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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Cavs

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Why has everyone forgotten about this version of Marion, from only about a year ago?

Why has everyone forgotten about this version of Marion, from only about a year ago?

Yesterday the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Tyson Chandler and the rights to Devon Hardin in exchange for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.

The move was hailed as a cost-cutting play by New Orleans, and a coup for Oklahoma, who suddenly are a power forward away from a very talented, albeit young, starting five. With Chandler prowling the middle, Russell Westbrook exploding out of the blocks at the 1, and Jeff Green playing the Pippen role to Kevin Durant’s MJ impersonation, suddenly the former beleaguered Seattle Sonics have the most exciting young core in the league next to the Portland Trailblazers.

The moves in fact prompted a friend of mine to scoff:

"I’d trade Colangelo for Presti..." and we both discussed including the contract of Marcus Banks and a conditional first-round pick.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

It seems like only yesterday that Bryan Colangelo was hailed as the anti-Rob Babcock, and the saviour for a franchise that seemed to be going…well…sort of sideways.

Now however, after a string of questionable moves, Raptors fans find themselves strangely enough with a team on pace to match Babcock’s final season of futility, however with possibly less assets with which to build around.

Watching the introduction of Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks at yesterday afternoon’s press conference made me think about this entire situation, and how things can change so quickly in the NBA.

One minute your franchise is a laughing-stock, one that is uprooted from its deep NBA history and moved to a college sports mecca. The next, you’re the envy of half of the league with a young and talented core, and great fan-base.

One minute you’re the talk of NBA executives and appear to have the Midas touch. The next, you’ve got fans pondering swapping you for the new guy in Oklahoma City.

I think this analogy can be extended beyond Oklahoma City and Bryan Colangelo as well to the two newest Raptors, Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.

It wasn’t very long ago that Raptors fans, us included here at the HQ, dreamed about having Marion at the 3. "Imagine him beside Bosh?" we’d state? And on more than a few occasions I made arguments in past articles as to how he could be acquired considering he had been rumoured to be on the trade block.

However reality would always kick in and fans would figure that a) there’s no way an All-Star of Marion’s caliber could be obtained for the spare parts Toronto had and b) there’s no way he’d actually want to play here.

So I found it a bit surreal to watch Marion yesterday joking with reporters, and talking about his excitement regarding the latest stop in his NBA career. Fans have short memories but let’s all think back to even a year ago; how excited would you have been to see the Matrix sitting on stage being interviewed by Matt Devlin as the newest member of the Raptors?

My point here is that for all those who have already dismissed Marion as being "over-the-hill" based on his Miami numbers, I’m not so sure we can be so quick to judge. Marion himself yesterday admitted that while his numbers in Phoenix may have been a product of the system he played in, the inverse could be said about his stay in Miami. The former Running Rebel acknowledged that while Dwyane Wade is an amazing player, his dominance of the ball and the Heat’s half-court sets failed to take advantage of the various skills Mr. Matrix has to offer.

Am I saying that this trade now pushes Toronto into one of the final playoff spots?

No, not at all.

Like Howland stated in his piece Saturday regarding the Marion trade, Shawn by himself isn’t the answer. He’s not someone who can create his own shot, and he’s probably past the point where the Sports Guy would describe him as the perfect futbol goalie because of his eight-armed octopus "I’m everywhere at once" athleticism.

But he’s still one of the league’s top defenders and rebounders at his position, and his ability to get out on the break, score in transition, and attack the rim off the bounce are elements that this Toronto team has been lacking since Vince Carter decided he wasn’t going to dunk anymore. Paired with an explosive shooting-guard, and a healthy Jose Calderon, and suddenly Toronto has some pieces to work with, albeit still very little on the bench.

Marion of course gets to chase Lebron James around tonight as the Cleveland Cavaliers come into town to face the Raps. It sounds like Bosh is going to sit this one out so we may see a starting line-up of Bargs at the 5, Marion at the 4, Graham at the 3, Parker at the 2 and Jose at the 1.

Oh…right…if Jose plays.

It sounds like he will but if not, I’d say we see AP start in his place with Kapono taking over the 2 spot. Marcus Banks better be ready to play 30 minutes…

Speaking of Banks, I asked the HQ Associate, our resident college-ball sensei, about Banks’ from his time at UNLV. He was defensive player of the year in his conference one season, but I was wondering if there was much else that might give us fans a glimmer of hope. Here was his take:

Banks at UNLV - that's a few years back and I remember not getting much of a chance to see him as they didn't make the dance. Obviously he put up some pretty nice numbers and was pretty solid defensively, but beyond that he’s also a tough guy with a solid frame and I think that's something the Raps could use at the point as all their pgs are frail. I always thought he'd be a better pro - I'm not sure how he managed to squeeze that deal out of the Suns to be honest – but I don't think he's had much of a shot. It would surprise me if he's started more than 100 games total and they were probably all with the horrid Twolves after he went there in the (I think) Prodigy...er...Justin Reed deal. I don’t remember much more about him as a Running Rebel but that’s probably because I pretty much gave up on them after Kaspars Kambala left.

Am I hopeful he can have an impact?

Sure, but I don't think he owns the skills necessary to do so.

Is he better than Omar Cook?

No comment - I still think Omar Cook was sick…

And on that note, we’re on to our 3 Keys…

1) Play Strong -

Let’s get this out of the way first. Without Bosh, and without Jose, it’s going to be extremely tough for Toronto to win tonight. Cleveland hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since the season tipped off and Lebron James has been absolutely unstoppable. As discussed, Shawn Marion gets his first taste of life as a Raptor having to defend King James and while he’ll need to do a great job, the rest of the team needs to step things up in the absence of Chris and possibly Jose. With Jermaine O’Neal now in South Beach, Toronto is perilously thin up front (how good would Dejuan Blair look in Raptors red after his performance Monday night against the Machine Thabeet and UConn??) and therefore it’s going to have to be all hands on deck on the glass. That means guys like Anthony Parker, Joey Graham and even the point guards are going to need to box out, rebound the ball, and keep the Cavs in front of them as much as possible. Michael Grange reported in his blog early this morning that Bosh has had issues with his knee for over a month now and so it’s quite possible that he’s out for a long period of time if not for good. If that’s the case, this team needs to start going after the ball with a sense of urgency on every possession, and tonight’s as good a time as any to get the ball rolling.

2) Get out and run -

At yesterday’s press conference, Shawn Marion talked about the boredom associated with the Heat’s half-court play-calling and how it rendered him ineffective. He also discussed his excitement about playing in more of an up-tempo style here in Toronto.

Apparently he hasn’t seen the Raptors play much this year then.

The one concern I have with Marion is that even with a healthy Jose Calderon, this team is very much half-court based. They continue to dwell in the league’s basement in terms of fast-break points so unless Jay Triano can completely revamp the offence in 24 hours, it’s probably going to take a while, and maybe a lot more Roko Ukic, for this transformation to start to take place. However it should be a priority and so tonight I’ll be looking to see signs of this change in mantra. As the Raptors very well know, the Cavs can get out on the break with the best of them so beyond stopping run-outs defensively, the Dinos need to press back the other way.

3) Experiment -

Here’s another fact I’d like everyone to face; this team is probably playing for next year. No, that doesn’t mean tank-a-palooza, however it does mean that for the remainder of the season, I’d like to see Jay Triano get a little more creative. Based on Roko Ukic’s last game, he deserves some more minutes, and you might as well give Marcus Banks all the run you can until he proves he’s worthy of sitting next to Will Solomon.

Nathan Jawai? Sure, if the game is out of hand early, why not get the big fella in for some touches? And with Bosh out, why not get Marion and Graham involved more often offensively?

My point is that these last 27 games are going to go a long ways in determining what Bryan Colangelo does this off-season. If Marion plays well and looks to be a good fit, perhaps BC will be able to re-sign him at a reasonable price. And if Nathan Jawai can show some upside, than perhaps TO suddenly doesn’t need to draft another big, and can focus on a slashing wing. And along the same lines of thinking, if Banks proves he can hold things down defensively at the 1 or 2, and Roko continues to show he belongs in the league as at least a back-up, then this is another area Colangelo can focus less attention on.

Yes, I’m thinking about these final 27 games as a try-out session. Bryan Colangelo has collected a myriad of pieces that don’t seem to fit right now and he desperately needs to get some sense of what works and what doesn’t before the season ends.

If this test session results in a playoff appearance so be it, but tonight, I’m just hoping Marion keeps Lebron and the Cavs from blowing out the Raptors before the second quarter even begins.

FRANCHISE

PS - On a completely unrelated note, funny to see T Star resident pessimist Dave Feschuk discussing Twitter in an article yesterday. The HQ was one of the first basketball sites on the Twitter-wagon in fact and if you've been sleeping, check us out at twitter.com/raptorshq