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

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Even Lebron James needs some help in his quest for an NBA title...

Even Lebron James needs some help in his quest for an NBA title...

If you were to construct a recipe for a disastrous Toronto Raptors’ season to start the year, you probably would have used the following ingredients:

-Start with 1 cup of Jermaine O’Neal injuries
-Add in a half a cup of Jose Calderon hamstring issues
-Stir in a lack of development from Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono
-Add a dash of Nathan Jawai almost having to retire
-Sift in a packet of firing your coach in the first quarter of the season

That should give you a pretty solid cake-mix of disappointment for Raptors’ fans, one that even if you mistakenly added a dose of "good Joey" and "great Andrea" to, would still probably result in a delicious meal of "fighting for the last playoff spot with the other dregs in the East."

Because as of last night, that’s the situation; only the dismal Washington Wizards have a worse record. As all our readers know, we’re heavy on the "draft love" here at the HQ but there’s no way we thought we’d be ready to start talking lottery (the Raps are currently sitting with the 8th pick in the draft, lottery aside) come February 1.

And while I can rave about the likes of Terrence Williams all day (he was the only Louisville player who showed up last night against UConn), it would be nice to know that the current group wearing red, white and black has some sort of future upside themselves.

However after a demoralizing loss to Milwaukee last Friday, and a no-show against Orlando on Sunday, it’s admittedly tough to see the proverbial glass as being half-full.

And of course, that glass looked a little more empty when ESPN’s resident wind-bag made like Peter Vescey on Sunday and announced that Chris Bosh was a goner after next season.

I’m not going to waste much of this preview on Stephen A., someone who I discussed at length on the site in an article a few years ago (although for some reason I insisted on spelling his name with a V then!) but I have absolutely no confidence in his journalistic tactics. Smith has always been simply a talking head for ESPN, and as numerous readers mentioned yesterday, has stated some of the most outlandish and incorrect "facts" of anyone in basketball sports’ coverage.

And while yesterday afternoon BC denied Smith’s allegations as expected, that hasn’t stopped Raptornation from weighing in on Mr. Bosh and throwing out various trade proposals that include him.

However I don’t think he’s going anywhere, and unless the Dinos end up with their reptilian backs against the wall come this time next season, I don’t think he SHOULD be going anywhere either.

Yes, Bosh isn’t Lebron or D-Wade.

But he’s not Udonis Haslem either.

I love when fans say that Bosh isn’t a franchise player and therefore should be dealt. To me, this argument always blows my mind.

How many franchise players are out there?

Seriously – besides Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard…is there anyone that immediately comes to mind? Maybe Derrick Rose?

Regardless of who you name, it’s been proven time and time again that they can’t do it themselves. We all saw how good Kobe’s Lakers were without Shaq, and prior to the arrival of Gasol and co. And do you really think Tim Duncan would have been as successful as he was without his surrounding cast of stars? Everyone remember how good the T-Wolves were with KG alone, a superior all-around talent than Bosh? Why isn’t Amare Stoudemire destroying the league with a two-time MVP as his point guard, a dominant inside presence beside him, and a flurry of talent at the wing and guard positions?

My point here is that the franchise player label in my opinion is ridiculous. Charles Barkley was a franchise player, but without enough talent surrounding him, he will always be remembered as one of the top players to ever play, who never won a championship.

I mean, what exactly is a franchise player? Isn’t he a core piece that you can build around in hopes of winning a title? Isn’t that Bosh?

So I never understand why fans want to trade Bosh now. If you’re BC, your chances of getting an equal talent back are slim to none, so you are left with either trying to clear cap space to sign an equal talent (which almost always results in overpaying a good but not great talent) or gambling on draft picks, an even riskier proposition.

No, I maintain that unless Bosh appears to be heading south of the border later on, then you dismiss any notion you have about dealing the four-time All-Star.

The other side of this is I’m not sure why Bosh leaves in 2010, even if the team hasn’t reached his expectations.

He has a great rapport with many of the current players, especially core piece Jose Calderon, not to mention that he’d be leaving $30 Million on the table essentially if he decided to jet. It’s one thing for a player of Lebron or D-Wade’s status to forgo that money knowing they can make it up in endorsements but Bosh doesn’t have that same marketing attraction. So if you’re CB4, why not re-sign with Toronto, but make it clear to management that they have two years, or some predetermined period of time with which to bring in some help? If you’re Bosh you get paid, if you’re management you get some more time to fix things, and the entire franchise wins.

The one risk with this approach of course is that if things don’t improve then Bosh could pull a VC and makes his trade demand public in a few seasons. However I don’t see CB4 doing something unprofessional like that and really, by then if the Raptors can’t get their act together, BC might not be around anyways.

However just because I’m in favour of retaining Bosh, that doesn’t mean I think he’s playing at the level of some of the "franchise players" listed above. The simple fact is that he’s struggled in the past two games and against Cleveland and Lebron James tonight, he needs to be on his A game.

And the "A game" extends beyond Bosh.

Instead of 3 keys to a victory tonight, I just want to see the Toronto Raptors come out hungry, and compete as a unit. That means an aggressive Bosh and Bargnani, a locked-in Moon and Graham, solid play from Jose Calderon, and production from Parker and Kapono. Cleveland is going to be very tough to beat, especially with Big Z back in the rotation, but more than a win, this Raptor team just needs to make sure it doesn’t end up demoralized after the first quarter.

I watched Kobe go off against the Knicks last night for 61 and Lebron has the same sort of potential every time he steps on the court.

If Toronto can’t slow him down and make his team-mates step up, not only will this be loss number 31, but it could also be the loss that makes the Orlando disaster last Sunday, snowball through the rest of the season considering some of the upcoming matches.

Therefore tonight I'm expecting a bounce-back game from Bosh, and the rest of the team to follow his example.

It’s getting to be crunch time for various teams with playoff aspirations and if Toronto doesn’t meet their hunger for victory, we might as well close the book on things right now.

FRANCHISE