In the final piece of their roundtable, the HQ looks at the near and not so near future of the Dinos...
After two days of recapping the season that was here, and here, we move on to the last piece of our annual RHQ round-table.
In the final part, we do a little crystal-ball gazing...
5. Franchise: I too think we're in for a shortened season as well, which I think has some potentially positive and negative repercussions for the Raptors and their fans. As for BC and his crew, I think a shortened season will increase the likelihood of everyone coming back.
Let's turn to the draft, a big one for TO considering they have the third-best chance in the league at the number one spot.
Where do you think they'll end up picking from and should they land the top pick, who would you like to see them select?
Howland: Early on in this process there seems to be consensus among the draft gurus that this is a two person draft with Williams and Irving. The hope then is an obvious one - be in the top two. I would be more than satisfied with either of these players. If the Raps do fall outside the top two all is not lost however. More and more it looks like this draft can be dubbed the "international draft". Take a look at DraftExpress.com and you will see that many of the top prospects this year are international players - Valanciunas, Biyombo, Kanter, Vesely, Kanter, Motiejunas, Mirotic, etc. The Raptors should have a distinct advantage in this draft given their knowledge and connections on the international scene. Can the Raptors leverage that knowledge if they are outside the top two? There will likely be broad range of opinions on this crop of prospects and will likely be one where no teams draft board looks the same. The issue with such an international draft is very few people will be able to given an educated opinion on a certain prospect - these guys don't show up on Sat night ESPN games or on the sports pack. If the Raptors are outside the top two an incredible amount of faith will need to be placed in the hands of those who make the selection. It is all fine and good to read about Bismack Biyombo, his shot blocking abilities, his Kevin Garnett like attitude and his incredible wingspan but can the guy become a legitimate player? For this reason alone I can't help but wonder if the Bryan Colangelo/Maurizio Gherardini combo should be kept around. Are there two more qualified guys around to make this pick?
I can't target a particular guy outside of Williams and Irving but the needs are obvious - of course at this point I still feel like the Raps just need to take the best player available.
Oh, and I have absolutely no idea what to think in terms of where the team will actually end up picking.
Sean: Hopefully the Raptors won't suffer the same draft lottery fate that the Boston Celtics had in 2007, when they were favoured to land one of the top three spots in the draft, but ended up with the fifth overall selection. If the Raptors land the draft's first or second pick then the selection process should be simple. Duke's Kyrie Irving or Arizona's Derrick William are without a doubt the two best players in this year's draft class and either one of these players would immediately be inserted into the Dinos' starting line-up. With that being said, I think Irving would be a better fit for the Raptors seeing as how their backcourt is significantly weaker than their frontcourt. Irving is an unselfish and mature young point guard who excels in transition and has the potential to be one of the league's top point guards in the coming years. However, if the Raptors do not land the second or even third pick in the draft then the team will be forced to go into a panic mode. While the draft is loaded with a number of talented players, there are no other elite prospects outside of Williams and Irving. The Dinos could take either Enes Kanter or Jan Vesely to help with their frontcourt, but Kanter and Vesely are still very raw and won't make an immediate impact. If the Raptors are forced to make a selection outside of the top two spots (which I think will be the case as they'll land the number two pick), Colangelo should just take the best player available because even if that player needs two or three seasons of grooming the sad reality is that the Raptors are at least four or five years away from making the playoffs.
D-Stance: This draft is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Kyrie Irving of Duke and Derrick Williams of Arizona. I think Irving addresses the greatest needs of this team for a variety of reasons. In the short term, he allows a declining Jose Calderon to move to the bench, where he is more productive and less likely to be exposed by opposing starters. In the long term, Irving should provide a decade of All-Star level point guard play; the type of play that the Raptors have never enjoyed at the point.
If the Raptors find themselves selecting outside the top two picks, I'm afraid they'll reach for a guy like Kemba Walker (Ben Gordon 2.0) or cause a fan revolt by selecting a European big man. Now, I'm not saying someone like Donatas Motiejunas will turn out to be a bust... but fans who have spent five seasons waiting for Andrea Bargnani to live up to the expectations of the top overall pick have a right to be weary of adding another Benetton big man.
As for where they'll end up picking? I feel like another team will move up and the Raptors will be stuck drafting fourth.
Sasha: When all is said and done, I think the Raptors will end up with the second pick in this draft, huge for this draft. At this point in time I think it has been determined quite clearly that there are two potential superstars in this draft in Derrick Williams out of Arizona and Kyrie Irving out of Duke, so getting one of the two is key. Each of them bring a skill set that can be used on the Raptors as our Point Guard and Small Forward positions are weak at the moment. Of course this will all depend on the way that the ping pong balls bounce but with the draft lottery, anything truly is possible. If we get into the 2nd spot our decision becomes very easy, we just pick which one of the two potential "stars" the team ahead of us passed on. If we get into the 1st spot our decision becomes very tough and I expect our scouting department to already be making preparations for such a scenario should it arise. I would personally opt for Williams instead of Irving if we were picking 1st. He has an NBA body and should be ready to contribute immediately. Irving looks to be a solid prospect but I am not confident in his ability to truly become an All Star calibre Point Guard, alongside the likes of Williams, Rose, Paul, Rondo, Westbrook. Williams should be ready to be plugged into the starting lineup right away and his tantalizing combination of skill and size would make him a matchup nightmare against other 3's. If we are not drafting in the top 2 than I truly don't know what our best move would be. Again, I expect our scouting department to be preparing for this scenario and I cannot think of an exact player that we would target. I am a firm believer in taking the best player available and hopefully the Raptors will do the same.
6. I think Toronto lands the third pick so the ultimate football in the groin, to use a Simpson's analogy. Regardless, the team looks like it has a ways to go before getting back into a contending position.
That brings me to my last question, a three-parter, where I'm really getting you to take out your Miss Cleo crystal ball.
A) Do we see wholesale changes this off-season again in terms of the roster?
B) Assuming there's a season next year, do the Raptors make the playoffs?
C) If not, how long do you foresee this rebuild going on for before the Dinos' next post-season appearance?
D-Stance: Rebuilding might seem like a four-letter word to a two-time executive of the year like Bryan Colangelo. However, I think he's come to the realization that a proper rebuilding effort is necessary if the Raptors hope to enjoy any kind of sustained success. So we shouldn't see the type of wholesale changes that have characterized previous off-seasons.
The Eastern Conference is so weak, I don't think you can rule out any team from making the playoffs next season. The Raptors, in particular, could see a double digit jump in wins based on a handful of moves: drafting Kyrie Irving first overall; upgrading the overall talent level; and continuing to see improvement from youngsters like Ed Davis and Amir Johnson.
Now, do I actually see this happening? Not really. The Raptors only possess a 15.6% chance of selecting first overall, and will probably walk away from the draft with a decent, but not franchise-altering player. Colangelo might stubbornly hang onto Bargnani for another season despite what he indicated in his post-season presser. And any improvements made by Davis and Johnson could be negated by a continued lack of leadership and upper echelon talent.
This rebuild is going to require at least one more trip to the lottery in 2012 and a major trade involving Bargnani. It would be nice if the Raptors could supplement their rebuild with a couple of late first round / early second round gems - but instead they've already cast their lot with James Johnson (who has at least proven to be an average performer).
Sean: I just cannot see the Raptors making any roster moves this off-season that will immediately turn them into a more competitive team. The fact of the matter is that it's hard to actually call Toronto a "rebuilding" team because the organization lacks clear direction at present. Is Andrea Bargnani still their franchise player? Who is going to buy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment? Are Colangelo and Triano going to be around next season? Will there even be a next season? All of these questions make it very tough to know which direction things are going to go, and the team seems to just be getting into the idea of a "rebuild" now. For that reason I think the Dinos are better off signing low-cost players that have a lot of raw potential and could be slowly groomed to play a key role on the team three or four years down the road, because whether you care to admit it or not, the Toronto Raptors have a very slim chance at making the playoffs next season. If the Raptors can land a top two pick in this year's draft, they can finally start grooming a franchise player that may be able to lead this team in the coming years. With all that being said, I think that Raptors fans will have to wait at least three or four years before they can watch their team soar into the post-season.
Howland: I wouldn't use the term "wholesale" changes but I believe there will be a lot of changes. I think the team has recognized that it needs to build around DeRozan, Davis and Amir and I don't expect any of those guys to be moved but everyone else is fair game. I think Colangelo (or whoever) has to use this summer to continue to build the foundation while finding some older veterans with a few years left to help guide the young guys as the continue their development. Standing pat just isn't an option - not when you are coming off a 22 win season. Is there need for internal development? Sure - but that isn't the only solution to this problem.
Until this off-season plays out I don't have any idea on whether the Raps even have the slightest chance at making the playoffs. Anything is possible but at this moment in time I wouldn't bet on internal development taking the team, as currently constructed, into the playoffs next season. The goal of the franchise should not simply be making the playoffs - the goal should be making regular appearances in the playoffs. I am not sure the team can fix things over the summer to such a degree that this becomes a reality. Rome was not built in a day and neither are quality teams that consistently win.
Franchise: I'll end things by saying that I too think that the playoffs are a good two or three seasons away. When you compare the Dinos to the various playoff clubs there's still a massive gap in terms of the necessary talent level needed, and to Sean's point, some major questions in terms of the club's direction and ownership probably need to be answered before anyone can talk post-season.
In any event, the HQ will be around to put this rebuild process under our usual microscope and I'd like to thank the team for another great season of discussion and analysis.
Hopefully, the threat of a work stoppage is just that, a threat, so we can do this all over again come next fall.