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.
Aug 21, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
Wiggins too, while guys like Alexey Shved will be sent to the Sixers.
Aug 21, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT
Gone are the days when Shaq would have used this as an opportunity to take a shot at Kobe.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
Why give up assets now, when either player could be signed outright as an unrestricted free agent next summer?
Aug 21, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Stephen Curry: “We’re still taking applications.”
Aug 21, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
He denied this yesterday.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:59 PM EDT
Video of Durant telling this humorous story.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT
Silver says it’s ultimately the individual athlete’s personal choice.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Being Jeremy Lin’s parent must be an interesting experience. What do you say to him to correct him.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
It’s a great move, one Irving pulls off almost ever game.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Patience is the right play here. And patience is never popular with any fan base.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Coming back off foot surgery, this is a good thing.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Blatt can coach, but if it takes a season for the Cavaliers to find their identity (as it did with LeBron in Miami) will he get the chance to stick around for it?
Aug 21, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
If you’re now rebuilding in Minnesota, why trade Bennett?
Aug 21, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Drummond is still a likely cut,
Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
It’s all business for KD with Roc Nation getting in the act.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:33 AM EDT
He also was a scoring machine at the showcase in Las Vegas.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
16 players will practice and be available for Friday’s game against Puerto Rico, but the roster needs to be trimmed to 12 in advance of the FIBA World Cup.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Rose hasn’t practiced since playing 24 minutes in Saturday’s win over Brazil.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Stephen Curry says yes, Kevin Durant says no.
- Adam Silver: NBA stars playing in international competition face ‘a big risk’ 11
- Derrick Rose says he’ll play Friday vs. Puerto Rico 11
- Report: Don’t be so sure on Anthony Bennett to Philadelphia rumors 50
- Report: Nike gets chance to match 10-year, $265 million offer to Kevin Durant from Under Armour 17
- Should NBA coaches get NFL style challenge flags? 18
- Report: Suns discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe 33
- Report: Sixers may look to trade for Amar’e Stoudemire at this season’s deadline 32
- Kevin Durant reiterates that rest was his reason for withdrawing from Team USA 11