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.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
All our thoughts are with him.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Monty Williams is not amused.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
The Rockets won 99-91 in Washington.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
You needed this in your life.
Mar 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Obviously, the Spurs will match any offer he gets.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
This likely means the end of the Nate Robinson era.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Most expect another lockout following the 2016-17 season.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Great execution by the Blazers.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Kanter found a way to motivate the Jazz in the dog days of the season, and the Thunder lost in part because of it.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
“You don’t have to be best friends to come out here and work together.”
Mar 29, 2015, 12:26 AM EDT
The Golden State Warriors are the team to beat out West.
Enes Kanter rips Jazz, calls his time there a ‘three-and-a-half-year frustration'; gets booed by fans
Mar 28, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Kanter was traded to the Thunder midseason.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
MJ’s still got it.
Lakers coach Byron Scott says opposing players have told him during games they’d ‘love to be in L.A. next year’
Mar 28, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Big, if true.
Mar 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Legislation was signed into law in Indiana last week, and has been criticized as one that could legalize discrimination.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Hornets, still fighting for a playoff spot, catch a break.
Mar 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Van Gundy coached five seasons in Orlando, but was fired after the way the Dwight Howard debacle played out.
Mar 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Kerr was joking, and making light of a mini-controversy that occurred recently with the Cavaliers.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Clark played key bench minutes the same day he was signed.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Cuban went off after the Mavericks were blown out by the Spurs.
- NBA players’ union head believes new labor deal can be reached without a work stoppage 6
- Kendrick Perkins says you’re blowing the LeBron James/Kevin Love thing way out of proportion 17
- Mark Cuban rips officials, NBA: ‘It’s criminal’ how Monta Ellis doesn’t get calls 25
- Shaquille O’Neal says he regrets leaving Magic for Lakers 43
- Cavaliers coach David Blatt: ‘LeBron James is our MVP’ 22
- No Durant, what does that mean for Thunder in these playoffs? Trouble. 15
- Kevin Durant to have third foot surgery; is done for season, playoffs 39
- Goran Dragic leading feisty Heat’s playoff push 29