"The Crossover" is a season preview series we're running here at Raptors HQ in which we'll talk to other SB Nation team sites in the Eastern Conference to give us an idea of what to expect from the competition, what their expectations are for both their own team and the Raptors.
1. Will Paul Pierce make a difference for the Wizards?
Paul Pierce may be in his late 30's, but he has still proven to be an effective scorer in late game and playoff situations. In the playoffs this past season, against the Raptors, Pierce scored 9 points late in Game 1 to help Brooklyn win on the road, and he even made a game-winning block on Kyle Lowry in Game 7.
When it comes to X's and O's, Pierce played some significant minutes as a stretch power forward, which may be needed if Nene goes down to injury at some point in the regular season. And as a strong three point shooter, Pierce should get his fair share of open looks when John Wall attracts double teams while driving to the hoop.
2. Are you in or out on Randy Wittman as a head coach?
I'm in. Wittman has shown that he can get teams to play at a high level on defense, even with some significant personnel changes at the center position with Emeka Okafor in 2012-13 and Marcin Gortat in 2013-14. I'm still a bit concerned about how much improvement they can make offensively this season, but with additions to the team like Pierce, that should make things easier for Wittman to lead this team to a second straight playoff berth, and perhaps a Southeast Division title.
3. How far can the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal take the Wizards?
Since both guards are not in their prime yet, it is possible that the Wall and Beal backcourt could lead the Wizards to an Eastern Conference Finals in the next couple seasons. If Wall and/or Beal can play at a near MVP-level once they are in their prime, then it won't be totally unrealistic to see this team sneak into an NBA Finals if the Wizards can put around a solid group of players around them.
4. How do you feel about Marcin Gortat’s new contract?
I believe that Gortat received a good deal, even if he is overpaid toward the end of the five years. Gortat was a great partner to Wall in the pick and roll game, and was an essential part of the team's offense. At the same time, Gortat's cap hit may not be as painful if the salary cap jumps considerably over the next several years.
5. How do you think the Raptors will do this season?
Like the Washington Wizards, the Raptors are entering the 2014-15 NBA season with the bulk of last year's roster intact. Wizards fans love John Wall and Bradley Beal, but the Raptors have a great backcourt themselves with Kyle Lowry (who should have been an All-Star last year) and All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who is coming off of an appearance with the Team USA World Cup basketball team.
The frontcourt is also strong with Jonas Valanciunas (who is just 22), and Amir Johnson has been a solid veteran presence. The rotation is also deep and relatively young with players like Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Tyler Hansbrough who provide solid minutes and production. Now they are adding James Johnson and Lou Williams. That's going to make the Raptors even deeper than they were last season.
Sure, the Cavaliers and Bulls are favorites in the East on paper. Washington and Miami also figure to be in the mix for a Top-3 seed themselves. But it wouldn't be unrealistic to see Toronto keep the third seed in the East for a second straight year, and even with a 50-win season. Now that Lowry, DeRozan, Valanciunas and Co. have some playoff experience, they could be poised for a deep playoff run as well when coupled with their new additions.