Seems a bit extreme to say in late November. But back to back loses and a fan base that is clearly as frustrated as the Raptors if not more. The time has come to define just who and what this 08/09 Raptor season is going to be. Nothing in life is a sure thing but if I was to bet on it, I would say when we look back on this Raptor season we will point to this time period. Last season was defined by the injury to T.J Ford. It would shape everything that would follow that moment. That happened in early December so it may not be so crazy to suggest this. After back to back loses one that was heart breaking and the other humiliating the time has come for everyone to take a step back and evaluate what is going on. The trade for Jermaine O'Neal brought with it a ton of expectations from fans, media and the Raptors as well. But everyone understood that there was some risk to this move and that even though the Raptors could be better, it also left issues that could cause trouble. A lack of depth, no real back-up point guard and the health of Jermaine O'Neal. I also was concerned about Jose Calderon and his health given the lack of depth at point guard.
All of these issues are front and center at the moment. You can also add in a few others that were not on the table. Sam Mitchell and his coaching abilities. For some Raptor fans this issue was on their radar but I think most thought in the organization and the majority of the media that Sam was going to be o.k. Thus far it has been anything but o.k. The more games that pass the more that Sam Mitchell gets put under the microscope. There is also the total lack of production from the Raptor wing players which has caused Andrea Bargnani to play at the 3 spot because no one has shown worthy of the Raptors options beyond him. Anthony Parker at times looks old and out matched on defense and his shooting has been hot and cold to extremes. Jason Kapono has not shown the offensive production that fans would expect and hope for. He also has not shown any ability to be any kind of a defender. Jamario Moon has had is fairy tale rookie season go smashing into a wall of reality. Many wondered why it had took Jamario so long to make it to the NBA. This season may be showing us why that was. Also we have Joey Graham who is rapidly showing that despite his impressive athletic ability he does not have the basket ball IQ and energy to match that prototype body.
You even have just plain bad luck when it comes to the drafting of Nathan Jawai. He got knocked out of the box before he every has got started. Nobody could have imagined him getting sidelined by a heart condition and not being able to play at all. The Raptors in looking for another Jamario Moon in the rough came away with Hassan Adams who has been a complete bust of a signing and shows no signs of changing. The Raptors answer to help spell Jose Calderon while young Roko Ukic learns the NBA was Will Solomon. Beyond a truly great game vs Miami in replacing an injured Jose, he has been a turnover machine. Just about every gamble the Raptors took coming into this season has come up snake eyes.
Along with that while the Raptors have struggled the rest of the division with the exception of the Sixers are doing better than expected. The Knicks and Nets are not the basement dwellers that many might have expected. In fact as of right now the Raptors sit in last in the division they won just a couple years ago. The Celtics as we saw are just as dominate as they were last season. Even the Sixers after a slow beginning have turned it around a bit. So time to work your way through these issues may not be there for the Raptors.
You throw in a really lousy salary cap situation and not many chips that you can move it all is a pretty tough deal for the Raptors. The biggest chip you have to move is one of the few bright spots of an under .500 Raptors squad. Andrea Bargnani has now got to a level that if you traded him you would watch in fear that he may turn out to be the big star that he was promised to be by being selected #1 overall. I do not envy Bryan Colangelo at all. He faces a number of challenges and some of the choices he made are responsible for that. Also I am sure hearing that every NBA G.M is forming a line to sign away your star player in 2010 does not make you feel that good. It also probably was not great to watch that same player be totally frustrated to the point he did not want to talk to his team mates or anyone as he watched his team get humbled at the hands of the Celtics. He was taking a beating and not getting the touches he wanted and he was, as we all were embarrassed by his teams lack of defense.
So how does this team dig itself out of this mess. If you ask the fans they will mostly point the finger at Sam Mitchell and say that he needs to be fired. There is a number of candidates out on the market that could fill his seat. The top 3 names on that list would be Flip Saunders, Avery Johnson and Jeff Van Gundy. All of which would be considered the best 3 coaches not currently with a job in the NBA. If you made that change, the Raptors would have to learn a totally new system. Doing it with out much time for practice, with a lot of banged up bodies and a short roster.You have to wonder how easy that would be to do? It is easy to say fire Sam but that is something that you need to consider. I fully admit Sam Mitchell has not been making much of a case for keeping his job recently. But just by making a change the Raptors will not magically get better. It will take time and it may be time they just don't have in an improved Eastern Conference. I am not saying that makes Sam Mitchell bullet proof by any means. After every loss the chances increase that despite what I have laid out the Raptors may have no choice but to give it a shot.
However that coach will still face all that Sam Mitchell has had to deal with. The lack of depth and a bench, injuries to two of his three star players. A lack of a real option at point guard to play behind Jose Calderon. A team that has not been able to defend consistently. All of these issues will still remain with or without Sam Mitchell. These are issues some of which are things that Bryan Colangelo must address. He after all is the one that put this roster together. He is the one that handed these risks to Sam Mitchell to have to deal with. You can judge how Sam has dealt with those challenges but you have to include Bryan Colangelo in the mix for the construction of this roster. If Bryan feels that this is as much his fault in some ways it may not be as bad for Sam as people think. But still some of things of late are not exactly giving Bryan Colangelo reason to give Sam Mitchell a pass for some of the problems that Bryan put on his plate.
If Colangelo wants to correct his mistakes he has not exactly put himself in a good position to do that. Any move he could construct will almost have to involve going into the Luxury Tax which is a costly thing to do from a pure financial standpoint. Not to mention it seems that a number of teams are on the hunt looking to improve. Joe Dumars already pulled the trigger on the gun to start the race to get better by going after Allen Iverson. A number of teams in the east now search for their Answer. Cleveland, Orlando and Boston have all been teams looking to lure Antonio Mcdyess to not go back to the Pistons.
Raptor fans are always willing to help Bryan Colangelo do his job. They seem to be focused on Golden State and a couple of players on that roster. Marcus Williams and Marco Belinelli as targets for the Raptors. I am not sure about that to be honest. But I will say that at least Raptor fans pay attention. Williams was a guy Colangelo really liked in his draft year. In fact the Raptors were hard at work looking for a late first round pick to select him as he fell in the draft. But in the end they would not find a pick and the New Jersey Nets would select him and end up sending him to the Warriors once they brought in Devin Harris. After watching Harris on Friday it is easy to see why they did. Marco was also someone that the Raptors were rumoured to be high on in the draft. They also at least looked into the idea of moving up in the draft and getting a high pick to try to bring him to Toronto. The question is does that mean the Raptors still like these guys? If they do the question becomes what do they have that Golden State would want. Jason Kapono could be an option in that run and gun Warrior system. But why people think other teams are interested in Joey Graham is beyond me. The truth is if Joey had any value he would be gone already.
Whatever Bryan Colangelo does he must be mindful of Chris Bosh. It is not that Bryan Colangelo needs Bosh's stamp of approval to do anything he likes. But the fact that everyone is talking about 2010 and Chris Bosh is human and can not help but notice all the many articles, blogs and media that are suggesting and in some cases saying they know where he will be in 2010. But I do want to make a point for all of you folks that seem to think this matters. Actually I got 2 points for you. The first is that this is not the first time people have talked about Bosh prior to a contract expiring. Phil Jackson right in Toronto made a suggestion that was good enough to get him fined that he would have interest in Bosh coming to the Lakers. Still Chris Bosh would resign in Toronto and never end up with them. Also you have the example of Vince Carter to look at. V.C re-signed in Toronto and he did it to get the most money. He would after look to be traded out of town with that extra money in his back pocket. I think Chris Bosh is just as smart as Vince Carter and maybe even a lot smarter to be honest. Vince may have his UNC degree in Afro American studies but despite Bosh only having a year of college it is clear he is a highly intelligent young man. So it would make sense for him to resign with the Raptors and get a contract that offers him the most money and if things are not to his liking after that point ask in a much more quiet way to be dealt from Toronto if he was unhappy. One thing I do know is that for as long as Bosh wears that number 4 Raptor jersey he will bust his butt. Happy or not he has far to much character to go out the way V.C did. That would allow Bryan Colangelo to look for a way to convince Bosh he made the right move to re-sign in Toronto by signing another big name to play along side him. There are lots of other names in 2010 that can fill that bill.
But in the short term the Raptors need to look in the mirror and find something. They had high expectations and they are not reaching them. If they needed any kind of reminder a sold out ACC of booing fans sent a clear message to drive home the point. Jose Calderon needs to be honest and admit he needs to do much more on defense. I mean he is battling through an injury but he has always been a poor to awful on the ball defender. That is just one example. But every player has to look and see what they can do to make this group perform better. It may not even be stuff on the floor. There are guys on this team that can say they have given a solid effort this season. Bosh is at the head of that list. But the challenge for him is how does he help raise the bar for the rest of his team. He talked about being an M.V.P. He is playing like one and has the numbers to back it up. However the truly great ones that win M.V.P do it in part because they make all the players around them better. BIrd, Johnson, Nash, Bryant and Jordan all did that. That is the next challenge for Chris Bosh. Everyone can look in that mirror and come up with things they can do. The time for that has come because if it does not happen right now to do it later down the line maybe to late.
It will be a very interesting two days for the Toronto Raptors to re-group and re-focus on the task at hand. They have to find the answers and a trade and coaching change may be down the line but they are not going to magically make all the problems go away. When you dig a hole it takes the same amount of effort it took to dig it for you to dig out of it. There are no short cuts and easy fixes to get that done. This is the time that will define this Raptor team and tell them and us what they are made of.