earn the respect of the NBA elite and also gave him the opportunity to develop other aspects of his game. CB4 has not reached a plateau and now with O’Neal helping him out, Bosh may be in line for his best season yet. It’s more likely than not his stats stay the same but we expect a more focused CB4 who will show vast improvement on the defensive end, and will on more than one occasion this season display true leadership on the court. Looking stronger and more fit than seasons past, CB4 won’t be bullied around by some of the bigger guys in the L. If this team gets on a roll early he’s on the brink of superstardom.
Our next question then? If Bosh does take things to another level, will this ignite the Toronto media’s "Bosh is going to leave in 2010" talk? We know how pessimistic the local media can be, and hey, up until Colangelo came to town, it’s tough to blame them in many ways. Damon, Vince, Tracy…up until Bosh, all of the Raptors’ big names eventually sought "greener pastures," (or what they ASSUMED were greener pastures) south of the border. Has the Toronto franchise turned a corner in this respect? Or in one fell swoop, can the Dinos return to their hard-luck free agency days ala the Atlanta Hawks?
5) Who stays next year?
Well this question has been answered and we like most of the moves, save for the departure of Delfino, although financially we realize it wasn’t in the cards. The team looks better on paper than it has since VC and T-Mac were still in purple and…um…purple, and if things don’t go well, the fans know BC is willing to pull the trigger to rectify a situation.
Which brings us to another question then. If injuries do strike, or the team sputters early, what will Colangelo do? He has no cap room whatsoever until next summer so unless he can find a team willing to take on an overpriced talent (Joey Graham etc), than perhaps he might be forced to sit things out until next summer.
And that’s when things get REALLY interesting as he’ll have some tough choices to make; is the JO experiment working? Is Anthony Parker on the downswing of his career? Is Hump just scratching the surface and worth keeping around? What about Joey? And what is the value of an athletic diamond in the rough like Jamario Moon, a player that undoubtedly teams will press hard for and most likely overpay in effort to obtain his services. The reality is that by next summer, key pieces like O’Neal and Bosh will be in the final years of their contracts while others like Bargnani and Adams will be starting their option years. With only Calderon and Kapono with long-term guaranteed deals, the Raptors need to use this season to determine which way to point the ship’s rudder for the future.
6) What are the biggest concerns that the Legomaster needs to address this off-season?
At the time the answer from Franchise was "The top two for me are rebounding, and the lack of someone from the wing who can create his own shot and get to the rim. In fact, it would be great to find a player who can do both." Now that the off-season has come to an end it’s clear that BC has only truly addressed one of these needs. The Raps could be one of the best rebounding team in the league this season, but as mentioned yesterday there is still no-one on the roster who can be regularly relied upon to get to the rim.
Of course in a league where the salary cap dictates teams’ actions, it is very hard to "have it all". It will be interesting to see how Mitchell adjusts to having two dominant big men and it’s possible that the lack of slasher won’t prove to be such a detriment when there are so many other ways to score the ball.
The follow-up question we have then links to our next question from last season; if the "slasher" needs were not addressed this off-season via trade or free-agent acquisition then…
7) Can Jamario Moon develop into that slashing 3 the team needs?
This, like the Andrea question, is still one to be answered. I spoke with Jamario at the Raptors Media Day and both he and Parker mentioned that they focussed on looking to drive the ball more in their off-season regimens.
That was great to hear, but of course the reality may be that neither Jamario or AP are comfortable playing that style of basketball and for all the practice they put in, they’ll always be more apt to pull up for jumpers than look to get to the rim and draw contact.
Now as previously mentioned, that may not matter if Bosh, O’Neal and Bargnani are a match-up nightmare for teams and Parker, Calderon and Kapono are bombing away from the outside. But in a league where athletic 3’s dominate, Toronto may still need an upgrade at some point. Our question; can BC find a way to acquire such a player, perhaps one who’s flown under the radar in the NBA to date?
8) What can the team expect from Jorge Garbajosa next year?
Well…not much obviously. This question was answered early in the off-season when it looked like the Raptors were bent on cutting Garbajosa loose. That’s indeed what happened via buy-out and while it was a sad and rather quick end to what seemed like a great run with the Raptors, the conclusion that was reached was indeed in everyone’s best interest.
Our follow-up question then is about expectations from another foreign player who was brought over; Roko Ukic. Can Roko become a productive point guard in this league?
9) Will Colangelo keep his first-round draft pick?
This one was answered as well via the Jermaine O’Neal trade. While the Raptors did bring in numerous players for pre-draft workouts, in the end, the pick was dealt right before draft day to Indiana.
As for this coming season, who knows? The draft is shaping up to be fairly shallow in terms of talent, so if the Raptors have success this year and are only missing a few veteran additions, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pick moved again.
10) Are BC and Sam Mitchell on the same page?
Finally, an interesting question to watch as the season unfolds. Last year I made the argument that the two were not entirely on the same page and even from Colangelo’s Media Day comments, it seems like that was indeed the case in some areas. The big ones of course were the uses of Bargnani and Kapono, two guys who were at times did their best yo-yo impersonations.
However with the move to acquire Jermaine O’Neal, the jettisoning of TJ Ford, the streamlining of the roster, not to mention the personnel moves made to shore up rebounding, defence and toughness, this is the most "Sam Mitchell-esque" team that the Raptors’ coach has ever had. In fact it was almost like Sam gave the Legomaster a shopping list and said "here’s what I need."
That being said, the team still needs to play the games.
So while I’d say the two are completely on the same page at present, that could change depending on how Mitchell uses various players this year. We’ve seen BC step in in the past to give roster feedback to Sam, so the final question we have then is, will the two continue on the same page as the season roles on?
This is incredibly important as we near contract years for both Bosh and Bargnani and even Mitchell’s use of players like Joey Graham and Kris Humphries, both of whom Colangelo extended at one point but who rarely play, will probably fall under scrutiny.
All things combined then, it’s going to be a very interesting year in Raptorland and we can’t wait for things to get going tomorrow night.