The title of this post was a word thrown around quite a few times last night in Toronto’s final game of the 2009 season.
It was used both by the Raptors’ colour commentators to describe an atrocious 33 win season that ended with an unlikely 9 and 4 finish, it was used to describe Jose Calderon’s record-setting season free-throw shooting performance, and it was used by Toronto center-piece Chris Bosh post-game regarding his team’s dominant 109 to 98 win over the playoff-bound Chicago Bulls.
CB4 of course, could have been playing his final game in a Raptors’ uniform and while there’s been little to indicate that one way or another, if this was his last hurrah, it was indeed bittersweet in many ways. The team he’s carried on his back since Mr. Carter’s departure definitely showed improvement over the last month or so, and Bosh even went so far in his post-game interview with Leo Rautins as to say that he wished Toronto could have played with the current roster from day one. He also threw in a "no disrespect to other teams in the playoffs," but that this Raps team at present would have been good enough to snag home-court advantage in the playoffs.
It was a very interesting statement, one that definitely gives hope to Raptors’ fans world-wide regarding Bosh’s intentions going into the summer, and a far cry from the "we’ll see how things play out" that Vince Carter started to drop in interviews prior to his public desire to be dealt.
So what’s the truth here?
Was Bosh’s post-game commentary a plea to Bryan Colangelo regarding the current roster?
Considering Bosh made somewhat finalistic halftime comments to Leo Rautins regarding playing with his current teammates, one that to me seemed to echo "I like these guys a lot, but not sure if I, or many of them, will be back next year," perhaps so.
On the other hand, Bosh has shown a knack for turning it on when the cameras start to roll so this could simply be end-of-the-year lip service.
And really, in the grand scheme of things, Bosh’s comments don’t really matter if you’re Bryan Colangelo or any other members of the Raptors’ brain-trust. Even if Bosh decides he wants to stick around for good, there’s still that little matter of finding the dineros to pay him, Bargnani, and perhaps Marion and some other pieces.
The other issue is that even by winning nine of the final 13 games, this was still the most disappointing season in team history any way you slice it, and many of those final nine wins were either lucky (Washington – Bosh’s 3, and Chicago – Rose missed lay-up) or against teams that struggled as much if not more than Toronto this year.
Changes need to be made, especially in regards to the second unit, and wing positions.
As much as I would have preferred to have seen Toronto lose out and grab a top six or seven record regarding the draft (the Dinos finished the season with the 9th pick lottery aside), last night’s win was fitting in that it did a great job of breaking down this team’s strengths and weaknesses one last time.
On the strength side, Toronto’s running game. Over the past few weeks the Raps have evolved into a very good team offensively when they get up and down the court. Guys like Shawn Marion, Joey Graham, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and even Andrea Bargnani and Patrick O’Bryant are more effective in this style of play and Jose Calderon looks a lot more comfortable now heading up this type of pace. You can see the chemistry developing as well between Calderon and Marion as some of the alley-oop throws Jose made last night never would have been attempted three weeks ago.
On the flip side, when teams slow things down for the Raps, the offense struggles as the team then has to rely on its jump-shooting abilities as there is still no one on the team who can create with the clock winding down. Combine that with a still porous defense and this is when you see Toronto blow leads and let teams back into games.
Last night the Raptors were ahead by as many as 20 points but began settling for jumper after jumper and combined with an inability to stop Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, the Dino-lead was suddenly down to 3.
A big chunk of this Toronto collapse came with the Raptors’ bench in the game, another sore spot on the season. The drop-off from many of the starters to the bench, particularly at the point guard position, killed the team all year and last night was no exception. Outside of upgrading the wing spots (more on this in a moment), addressing the bench deficiencies is paramount for BC and co. as well in the upcoming months. As I discussed some time ago, the Raptors were one of the league’s top five scoring teams in the league regarding first quarters, and yet found themselves at the bottom of the pile when it came to the second quarter. You don’t need to be Darryl Morey to figure out the implications of those stats.
However that’s not to say the starters are off the hook. While Shawn Marion looked like vintage "Matrix" from his days in Phoenix, he still struggles in one-on-one situations and isn’t a great finisher at the rim.
And Chris Bosh, who’s dominant 21 point and 19 rebound performance allowed him to join Chris Paul and Dwight Howard as the only players to average 20 and 10 on the year, still settled for too many long-distance shots when his club needed to him to aggressively attack the rim.
But it’s Anthony Parker that I really want to focus on here.
As a professional and teammate, AP is probably second to none. But watching him get beat one-on-one by Ben Gordon time after time last night hopefully told you all you need to know about Parker’s defensive abilities at this stage of his career; still solid, but hardly at the "lock-down" level. Combine that with the fact that when he gets the ball 10 to 15 feet from the basket the offense stops, and you get a Raptors’ team that at times is playing 4 on 5 offensively. With Parker unable to create off the bounce, his offense needs to come in the flow of side-to-side ball-movement, hence all those corner 3’s, or from curls off of screens. One-on-one, AP’s only recourse if he can’t back his man down in close, is to flip the ball back out to Jose to restart the offense.
This was something that happened numerous times last night, and was a stark reminder to me of similar issues over the past few seasons. While TJ Ford did pound the ball through the hard-wood at times before launching up ill-advised shots, I did feel he shouldered too much of the blame thanks to the inability of his wings. Time and time again, Ford would try to move the ball, only to get it back with under 5 on the clock, therefore leaving him no choice but to try and hoist it up.
I’d like to see AP back at the right price next year, but only off the bench as I think it should be quite clear to management that he’s not the answer anymore as the starting 2. He’s still a great finisher off the break, and therefore a better fit than many in Toronto’s up-tempo style, but similar to what San Antonio has done with Bruce Bowen, I think it’s important that Parker takes on a lesser role next year.
Chicago is now off to face the vaunted Boston Celtics in the first-round of the NBA playoffs and Toronto, well they’re off to the golf course. Bryan Colangelo conducted his yearly "exit interviews" with players yesterday prior to heading to New York for a board of governors meeting and I’m guessing there was a pretty big "to do this off-season" list for most of the Raps.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at our own "to-do" lists here at the HQ, both for individual players and the team in general, but one thing is certain:
Even with its finish on the season, things can’t be left status quo.
Do I agree with Bosh that having started the season with this roster, the Toronto Raptors would have home-court advantage in the playoffs?
I’m not sure I’ll go quite that far, but as I mentioned about a week ago, I do think that as presently composed, this is a playoff team in the East.
But again, that’s not saying much. Even the 47 win and fourth-place Atlanta Hawks are no locks to get out of the first-round alive and really, Bryan Colangelo should be setting his sights higher than that considering the huge gap between the Orlandos, Clevelands, and Bostons of the East and everyone else.
Yes, with a few moves and some better health, Toronto should be back in the playoff hunt next year.
But I think Raptors’ fans everywhere are hoping that BC doesn’t settle.
This off-season might be both Colangelo’s best chance to radically alter the direction of this franchise for years to come, whether or not Chris Bosh is part of this new future.