The Toronto Raptors entered into this off-season looking like a team that could be on the verge of being blown up. What I am saying is having the core of it altered. However that is not what happened, it was just everything else. Last summer many were excited about the acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal. However, as I have said a few times this is different this summer. My initial reaction to the J.O trade if you recall was that I hated the move. When the deal had fallen apart I wrote that it was probably for the best. Eventually, I would be swayed into thinking it could be a good thing but my initial instinct was correct. The trade involving one of my favourite players in T.J Ford, I had felt was clouding my judgment.
This season is different and my eyes are wide open. It is not that I am a huge fan of any one player that has been brought into the fold. Sure I picked the Magic to go to the NBA Finals last October and Hedo was a big part in how they got there. I always have said the Raptors need to address what they lost in T.J Ford. They now have with Jarrett Jack. Who ironically beat out Ford as did Jose Calderon here. Amir Johnson was one of a number of talent young guys that the Pistons had. I am not sure he stuck out from the group in any way. Reggie Evans has long been on my list of guys that would make a good fit on the Raptors. He adds rebounding and a toughness that has not been here since Charles Oakley was traded to the Bulls. Marco Belinelli has talent and was in need of a new place to call home. Don Nelson did not exactly help Marco grow and develop as a player. Many credit Jay Triano for getting Andrea Bargnani back on the right path with his career. Perhaps he can do the same for Marco? Can Sonny Weems be the next Jamario Moon or Pops Mensah-Bonsu? I have no idea at all but he has spent a lot of time in the D-League and you would hope and think that he is motivated to stick around in NBA. I have never traveled with an NBA team or a D-League team but something tells me you roll a little better in the NBA. You can ask Rasho Nesterovic how they roll in the NBA cause he is back as well. Which I think all Raps fans are happy about.
Basically this is a lot different then last year hoping that one guy was healthy and that a point guard that had never been a starter for a full NBA Season could hold up. We all know how that played out last year. However with this team it is build with some depth and is not so dependent on so few things. Let's say Demar DeRozan develops a little slower than we all expect. Is that the end of the world? That is just one example, but the point is, it would take a number of things going wrong for the Raptors to not still be competitive. Last season they were a J.O or Jose injury away from being a very bad basketball team. Even if Chris Bosh missed time are you not somewhat confident this team could still win? That is how much better Bryan Colangelo has made things this season. I doubt anyone will be able to get him to say it but this could be the best team he has assembled with the Raptors. He said something like that last year and the words came back to haunt him. This time around he will leave those kind of embarrassments for folks like me and other media outlets to say.
It is clear the expectation level has risen for this Raptor team. Along with that will be a rise in speculation on the future of Chris Bosh. This is going to be a season that will ultimately tell you a lot about Chris Bosh as a basketball player and as a person as well. How will he handle being in a contract year, with heavy expectations for his basketball team and the constant speculation by the U.S media about his future. How tough is Chris Bosh mentally? This season is going to provide a real answer to that question. Can he lock in on the task at hand and put aside all of the pressure and speculation and perform at a high level? I think he can do it. My personal expectations are that we see the best season ever from Chris Bosh. If I am right given the amount of talent that now surrounds him it could indeed be a very successful year for the Raptors. Some people will crack under pressure. However pressure is also what makes diamonds. The question will be is if Bosh comes up with a diamond like performance will diamonds be forever for the Raptors? In other words, if Bosh has a huge season will that help ensure he stays or pave the way for him to go? If I am going to bet on it if Bosh is successful and the Raptors are along with him, CB4 will remain a Raptor maybe not for life but for another contract at least. Sure this is speculation on my part but the one thing I am pretty certain of, is Chris Bosh is not going to be answering any questions about his future until he wants to and that is not going to be anytime soon.
Given the way the schedule has been constructed, we will all know just how good this Raptor team can be early on. If the Raptors can be a team that is above .500 heading into 2010 they will be on a path to success. The real question then becomes what is success for this team? They still even in the best case situation most people see them as 4th best team in the East or worse. Which would mean the Raptors in theory need to finish in 4th or 5th to advance at least a round in the playoffs. Which if you go by expectations would see a Hawks and Raptors Playoff series. Interesting that would be given the strange and odd history between the 2 clubs. However there is an entire season to play and you never know what lies around the corner. Just ask the Miami Heat who apparently have had there young star in Michael Beasley find himself in a rehab suffering with depression. The point is life is dynamic and none of us truly know what tomorrow can bring be it good or bad.
But if you base things on what the expected outcomes could be the Raptors seem like a team that is ready to return to the Playoffs once again. There is a lot of heavy expectations for them to do so. Which I think is fantastic. After all this will be year 15 of Raptors basketball. Just to have grown to the point that so many people care about the Raptors and basketball is something to smile about. A lot has changed in 15 years and one of those things is the number of fans and people that love basketball. If you have been a life long basketball fan this is something that is cause to celebrate regardless of if this team matches the lofty expectations that will come it's way. The Raptors are truly relevant and important to a lot of people. Look around the league at how many cities that can not honestly say that. Raptor fans have stuck with this team from the start and just grown in size and scope. I can not think of a group of people I enjoy more as a whole than Raptor Fans. I am proud to invest my time each day for such loyal and passionate people.