How will the Raptors respond after that early Christmas miracle in Detroit. As much as you have to be impressed by the Raptors comeback in Detroit. It still is a major concern how this team got down to the Pistons by 25 points in the first place. The Raptors sit 2 games out of the playoffs but they also sit only 4 games out of last place in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have had wins over Orlando, Boston and OKC who will all be playoff teams. But they have lost to teams like the Wizards, Bobcats and Kings that clearly won't. Perhaps more than in any year in recent memory you truly never know what your going get with the Raptors. Is it going to be the Andrea Bargnani that poured in 41 points and made his team better or the guy that disappears for large stretches of games that could catch a cold easier than he could a rebound. Will we get the Sonny and Demar that attack the rim and make slams and get to the line? Or do we get the Sonny and Demar that get jumper happy like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh have done in the past. There is just nothing that is consistent about this team from the individual parts of the team to the overall collective effort.
Isn't this what we should expect though? This was always going to be a young team and as such consistency is always the last thing to come for young players. The fact the East has been bad enough that the playoffs are not a far off dream at this point does not change what the Raptors are. While we all may get frustrated by the inconsistency it is not like it shouldn't have been expected. The one thing that we should be a concerned about is how this team is playing defence. The Raptors have to figure out how to be a decent defence. Whatever the offence produces really isn't the issue at this point. I think the Raptors have proven that on most nights they can score even without Chris Bosh. The thing that ultimately has to be addressed is how this team plays defence.
Things have not changed with Bosh out of the picture in a lot of ways. This team still feeds off it's offence and does not show enough pride in it's defence. You are not going to have to many nights where you can show up in the 4th quarter and decide to play defence and win. This team has to think defence first. If the Raptors just become the same team with the same identity it had with Chris Bosh is not going to get this team anywhere. Defence has to be something that is a priority for everyone and the Raptors need to change the culture of how they approach games. Don't worry about if fans get a slice of pizza at the end of the night. Worry about keeping teams under that hundred point mark. I am sure stats would back this up that when the Raptors hold teams under 100 points their chances of winning increase greatly.
Also it is important to realize that the plan for this team is all about life in the NBA after the new CBA. Bryan Colangelo has rightful identified an opportunity for the Raptors to become a player in the new CBA world of the NBA. If just one thing happens in the new CBA it could be a huge difference to the NBA landscape in terms of free agency. The elimination of the MLE (Mid Level Exception) would make the Raptors and Toronto a much bigger player in free agency. If teams over the cap are not given that exception it takes a number of teams out of the mix. The Raptors if they choose to hang on to Peja and keep their Bosh trade exception in the bank they are going to have a great deal of cash to spend. What the Raptors need to do with that money is to find a guy or a couple of guys to come in and do what Kevin Garnett does for Boston. No not drop F-Bombs and talk smack. But some guys that will become the conscious of this team defensively. That is what is missing for this team. They can score the basketball but they need a leader on this team that will demand respect and demand effort defensively. It is much easier to be soldier and fall in line than it is to be the guy that steps up time after time. There are guys in this locker room that understand that this team will go no where unless they improve on defence. However the Raptors need someone that can be that fiery leader to bang the drum everyday to make sure that it happens.
As for the rest of this season the Raptors need to change their mindset and get the young core thinking defence first. If the Raptors play defence they can feed off that and get even better on offence potentially by creating turnovers. The worst thing that can happen to the Raptors is that the same culture of offence first and defence second that was part of the Bosh era does not change. Bosh leaving offered only one really good thing. It was the chance to change the culture and approach of this Raptors team. The Raptors need to create an identity for this basketball team.
More of the same and recreating a team with the same general philosophy is not going to get the job done. It isn't just about making the playoffs it is about advancing in them once you get there.
I was busy on the weekend as I was a guest on the NBA Breakdown on Sunday night. They also had Toronto Rapper Kardinal Offishall on the program as well worth a listen for sure. Also I made my weekly radio appearance on The Franchise radio show on Team 990 in Montreal talking NBA and Raps. Of course the weekend started hosting our MGD contest winners at the ACC here is some of our winners and me with Jack Armstrong.