Tomorrow night, the Toronto Raptors will kick off their 16th NBA season.
To get you ready, each member of the HQ team gives you their thoughts on what could be a very interesting year for Raptors' fans considering the low expectations placed on this group...
Well, here we go.
After nearly six Raptors' ball-free months, we're back.
While the NBA regular season kicks off tonight, for the Toronto Raptors, things begin in earnest tomorrow night with a match against the New York Knicks.
Unlike last season where our entire team scoffed at Bryan Colangelo's notion that his club was going to compete for 50 wins, this year, it's hard to know what to expect.
Recent media polls seem to have the Dinos firmly entrenched as one of the five worst teams in the league this coming season, if not THE worst, when all is said and done, however there have been enough positives in pre-season play to think that this team might surprise folks.
Are we talking playoffs?
As you'll see from our team's individual thoughts below, that's a stretch, but we're talking about the Eastern Conference here so who knows. And an injury to an Amar'e Stoudemire or LeBron James could seriously change the playoff landscape at any point in time.
More importantly then playoff talk though, this is the year in my books that Bryan Colangelo has to get it right. This is the year he needs to show that he's put together a team that while possibly doesn't win 50 games and gets deep into the playoffs, it does have some major upside and numerous parts that can be moved around to help get this team back on track in the next season or two.
If he can accomplish this feat, then for me, that's a big win this season considering how little upper-tier talent looks to be on this club at present.
I'm setting the bar right now at 30 wins, yes, more optimistic then most, but I actually think this club will be able to successfully bond together under Triano and over-achieve to a certain degree. I compared the team recently to the Mike James' led Raptors' squad during the Babcock era and that's my hope; fans see a gritty bunch that plays hard each and every night regardless of opponent...unlike the squad that we saw take the court last season.
As well, I'm looking at 5 key questions regarding the Raptors this season:
1) Can Andrea Bargnani emerge as a top player in this league?
2) Who becomes the club's leader?
3) Is DeMar DeRozan ready to take the next step, or is Sonny Weems the better prospect?
4) Can Ed Davis contribute in year one?
5) Can Bryan Colangelo parlay some of this club's assets into significant improvements for the future?
These are all biggies for me and I'm hoping by the time the final bell rings on the season, we'll have answers to each. In many ways, while last year was viewed as a huge year because the team was looking to retain Bosh, this is an equally big one in terms of taking the first steps towards the club's future. No star-power and a lot of empty seats combined with a team that fails to win 20 games could be a recipe for disaster.
What does the rest of the team think?
Howland: Expectations are a funny thing. It's actually been "expectations" - and an inability to meet them, that have really defined the past few seasons for the Toronto Raptors. Actually, this is a season where experts and fans alike have little in terms of expectations. Despite any of management's messages to the contrary, the 2010-11 Toronto Raptors are not expected to contend, make the playoffs or be anything short of one of the worst teams in the league. Despite the bleak outlook this doesn't mean that DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani et al. should simply toss their gym shoes into their bags and head home - quite the contrary. This year is all about who can and who can't be part of the future.
The Raptors find themselves in an interesting situation. For the first time in years there is no Alpha Dog, there is no All-Star and it's even up for debate what players are the true building blocks going forward. It's a team with more questions than answers. The blessing? There is a real opportunity for each player to make the best of the situation. There is a lot of young talent on this team and a lot of players who have much to prove. There are minutes to be had and almost everyone on the roster will have an opportunity to shine. Who will step up and prove that they are a key piece to this club's future and who will shy away? This is a great situation for players like Julian Wright, Sonny Weems, Joey Dorsey and others to proove or re-establish themselves as solid NBA players. How many minutes would a guy like Wright get in San Antonio?
My expectations for this team and pretty small. If they come out and compete every night I am not sure I can ask for much more. 99% of the teams in the league have equal or greater talent and also have a roster with more experience. Wins are not going to be easy to come by. What I will be looking for is for someone to take up the torch, become the leader and help steer the ship in a positive direction. At this point I don't know who that player will be, but I am hopeful that person is on the roster. There has been so much disappointment over the past 12-18 months it's time to get back on the right track.
Bottom Line - 5 Wins. Kidding. 27.
Vicious D: It will sound cheesy, but this may very well be the very first time we'll see a Raptors squad live up to their namesake. I fully expect these guys to get out there and be a "unit" and hunt in packs. I expect these guys to use their speed and agility to make life hell for opposing teams. I relish the thought that this group will attack the basket with extreme prejudice and come at teams from all directions. I expect a lot of fun basketball from this team despite the fact there are going to be nights where we'll be pulling our hair out about the lack of a star, the need for a centre or point guard, and the lack of made free throws. I'm hoping for fun and excitement about all else this year and I feel a lot better about having to watch 82 games this year.
Bottom Line - 29 wins, Triano is fine at the end, we get Ricky Rubio sometime in the year, and the Raptors will be competitive most nights. And PJ Carlisemo becomes one of my favourite coaches.
Defensive Stance: The Raptors will struggle to win games because they are devoid of elite talent (Bargnani excluded, of course -- he's clearly the next Dirk Nowitzki). As a fan, I'd be excited by a team that had a bench of DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa and Amir Johnson. But when at least half of those players are pressed into starting roles that they are ill suited for, the results aren't going to be pretty. Ironically, when the trade deadline rolls around, productive Raptors with reasonable/expiring deals like Barbosa and Reggie Evans could be among the most sought after players in the league. The key to this season should be parlaying those assets into draft picks and young players who will contribute down the road when the Young Onez and the 2011 lottery pick emerge (yes, I'm crossing my fingers for a top three pick). The organization needs to strike a balance between playing hard and being competitive while setting the table for the type of sustained on-court success that has eluded this franchise for its entire existence.
Bottom Line - A prediction of 25-26 wins sounds about right. Any more would be a pleasant surprise. Any less and I would continue to question Jay Triano's ability to motivate NBA-level talent.
Ray Bala: The Raptors are going to fighting a nightly up-hill battle. The loss of Chris Bosh was pretty devastating to this team in terms of not having a go-to scorer or that one consistent offensive threat. The lost offense will have to be spread among the remaining players and that may be a problem if no one steps up to be option number one on a regular basis. Losing the clubhouse cancer in Hedo was good but it leaves you wondering, OK now what? The current group of players reminds me of the early Raptors' teams that played in the Skydome: castaways and role players being asked to win immediately. We can mix and match these players right now - DeRozan is the young McGrady, Evans is Reggie Slater, Jack is Alvin Robertson, Andersen or Bargs can play Zan Tabak (obviously) and you can go on. The scrappy nature of the individual parts will lead them to win some games that they maybe have no business winning while the lack of star talent may lead to losses in some games they should win. All that aside, I'll say this much, the Raps will be exciting to watch. The young legs of the Young Onez (as they are now called) plus Jack, Dorsey, Kleiza, Barbosa and even Bargs will make for a very fun fast breaking team. As long as there is a lot of running involved, it will be a good time. But once the half court game settles in, it may be like watching paint dry in black and white with sub titles - ugly and painful. I'm expecting a season of lumps, but hopefully fun lumps so to speak...
Bottom Line: Let's say 32 wins. I am optimistic.