Friday, February 6, 2009

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.

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