The Toronto Raptors have a new CEO in Tim Leiwecke. They have a new General Manager in Masai Ujiri, the reigning GM of the year. They have the 2016 All-Star Game. They’ve announced that they will be undergoing a complete rebranding. They have a new partnership with former Degrassi star Drake to do… something. Their name is about to become relevant again with Jurassic Park 4 coming out in 2015. But will any of this translate to on-court success?
Last year the team made some big strides, acquiring Kyle Lowry to run the point and Landry Fields to be a glue guy off the bench. They then made their big move in trading for swingman Rudy Gay. The team had high hopes, but instead ended up missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. This offseason, they made some more moves and continue to have high hopes for the future.
Key Player Losses: Andrea Bargnani, I guess. Bargnani is a former number one pick who has never quite lived up to the hype of being a number one pick and has gotten statistically worse. He is a paper thin center who doesn’t rebound, and his biggest asset, his three-point shooting, has gone from .409 in 2009 to .309 last year (although that’s up from the .296 he shot in 2012). His field goal percentage has gone down every year since 2010. Bargnani is a player who still gets credit for being a good player, despite only doing one thing well (shoot the ball), and he doesn’t even do that nearly as well as he used to. The Raptors used him to acquire Steve Novak, a guy who DOES shoot the ball extremely well (.425 from three last year) but rebounds even worse (1.9 per game last year).
Key Player Additions: Tyler Hansbrough. Man, what I wouldn’t give to see the Raptors’ practices just to watch Psycho T and Aaron Gray go at it. Hansbrough flailing around like a 13 year old who hasn’t figured out his body yet, Gray taking cheap shots and being a bully because he doesn’t have any real basketball talent. Classic.
Head Coach: The Raptors are helmed by former Sonics assistant Dwane Casey. Casey is in his third year as head coach and under his watch the team has improved every year. Last year was the first time since 2009 that the team had a winning record at home, despite their overall losing record.
Last Season’s Record: 34-48. While better than the previous year, it still wasn’t good enough to sneak into the playoffs, even in the weak Eastern Conference (the sub-500 team to make the playoffs award went to Milwaukee last year). The team had high hopes at the beginning of the season, but injuries to Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valančiūnas not quite living up to his potential (see below) led the team to go out and seek help in the form of Grizzles swingman Rudy Gay. Gay most likely helped the team to a few extra wins, but ultimately that just meant less ping pong balls in the lottery tumbler (not the Raptors cared as they had already shipped the pick to Houston in exchange for Lowry).
Best Player: Rudy Gay. He got a max extension from the Memphis Grizzlies, who seemingly immediately had buyer’s remorse. They decided to send Gay and his new, big, fat contract to Toronto for Ed Davis and Jose Calderon. Gay is an athletic dynamo who is working on expanding his game out to the three point line. He can score in bunches and can be a leader on this young team, but he is still be somewhat of a liability on defense. Actually... you could re-read those last two sentences with DeMar DeRozan’s name as well.
Worst Player: Dwight Buycks. I have no idea who this is.
Player due to breakthrough: Jonas Valančiūnas is on the verge of becoming one of two things this year; either he will breakout and become the player the Raptors hope he will be, or he will become a perennial breakout player who never actually does. Valančiūnas had three double-double games in Eurobasket this year, but also had two scoreless games, in one of which he only grabbed a single rebound. He recorded five blocks in one game against Croatia, but then followed it up with a disappointing performance in a loss to France. He may breakout and become a very talented big, or he may wind up being a disappearing, reappearing man.
Random Seattle Connection: As stated above, Dwane Casey is a former Sonics assistant. He was with the team for eleven years, taking part in four division titles and one trip the NBA Finals. Reigning Slam Dunk champion Terrence Ross is a former University of Washington Huskie who recently played in the school’s alumni game at KeyArena.
Prediction: The best, worst and most likely outcome for this team is that they make the playoffs as a low seed. While the franchise would look at it as a success, it more than likely means they have reached their pinnacle. Unless you expect Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valančiūnas to greatly improve into franchise players, being an eighth seed just means missing the lottery in a draft that could produce multiple game-changing talents.
Projection: 40-42, first round playoff exit.
Boston Celtics: CelticsBlog | Celtics Green | LucidSportsFan | CLNS Radio | Celtic Fan Chat | Truth On Causway | Sonics Rising
Brooklyn Nets: Nets Daily | Baller Mind Frame
New York Knicks: Posting and Toasting
Philadelphia 76ers:†Liberty Ballers
Toronto Raptors:†Raptors HQ
Golden State Warriors: Golden State of Mind
Los Angeles Clippers: Clips Nation
Los Angeles Lakers: Silver Screen and Roll
Phoenix Suns:†Bright Side of the Sun
Sacramento Kings:†Sactown Royalty |†Baller Mind Frame
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