In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs drafted Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest.
We all know about the championship rings, but as we get older, it may be important to remember that the Spurs were not a bad team up until that point. David Robinson was not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if injuries had not hampered the Spurs throughout the previous year, they would have been one of the top teams in the league.
More than 10 years later, the Raptors find themselves in a similar position.
Franchise and I talked about it with each other earlier in the year, but I speculated to myself that if the Raptors did really bad this year, drafted high, sold off some assets for other ones, the team could be re-made quickly and with a substantial improvement in talent. It would be a plan that would require a bit of luck and perhaps most importantly, cost the faith of many fans who had bought into the team's message this year.
However, as a die hard fan, as long as the long term health of the franchise is never in question, I only ask that the team has a steady hand in direction.
Which brings me to Bryan Colangelo.
Three years ago, Colangelo managed to remake the team within a matter of months with some aggressive moves that largely panned out. With a young team with maturing draft picks, Colangelo cut lose the dead weight aggressively and went to scout and recruit the best players in the Euroleague. Some, like me, believed that the team was destined to be the best for years to come and if it wasn't for some questionable long term personnel decisions and a freak leg accident, the Raptors would probably still be one of the toughest teams to face in the NBA.
So here comes the question.
Having said all of this, and looking at the current situation the team finds itself in, do I want the Raptors to win this game tonight against Minny?
To be honest, I'm not sure anymore.
After all, to get a good pick in this draft means losing lots of games between now and the end of the season. If Bosh is "shut down" and Jose is "recuperating" I would hope that the Raptors would use this time to continue the development of Bargnani and Ukic as well as continue to try and jump start Kapono's engine. So if you're hoping the Raptors win, we'll have to see:
1) Standing Shots -
The Raptors, as bad of a jump shooting team they displayed last game, are still going to have to rely on shots. My friend and I were away on a long trip to Gatineau this past weekend, so we had a long time to discuss basketball-related topics. One of the big ones was that we kept wondering why Jason Kapono's shooting percentage continues to be so bad. However, just by taking a casual glance, Jason's been taking a lot of running jumpers or shots off of movement rather than spotting up for a three. In fact, Anthony Parker is also notoriously taking lots of shots off the bounce instead of camping out in the corner like he used to. Part of the reason is that the Raptors don't have Bosh running isolation plays on one side of the court anymore, but another huge reason is that the Raptors don't run enough plays to maximize their shooters and their preferences. If the Raptors hope to score more than 100 points with their current team, they'll have to run more picks that lead to passes around the arc to a shooter in the corner.
2) Make Jermaine O'Neal and Bargnani Co-exist -
Is it just me, or has Bargnani's game completely disappeared now that O'Neal is back in the regular rotation?
There's no way I can make excuses for Andrea's change from go-to guy to offensive black hole, but the Raptors have to find a way to get both their centers going. Part of the reason why Bargnani is having a little trouble is because he's not driving as much with O'Neal in the paint. Similarly, Bargnani has difficulties reacting to Jermaine O'Neal's offensive decisions so their timing is off on when one, or the other, or both, should drop down to the post for rebounding position. If Chris Bosh continues to stay out of this game, the Raptors should try and implement a bit more Jake Voskuhl into their schemes to balance out the minutes and allow both centers to have their time being the central focus of the Raptors offense.
3) Play Your Own Game -
As many of you heard yesterday, the Timberwolves will be without Al Jefferson for the rest of the season. They had won 10 of 12 right after Kevin McHale took over coaching duties but suddenly have lost six of their last seven. Even without CB4 you'd expect Toronto to just run right over the Wolves, but in the end, the Raptors have to find it within themselves to beat the worst teams in the NBA. If they can't the result may be very similar to Saturday night's loss to Memphis.
It's not a matter of match-ups or coaching decisions that make the Rapts play down to their opponent's level. It's merely up to the hearts and minds of the players on the court. So while Jefferson is out with a torn ACL, I'm not even counting on that to really impact the game. Sure, the Raptors need to attack the Minnesota interior, but that would have been the case regardless if Jefferson was playing or not.
Which is why the Raptors simply have to play their own game.
The only way to win though, is the keep that tension up. To believe that no lead is safe, that no win is too easy, and that no play is too small to ignore would go a long way towards helping the Raptors climb out of their hole.
Often, we've seen the Raptors seemingly believe that their work is done after they get up by 10 points after the first quarter, or make a come back to get within a possession in the final two minutes, only to let off the gas pedal and see their hard work amount to nothing. To beat teams, the Raptors have to break this habit first and foremost if they hope to grab that final playoff spot.
However, I'm not one to worry too much about the losing.
After all, each loss is simply another step closer to getting a higher draft pick.
PS - This week's NBA blogosphere MVP and Rookie rankings are up at Canis Hoopus.