If you are like most Raps fans the recent loss to the Chicago Bulls likely firmly entrenched you in one of two camps. The first camp, for these purposes "Camp A" is for the optimists. Those who feel that despite the recent losses there is much to be positive about, in particular the emergence of Andrea Bargnani, and with the return of JO and Calderon there’s a good chance this team can turn things around in the second half and grab a playoff spot.
The second camp is for the pessimists, or what I will call "Camp B". The people who feel this team is in tatters, wonders whether Bosh is counting down his days to free agency, and debating how, not when, Bryan Colangelo will start blowing things up.
What is becoming a strong divide amongst those in Camp A and Camp B is great for debate here at the HQ. If yesterday is any indication there is no consensus as to what should be done.
Of course the only "camp" that matters is the one populated by Bryan Colangelo. Which camp is the General Manager for the Toronto Raptors in? Well it depends on who you listen to. Sam Smith of Bulls.com has reported that BC is firmly entrenched in Camp B and is considering dealing Calderon, Bargnani and others for Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa and parts. On the flip side it has been reported on a number of occasions that although Colangelo is active he is not looking to "blow things up" and is definitely not willing to deal Il Mago. The rumour in Miami is JO for Marion and parts. That’s a significant transaction but it not one where the core assets of the team are moved (Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon).
At the beginning of the season when the JO trade first went down I spoke with Matt Devlin about the deal and the Raps team on paper. We were both pretty pumped. My main reason for being excited was that I firmly believed that this team would either be (A) pretty damn good, or (B) pretty freaking bad. The last thing I wanted to see this team do was flounder in mediocrity. I hate mediocrity and as someone mentioned yesterday it’s mediocrity that has made it so hard over the past long while to be a Leafs fan.
Yet here we are.
Mediocrity. Not particularly good, and not that bad, but arguably the worst place a franchise can find itself.
I believe this mediocrity has to be driving BC absolutely mad and when people feel pressure they are apt to make snap or rash decisions and do things that are not that well thought through. It’s for these reasons that over the next few weeks, up to the trade deadline, that Raps fans will truly get a full picture of what kind of basketball mind is running this franchise. The next few weeks are going to have a tremendous impact on this club and will have a direct effects on decision day for CB4 in 2010. The pressure is on now. How with BC respond? How do you want BC to respond? It all depends on what camp you find yourself in.
With a lot of big picture things to consider these days tonight’s match-up against the Pacers seems almost trivial despite the great story lines that may present themselves. Once again the Raps are up against key members from last years squad. The last time these teams met TJ Ford made no bones about the fact that he was made the scapegoat for last years failures. Will either Jose or O’Neal dress, the latter revisiting Indy the first time since the big deal? It’s an interesting match-up all around and if the Raps plan on securing a W on the road these are the three keys:
1. Contributions from the 2 and 3 spot - It’s very clear now that the Raps have one of the worst 2/3 platoons in the league no matter how you look at it. For the Pacers however, the 2/3 position is one of strength, in particular now that Mike Dunleavy Jr. has worked his way back onto the hardwood. Danny Granger has been playing out of his mind as of late and even Stephen Graham has become a fairly regular contributor. Although not a sure thing, it is a safe bet that both Bosh and Bargnani will have solid nights, but they are going to need help. As witnessed last game against the Bulls, no help means no W. Someone out of Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Jason Kapono and Joey Graham has to bring something to the table. If not it could be another solid performance by the big-men gone to waste. If this pattern continues it can only have a negative impact on CB4 and his state of mind.
2. Bench Contributions - I will be watching the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter very carefully during tonight’s match-up because I believe you will be able to get a good sense of which way this match-up is going to go based on bench play. Both the Raps and Pacers have weak benches that are in the bottom third of the league when it comes to cumulative plus/minus. The Raps bench is a negative 291 (for fifth worse) and the Pacers are a negative 370 (good for third worst). Whichever bench manages to bring something to the table will have a big impact on the outcome of this match-up.
3. Bait TJ Ford - It was pretty clear when Ford was in TO that he was unwilling to back down from any challenge, even if it was to the detriment of the team. The Raps need to play off that trait. No matter if it’s Calderon, Solomon or Ukic they need to attack Ford when he is on the floor. The result will be a PG who is more concerned about getting his then getting the win. The more time Ford spends dominating the ball the less time Granger and Dunleavy will have to pick this Raps team apart. The only issue is that the Raps PG will have to pick their spots and not force the issue to the point where turnovers become a big factor. It is a fine line here but if the Raps can force Ford out of the Indiana team game while staying in theirs it could make for a fun game to watch and reminisce of those times when TJ thought he was playing a friendly game of 1 on 5.