Friday, October 24, 2008

2008 Raptors Preview

When we last saw Chris Bosh and company, the Orlando Magic basically had them in a headlock as they cruised to an easy first round victory over the Raps in last year’s playoffs. To say that Toronto was overmatched would be an understatement along the lines of: Allen Iverson enjoys taking shots, or, Ron Artest is eccentric.

For the Raptors, defense, rebounding, and secondary scoring behind Bosh were cited as the main reasons behind the quick playoff exit, but perhaps just as damning was the presence of Me-J Ford and his ball-dominating ways. Ford went from a solid point man that was able to direct the offense and score when needed, to a ball-hogging head case that refused to put the team first. He basically saw everything Jose Calderon did, and then tried to do the exact opposite. And succeeded. So it was to no one's surprise that GM Bryan Colangelo traded Ford (and Rasho Nesterovic) to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for former All-Star Jermaine O'Neal.

While it remains to be seen whether O'Neal can regain his past form (or even play a full season for the first time since 2004), the trade has to be viewed as positive because it means Calderon will be playing 40+ minutes a night. It should also allow Andrea Bargnani to make it through the first minute of the game without picking up two fouls, simply because it's extremely difficult to collect fouls from the bench. That's the definition of win-win right there.

Also working in the Raptors favor:

1. They happen to call the Atlantic division home, which comes with the benefit of knowing you'll have the dreadful New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks beneath you in the standings. And let's be honest: there is no way the Celtics match what they did last year. Garnett, Pierce and Allen have combined to play in 2792 NBA games and the collective hunger they had to win that first championship will now be missing. (I'm not suggesting Boston be left out of the playoffs or even lose the division, but 60+ wins and the championship? Not going to happen.)

2. If they can live up to their considerable offseason hype, Toronto could be in position to land a quality veteran who gets bought out late in the season. Roko Ukic and Will Solomon you have officially been put on notice.

3. In Jason Kapono, the Raptors have the best 3-point marksman in the league at a time when 3-point shot attempts are at record highs.

4. Television viewers won't need to keep one finger on the mute button anymore because Chuck Swirsky and his laughable homer bias and awful forced expressions ("onions baby" or "break our the salami and cheese") opted for Chicago Bulls radio over Toronto Raptors television.

On the flip side:

1. Our best player just spent his entire summer playing highly intense playoff-like basketball instead of working out and taking a break from everyday basketball activities. Colangelo and head coach Sam Mitchell had better find a way to get Bosh 10 days off at some point during the season or come playoff time CB4 is going to look more rundown than Amy Winehouse after a four day bender.

2. After two seasons the first pick of the 2006 draft is a total wild card. The seven-foot Italian has a sweet stroke but almost no idea how to move on a basketball court and the term rebound has obviously been lost in translation. The second coming of Dirk Nowitzki he's not.

3. For some reason the coach refuses to get Jason Kapono looks from 3-point land. Did I mention he’s the best 3-point marksman in the league?

4. After years of playing second-fiddle to the mighty West the Eastern Conference has gained ground and now features as many as 10 of the top 18 teams in the league. On paper, every non-playoff team in the East (outside of New Jersey and New York of course) look like they could improve their record, which may result in an extremely close battle for the 6 thru 10 positions.

Coach's Corner:

As for the man on the bench, Sam Mitchell has only one year beyond this on his contract and a career record of 3-8 in the postseason so if things don't go as planned early, Colangelo could deliver Mitchell the pink slip. Judging by the way the rest of the professional sports teams in Toronto operate, if Mitchell was indeed let go, Raptor fans should prepare for the return of one of Butch Carter, Lenny Wilkens or (the horror) Isiah Thomas.

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