Can Raptors Make It Past A Road Block In Portland?

Toronto Raptors have got back to back wins as the head north to Portland. Now I understand the Clippers and the Kings will never be confused with a top tier team in the NBA. But the fact the Raptors have been able to build on what Jay Triano is trying to do is a good thing. No matter who is in front of you the fact that you are winning games is positive re-enforcement for what the team is trying to do. Everyone was upset by the events in Oklahoma City but you have to move forward from it. The Raptors have done that. A good effort in a lose to the Spurs and two wins over Kings and Clippers. It is a start to what will be a long road back for the Raptors.

J.O Starting To Show Signs

Jermaine O'Neal had one of his best efforts as a Raptor last night. He was getting just about anything he wanted as he shot an amazing 15-19 from the field. Even though the trade that brought O'Neal here has been questioned. I think J.O himself has been a solid player for this Raptor squad when he has been healthy. He was done what he can to contribute on both ends of the floor. He may not have been as a big a rebounding force that some might have hoped. But he is bringing effort and energy to a defense that has been badly in need of it. What has been disappointing is that the players around him have not been as effective as people expected to this point. I really felt the Raptors would be better defensive wise with J.O. They have started to show signs of that under Triano but it is far from perfect.

I have been impressed with Jermaine and his attitude to this point. He has shown a real professionalism in dealing with the media and has been a model citizen from the outside looking in. I liked his latest comments that there is no more time for excuses. O'Neal said it is time to start putting those words into action on the floor. He did that last night and was key to the Raptors success. A much different challenge lies in front of him tonight. Greg Oden and Lamarcus Aldridge are a good test and challenge for O'Neal and Bosh. A true match of youth versus experience. It will really present a challenge for O'Neal who started his career with the Blazers and was not able to get much time on the floor straight out of high school. He has to be amused at looking at this team now that is all about youth and letting young players play. But it is hard to argue the talent the Blazers have with Brandon Roy, Oden, Aldridge and I could list a few more. J.O was not the problem in the trade made. The problem if you were looking for one might be that the Raptors failed to address the loss of depth it created. J.O's contract and not J.O is to blame for that. However that was always part of the attraction in taking him is that 23 million dollars that he is due to be paid next season. It is an impressive bargaining chip to have as we head towards the arms race of the NBA in 2010. Bryan Colangelo for all the abuse he is taking at the moment may end up being the smart guy we all thought he was in 2010. But people see what is happening now and are worried to angry about the short term outlook and with good reason.

What I thought the Raptors did wrong was over selling O'Neal after the trade. I can't tell you how many times I heard how he was a 6 time All-Star. But that was in the past. In the present J.O still can have All-Star like nights but to suggest or imply he was going to be an All-Star level play this year was wrong. For him to have a healthy and productive season should have been the pitch. The Toronto Maple Leafs as much as I hate to admit it did something right this year. They under sold the team so much that fans are impressed with there above lousy performance this year. But it was hard for the Raptors to under sell a player that they gave up so much for to bring here. But at the end of all of it from my perspective I am getting the Jermaine O'Neal I expected to see. The only surprise for me is the fact he has been such a stand-up guy with the media and fans. He stays focused on the task and not even this latest side show like attempt from a porn star to get attention has stopped him from sticking to the task at hand. Being such a huge fan of T.J Ford it is possible that I wanted to hate J.O in some way. But I promised that I would keep an open mind and I have done that and it has allowed me to become a fan of him.

Oh Andrea What To Do About You?

It is really a hard thing to figure out what to do about Andrea Bargnani. Please don't tell us about how we could have had Brandon Roy. Drafts are wonderful to look back on years later. But the reality is that Roy was a projected number 5 pick. You want to make an argument about Aldridge or Bargnani I will listen to that as they were projected to go near the top of the draft. I have always said you want to look at a team that should be sorry go to Minnesota. They not only traded Roy this past year they traded O.J Mayo. Maybe that is why Kevin McCale has been called into duty as coach of the T-Wolves and I would suspect has not much job security left in Minnesota.

The problem of what to do with Andrea Bargnani is a tough one. The danger is if you trade him and he has success, those same people that are singing the praises of Brandon Roy will be saying they should have kept Bargnani. That is the thing about writing a blog you can't be so easy to blow with the wind. There is a written document that is out there that can be used against you if you do. In the history of this blog I have flip flopped on Bargnani a couple of times. But I am convinced of a few things that make me think you need to trade him. Here is what they are in no particular order of importance:

  • Andrea Bargnani in his head is convinced he is a power Forward(4). I see him try to play at other spots on the floor and he does at times make effort. But there is no real confidence in him to play those spots on the floor. So do you really want a first round draft choice as the back-up to your star player that plays at his best position? I think not. I also don't think you trade Bosh and keep Bargnani. Bosh has proven he is good and Bargnani has only shown he has the talent to be good. That is a major difference.
  • Confidence issues will haunt Andrea forever. I remember reading and hearing about how well Andrea tested out as far as intellect and confidence. Well I am not here to get into a debate on if you can actually test those type of things. Paul Jones has a masters in sports psychology I will make sure to ask him next time we talk. But all I know is the test was flawed in the case of Andrea. He may have the smarts and basketball IQ. But the confidence was never there for very long and he just seems to be always in a state of a crisis of confidence
  • Bryan Colangelo claims he takes many calls on Andrea. I say answer the phone and make a deal out of one of those calls. The reason being is what happens when the phone stops ringing. Eventually people are going to lose confidence in Andrea and his ability to be a steal or diamond in the rough. The longer you wait in my mind the worse the offers will become.
  • The improvements on defense are not enough to out weigh the regression on offense. He does not shoot the ball with any kind of consistency and I am deeply concerned for a guy who is a shooter he does not seem to make enough shots. Jason Kapono takes a lot of abuse from Raptor fans but I am more confident in him making a shot or a good choice than I am Andrea.
Jack Armstrong and a number of others have stood behind Andrea. I am the first to admit Jack knows more about the game than I do having coached it and broadcast the NBA for over a decade. But I just am not seeing anything that makes me hopeful for the long term in keeping Bargnani. He had a great night last night but those nights seem to grow further a part in nature. I do agree that the Raptors must share in the blame for his struggles by constantly changing and redefining his role. Many feel that Colangelo will not give up on Andrea Bargnani and is not willing to admit his mistake in taking him with the first pick. It will be interesting to see if Bargnani is truly on the table going forward as everyone is of the same mind that Colangelo is going to do something. Finding agreement on what that will be is the hard part.

CB4 Is Not For Sale

About the only thing that has been made clear by Colangelo is the Chris Bosh is not for sale to any buyer. Why on earth would he be. I find it totally crazy to hear people talking about trading Bosh. Some of those same people were saying he was playing like an M.V.P a month earlier. It is hard for me to imagine a trade situation in which Bosh would not be the best player in a trade. People are using terms like blowing up this team and starting over. That is not the plan and likely will not be any time soon. Bryan Colangelo has designed this roster to be able to be rebuild in 2010 and it is not going to happen until that point. He does not have to cash in his chips early to react to a losing season and cure the short term concerns of the fan base. He is not going to give up the cap space he has been building unless he feels it is a move that can address both the short and long term needs of this franchise.

In thinking of Bryan Colangelo I tend to see him in terms of poker. This season has been to this point a lot of bad hands for Colangelo. But it is a foolish poker player that tries to force his hand when he does not have the cards to win. The last thing I would call Bryan Colangelo is foolish. He may take a small risk and look for a high reward at this point but he is far from pushing all in with a weak hand and taking his chances.

Maybe some just didn't understand what the deal was with the O'Neal trade. Bryan Colangelo sold it strong as it was a move for the short term. Maybe he was bluffing us all with saying this was the most talented roster ever. But he know the big pot of this poker game that is the NBA happens in 2010. You can bet that he wants in on that pot and wants to take home as much as he can. That to me was always the end game of the O'Neal trade. If it works in the next two years great but it was not the end goal. I do suspect he expected a lot more return and better results on the way to that. But thus far it has not worked out that way.

But make no mistake in thinking that the goal at the end of the day is to keep Bosh in 2010 and add another significant player to the mix to play along side him That was always the plan and I don't think that will change no matter what happens in the time leading up to 2010. The only way that will change is if Chris Bosh declares his intention not to remain in Toronto prior to that. Despite what Jalen Rose and others may believe I do not think that event has happened at this point.

Another Chance For A Statement Win

Turning attention back to this game in Portland. This is another chance for the Raptors to get a win over a good basketball team. It is something that has been lacking on the resume this year and if they do not figure out how to accomplish that goal it is going to be tough looking forward. Denver,Orlando and Houston are all teams that are better than Toronto. You need to feel you can sneak a win ever now and then against teams that are better. The Raptors must find the confidence and ability to do this. We have seen it in flashes against several teams including the Blazers back in Toronto. They must break through and get a win like that soon. Tonight a win would go a very long way in restoring some confidence in this team. Golden State is up next and they are coming off a huge high in beating the Celtics. Apparently K.G was right in saying that anything is possible and it is. But it takes work and effort along with the belief that you can do it. The Raptors need to show they have that if they are going to break through and get a quality win over a quality opponent.

Do Your Part To Express Yourself

Tomorrow I will have an interview with someone who is putting together a protest about the TSN 2 mess that still remains unsolved. I found it interesting to chat with someone that is a true fan of basketball and cares for his fellow Raptor fans. That is something I have always tried to express in this blog. Basketball fans and Raptor fans need to stick together and support each other and speak with one voice. That does not happen very often but this is a chance to do that. December 30 will be the chance for you to do just that. We all know the Rogers/TSN2 mess. Well a protest has been put together for you to show your support. Even if you have been not impacted by this personally still this is a way to support your fellow fans. Show folks that basketball matters and you want to be respected as a basketball fan and a Raptor Fan. I will talk more about this tomorrow. But the protest is set to take place at Rogers Building which is located at 333 Bloor St in Toronto. Bright and early at 8 am but is planned to continue through the day. So if you are able to do so, go down and lend your voice to the cause of basketball. If you do go though act in a proper way and do not do anything that is going to cause trouble for you or others. Represent Raptor fans in the right way.

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