Toronto Raptors by almost anyone you will talk to are playing for the 2012-13 season in the 2011-12 season. The Raptors talk about have a young core that they are building around. But who really belongs in this core and will survive to the other side when this team is actually good. At least we hope will be good.
Demar DeRozan is the obvious lock on this list. Everyone hopes to see the same strides from DeRozan we saw last season. Casey would obvious like to make his future star player into a better player on the defensive end. He will have more chance of success with him than Andrea Bargnani. DeRozan has the athletic tool set to use on either end of the floor. He will be the face of this franchise and if he isn't this team is in serious trouble.
Amir Johnson is the running buddy and the only remaining Young Gun along side DeRozan. While many question his contract it is impossible to question his heart. If Casey can help Amir find a way to stay on the floor and still keep his aggression he could be an important piece to turning this team around on the defensive end. He likely becomes part of the rotation and a bench player as this team evolves. Given his salary that is a pretty expensive bench player.
The Raptors will say that Andrea Bargnani is part of their future. I will say in the words of Public Enemy not to believe the hype. Casey is not a miracle worker and Bargnani is not Dirk. You can't hide him and many with good reason question if he has any effort or desire to rebound and defend. Sure he can shoot 3's and score in bunches but that alone is not enough. The heat will only increase when Bargnani sooner or later moves to the power forward spot and still sucks. Amir Johnson and Ed Davis are not going to sit on the bench long if that would be the case. A Bargnani trade must happen or a least should happen if this team is serious about rebuilding.
Jerryd Bayless is no doubt young and did show flashes at the end of the season. While I think almost everyone will agree that Calderon is not part of this team's core moving forward the question is will Bayless be? There will be lots of attractive options in the draft including at point guard. For example would anyone not take Austin Rivers today and start him in front of both Bayless and Calderon? This season Bayless needs to make a clear claim that he is the point guard for this basketball team. The easiest way to do that is play on the defensive end of the floor. Jose Calderon has yet to figure out the mysteries of how to play defence in the NBA and is not likely to find the God of Defence under Casey. Ultimately Bayless is likely your back up combo guard when this team is on the path to being good.
James Johnson was everyone's flavour of the month last year other than perhaps me. But honestly people is this the guy you see as you small forward going forward? Really? I remain unconvinced of that fact. I do think he can be a solid option on a bench in a winning situation. But there was a reason this guy didn't get time on a good team in Chicago and that is he is not good enough too. In Toronto with virtually no competition and currently literally no competition it is easy to start. But there is no way I would consider Johnson a top 30 player at his position. If Johnson wants to live up to the hype he created last year he should have the chance to do it. Could he be part of the core going forward? Yes. But would I have him as part of it? No thanks I will pass. James Johnson is becoming the new version of Joey Graham for me. Hopefully it is not as long a painful a process.
Ed Davis is likely a lock to be in this core. His rookie season showed signs of promise. rebounding and shoot blocking are two things currently is short supply. Ed Davis brings you both and the Raptors have some more of that stored over in Europe at the moment. Davis is never going to be the smooth offensive player that Chris Bosh was. But that being said Bosh may not ever be the shot blocker that Davis potentially could be. If the Raptors were to cut bait on Bargnani he could find his way to the starting line-up. If not he still will always find minutes regardless of if he gets his named called. There is no question his skill set can make him someone that can be a solider in the change that Dwane Casey wants to bring on the defensive end of the floor.
Jonas Valanciunas has impressed everyone and for some provided a glimpse of hope for the future during the dark days of this NBA Lockout. If he can bring what people have seen with him to the NBA he will answer the Raptors questions at Center. But can he do what he is doing on the NBA level is still the remaining question. One of the biggest issues in that transition will be foul trouble. He likely is going to have trouble staying on the floor in the NBA. But with Dwane Casey's defensive system with a high use of zone concepts it may prove to be an excellent fit for him and make the transition smoother than it might be elsewhere. In many ways Valanciunas is the Anti-Bargnani. He rebounds, he defends and he likes to get in the mix and get dirty. There is more than enough promise to believe he could have a bright future with the Raptors. You would love to see the Raptors bring in an assistant coach to work with bigs and help speed his development along. Patrick Ewing working with Dwight Howard type situation. Who that guy would be? Not sure. If you look in the Raptors past a guy like Antonio Davis comes to mind. His kids are done school by now and would not have to learn the metric system right? No clue on if A.D has any desire to get into coaching at all but someone like that.
That pretty much is the base of what the Raptors will be taking forward with them to the other side and hopefully grow into a successful team. How the Raptors use this cap space they will have to build around this core they have will be the big question as to if they get to that other side. In the past when the Raptors had a young Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady they surrounded them with a group of veterans that helped them grow and learn. That is what this team is really lacking right now. The leaders they have in terms of experience are guys that hardly fit the bill. That is why a guy such as Reggie Evans may not be a part of the long term future but can at least be a guy that can keep the peace until some more guys of his experience and style come along. Jose Calderon is not going to lead anyone anywhere.
Raptors season will be more about the individuals and their development both individually and as a group. There is little chance this team can go anywhere but the lottery and given the draft class this year that is far more appealing than getting swept by the Heat in the first round as an 8th seed. At least there is only 66 games to endure and not 82. But do not expect anything dramatic from the Raptors unless Bryan Colangelo has been lying to us all. Raptors will have 3-6 new faces on the roster this year but I would not imagine to many of those players will be long term guys as far as the future goes.