Sep 19, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
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.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:46 PM EST
He walked off under his own power but did not return.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:33 PM EST
Rockets, Kings and Knicks also reportedly inquiring about Celtics point guard
Dec 17, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
In related news, Hornets got a ton of public funding to upgrade arena
Dec 17, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Rapper dubs Kyle Lowry ‘baby-faced assassin’
Dec 17, 2014, 8:35 PM EST
Trail Blazers guard would be a perfect fit in Cleveland
Dec 17, 2014, 7:39 PM EST
The offers are not going to be big, will Stan Van Gundy eventually give in and take one?
Dec 17, 2014, 6:18 PM EST
He is more likely to be moved than Rondo.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:31 PM EST
There are no good answers for the Bucks, or for other rookies to reward.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:06 PM EST
More serious talks doesn’t mean a deal is near.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:03 PM EST
The Kings roster is poorly suited right now for the style the owner wants to play.
Dec 17, 2014, 3:12 PM EST
Blazers fans will get to see more Chris Kaman.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
Portland also reportedly tried to trade for Monroe before he signed the one-year qualifying offer to stay in Detroit.
Dec 17, 2014, 1:50 PM EST
Former Baylor University center was expected to be drafted, but was diagnosed with a disease that prematurely ended his chances of playing in the NBA.
Dec 17, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
Wade has a reputation of being a flopper, and appeared to exaggerate the contact from the official.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
He pities ‘Melo because a real competitor is suffering through a lot of losing.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
Love is suffering from the dreaded flu-like symptoms.
Warriors’ Andre Iguodala hilariously mocks referee for not calling a blatant travel, picks up technical foul (VIDEO)
Dec 17, 2014, 11:10 AM EST
Iggy does the Travel Dance.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Peja was a three-time All-Star, and a member of the only good team Sacramento has had in its franchise history.
Dec 17, 2014, 9:50 AM EST
Durant joins Paul George as players who renounce the nonsensical report that emerged earlier in the season.
Dec 17, 2014, 9:09 AM EST
Prior relationships Jackson has with Kings brass may make this an obvious choice for Sacramento as the team searches for its next head coach.
- Report: Mavericks and Celtics in ‘substantive discussion’ about Rajon Rondo trade 7
- Report: Celtics now more willing to trade Rajon Rondo 12
- Tyson Chandler says he feels sorry for Carmelo Anthony 19
- Kevin Durant on idea stars wouldn’t want to play with Kobe Bryant: ‘That’s bulls—‘ 43
- Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson meets with Kings GM, DeMarcus Cousins after Tuesday night’s game 25
- PBT’s Tuesday Night NBA Winners/Losers: Grizzlies grind ends Warriors streak 12
- It’s official: Jabari Parker out for the season with torn ACL 22
- Grizzlies snap Warriors’ 16-game winning streak 4