My feeling was and has always been that the Raptors plan was to set themselves up to be competitive next season under the new CBA. That being said not sure they could have imagined how bad this season of limbo was going to be. You can not anticipate the fact this team was going to be ravaged with injures. The Raptors with a completely healthy roster were going to struggle to be competitive. It makes it very easy to make excuses for the Raptors but that does not explain a few things away.
One of the first things it does not explain away is the lack of development in Andrea Bargnani on defence. On offence he has at times shown he is capable of getting the job done. Although even of late on that side of the ball he has had issues. He was 5-24 and 0-5 from 3 point range in the Raptors latest loss. But the thing that draws the greatest amount of concern is total lack of effort/ability on the defensive end of the floor. When he and Calderon get isolated in a pick and roll situation defence it is as close to a lock for 2 points as a slam dunk. Something has got to give eventually. If Andrea Bargnani is to be part of the long term plan he must improve on defence it is that simple. During an 11 game losing streak it is easy to point this out when a guy is not busting his butt. People have suggested Bargnani might be hurt during all of this. Fine maybe he is, but if you put on a uniform you bust your butt and give all you have, and he only needs to look at Amir Johnson for proof. He was played banged up and still is giving all that he has every night. If Andrea is not healthy enough to play then don't play. It is not like people are going to accuse him of being Vince Carter if he doesn't. It is not like he is going to cost the Raptors a playoff spot if he doesn't. But if you say you are healthy enough to put on a uniform then you need to play like it. Standing around on defence and watching other people score and rebound is not impressing anyone. Most of all his team mates I would imagine.
All of these injuries and the lack of talent he has had to work with seem to have given Jay Triano a get out of being fired card. But honestly at some point some of these things have to fall at his feet. Injured or not this team has not played defence well as we outlined specifically with Andrea Bargnani. Right or wrong fans have made the point that Sam Mitchell was fired for far less. Should the lack of expectations give Jay Triano a free pass? I respect all that Jay Triano has done as basketball person and even more so as a Canadian doing it. But I have not seen any evidence to suggest I should feel confident in Jay Triano as an NBA Head Coach. He could be a lead assistant on other teams in this league on this level. However does anyone see Jay Triano getting a head coaching job on any other team in the NBA? I honestly don't see it. Does anyone see him as the coach for this team in the long term when hopefully they are competitive. If Bryan Colangelo were not the G.M of this franchise does anyone not think his successor would not make one of his first moves to find a new head coach? I find it hard to believe the answer is yes to any of these. After an 11 game losing streak and a total lack of effort and pride from most of this team at times, when is enough truly enough? This team under Triano on defence has been dreadful. The development of players in terms of defence has been dreadful as well.
Perhaps the one good thing is during all this losing we have seen positive signs in the development of the Raptors two latest first round draft picks. Demar DeRozan and to a lesser extent Ed Davis have shown growth despite all the losing. DeRozan is learning what it takes to be a consistent scorer in this league. Even Triano admitted of late Demar has become the number one option for this team on offence. While he is still very much a work in progress, DeRozan has been smart enough to stick to what he does best. To drive the ball to the basket and if he doesn't get calls, he is still going to keep driving until he does. Mixed in with that, he is improving his jump shot and developing some moves he can count on. It is likely not to the pace that some people would like but he is making progress. The recent game I was at vs the Bucks he did not have a great offensive night. But he kept fighting and was able to do other things to be a factor. Like having 4 steals on defence. He was scrappy to and got himself into foul trouble but found a way to play through that and stay in the game. Andrea Bargnani should take note. If your game is going south on offence you don't just pack it in. You find other ways to contribute.
While Ed Davis has surprised me how quickly he has fit in, given his injuries and missed time he had to start the year. Stephen Brotherston a fellow Hamilton guy wrote a nice feature on Davis for Hoopsworld worth checking out. You hope that Davis can continue to develop those skills of defence, shoot blocking and rebounding. All of which are in short supply on this Raptor roster. Davis in terms of offence can get a lot of it trough crashing the glass and getting out and running on the break when opportunities present themselves. What Ed Davis becomes as a defender will be far more important for the Raptors in terms of his future, then what he becomes on the offensive end. One of the best things that can help a team that lacks true skill on defence is shot blocking. Hedo Turkoglu is not any better a defender since returning to the Orlando Magic. But what he does have is what he had before in Orlando. The Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard backing him up. Comparisons of Davis to Chris Bosh are not that valid. Ultimately Bosh will always be the more talented offensive player. But Davis already has shown signs that he can become a much better defender than Bosh will ever be if he stays on this path.
Jose Calderon has put up numbers on offence but numbers don't equal wins. Kevin Love can tell you that. But what is old is new again in terms of Jose ultimately he has becoming a player that looks like his best days are behind him. His defence is never going to improve to any degree. What you have to wonder is can Jerryd Bayless develop into the future point guard for this team on the other side. Bayless has had his share of struggles with some bright moments at time. He has had his minutes go up and down like a yo-yo based on Calderon's health or lack of it. As things become crystal clear as to the outlook for this season, you would hope that we see more of Bayless down the stretch. The Raptors could very well have 40 losses by the All-Star Break and if the shift for this team turns to development it would not be surprising. That is what should happen even now, you could make the case it should become the focus. It might already be when you consider that Gaines and Johnson have come in from D-League. But that was as much for injuries than trying to find a diamond in the rough.
Prior to the latest loss for the Raptors a debate broke out on Twitter upon hearing the news that Sonny Weems would be reclaiming his starting role that he lost due to his back injury. It seems a no brainer to me that this would happen. Kleiza is injured and not part of the conversation. So that leaves you with Julian Wright. While we can all respect the hustle and effort of Julian Wright he is not going to be the answer for the Raptors at the wing spot. It is unlikely that Sonny Weems will be as well I realize. But the Raptors have an important choice to make in terms of Weems after this season. His current deal comes to an end and the Raptors need to decide if he is part of their future. Weems is one of the Trio known as the Young Onez and his relationship with this teams rising star in DeRozan is well documented. This is not to suggest that Weems should not have to earn a new contract. He should have to do that, but by starting Julian Wright in front of him is only going to serve to demoralize a guy that has had to deal with an injury for an extended period. It use to be in sports you could never lose your spot to injury. But those days are long gone, but if you look at Raptors history they have had issues with this before. Anyone remember T.J Ford and Jose Calderon? Bottom line of all of this is if you are going to decide not to keep Sonny Weems, you need to be 100% sure about it. Obviously you know at least 2 guys in that locker room that want to see him back. So Raptors need to be 100% certain they are willing to do something that would not exactly be popular with those players in Johnson and DeRozan. Yes you need to do what is best for this franchise, and yes sports is a business and ultimately these two guys will accept it. However, what is lost in this modern world is the game is still about people and relationships and if you are going to destroy some of those relationships you better be certain about it.
Finally back to where we started this story. Colangelo has clearly positioned this franchise for next season. If you are expecting some move that will blow off your socks at the deadline, don't hold your breath. If Colangelo can build on the equity/cap space he will do so. But in terms of this season it will not even be on his radar. What is interesting though is Colangelo has still yet to sign on the bottom line to remain in control of this franchsie. It has been said to be a formality by all sides involved. But if that is the case why is it not done already? Rumours have been out there that Knicks may want Bryan or Bryan's dad Jerry to come in and run the Knicks. But be it Colangelo running the Raptors next year or someone else. Bryan has positioned the team well to be competitive under a new CBA, assuming the owners get some of the things they are after.
I am not sure if Colangelo shares in my dream for the Raptors future. But after the Raptors loss I took in 2 of "Canada's Big 3" playing at Texas. Cory Joesph and Tristan Thompson unlike the Raptors got a win over the Missouri Tigers in a Big 12 battle. Myck Kabongo is doing his thing at Finley Prep heading to Texas next fall. Kevin Durant thinks these 3 kids are good enough to make the NBA which is good enough for me. They also have enough pride in where they come from to want to be Raptors. One of the things that has been lacking of late with the Raptors of late is pride. Maybe it takes a Canadian or group of Canadians to understand what it means to be a Raptor. We always hear about Celtic Pride. If you add some Canadians in this franchise maybe they can spark some Raptor Pride for everyone. You can feel a lot more confident that once they get here, if they do, they are not going to want to leave. The Choices the Raptors make in terms of these 3 kids, I think might be some of the most important in the history of this franchise. A lot of pressure to put on kids who have never set foot on an NBA floor. But they are Canadians that have become basketball stars on the College and High School levels. Let's face it not many Americans at first glance were going to believe a Canadian Kid not named Nash could ball. But they have started to change minds with a ton of others in the NCAA these days.
You might think I am crazy and that is fine. But I would rather be optimistic about this idea of having Canadian Stars for the Raptors some day. It sure beats trying to figure out how the Raptors are ever going to win a game again this year. It beats worrying about if DeMar DeRozan will be the next one to become great in Toronto and get out as fast as he did. I don't want to believe that it will happen, but given the history of this franchise I find it very hard to fully invest in anyone. That is sad but that is reality. The Raptors reality of late has been very very sad.