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3 in the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Magic

Will either of these two be on the move today or tomorrow?

Will either of these two be on the move today or tomorrow?

Rumours are flying around the league at present with everyone from Brad Miller to Vince Carter on the way somewhere. Who knows how many of these rumours will become fact by tomorrow afternoon but on the Raptors’ trade front, things have been pretty quiet.

But that’s not going to stop us here at the HQ from looking at the areas in which Toronto could need some serious help.

1) Rebounding. Of all the issues the team has faced this year, none is more glaring. We’ve seen the Raptors lose games due to the opposing team’s offensive rebounding, and while Andrea Bargnani looks to be turning the corner offensively, he’s still no Darrel Dawkins in terms of board-work. This therefore has made for a tricky situation for General Manager Bryan Colangelo; does he wait and hope that Andrea develops, looking for rebounding help at other positions in the meantime? Or does he go out and get some help at this position? Neither answer right now appears to be correct. Looking around on the court, the center position is really the only spot besides perhaps shooting guard in which statistically there is a huge rebounding problem. Chris Bosh is a solid rebounder for his position, not amazing but certainly no slouch. Jamario Moon is a better rebounder in terms of athletic ability than most small forwards. And Jose Calderon is a very good rebounder for the 1 spot. That leaves the two guard position where Anthony Parker could certainly clean the glass a little more often and the center position. It’s tough to address changes at either spot as you have to ask yourself, do you find an upgrade at the 2 in terms of rebounding but sacrifice Parker’s shooting-ability, defence, and all-around play? And at the 5, if you look for a better rebounding center, can you actually find one for the right price that’s that much of an upgrade over Rasho Nesterovic when he gets the necessary minutes to be effective?

2) Perimeter defence. Really this is all about guarding opposing teams with slashing 3’s, something for what seems like the eons Toronto has had issues with. The desire of course is a long, athletic 3 who can block shots, stay in front of his man and rebound the ball. Someone like…Jamario Moon. Yes, this is the other conundrum facing the Raptors’ brain-trust. Here we have Moon, the definition of a diamond in the rough yet because he is still somewhat "rough" in areas, particularly on offense which we’ll get to in a minute, fans want the second-coming of Josh Smith. Moon has only been an NBA player for about four months now so it’s tough to predict whether or not he’ll become that lock-down defender Toronto needs. And his back-up Carlos Delfino is only now getting significant playing time so like Moon, it’s hard to look into the future at what his ceiling will be. So like rebounding, are you patient and hope that the team has the ability to evolve in this area? Or do you do something rash and look for the immediate solution?

3) Slashing ability. No, we’re not talking Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct here, but a perimeter player who can consistently get to the rim and draw fouls. Chris Bosh is the Raptors’ best at doing this but from the perimeter, the team only has TJ Ford…and considering what’s transpired with him this year, who knows if he’ll still be effective in this manner. Carlos Delfino and Jamario Moon have both shown the ability to get to the rim, but both settle far too often for perimeter jump-shots. Sound like a broken record? It is. Between Delfino, Moon and even Joey Graham, one of these players has to realize that for long-term place on the team, and probably in the league for that matter, each needs to be more aggressive in attacking the basket. For now though this may be another exercise in patience.

4) Back-up point guard play. It’s funny how in only a span of about two years, this team can go from having no starting quality point guard to two, to one and a half. I say a half because as much as Bryan Colangelo may think TJ Ford can start on almost any team in the league, the Legomaster is also not naïve and with TJ’s recent injury woes, finding a suitable back-up has to be in the back of his mind. Unlike the three previous needs, this is one that doesn’t need further examination. We’ve seen first-hand that both Darrick Martin and Juan Dixon are ill-suited for the job at this point so something needs to be done, especially if Ford can’t seem to stay healthy come play-off time. However this is no easy situation either. Colangelo in essence needs to find a cheap, back-up option who can play as a third-stringer if TJ returns healthy, and who preferably isn’t going to cause locker room issues or affect his long-term salary cap planning. Easy as pie right?

Now that we’ve lain out the problems, let’s look at some solutions.

I think in terms of addressing the first three problems, we won’t see any answers forthcoming by the time the trade deadline passes. I think right now, many of these areas will be ones in which Colangelo looks for internal development from his troops. For instance while Jamario Moon gets to many rebounds quicker than others because of his "hops," he still does a poor job of boxing out and getting position, things that hopefully will come with time and experience. And obviously Bargs is still a work in progress in terms of defending the paint and rebounding missed shots.

We may see a small lateral trade if BC wishes to take a cheap "flyer" on someone, but I don’t see a Ron Artest or Corey Maggette type rolling into the ACC. Maybe we do see a Pietrus type deal and who knows, maybe that nets us someone who can help in certain areas. But Pietrus is no Artest, and no Maggette either. If you saw last night’s blow-out loss by Golden State to Utah and the 12 minutes of garbage time Pietrus got, you’ll know why. Pietrus was 0 for 4 from the floor on some horrific shooting, got called for some bad fouls, and while he blocked two shots using his athletic ability, I really don’t see him as being much more than a one-inch height upgrade over Joey Graham at this point; a better ball-handler perhaps, but not as good a shooter. Furthermore, the way the G State broadcasters were discussing Croshere, it sounds like now finally healthy, the Mad Scientist Nelson has big plans for him in the rotation, even in spot minutes, so he may not be going anywhere.

Pietrus - The answer to all the Raptors' wing problems?

Pietrus - The answer to all the Raptors' wing problems?

"Did Toronto get killed on the glass in the first round and lose because of that – maybe then BC goes after a great offensive rebounder like Davon Jefferson of USC or a banger like Kevin Love? Did Toronto’s inability to get to the line put them in a hole each game – hello Bill Walker or Chris Douglas-Roberts. Did the team have trouble guarding more athletic 3’s – "I’ll take Tyler Smith of Tennessee for $100 please Alex!""

However if there is one move I expect before tomorrow evening, it’s addressing the back-up point guard situation. Abdominal strains can take a long time to recover from (see KG recently at one end of the spectrum and the end of Jamal Mashburn’s career at the other) and who knows if TJ will be completely healthy before next fall!!??

So what options are out there for Colangelo?

Well we’ve thrown point guard trade ideas around earlier this season so let’s just look at some situations that hopefully BC is making enquiries about.

1) The Memphis situation. With Gasol gone and Mike Miller and others rumoured to be on the trade block it’s obvious that this team is in full rebuild mode. There’s blood in the water and the sharks can certainly sense it. Both Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton might be available and both would look good in Raptors’ red. Lowry was one of my favourite players when he came out of Villanova and while on the small side, is as feisty and tough as they come. He’s a good on-the-ball defender, gets to the rim, and could probably even play a Ben Gordonish two-guard role for the Raptors off the bench. Crittenton has more upside, is a big 1-2 guard and might develop into that slashing scorer Toronto has been seeking. His decision making right now in terms of playing the 1 leaves little to be desired and he’s got a bit of the Starbury flash in him, but under Sam Mitchell that could probably be tempered. The Grizz are probably getting a ton of offers right now so what would it take for Toronto to land one of these players? It would probably start with taking Brian Cardinal and his contract off of Memphis’ hands. A deal of Cardinal and Crittenton or Cardinal and Lowry for Dixon and Garbajosa might work. Memphis may not want to take on Garbajosa’s contract considering his health situation but he has a year less on his deal than Cardinal not to mention is about $2 million cheaper each year. Garbs would join his Spanish National team-mates Marc Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro, and Dixon of course would be another expiring contract for the Grizz. Other combinations of players would work as well for Toronto (Dixon, Graham and Humphries for instance) but in any situation, I think Cardinal would have to be included for Memphis to give up one of their point guards.

Franchise thinks Kyle Lowry would look pretty good in Raptors' red...

Franchise thinks Kyle Lowry would look pretty good in Raptors' red...

The other issue is that it’s hard to know what Portland would want in return for Jack. This is no longer a team desperate to clear cap space and with Oden returning, and a bunch of youngsters, they are sitting in pretty good shape. Perhaps some veteran experience is one thing they seek but Toronto doesn’t exactly have that in spades from positions of strength. Anthony Parker would probably be someone who intrigues the Blazers but his salary doesn’t match that of Jack and without getting something more than Jack in return, the Raps aren’t likely to deal him. Therefore I’m not really sure I can speculate on how a deal like this would go down. Maybe D League point guard Taurean Green could be had for a second-round pick but the Raptors don’t exactly have an abundance of those after the Carlos Delfino trade last year. The Blazers are certainly a team that could shed a point guard or two, but I’m just not sure what it would take to get one.

3) The Seattle situation. Seattle on the other hand is a different story. Like Memphis, this team is in full rebuild mode and looking to clear space. They also have a three-headed point-guard rotation and Toronto might be able to grab one for the right price. Of Earl Watson, Luke Ridnour and Delonte West, West would probably interest the Raptors the most. He could play both the 1 and 2 guard spots and has a reasonable contract that is expiring at the end of the season. In addition, it’s rumoured that the Sonics are looking to part ways with their French connection of Mickael Gelabale and Johan Petro. Therefore a deal of the aforementioned three for Joey Graham and Juan Dixon makes a lot of sense for both clubs. For numbers reasons, Darrick Martin would have to be let go but this would give Toronto West, and a chance to look at Gelabale and Petro. Gelabale would essentially replace Joey Graham, and his contract comes off the books this summer while Petro has another year giving BC a chance to see if the Frenchman can develop into a useful back-up at the 5. Oh…and this would finally give us a chance at the HQ to use our nickname for Johan had he been drafted by Toronto – Petro Canada!

4) The Sacramento situation. Finally, with their latest trade of Mike Bibby, the Kings find themselves with a myriad of back-up point guards on their roster. It looks like Beno Urih is there for keeps but what about Anthony Johnson or Tyronn Lue? Neither are exactly members of our "Favourite NBA Players" list here at the HQ, but both have deals that expire at the end of the year. They would be rent-a-Raps and deals of Anthony Johnson for Juan Dixon or Tyronn Lue for Dixon and cash would both work.

We'll keep an eye on trade rumours as we near the deadline tomorrow and hopefully we see some more BC magic.

Trade talk aside, Toronto faces the Orlando Magic tonight in a big game for the Dinos. With losses by both Cleveland and Washington last night, Toronto now finds itself slightly ahead of the Cavs for fourth in the East and four games behind the Magic for third spot. In terms of playoff seeding, I think Toronto should be looking to avoid playing Lebron James so catching the third-place Magic would be a huge boost to this plan.

Last time these teams met the Magic gave Toronto a good thrashing in a 105 to 96 victory for Orlando and they did it by shooting 50 per cent from the field. The Raps look to even the series tonight and here are the three keys we’ll be focussing in on:

1) Point guard play. Even without TJ Ford, this should be one area in which Toronto has a distinct advantage tonight. Jose Calderon was playing great basketball prior to the All-Star break and Toronto is going to need him to continue that tonight. In particular, I’d like to see Jose look for his shot as teams still aren’t scouting adequately to defend against it. There is talk that we might see some Carlos Delfino backing up Jose tonight which might be quite interesting. Del certainly has the ball-handling skills to do the job but it will be his decision making that will really be under scrutiny.

2) Superman. Dwight Howard’s new moniker makes a lot of sense. He’s absolutely unstoppable within 2-feet of the rim, much like Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. Andrea Bargnani is going to have his hands full tonight and I expect to see heavy doses of Rasho Nesterovic, someone who has done a nice job on Dwight in the past. In terms of Bargnani, I don’t expect to see him grabbing a ton of rebounds over Howard, but as long as he tries to move Dwight out of the paint and runs him out of the key on offense while aggressively looking for his shot, I’ll be happy. Incidentally, Howard has stated that he finds Chris Bosh the toughest player in the league to guard and CB4 has owned Howard so far in their young careers. While I’d rather not see Chris having to guard Dwight on defence, I’m hoping that Bosh is aggressive in taking the ball at Howard this evening.

If Dwight Howard is getting this high tonight, Toronto could be in trouble...

If Dwight Howard is getting this high tonight, Toronto could be in trouble...