Sep 19, 2013, 8:44 AM EDT
Last season: Raptors’ fans went into the season thinking the playoffs were a possibility, but it didn’t take long for that ship to run aground on the rocks of reality. The team defense struggled, Andrea Bargnani was Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas looked like rookie, Kyle Lowry battled injuries, nothing went as planned and everything fell apart.
But near the trade deadline the Raptors made a bold move, trading for Rudy Gay (from Memphis). It breathed life into the team, who went on to have 34 wins and finish ninth in the East. It was a move that provided hope for the fans, even if it couldn’t save GM Bryan Colangelo’s job.
Signature highlight from last season: With an athletic team there were a few to choose from but we’ll take DeMar DeRozan with the game winner vs. Orlando.
Key player changes: The biggest offseason move wasn’t a player, it was getting GM Masai Ujiri out of Denver to take over the organization. Under Colangelo the Raptors were an organization without a rudder; with Ujiri they will find a direction. It may take a couple years to build it, but he has a plan. Heck, he already traded Bargnani to the Knicks for actual players, when Raptors fans would have traded him for a rack of shootaround basketballs.
Keys to the Raptors’ season:
1) Can they win with Rudy Gay and will he stay? The Raptors took a big risk and they took on a big salary when they traded for Gay, who will make $17.9 million this season. Next summer he can opt out and be a free agent (or he can stay for a final year at $19.3 million). Good chance he opts out (to get the security of a longer deal) so the two questions become: Can the Raptors win and keep Gay happy so he stays? Do they want to keep him?
Make no mistake, Gay is a quality player, a borderline All-Star averaging 19.5 points a game last season with the Raptors. But he is not efficient. He shot 42.5 percent for them and 33.6 percent from three, with a PER of 17.6. That’s good but speaks to a second or third option on a contender — maybe the corrective eye surgery he had this summer will change this, but that’s a roll of the dice. Plus, a lot of Gay’s skillset overlaps with DeMar DeRozan’s. So again, do you want to keep him or the less expensive DeRozan (especially if DeRozan has a breakout year)?
It’s a discussion the Raptors need to have thinking about the long-term. However, in the short-term if Toronto is going to make the playoffs this season, a lot of that falls to Gay. He is going to have to lead this team by being more efficient (same with DeRozan and Lowry).
2) How big a step forward will Jonas Valanciunas take? The first time I saw Valanciunas at Summer League I did a double take — he had clearly hit the gym and his upper body had filled out considerably. He then used that newfound strength to overpower lesser players on the block. Valanciunas did the same thing at EuroBasket for Lithuania. He averaged 8.9 points and 6 rebounds a game with 1.3 blocked shots a game. Look for all those numbers to go up as he takes a step forward this season — and that step is another key to Toronto making the postseason.
3) Can Dwane Casey fix the defense? Coach Dwane Casey is on the hot seat: New GM, expensive star players. and playoffs expectations is a bad combo for the coach. Plus Casey is in the last year of his contract. Casey is supposed to be a defensive guy, and two seasons ago the Raptors played solid defense for him. But last season they took a big step back and were 22nd in the NBA in points allowed per possession. That has to change, the Raptors need to be top 12 to make the playoffs. With Gay and Lowry the Raptors will find points, but they need to stop other teams from scoring. Look for Valanciunas to be the shot blocking force at the rim, but will that be enough?
Why you should watch the Raptors: Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are explosive. Once or twice a game — more against a team that wants to get out and run with them. Toronto has athletes. How well they play together is up for discussion, but this team is going to put up some highlights every night.
Prediction: 39-43. Like the end of last season this team is going to float around close to a playoff spot in the East this season — and if they defend, if Gay is a little more efficient, if Lowry stays healthy they can make it in. But can they really beat out teams like Cleveland and Detroit for a playoff spot. I’m not sold. Possible, but it really is going to be about the defense.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT
The Wizards are wise to wait on offering a max.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
He tore the ACL last month playing for Australia.
Sep 3, 2015, 5:09 PM EDT
The trade speculation around him is not based in reality.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
Moreland was reportedly considering Pistons and Lakers
Sep 3, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT
Weird or nah?
Sep 3, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT
Cavaliers craft unusual contract to give Smith a partial guarantee next season
Sep 3, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
Former Knick and Raptor had hip surgery
Sep 3, 2015, 12:28 PM EDT
Nets are reportedly valued at $700 million
Report: J.R. Smith’s contract has less guaranteed money over two years than player option would’ve presented over one
Sep 3, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
Smith’s deal full of incentives
Sep 3, 2015, 10:29 AM EDT
Thompson reportedly waiting for a max contract
Sep 3, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Memphis mum on when rookie will return
Sep 3, 2015, 8:32 AM EDT
Will he and Rick Carlisle get along?
Sep 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He will be remembered as a Celtic, but Los Angeles is his hometown.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:10 AM EDT
These are just classic.
Sep 2, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
He’s making $1.5 million less than if he opted in this season, but he does have another year.
Sep 2, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
With the additions to the Celtics’ roster, this is the smart play.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:31 PM EDT
He could be back on the court around Thanksgiving, if a team picks him up.
Sep 2, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
It’s not unreasonable.
Sep 2, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Don’t bring a loaded Glock to an airport, people. It’s pretty much common sense.
Sep 2, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
Expect the Mavericks to be cautious with his return.
- Shaq tells Suzy Shuster he, Kobe Bryant could have tied Jordan’s six titles 30
- Dwight Howard tried to take loaded gun through airport security, will not face charges 46
- Will Miami make a run at Kevin Durant? 17
- Report: Veteran forward Chuck Hayes agrees to deal with Clippers 7
- Report: Lakers to sign Brazilian, FC Barcelona point guard Marcelo Huertas to one-year deal 10
- Shaq to Kobe on podcast: “I just want people to know that I don’t hate you” 18
- D’Angelo Russell on Tracy McGrady tweet: “Some Lakers fans are spoiled” 28
- Anthony Davis “definitely” plans on shooting more threes this season 4