Thursday, February 19, 2009

Raps Add a Bit O' Irish

As predicted in our last post, Raptors GM Brian Colangelo followed up last week's blockbuster O'Neal for Marion swap with another minor addition finalized right before the league's trade deadline this afternoon. In a simple yet complex three-team trade, Toronto sent seldom used PG Will Solomon to the Sacramento Kings, Boston sent the Raps C Patrick O'Bryant and the Celtics received a protected 2nd round pick from the Kings.
As we discussed last time around, with the addition of Marcus Banks and the emergence of Roko Ukic, the writing was on the wall for Solomon. He'll get a lot more playing time with the Kings and has a chance to be part of their regular rotation with a young, inexperienced team.
In exchange, the Raptors get some much needed size in the 7-foot, former first round draft pick O'Bryant. He has been buried on the bench in his previous two NBA stops (Golden State and Boston), but if he's able to tap into his potential, the Raptors may have a servicable big man they can work with. With the injury to Kris Humphries and the departure of Jermaine O'Neal the team finds themselves thin on the front lines, and even if O'Bryant only comes in to give his five fouls and leave, they will get more production out of him than they got with Solomon on the bench. The kid still is a project player, but he size and if nothing else, can grab a few boards and block a couple shots for you in limited minutes. the move wasn't any of my "5 Steps to Success", but maybe the Raptors can work on those in the off-season.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

5 Steps For Success

Recently, I came across an article on in which two opposing journalists outlined the five moves they would make to turn their local teams into contenders, one rebuilding the Los Angeles Clippers, the other the Golden State Warriors. Both made as strong a case for change as Barrack Obama, and similar to the aftermath of listening to the President speak, I came away from their stories awe-inspired and ready to contribute to the Raptors society. So inspired in fact, that I devised my own way to change the culture of the Raptors using the same amount of steps and to those reading this, I invite you to do the same. Here now, I present MY 5 Steps to Raptors Success:

1.) Trade Anthony Parker and Joey Graham to Golden State for Monta Ellis. Maybe wishful thinking on my part, but I believe this trade benefits both teams. For Toronto the payoff is obvious. Ellis is exactly the kind of guy the team needs: he can pay defense, distribute the ball, is athletic with blazing speed, and most importantly can create his own shot. I challenge all of you right now, besides Chris Bosh, name somebody on the team that can create and get his shot whenever he wants? Anybody? I didn't think so. The Raptors have been lacking that since Vince and Tracy skipped town and haven't found a substitute yet. Given the minutes, Ellis can be a 20+ scorer in this league, and on top of that, he has the ability to play the one AND two-guard position. Having him instantly makes Toronto younger, more athletic and more talented.
For Golden State the deal has it's perks as well. Anthony Parker helps them out in two ways: providing instant leadership and production, plus a soon-to-be-expiring contract. Their team is young and doesn't have a lot of quality veterans to help the young guys get better. They also don't play defense. Parker does. He is getting up there in age, but when his contract expires the team can use the cap space. Same goes for Joey Graham. He is athletic and developing, something Don Nelson loves, and when he puts his mind to it, I believe he can be a top-notch defensive player in this league. Essentially the Warriors would be giving up a little bit of offense(something they have plenty of) for some consistent defense(something they have nothing of). The condition of Ellis's knee may also sway the Warriors to pull the trigger and sign off on this deal.

2.) Trade Will Solomon and Nathan Jawai to the Wizards for Javale McGee. This one may not have the star quality of the Ellis trade, but it is practical. With the trade for Marion and Banks, the Raptors now have a logjam at the point and Solomon is the odd man out. There simply aren't enough minutes to share between Calderon, Banks, Ukic and Solomon, not to mention Will hasn't been producing. Jawai is a project player and has played about as many minutes as I have for the Raptors all year. Washington has a need for a point guard and some big guys to retool their team. The core of Arenas, Jamison and Butler will not be together much longer and the Wizards will once again find themselves in rebuilding mode.
Javale McGee is also a project player but his upside is far greater than Jawai. He is a legit 7-footer, has some shooting range, can rebound and play defense. The problem with him currently is that he's frail, weighing slightly above two hundred pounds on a tall frame, and that is why he isn't getting any minutes with the Wizards. He is simply over matched physically and though athletic, is getting bullied and pushed around by stronger, more conditioned big men. If the Raptors training staff can get him to add some weight and muscle to his frame, they may have a diamond in the rough. If they can't, they only traded a pair of spare parts for him and the deal is a wash. Solomon and Jawai aren't seeing the court anyway.

3.) Trade Jason Kapono and Kris Humphries to the Jazz for Matt Harpring and Paul Millsap. This one again, is more practical than awe-inspiring and basically just fills a need for both teams. As good as Kapono is as a spot-up shooter, he is a gigantic defensive liability when he's on the floor and doesn't possess the ability to create his own shot. I am honestly, how many more times are NBA defenders going to fall for his head and shoulders fake? The guy is a pure shooter in every sense of the word and needs to have the table set for him or he can't eat, simple as that. Having him and Kyle Korver to kick to once teams double-down on Boozer can be a very appealing option. Humphries was traded for Rafael Araujo a few years back. I'm sure Utah would love to press the reset button on that deal.
For Toronto, this fills two needs for them as well. Paul Millsap is an All-Star waiting to happen and Utah can't afford to pay him All-Star money along with Carlos Boozer. One of them has to go, and in this scenario, it's Millsap. He provides depth in the front court, can play the four and the five, and more importantly, provides the Raptors with some insurance in case Chris Bosh gets dealt or decides to skip town. Granted Bosh is a much better player than Millsap currently, but the potential is there for him and he can be a solid contributor right away. Harpring provides some leadership and grit, as well as solid defensive play. The importance of his acquisition will become clearer later on.

4.) Hold your breath Raptors fans, here comes the big one: Trade Jose Calderon and Matt Harpring to Phoenix for Steve Nash. This deal speaks for itself. The Suns badly want to rebuild, get younger and dump salary. They accomplish all these things by swapping Nash for Calderon. Calderon has shown he can run an offense very well, is a great passer and a solid shooter. He also has six or seven years more service in him than Nash, who is in the twilight of his career. Remember when I said Harpring's importance would be become more clear later? Well here it is. His contract is perfect to match up with Calderon and equal Nash, plus he plays great defense, something Phoenix doesn't have. His deal is also set to expire soon, so if he doesn't it into the Suns plans, they would get some much needed cap space to get somebody else.
For Toronto, just the marketability of Nash alone is enough to make this deal. Having "Kid Canada" playing for the country's lone NBA team is a dream come true! Imagine the boost in ticket sales and jersey sales, endorsements and merchandise! True, Nash doesn't have that many years left in him, but his style of play and leadership are a perfect fit for this team, not to mention his past relationship with GM Brian Colangelo.

5.) In the upcoming NBA Draft, use the picks on PG Brandon Jennings in the first round, and Tyler Hansbrough in the second. Here's why: The Raptors want to run, that much is apparent. But in order to do that, you need to have the speed and players to do so. Anybody who has ever seen Jennings play high school and European ball know his speed is world class. The guy could be the fastest guy on the court at any time, and that includes if he was playing against Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and Devin Harris. He is that quick. A year in Europe and skipping college may have hurt him in the short-term, but in the long-term I think the sky is the limit in the NBA. Right now he is similar to a Micheal Conley type of player, but sitting behind Nash and learning from the one of the best to ever play the position could turn him from Conley to Derrick Rose. That makes him a very dangerous player to have, and a great guy to run the point in the Raptors new up-tempo game.
Tyler Hansbrough may slip to the second round of most mock drafts, and if he does Toronto should be more than happy to snatch him up. All his pundits out there that say his game doesn't translate to the pro level are in for a rude awakening. "Crazy T" may not ever evolve into a franchise player or perennial All-Star, but I would want him on my team any day. There is an old saying that my high school coach used to tell me, and in fact I still have it written down and folded up in my wallet, carrying it wherever I go. Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard. Hansbrough is the personification of this phrase. A lot of talented guys go through the NBA and many of them don't have the mind or the maturity to survive. They jump around from team to team and league to league, never understanding why they never lived up to the hype or why they fell short of expectations. Toronto will not have that problem with Tyler. This guy will out-work you, out-hustle you and out-think you, all areas where the Raptors would love an upgrade.

Just to recap, here is what the Toronto Raptors roster would look like after completing all of these moves: C: Andrea Bargnani
PF: Chris Bosh
SF: Shawn Marion
SG: Monta Ellis
PG: Steve Nash
Bench: Marcus Banks
Javale McGee
Paul Millsap
Roko Ukic
Jake Voskuhl
Brandon Jennings
Tyler Hansbrough

Banks and Voskuhl can then be dealt or released , but that would take me past my allotted 5 steps. Perhaps replacing them by calling up SF James White and G Joe Crawford from the D-League? This edition of the Raptors is a younger, faster, more exciting and cheaper team and I believe enough to challenge in the East and convince Bosh to stay past 2010.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Raps Pull the Trigger

The trade that has been rumored for several weeks now has finally gone down. In a swap approved Friday afternoon by league officials via conference call, the Raptors have agreed to send disappointing former All-Star Jermaine O'Neal and inconsistent swing man Jamario Moon to the Miami Heat, along with a future draft pick. In return, the Heat will send another former All-Star in Shawn Marion north of the border, where he will be joined by seldom-used guard Marcus Banks and about three million dollars of cash considerations. Now that this deal graduated from rumor to reality, what does it mean to both teams, and who got the better end of the deal?

Well first from Miami's point of view, this deal seems to have been an addition by subtraction scenario. They give up Marion, who was under producing this season anyway, but by doing so also cleared up some valuable minutes for Michael Beasley at the small forward spot. They add the low-post presence they so desperately need in O'Neal, who not only can contribute offensively in Miami's half-court system, but also could prove to be invaluable to the team as a defender in the second half of the season and into the playoffs. If that isn't enough, the also provide some much needed depth and athleticism by adding Moon, who's production could flourish with a change of scenery. Overall, it was a very solid trade for Miami and it should help them and improve the team as they make their playoff push.

Now from Toronto's side, it appears to be a win-win scenario as well. They get an established wing player in Marion for starters, who essentially is like a more matured Moon. His point production may be down in Miami this year, but his defense is a constant and more importantly, his rebounding is something the Raps have a HUGE need for. He will blend in to the offense well, doesn't need any plays run for him, and will score and get his rebounds from hustle plays and put backs. His price tag is a bit steep, but think of him in the same concept as leasing a car. His contract is out after the end of this year, so Toronto can take him for a test drive until then. If he works out and they want to keep him, he will be an asset to this team. If however they decide he didn't pan out, they let him go as a free agent and in exchange get a TON of cap room to go after someone else, or more importantly put towards the "Keep Bosh in Toronto after 2010" fund. Either way, they get some kind of benefit to the team. Marcus Banks may not figure into Toronto's long-term plans, but this team IS lacking at the backup point guard position, so don't be surprised if Banks ends up getting minutes. The guy is like a poor man's Eddie House, and given the time, can light it up off the bench. He provides a veteran presence, which is an upgrade over Ukic, is an above average shooter from long range (also an upgrade), and can play defense. The team wants to bring Ukic along slowly and let him develop, and with Solomon seemingly banished to the end of the bench, Banks could step in and contribute right away.

Overall, it was a win-win for both teams, which is why they both pulled the trigger. Both Miami and Toronto had some major holes in their teams, recognized them and hopefully filled them. However, don't assume that this is the only deal you may see before Wednesday's deadline Raptors fans. Colangelo has a history of adding to big deals with a variety of smaller ones featuring role players and draft picks, so don't rule anything out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Raptors Fans Unite against TSN2 and Rogers!








GO RAPS GO!!!!!!

As a site Administrator and avid support of this cause, Tim and Raptors Blog, both on this site and Facebook alike, cannot stress enough the importance of this movement. If you want change and want your voice to be heard, please sign up and join us on the journey.

Raptors: State of the Union

Welcome everyone to the inaugural edition of State of the Union! This a brand new edition to Raptors Blog, and will run every Friday throughout the season, and God-willing, the playoffs. The format of this piece will be to examine the state of the franchise as a whole, while also providing insights into how to fix what may be broken. We will look at every piece of the team, starting from the top with the GM and hitting on everything along the way. So without further adieu, enjoy the first ever installment of State of the Union.

Let's begin with the man that calls the shots, the structural leader of the team, GM Brian Colangelo. I for one, am a big supporter of the guy, especially considering who he replaced in former GM Rob Babcock. Seeing Colangelo take over was like Obama replacing Bush, there's a renewed feeling of hope and a sense that, when you hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up. Love him or hate him, the guy traded away at-the-time star player Vince Carter, for what later amounted to a handful of beans. In return the Raptors got two guys that aren't even in the league anymore, and a draft pick that ended up being Joey Graham. Please hold your applause. I want to apologize in advance to Mr. Colangelo, because while I am one of your biggest supporters, I too am a bit critical of some of the roster moves that have been made.

The first of these moves began in 2006 with the drafting of Andrea Bargnani with the number one overall selection in the NBA Draft. While recently it looks to have panned out, the young Italian's career has been more flashes of brilliance mixed with inconsistency than true star potential. I am just as thrilled as the rest of the Raptor faithful with his new-found confidence and stellar play as of late. But would I rather have All-Star Brandon Roy, explosive swing man (which many think is the missing puzzle piece to the Raptors success) Rudy Gay, or even a CONSISTENT double-double man like LaMarcus Aldridge? I guess the political answer is in the long-term the jury is still out, but in the short-term a resounding HELL YEAH!

Aside from that, there was the signing of free agent sharp-shooter Jason Kapono, which was a good move, just premature. Perimeter shooters should be added last to a team trying to establish an interior presence, not first. As good of a shooter as JK is, he cannot create his own shot and is a huge defensive liability. Essentially, Colangelo paid starter's money to a backup player who hasn't had near the impact that was expected. Trading Charlie-V for TJ Ford was a great move, but was then overshadowed by the later trade of Ford for Jermaine O'Neal, who now finds himself on the trading block as well. You got to love the irony. The entire blame cannot be laid at the foot of Colangelo's doorstep however. Injuries have played a major role in the team's sub-par performance, as well as inconsistency, lack of team chemistry and overall under performance. The real test for Colangelo will be what moves, if any, he makes before the trade deadline, and his ability to maintain Chris Bosh through 2010.

On the actual player end of things, the effort has been, thus far, less than exhilarating. The team is listed on various websites as being the under-performing team of the year in the Eastern Conference, and has dropped from the top 5-10 in online Power Rankings to the late-teens and early to mid-twenties. The perimeter shooters haven't been hitting their shots, with the exception of Bargnani and Anthony Parker, the bigs haven't been rebounding, the wing players have been unable to find lanes to drive the ball, and the overall motion of the team on offense has at times been stagnant. But the main culprit in this season of mediocrity has been the Raptor's bench play. Or lack there of. Starters have had to play heavy minutes, in particular Bosh and Jose Calderon, because there is no suitable backup waiting to give them a breather. We've already spoke about their lack of depth at the PG position, but aside from center where J.O now backs up Bargnani, the team is lacking depth in all phases. Humphries is on the shelf now, Parker is the starting SG but spells Jose at PG these days because of their depth problem, and the rest of the bench is sub-par at best. This is not to knock on those guys, but perhaps just to suggest that they may not be the best fit in the current system the team is running.

I suppose overall, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. The season is less then half over, there are still a lot of games to be played and we have seen flashes of the kind of team the Raptors can be at times. But I think all of us, fans and players alike, were hoping for something more by All-Star break. The Raptors State of the Union now: bleak. Hopefully they can find something positive to build on for the second half of the year.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Raps Lose Four, Maybe More

It seemed, for at least the first three quarters anyway, that the Raptors may have stumbled unto my last blog entry. They had heart, they had determination and they had an intense defensive moxie. For lack of a better word, they essentially dominated the Los Angeles Lakers last night at Air Canada Centre throughout the game's first three quarters. Unfortunately for them, they also had to play the fourth, and there was a Mamba waiting in the weeds.

The NBA's reigning MVP, Kobe Bryant, once again feasted on the Raptors, scoring a game-high 36 points with 10 coming in the game's final quarter, including a clutch jump shot with 23.6 seconds to play to ice the victory for L.A. It was Toronto's fourth defeat in a row, but it may have come with an even bigger lose.

Teammates and fans alike held their collective breaths when Raptors forward Chris Bosh came done awkwardly on a play early in the fourth quarter, and was then taken directly to the locker room by team doctors. The initial synopsis was a strained right knee, and he was immediately subjected to a barrage of tests and did not return to action. As of this morning, MRI's revealed no structural damage, but Bosh's status is listed as doubtful heading into Friday night's game in New Orleans. Also on the injury front, starting PG Jose Calderon was held out of the match up with the Lakers with a re aggravation of a previous hamstring injury, the same thing that has caused him to miss a total of 12 games already this year. Both Calderon and Bosh will accompany the team to New Orleans, with Jose being listed as probable for action.

Lost amidst this whole medical fiasco was the emergence of Toronto guard Joey Graham, who led the team in scoring last night with 24 points. That's right, I said Joey Graham led the team in scoring. Now that's not a knock on the injury-depleted Raptors, but consistency is something Graham has been struggling with since the team made him a second round draft pick three years ago. In a way he is almost like the personification of the entire Toronto team, blessed with talent but not the ability to recognize it and use it to their respective advantage. Graham's defense on Kobe Bryant last night was a prime example of this. He has the brawn and strength to be a ferocious, top-notch defender in this league, that much is undeniable. Its trying to figure out how to get to that point that has been elusive thus far.

The other thing exposed by the Lakers and others during Calderon's absence this season, has been the lack of significant depth at the point guard position. Sure Anthony Parker has filled in admirably when given the minutes, but you have to wonder how much additional playing time he can handle should Calderon be forced to miss a large chunk of time at some point this season. Will Solomon thus far has been a big disappointment, and while Roko Ukic has shown some brilliant flashes, he remains a project player who will need time and patience to develop. If the Raptors are planning on rebuilding the team for long term success, that's fine. If however they are in interested in winning now, say before 2010 to try and persuade a certain All-Star player to stick around, then it might be a problem. I understand the notion of bringing in a slashing wing player, and that Toronto is focusing on doing something along those lines before the February 19th trading deadline. But one move will not a team make. A backup point guard to Calderon should be just as high, if not higher, on GM Brian Colangelo's priority checklist. After all, name any team worth a damn in the weak Eastern Conference, and I guarantee you, you can name their starting PG. Now try taking the same team, and tell me who their athletic, penetrating small forward is, and more importantly, if the their team would miss them or their floor general the most? Your Honor, I rest my case.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The King still rules his court

Last night for the Raptors was like watching some psychedelic Jim Carey movie. The number 23 kept popping up everywhere. The Cleveland Cavaliers number 23 looked a lot like Chicago's old 23, the Cavs ran their home winning streak to 23 straight games, and the Raps fell behind by 23 early in the first quarter.

On a night when LeBron James became the youngest player ever to score 12,000 career points, eclipsing former record holder Kobe Bryant by a year and eighty-five days or so, it appeared nothing could go right for the Raptors. They came out flat, they refused to play defense and nothing they shot seemed to make it through the net. Even Andrea Bargnani, who ended the game with his lowest point output since being inserted into the starting lineup with 10, shot an air ball. When has that ever happened to the big fella?

Toronto fell into a 19-point halftime deficit, and though they tried valiantly to claw their way back into it in the third quarter, they never truly recovered or found a rhythm the entire game. There's that old basketball adage, "Live by the 3, die by the 3"? Well if we were picking sides, Cleveland lived, shooting a blistering 45.8% or 11/24 on the night. That would mean by comparison, the Raptors died. The team shot an abysmal 1/12 during this game, or good for 8.3%. Toronto's only made three-point attempt came off of the hand of Jason Kapono. Those were the only points he sank the entire evening. The NBA's best free-throw shooting team also connected on only 76.9% of its attempts, as compared to the almost 91% clip the Cavs were shooting at.

The sad thing for the team and fans alike is that you can see the potential the franchise has. When they choose to play defense and sell out to make stops, they are capable. When they put their mind to it and move the ball on offense, they can get almost any shot they want. This perhaps is the most frustrating thing for Raptors Nation, seeing what could be but ultimately thus far, hasn't been. Sure they need some rebounding help, maybe another veteran or two and a slashing wing player. But not as much as they need something that the Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron James specifically seem to have in spades: heart and confidence.

You see Raptors, when you believe in yourself and your abilities the sky is the limit. This is not just something we were all told as little kids, but a fundamental fact. Get your head in the game, become unflappable mentally, and your body will follow. It will not work the other way around. Come out with a focus and intensity so great, an unbreakable spirit and an intense desire to win at all costs, and you will see change. Just ask LeBron. His leadership and refusal to lose have brought the Cavs from the basement the Raptors now inhabit, to the luxury of a high-rise penthouse. Is he more talented than you? It could be. Are his teammates that much better than yours? I doubt it. He may be more gifted than any athlete in his day, but LeBron's biggest asset is something all the greats were blessed with. It is located not on his chiseled frame but within his own mind. It's something called determination. Find that Toronto Raptors, tap into that empowering energy, then sit back and watch the results. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Note: Tim would like to offer his thanks for the well-wishes of DinoBlogger. We are still new to this blogging game, and value his experience and longevity. Here's hoping we can forge a professional and understanding relationship, as we ride the slight ups and monumental downs of the the roller coaster that is the Toronto Raptors.