Rebuilding was the right plan for the Toronto Raptors, but is it a longer process than we expected?
It was about the time that DeMar DeRozan bricked his fourth straight shot early in the game that something hit me.
The rebuild of the Toronto Raptors is potentially going to take a lot longer than anticipated.
With a 94 to 84 loss to the Portland Trailblazers, the Raps dropped their seventh straight contest and perhaps confirmed what many pundits believed prior to the start of the 2011-12 NBA season; this is not a good basketball team.
Sure, sure, the defence is better.
We've seen the stats, the improvements in terms of opponent points, and field goal percentage.
Yada, yada, yada.
But the bottom line is that the Raptors have won only four of their first 16 games this season.
More telling though, and what led me to the bold "thought of the night" above, is that I'm having a real tough time seeing this team improve to a huge extent next season. Most young clubs have that "jump year," where the young core pieces finally put it together, and go from being a league door-mat, to a respectable club, able to upset pretty much any team on any given night. Clubs like the Thunder, Magic and 76ers are all recent examples of this, and the hope I think was that this year or next, the Raptors would be in that same boat.
But I don't think that's the case.
Yes, the Raps are presumably adding a potential future stud in Jonas Valanciunas next season, in addition to a likely lottery pick and that sounds great.
But the reality is that those two pieces probably need at least a good couple seasons before hitting their stride and well, that puts us into the 2013-14 campaign at the earliest, before we see the potential "jump" I was mentioning. At that point guys like James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless could be gone, and it's not lock that others like DeRozan will be either. (More on that in a minute.)
Which is to say that I don't think the current group has the talent to make said leap.
Yep, I know, a cheery thought to start your Saturday.
But let's take a look here.
Of the young players expected to carry this club, can you at this point see any of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Jerryd Bayless or Amir Johnson being elite, or near-elite players?
I can see Ed Davis continuing to progress though into a very solid starter, and Amir being a valuable contributor as one of the first men off the bench on a winning club, but that's about it.
DeRozan put up 22 points last night, but was 7 for 21, and has totals so far this season that look suspiciously like another former Raptor wing.
I'm not saying he's the second coming of Jamario Moon.
But we're nearly a quarter of the way through the season, and we've yet to see a DeMar DeRozan that looks anything like a player who can be a Luol Deng type, or RIP Hamilton in his Detroit days.
His PER is an atrocious 9.8, and despite a higher usage rate, has career-low numbers nearly across the board. He's essentially an inefficient, high-volume shooter, that isn't contributing in any other area. (Gulp, haven't we seen this description before?) The D-League is littered with such players and they're the easiest in the league to replace. I mean, Gerald Green put up 34 points in the D-League showcase.
I'm not saying we write DD off here, but remember the Andrea Bargnani development curve? If DeMar is on a similar path, then again, it's going to be a while before fans reap the benefits of his draft selection.
And Dwane Casey may not be helping things.
While the plodding and foul-happy style of play that Casey has the Raps is certainly helping at the defensive end, it's not exactly doing wonders for the team's offense, and appears to be negating the aforementioned youngsters strengths.
These aren't halfcourt players.
I mean, with five minutes left in an eight-point game, there was a half-court set that resulted in DeMar taking a shot from the left corner that went off the side of the backboard.
And don't tell me you're looking forward to some crisp rotations that result in a James Johnson corner-three attempt.
This is a collection of athletes who excel at getting up and down the floor and when pressed into halfcourt duty, especially without a floor-spacer like Andrea Bargnani, are left to fire up jump shots, jump shots that minus Bargs they're hitting to the tune of about 40 per cent.
Yes, things will improve once Andrea returns, and a healthy Jerryd Bayless will give the club someone who can attack off the bounce, something save Leandro Barbosa, the club just doesn't have, but even then, it's hard to see this team's young talent morphing into anything more than an eighth-place club in the East. LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 33 and 23 on the Dinos last night, and it was crystal-clear that Toronto didn't have a player in the same stratosphere as LA talent-wise.
In fact at one point the National Post's Eric Koreen tweeted that there wasn't a player on last night's active Raptors' roster that would make Portland's top seven.
The compounding issue for me is the timing of this rebuild. With guys like Bargnani and now potentially DeRozan and Davis taking longer to "get it" than expected, by the time future studs like Valanciunas begin impacting wins for Toronto, will the aforementioned crew even be around? Next year is a contract year for DD and guys like James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless may not even be back next season!
It's a tough spot for Bryan Colangelo to be in, and I don't envy the personnel decisions he may be faced with come June. A lock-out has meant an abridged campaign where a full one was sorely needed in order to help ascertain what young talent should be part of the team's future.
Now, things look pretty cloudy and I'm not sure how much clearer it's going to get.
Dwane Casey has done an impeccable job getting a bunch of non-defenders to step up the D, but his system isn't taking advantage of his players' offensive attributes.
What's left is a team that fights tooth and nail every night, but comes up short in the end, unable to score enough points to translate close losses into wins.
I expect we'll see a lot more of it this year and one hopes that said close losses don't eventually erode the team's "fight" as the season goes on.
Because at this rate, we may not only be watching 94 to 84 losses this season, but in the next couple as well.