Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Worst is Over! Or Is It?

So we come out of our difficulties with a 9W-13L record. Since this team is at pace with giving me high blood pressure and cholesterol from all the stressful nights let's not put anything past them. This upcoming stretch seems very mild compared to what we've had to deal with. We play Minnesota and Milwaukee back to back(Milwaukee being on the road!). Then we have a chance at revenge facing Atlanta at home. Converting that Atlanta game would be an achievement for these guys. Being blown out really puts a dent in your pride and I know they have this game in their minds as an important win. I'm looking forward to it because no matter what, it will certainly be an intense one.

The Raptors can play ball. When they are on it's exciting basketball no doubt. All these on and off court communication issues were blown out of proportion. I could not imagine a locker room divided into two continents. It sounds unrealistic. Antoine Wright spoke up to the media about this communication issue. I just love how the one guy who has done nothing special this year speaks up the most. In Chicago he was more capable but if anyone is having communication problems it's Antoine Wright with Antoine Wright. When he jacks up three's or decides to take it to the rim it seems like a rather selfish effort to pad his stats. He is on a contract year. Wouldn't it suffice to play your ass off on defence because teams do have game tape.

Is it a communication problem or has Bryan Colangelo assembled a group of guys that are laid back and passive-aggressive? Look at the roster from top to bottom and you really only have maybe one or two guys that are fiery. Maybe Calderon or Wright? When you watch the scene unfold during the Bosh, Paul Pierce incident you can see my point. I think it's on Triano to challenge these guys. If one player is having communication problems with another it's not a language barrier on this team. Do you think Kevin Garnett would have trouble communicating with anyone? I think it's a symptom of new team, new place and undefined roles. The only defined role on this team is Triano's.

I think these guys have the same destiny as the 06-07 Toronto Raptors. They will have a winning record and get in around 4-6 in the standings. The only chance we have in advancing to the second round has to do with who we match up against. The best case scenario would be Atlanta or Boston in the first round. I guess we are a long ways away from that.

Cool Hand Luke

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who the Heck Is Driving This Bus?

It's 8:30pm. The Raptors are playing and I'm contemplating. Contemplating whether I should turn off the game or keep watching the train wreck before my eyes. As the season roles on I'm certain there aren't many of us who thought it would start like this. At 7W-13L and a light schedule ahead this team is in disarray. This is the NBA and anytime a team drops 140 points on you and your no where near in it, there is something horribly wrong.

With the tough road schedule at the start, it was obvious it would either make or break team chemistry. We've got 4 losses in a row, players calling each other out and a coach with a failed defensive strategy. The "House" has been ram shackled by almost every NBA team we've faced. The living rooms been taken over. The kitchen's been raided and the toilet has been used and abused.

Who is driving this bus? His name is Bryan Colangelo. The architect of this team. Will he blow it up and reconstruct barely into the quarter of a season? I highly doubt it. He will not give up on his first round pick. He will not give up on his newly acquired big money free agent and he will not give up on his newly appointed coach. Not yet. He admitted to the Jermaine O'Neil mistake and barely found a trade. Struggling through last season if you can recall, it wasn't until after the all-star break we swapped for Shawn Marion. No team will make big trades this early in the season, it's never quite a busy market(the only changes we ever see are coaching changes).

The odd-man out in the group in my mind is Jose Calderon. He hasn't been consistent and he's the only player other than a 4 time all-star that is from the Babcock era. Although he was given an extension, there could very well be something in the works later this year. Do I think it's the best idea? Sure, it depends on the right deal.

If you can remember in the 06/07 season the Raptors struggled in the first quarter. We had a similar situation with a lot of new players. They found their niche and finished 47W-35L. I'm not predicting success but there is a lot of Basketball to be played. Right now everyone is playing for themselves. There is no team when they are struggling. I see them forcing too many shots, getting demoralized and blaming each other. Instead they could be listening, communicating and taking responsibility. As players trying to get used to each other this is a tough moment. It could however bring them to a turning point as a group instead of individuals. They are athletes after all. They have played their whole lives as competitors at different levels to bring them where they are today. Losing in Atlanta they way they did could be a bottom for them. The splash of cold water in the face. This ain't no joke. The fun's over and there is time to make things work. They can be better.

Do we bring in another defensive specialist assistant coach? I'm not sure that would work because the "House" strategy was our best option. It was supposed to play to our strengths and keep players out of the lanes. I think the only wild-card here is Reggie Evans. He's yet to play in a game and his interior toughness has been needed. It doesn't end there. Antoine Wright needs to stop calling people out and realise that he hasn't done anything special. He was preaching defense when he was traded to Toronto but I've yet to see him dominate his man and shut him down. I'd rather he understand that offense is not needed on this team and the only way he gets more than a minimum value contract next year is if he plays sound defense.

The only asset we have right now Is Bosh and there is no way I'd move him. One thing I know for sure is Bryan Colangelo will not sit idle while this team starts to endanger their playoff hopes. Once the playoff picture gets murky I'm looking at the trading wire. Until then, these players are stuck with each other and we fans are stuck with this team.

Cool Hand Luke

Monday, November 30, 2009

4 Players We Could Use If We Keep Getting Abused.

Raptorland is currently under a state of uncertainty. While some blogger's and beat writers called for a record of around 7W-11L, the Raptors fandom is starting to waver in it's hope for a successful season. I think many of us see this season as a "Statement Season". With so many different scenarios that could play out by the end of the year, it is stressful to see this team have it's struggles. Nobody wants an unhappy Chris Bosh. At least I don't! I sure as heck would love to see him in a Raptors Jersey for a long time. I'd rather see the likes of Bargnani and Jose Calderon traded away than see a 4 time all star who puts up a double double almost every night walk away for nothing. If Bosh re-signs there is no reason to think we are stuck with the likes of Turk, Bargs and Calderon for 4 years as a core. Barnani being a 7 foot Centre with a shooting stroke could find a home on numerous teams in this league. If the Raptors don't see a rebounding improvement or a defensive role for Andrea he would be a great bargaining chip at the table. Calderon is a steady Point Guard in this league. Out of the 30 teams there is no way Colangelo wouldn't be able to find a GM in need of a solid point. There are 100's of variables for the big chip players. I thought I'd go over a few small deals we could make come trade deadline(since Raptorland is abuzz with trade scenarios).

4 Players we could Use:

Matt Barnes
Currently under a 1 year contract worth $1.6mill. He can play a variety of positions but is best used as a wing. He can shoot the three and is a shot blocking rebounding presence. He is buried on the bench in Orlando behind Pietrus and Lewis. He would be a great addition to this team and the rotation behind Turkoglu. The problem in acquiring him is the fact that Orlando has to pay him so little just to keep him and he may stay as insurance in case of injury. But, with Brandon Bass competing for the same minutes of playing time he ought to give a call to his agent seeing as it's another contract year for him. Starting for Orlando he put up some solid numbers while Lewis was suspended. I'm not sure why they don't use him more often. It's probably a testament to how deep Orlando are as a team.

courtesy of: AP

Brandon Rush:
Currently on a Rookie scale contract with a Team Option for 2010-2011. The Pacers acquired Dahntay Jones in the off season to be a primary backup behind Rush. Unfortunately for Rush, Jones is having a career year and giving reason for Jim O'Brien to start him over the second year player. Jones has 4 years on his contract with a player option in his 4th year. When Mike Dunleavy steps back into his starting spot, things will get tight in Indiana. I see Rush being the one to go seeing as he is having his inconsistencies this year. What could he offer us? He is a great defender who isn't afraid to get tangled up with the opposition. He would also be great at relieving either Turkoglu or DeRozan off the bench.

courtesy of: USA Today

Rasual Butler:
The lesser known Butler(the other one being Caron) has a contract of around $3.9mill ending this year. While Eric Gordon was out with an injury he had his share of good games for the Clippers starting at Small Forward. He can rebound and defend with vigour. The Clippers don't regard Butler as being part of their future. There is a great chance they would be willing to part with him for the right deal. What could we offer for him? I'm sure B.C. could put something together.

Courtesy of: L.A. Times

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute:
With a salary of a mere $736,420 with a Non-Guaranteed 2010 year he could be a cheap and reliable addition to this team. Our old friend Carlos Delfino has found his niche on the team and won himself a starting spot while Moute was injured. Moute can rebound and guess what? He can defend his man. A great young guy to have on this team.

Courtesy of: Sportsbubbler

As you can see the trend, these pickups would adhere to our problems of defending the wing and transition. All these players have rebounding skills which would help Turks lack there of. Unless Antoine Wright gives us anything and Sonny Weems turns into a reliable back up, there is just no way we can keep struggling along with the rotation at the wings. Guys like DeRozan and Belinelli have major upsides to their game but Antoine Wright has been in this league long enough to know what he's got to do and he's just isn't doing those things. I don't see Colangelo doing anything in the near future. We have 4 games in 5 nights coming up and we haven't been much of a team when the schedule gets tough losing all our back to backs so far. After this stretch we should have a clear definition of this squad and their capabilities. The games are all winnable. Do the players want it bad enough? In my opinion they are under achieving and could be at 9W-9L or 10W-8L easily. If things don't get better on the defensive end look for Colangelo to make a last ditch switch around the trade deadline.

Cool Hand Luke

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Panic & Peril the De-Evolution of a 3rd Quarter

The last two games offensively have been dismal. Particularly in the 3rd quarter. Both in Boston and Charlotte at the end of the half we had competitive and winnable games. In the 3rd quarter we were outscored 66 to 38 by both teams. There has been fairly good production by this team in the 3rd quarter so far this season. Triano has made some great adjustments in games past. But, that quarter alone in a close game on the road will take the life out of you when/if you don't stick to the refined game plan. During the first half coaches on both teams are analyzing opponents for weaknesses to exploit and preparing to veil the deficiencies of their respective teams. Instead of bucking up and tightening the chains we've collapsed like a house of cards in the wind.

How do we fix this?

-We are 3W-6L trailing at halftime

-1W-6L trailing after 3 quarters of play

-0W-5L when trailing on the road after the 3rd quarter

-we're averaging 25.3pp 3rd quarter (second lowest quarter other than the 4th which would be the average because teams play hard defense)

-we are 0W-2L on the road when leading at halftime

-we are 2W-4L if trailing after halftime*

*Both those wins came with strict adjustments in the 3rd quarter that were followed. Against the Clippers, we gave Chris Kaman the double team coming from the weak side and forced him to make bad passes out of the lane forcing turnovers. In New Orleans, they came out of the half aggressive on defense and gave Paul no room.

Can you coach a team into developing focus? Is it up to veteran leadership to take a stance? It's difficult to decipher what really went on in the locker room at half in the last two games. It's still early and there are plenty of games ahead. Unfortunately, the "9 new players" excuse is starting to run its course. Simple execution is brought on during tough times on the road by effort and commitment to the plan. If shots aren't going in, you have the crowd against you and your opponent seems to be making all the right moves. You still dig in. You make the stops. You impose your will. It's desire.

A certain play comes to mind where Bargnani was not willing to drop to the floor for a loose ball that was right in front of him. Isn't that just a plan for mediocrity and passivity? What would KG do? He would sacrifice a bum knee and a career for his team I'm sure. Every time I watch Garnett play I am truly amazed at how dedicated he is to defense. He has an elbow on his man at all times and never loses focus. He plays with blood lust in his eyes and is a true warrior in every sense. Now, Bargnani on a scale with Garnett would be on the opposite end. He loses sight of his man and is completely lost at the defensive end most nights. If he's not producing offensively, he's not doing much of anything out there. Bargnani needs to watch game tape of Garnett at work. Seriously, your shot won't go in every night but your defensive effort is with you at all times. You just have to tap in and ask yourself: "What would KG do?"

How important are fouls in this game? Turkoglu going into the half shooting(I think) 6/7 from the field and simply on fire gets his forth foul in the 3rd and sits. There is a flow to this offense when it works and Turkoglu took that flow with him when he received his 4th and took a seat. From then on Boston solidified theie grip on Bosh and no other Raptor could get going. Where were we when KG got his 5th foul to knock him out? What about attacking Wallace who was also in foul trouble? We do that and all of a sudden Boston has no one left who can possibly guard Bosh.

On a side note I'm not going to get into the Paul Pierce dunk on Bosh(that's the full video with melee afterwords). It's not surprising to me no one got into it from our side. Intimidation during the game when it matters is what counts not in between.

Phoenix comes to the ACC tomorrow and these guys need to show the fans that they can win against a competitive team.

Cool Hand Luke

Thursday, November 26, 2009

With the Charlotte Debacle behind us...Could We Spoil the Boston Tea Party?

Seems like an interesting position we have found ourselves in once again. A winnable game in Charlotte turns into an ugly Raptor whipping at the hands of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace. Back to back games can be rough but losing the Charlotte game will make the game in Boston mean a lot more. The powerhouse Celtics could stampede over us because we have been non-existent in parts of road games(Denver, Utah, Memphis come to mind) this year going 2-7. Boston has the defense to stop us.

Just like Charlotte, Boston is at the top of the defensive world in the NBA. One thing I'm certain of is the Celtics had some trouble covering Turk last year in the playoffs and we could see Turk being a factor in the game tomorrow. Boston is no push over on offense either. These guys can score and push the action but they sure like to control the tempo. It will be yet another tough assignment for DeRozan as he'll be chasing the sharp shooting Ray Allen around. I'd like to think Bargnani could have a big game against Perkins. That is an exploitable match up which would leave Boston having to counter and switch up. Yet Bargnani is prone to disappear against physically imposing teams.

Would you not think a win in Boston would heal the wounds of Charlotte? It would be an impressive road win and it's perfectly doable. We are competitive against Boston on most nights and with a revamped line-up it could be a stellar game.

Antoine Wright should be in this game early. We don't want Ray Allen getting hot because he's burned us before. He just plays great against the Raptors partly due to the lack of talented wings we've had in the past. So, Wright getting in there and doing his job is key. I'm not sure Belinelli will be as effective with his risky play. His style is suited for the uptempo and Boston knows how to slow it down.

Rajon Rondo 1 on 1 against Calderon is an ugly match up for us. Calderon needs to sag off of him and cut off the lanes. Nuff said.

Key Factors for the Raptors:

-Exploit Perkins inability to defend Bargnani.
-Keep things up tempo and don't let the Celtics dictate the pace.
-Keep Ray Allen quiet and don't let him go off on the stat sheet.
-Bait Rondo into shooting and keep his dribble penetration at bay

Cool Hand Luke

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changin' In Raptorland...

I doubt I can find one fan declaring this team a is bore to watch. The Raptors have become one exciting bunch. With more ball handlers than ever on this roster, we have such a poignant offense that has some sweet flow.

How exciting is Marco Belinelli to watch? I have mentioned on this blog before, that he could potentially be a solid contributor. From reading about his desire to work hard in the gym to his on-court prevails he is truly hitting his stride. I see resemblances of Manu Ginobli in his game. Especially when he dribbles and cuts in between two defenders or his on-court vision for finding a teammate. We knew this guy could shoot. We knew he could handle the ball. All the kid needed was a chance. His minutes have gone up since Wrights injury and he could be a valuable asset during close games. He has been a good sub in when our offense is stagnant or when we need that little push to get a solid rhythm. He's only 23 years old and he has a lot of upside.

Our defense is showing glimmers of improvement. We're yet to see Reggie Evans on the court in regular season play. I wonder what he can contribute to our lackadaisical defense. I know our rebounding numbers will be higher. But, what about the flow of the game? How will they use Amir Johnson? Will his numbers diminishes? I'd frankly be sorry to see the kid lose playing time. It's still one of the mysteries of this young season. It would however have been nice to have Reggie playing with us against Boston that's coming up in the schedule. He is the perfect fit to go against the Celtics and bang bodies. Inside presence is certainly not our strong point by far.

What do we do with DeRozan? I've heard more chants for a point guard change than a DeRozan for either Wright or Belinelli. Why could we not get Wright in when we play Wade, Carter, Granger or Kobe? Why could we not start Belinelli when we have a match up we can exploit from the start? I'm not sure about the stance they have taken on this starting line-up. Of course I'm no NBA coach nor do I pretend to be. I as a fan don't understand the hard line stance against trying different things. Its glaringly obvious the Rookie is struggling and having some serious growing pains. I personally would love to see either Wright or Belinelli start things off with us. Having another strong shooter in Belinelli to work with could give even more space for Bosh, Hedo and Bargnani. As I've mentioned before, having Wright start could give us a defensive attitude that would help control the pace of the game. This would be especially important during road games where we don't want the Home team to get on a roll and wake the crowd up. I just don't see DeRozan staying in the starting line-up for too much longer. Unless I'm proven wrong. Which I would love to be! They invested their ninth pick and the future of that position in DeRozan. I plain and simple would not want him getting demoralized each and every night.

Cool Hand Luke

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

15 Games Into the Season...are the Raptors who we thought they were?

15 games have gone by and it's fair to say we have been an inconsistent bunch. There was much hype surrounding the Toronto Raptors due to the reconstruction of our line-up. Speculation has surrounded this team and it's franchise player. Big league contracts where dished out to Bargnani, Turkoglu and Jack. Were they worth the cap space and future? Our bench is revamped and energetic at times. Will they stay the course through 82 games? Our rookie is extremely raw and has struggled through some ugly games. Is it worth benching him and potentially stunting his growth? Many standards were set for this team by Bryan Colangelo. We certainly could not expect all of the moves to pan out. It's just unrealistic. But, what have we done right and what have we done wrong so far in this still uncertain season?

Chris Bosh is having the year he was hoping for so far. Contract year usually equals contract numbers. In my opinion he is certainly a max player on the "right team". The problem is that I'm not sure this team is the right team for him and us to succeed. I'm not sure what MLSE and Colangelo have in their minds as a standard of success. I consider success not to be a 2nd tier team in this league. I consider success to not be a guaranteed win for Orlando and Boston when they face us. I follow this team with pride. Chris Bosh I feel plays with pride. We as a team have committed our cap space to Turkoglu, Calderon, Jack and Bargnani as our core. Does Bosh fit into the long term? There are too many scenario's that could play out so it's not an easy answer. Let's look at the top tear teams:

PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Kendrick Perkins

Success came quickly with a championship title. How did they get there? They teamed up the big three.

PG: Jameer Nelson
SG: Vince Carter
SF: Michael Pietrus
PF: Rashad Lewis
C: Dwight Howard

They were representing the East in the finals last year and had a record of 59W-23L. The Finals were not enough for them and they made a big trade acquiring Vince Carter to push them all the way. Maybe we could learn something from that?

Los Angeles(Lakers of course)
PG: Derek Fisher
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Ron Artest
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Andrew Bynum

The Lakers are defending champions and represented the Western conference in the last two NBA finals. In 2007/08 they stole Pau Gasol in a game changing deal with Memphis and he elevated them to the upper echelon instantly.

PG: Jose Calderon
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Hedo Turkoglu
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Andrea Bargnani

This is a team riddled with uncertainty and what if's. With Calderon's defensive woes and Bargnani's weak rebounding game could we manifest ourselves that one true goal for a professional sports team? To win the championship?

We picked up Hedo Turkoglu this off season to boost our starting line-up. It looks great on paper and so far we have reaped the benefits of a stellar offense that can shoot the lights out with consistency. We are currently standing in 4th place for points per game. That's very impressive. He looks great in the 4th quarter and almost won us the game back in Phoenix. I'm sensing Triano will use Turkoglu as the main ball distributor in the 4th quarter and we will see a lot of Calderon and Jack in the corner's. Unfortunately Calderon and Jack are both struggling with their shot.

Bargnani's offensive game is still on the rise. Right now he's averaging around 17ppg and 6rpg. His free throw percentage is one of the best in the league. Yet he is a defensive liability and does not look to be improving on the other end. He is best against slower offenses but seems to get lost too easily against uptempo teams. His rotation is weak and he manages to get out rebounded by his opponent more than not. What does he need to do? Defense generally is about focus and a solid plan that's executable. By executable I mean having able bodies playing to their strengths instead of their weaknesses. The house system they implemented is slowly coming together. If the Raptors honed their focus in crucial parts of the Orlando game on Sunday they could have pulled out a win. Focus and execution of a plan.

Triano is smart. He adapts to the moment and is not afraid to change things up. It's very admirable. With the "House" style of defense he is playing to the strengths of our team. Dribble penetration is a major issue and he implements a strategy that forces players to make shots by blocking off the lanes with clever rotation. The problem we have had is often enough the fellas seem to lose their man. The opponent slips into the key for an easy put back or a gimmie offensive rebound and a fresh shot clock. What happens next is demoralization and mental exhaustion which leads to more defensive lapses. We need to give them time to gel on this but I think change must come soon.

Our guards have been an intriguing story. Calderon and Jack sharing back court duties has failed. Some are calling for a simple point guard rotation and that the experiment should end. I'd have to find a grey area in this argument. I believe once Jack becomes more comfortable we could see much success out of the combo guard. He played well for Indy last year and could find his form soon. I do however believe we are seeing some of Belineli's best so far in the NBA. When his shot is on he knows how to get open. He is extremely active which I'm sure gives Jay something to smile about. If we see more of Belinelli's emergence, there may not be a need for the Combo guard in Jack and the pressure is off. However, there is no offensive game in Antoine Wright and he tries to do too much. You can't play a guy who's taking shots away from your key starters. It's a shame because he is our best defender and most nights should be defending the best wing players in the league. If Triano can pursue a more defined role for Wright I could see him starting over DeRozan. It's only a matter of time before we start the Vet over the Rook.

Cool Hand Luke