clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Media Day Report: The Raptors Look To Reboot After Disappointing End To Last Season

After a busy summer, the pieces are in place for a new-look Raptors team to leave last year's finish behind.

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Lowry didn't look burdened by the disappointments of last season at Raptors Media Day on Monday.

Nonchalantly dribbling a ball and launching floaters while on the phone for a radio interview, Lowry looked as relaxed as ever sitting on the precipice of his fourth season in Toronto. One that he and the rest of the squad hope will prove to be something of a reboot after last season ended bitterly at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

"I've been thinking about it a long time. But at the end of the day it's a new year, it's a new media day, it's a new training camp. Now we've got to do something with it," said the Raptors point guard to a throng of reporters.

Lowry's one of eight returnees on this year's roster - a group that's outnumbered by the incoming wave of new blood. DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph stole the headlines when they were brought in at the start of the summer, but the last week has been all about former first-overall pick Anthony Bennett, who's signing was made official by the Raptors Monday morning.

Much like Lowry, Bennett's looking for a fresh start after being deemed the odd-man-out in Minnesota's over-stocked collection of young players. And after battling injuries and poor conditioning for two years, he's hoping an improved commitment to fitness will help him rekindle his pro career.

"This is probably the healthiest I've been since college," said Bennett, pointing to his international responsibilities and an early start this off-season as major reasons for his bettered conditioning.

"I probably waited two or three weeks after the season was over and then just started working out, plus Team Canada helped me out a whole lot. I'm just playing with confidence."

His role will almost certainly be limited out of the gate. Hell, he may even have to take a turn with Raptors 905. But while his first two seasons have been wrought with underachievement, it would be foolish to rule out Bennett at the very least rehabbing his value back above minimum-salary-level.

However small they were, he made strides last season in Minnesota. His shooting numbers ticked up across the board, and he simply looked more at home on the court last year than he did during his brick-filled rookie season. He's been a victim of his draft position in what was a laughably thin draft class, but his improved physique should give him a fighter's chance of changing the league-wide perception of him.

Standing in Bennett's way though, is a front court that's been touted as thin all summer, but in reality is stocked with multiple capable bodies. Patrick Patterson and James Johnson are the incumbents - Patterson seems like the likely starter at the four while Johnson could see time at both forward spots.

And then there's the newcomer Luis Scola who doesn't only represent one of the obstacles standing between Bennett and regular minutes - he's one of the fresh faces that will be charged with wiping the Raptors' slate clean.

Toronto lost its way last season. The defense that Dwane Casey so steadfastly preaches was non-existent on last year's 23rd-ranked defensive team. Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez largely (and probably rightfully) received much of the blame for the Raptors' ball-stopping shortcomings, and found themselves on their way out of town along with a breaking-down Amir Johnson.

In to replace them: Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, Joseph and the 35-year-old Scola, who's positional intelligence and crafty style of play should boost Toronto's overall team defense. And while he's just 6'9 and isn't a traditional-style rim protector, he's also willing to bang with bigger guys as a back-up centre if called upon.

"I'm definitely available to play centre. I've played centre in the past and I think it's a good position for me," he said.

That type of positional malleability will be crucial as the Raptors look to turn the page from last season. In their series against the Wizards, Dwane Casey simply didn't have the personnel to compete when the Wizards converted to a modern small-ball style offense with Paul Pierce at power forward. Scola and his mobility could have been useful against that Wizards' configuration.

Actually, all of the marquee summer additions could have been.

Masai Ujiri's defensive-minded, intangible-bringing off-season pick-ups might be the most prominent ingredients in the new recipe Casey is hoping to perfect this year. Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas are unquestionably the core of the team, but the new arrivals should complement their skill sets in a way Williams, Vasquez and the hobbled Amir Johnson couldn't last year.

Scola will be able to bring much of the positional awareness that Johnson supplied, with a slightly more refined mid-range game that will open up the floor when he shares the floor with Valanciunas. Carroll's 40 percent three point shooting will create added space for Toronto's All-Star back court pairing, while bringing a tenacious approach to defense; and Joseph, regarded as one of the league's premier on-ball defenders should help to keep Lowry fresh for the length of the season without compromising the team's new identity.

With the new reinforcements signalling a top-to-bottom organizational shift to a defense-first, team-oriented style of play, and the reality becoming apparent that Toronto's leading trio won't be asked to carry all of the Raptors' weight this year, it's no wonder a leaner, redemption-seeking Lowry looks so relaxed.