It is hard to remember a more depressing road trip in the history of this franchise. The Toronto Raptors were never expected to be good this season. Love him or hate him Chris Bosh was a 5 time All-Star and the Raptors added nothing to replace him. We got a preview of what the Raptors might look like down the stretch at the end of last season. The Raptors once Bosh was out of the picture last season struggled to hang on to a playoff spot, and lost it eventually with a humiliating loss to Chicago that sealed their fate. Since then Bosh left and went to Miami. While on many levels you can understand why he did, but the lack of class he showed in doing so is really something you can't. Watching him laughing as the Raptors were getting taken a part by his Heat without him and Wade was not exactly fun. Watching Jose Calderon take time out to shake hands and catch up with him, as the Raptors are in the midst of a 7 game losing streak, was not exactly a high moment either. I am not saying that the Raptors have to share peoples hate for Chris Bosh. They honestly don't and it is unrealistic to think they should. But that being said on that floor in front of those cameras you owe it to the fans not to do something like that.
While Bosh is a very easy target for Raptor fans to vent their frustration. The reality is this franchise was ill prepared to have him walk away. The plan B that the Raptors have come up with offers absolutely no hope for this season. Colangelo does have that trade exception and a couple draft picks (1 that he gave to Miami to start with in Shawn Marion Deal ) but none of those things are going to factor into this season. Colangelo has decided that for the Raptors to compete it will be under the New CBA. Where he hopes to see a much more restrictive system that will make the trade exception, and the cap space that having Peja visit Toronto briefly will offer even more value. For the options of free agents to become more limited so Toronto becomes an attractive destination in Free Agency based on the fact they have a ton of money to throw around. In a sense this season is only about hoping the young pieces of this team develop. A loss to Miami is not good but the fact that Demar DeRozan scored 30 was. But what is developing is a losing culture. You hope that it does not stick to all these young players. You wonder if it already has to Andrea Bargnani. His lack of effort to rebound and defend was pretty glaring last night.
You have to wonder also what to make of Jay Triano. People seem very hesitant to blame him for anything. After all look at the hand he has been dealt by Byran Colangelo. This is not a team that has a lot of fully developed talent. The injuries that have plagued this team have added to the sympathy towards Jay Triano. However, eventually at some point we need to evaluate Jay Triano as a head coach don't we? He is an excellent in terms of running plays out of time outs. Which is a great skill for a team that is competitive, but you need to be in games for that to matter. His time out usage is something that has alway driven me nuts. Phil Jackson may be able to let his Lakers play through mistakes, but in case you haven't noticed the Raptors are not the Lakers. This team for it's entire time under Triano has failed to play any kind of acceptable defence on consistent basis. He has made attempts to hide his team's lack of defensive ability with gimmick zones and sometimes it has worked for short periods. But the one thing this team has never done a good job of is guarding the perimeter under his command as head coach. While some people may say it really will serve no purpose to fire Triano there is a case for that. However a few more 40 point losses and really what is the point in keeping in him? I heard a good friend use the argument of stability. Well if you see Jay Triano as a Jerry Sloan you can make that argument. However the track record of Jay Triano as a head coach is really not all that impressive. He did a wonderful job coaching team Canada with the help of an eventual 2 time NBA M.V.P in Steve Nash at point guard. He did a fantastic job in working on the staff for team U.S.A as an assistant. He was a good assistant for a long time here with the Raptors and survived several coaching changes. But his record as the head coach in Toronto is a losing one and you can give him a ton of excuses as to why that is but at the end of the day it has to be about the W's and L's. Triano is a great basketball person but I am not convinced that he is cut out to be a head coach. You can see his frustration growing and I will close by saying on last thing. Sam Mitchell was fired for far less than what Triano has done. The difference is that Sam and Byran Colangelo was an arranged marriage to a point. While Triano was the guy B.C felt shared his views of the game and his philosophy. It might be time to re-think that philosophy and re-think who is your head coach. P.J Carlesimo is capable of steering this ship and get an audition for the job himself if he can prove worthy. But more likely it opens the door for Colangelo to bring in a proven talent. Beyond having Lenny Wilkens the Raptors have never had that. Even in Lenny many would say his best days were behind him by the time he got to Toronto. Spend some of that money that MLSE has to bring in a legit coach with a proven track record.
As for the team itself the most important thing you need to figure out is if DeRozan and Bargnani can play together and become a one, two punch on offence. You also have to figure out if either can improve as a defender. If they can't then you are going to have to decide on who you want to keep moving forward. Having basically 3/5th's of you starting line-up as not even average defenders is a disaster waiting to happen. Calderon, Bargnani and DeRozan on the floor together can not work on defence. If there is one thing that HAS TO CHANGE for this team going forward it is improving on defence. The evidence is there if this team can play good defence they are capable of winning basketball games. Ed Davis eventually can develop into a shot blocking presence for this team. But he is never going to be good enough to be as good as a Dwight Howard who can clean up all the mistakes made by his team on defence.
I also maintain that the Toronto Raptors future is playing at Texas right now. One of the things that the Raptors presence along with some help from Steve Nash's rise to NBA Stardom has done is grow basketball in this country at the grassroots level. Perhaps the best examples of that will be playing at Texas over the next 2 years. Forget what I say about Tristan Thompson, Cory Joesph and coming next year Myck Kabongo. Early in the season I heard Kevin Durant sing their praises and express confidence that all 3 will likely make their way into the NBA. Durant would know having worked with them as they all are tied to the school that he played ball for in the NCAA. The Raptors need to be in a position to draft at least one if not two of these kids. If they were willing to gamble on a coach that is Canadian they need to do the same with players that all come from the Toronto area. Much like Vancouver had the chance to get Steve Nash to bring him home to B.C the Raptors have the same chance to do that with these 3 kids. If they fail to do it as the Grizzlies did they will live to regret it.
The most common problem this franchise has had is keeping it's stars. These are 3 kids that at least have the potential to be stars and are proving it more and more each day. There has never been players in the draft that have wanted to be Raptors. Like Chris Bosh put it Canada is different and you just know it. For players that grew up in the United States that is true. Some will come to love Canada and embrace it. You have seen that attempt being made by the Young Onez to embrace Toronto. But with these kids we are talking about that is not required. In fact the opposite will happen. Toronto and perhaps Canada will embrace them. I think people that cover this team and with in the organization do not truly understand what it would mean to have a native Canadian as part of the Raptors roster. It would engage not just hardcore basketball fans but the fringe fans out there would embrace a Canadian that has a chance to be a star.
But that is a long term future, that may be a few years away. Although the way Tristan and Cory have taken Texas by storm they may have something in common with Kevin Durant in being one and done as Longhorns. But regardless, these kids are the real deal and represent a real chance to give this franchise something it has never had. In general the amount of Canadians in the NCAA is growing, as is the talent level of these players. The Raptors have always brought in a Canadian or two in draft workouts, as more of a token gesture. But the time is coming fast that they will have legit choices to make on Canadian players. If the Raptors fail to make the right choice they may be a franchise that will look a lot like the Grizzlies did for years in Vancouver.
Ultimately talking about the future is really all we have as Raptor fans this year. But the choices the Raptors make heading towards that future will be some of the most vital ones in the history of this franchise. This is truly a low point in the history of this franchise. You hope against hope that it is like the old expression goes that it is always darkest before the dawn.