A big thanks to Sheridan and his crew for having us on board again, and yes, we somehow found not one, not two, not three...not even four, but FIVE things for fans to keep an eye on this coming NBA season..
1) To Tank, or Not to Tank: This is the biggie. The Toronto Raptors go into the 2013-14 season as one of the only teams in the Eastern Conference this past summer, that didn't take a definitive step towards either the playoffs, or Andrew Wiggins and the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. New General Manager Masai Ujiri's offseason instead was filled with moves that wouldn't lock the team into either scenario so depending on how the season begins to unfold, Ujiri can still look to make changes on the fly.
This might be easier said than done though. Ujiri's predecessor Bryan Colangelo has left last year's NBA Executive of the Year with a bit of a financial quagmire, one that will likely take more than next season to dig out of.
Regardless, the club needs to make a decision on its future direction sooner rather than later, and one of the most intriguing things to watch this season will be which direction Ujiri takes the franchise. On one hand, the playoffs aren't out of completely out of reach in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, but on the other, Wiggins looks to be a once-a-decade type talent, and a Canadian kid to boot.
2) Rudy Gay's Future: Tied directly into the first point of intrigue for the Raptors this coming season, is this second one. Rudy Gay' gigantesque contract puts a damper on any major roster readjustments and therefore a decision by Ujiri and co. to go after Wiggins and the 2014 draft's top talent appears to be inextricably linked to moving Gay.
However Gay is no Andrea Bargnani. The latter had to be moved at all costs, something Ujiri magically did this off-season, but contract aside, Gay is still one of the top wing talents in the league. To move him for little in return, simply to clear his contract, might equate to "one step forward to take two steps back," especially if such a contract dump doesn't result in enough losses to clinch a top lottery pick.
And yet keeping Gay is equally problematic considering he's got a contract extension looming, and the Raptors have a glut at the wing position already.
It's a tough situation and one that fans and media alike will be keeping an eye on as the season unfolds.
3) Jonas Valanciunas: It's not all doom and gloom though for Raptors' fans. The most exciting thing to watch will likely be the development of young center Jonas Valanciunas. The fifth pick in the 2011 draft showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season but it was his MVP performance recently in the Vegas Summer League that really turned heads.
If he stays healthy, the 2013-14 season could represent a break-out campaign and would give the Raptors their first elite center since Antonio Davis. (Apologies to Rafael Araujo obviously.)
4) Terrence Ross: The Raptors' other recent lottery pick is wing Terrence Ross, another player fans will be keeping an eye on this coming season. While his rookie season didn't prove to be as big of an on-court success as that of Valanciunas, Ross still had his moments, including an exciting Slam Dunk title win at the NBA's All-Star Weekend.
However his recent Summer League performance could be classified as "invisible" at best, and Andre Drummond, drafted right after Ross in 2012, continues to cast a long shadow.
Should Ross take another big step forward it could push Raptors' management to move one of their larger wing contracts (Gay, DeMar DeRozan) but if Ross struggles, he could easily find himself being used as trade bait in effort to shake up the club's roster.
5) The Point Guard Situation: Last season the Toronto Raptors looked to have a dynamic one-two punch at the point guard position with the uber-efficient, pass-first Jose Calderon backing up the "ever-in-attack-mode" Kyle Lowry. Unfortunately that one-two punch never materialized as Lowry clashed with the Raptors' coaching staff and had to fight through various injuries, and eventually ended up being the back-up option to Calderon.
Calderon of course was traded in the move that saw Toronto acquire Rudy Gay, so the show is Lowry's and Lowry's alone to run this season. Sure, he'll have some back-up options thanks to Ujiri's offseason acquisitions like DJ Augustin and Dwight Buycks, but the bottom line is that it's Lowry's job to lose.
Considering his reputation with coaching staffs isn't exactly stellar to begin with, and the fact that he's in a contract year, for a myriad of reasons, it's essential that Lowry gets his career back on track this season in Toronto.