I have to say it has been nice to have a break form the grind of this season. Sunday I even decided to take a day off. That will change from now on at least on Sundays. We are going to starting doing a 30 minute Podcast called "This Week in Raptor Land". It will take a look back on the week that was for the Raptors. It should be something fun to try and do. Hopefully it grows into one the the staple things we do here in the DNB. As we close in on the unofficial half way mark of the NBA Season maybe I will just give some random thoughts on the Raptors. Will likely have some of that in the podcast on Sunday as well.
I will start with a guy that I really don't care a lot for, Jose Calderon has been a surprise to me in many ways. First and foremost, the fact he is playing at all. Given the amount of games, the schedule and the fact Jerryd Bayless has been out more than he has been in that shocks me. I am not alone in having had questions about Calderon's durability in the past. However, this season he has been there night in and night out. He has done more than been there, producing to levels we have not seen in a long time from him. It pains me to say it, but if he wants to remain and play out the final year of his deal, the Raptors might not have any better options. No point guards in the draft look to be the answer long term for Toronto at least not to start in their first season. While I haven't studied it to any great degree, there is no real stud point guard that will be a free agent in this upcoming class either. The idea to amnesty Calderon seems silly at this point. This is not to say that I would endorse going any further with Jose beyond this contract. I still think that he has had a long run here and the team has failed to produce under his leadership or lack of it at the point guard position. He too seems like he would welcome a change, maybe he hasn't said it and never will, but ultimately both he and Raptors have been unsuccessful overall. That said his numbers and durability have been a surprise. You might even be able to trade him in that final year of his contract, or the Raptors can keep him and let him walk and take a run at Brandon Jennings or someone else with the 10 million plus in cap space him leaving would create. But Calderon in a season of a lot of underachievement has overachieved to a great extent. I have even seen flashes of effort on defense.
If you had told me at the start of this season that the Raptors best pick up in the off-season would be Aaron Gray I think I would have laughed you out of the room. After a rocky start with his health issues with his heart, he has been a contributor to the team. He lacks any real skill on offense, but for a team that let it's best rebounder walk away in Reggie Evans he has helped out in that regard. He also is a decent defender, nothing spectacular but decent. He is the best signing in part based on how awful everyone else has been. Rasaul Butler has been a train wreck from the word go. Jamaal Magloire is so bad that the fact he is Canadian does not keep people from stating the obvious that he has been awful. There was lots made about him coming home and playing in his hometown of Toronto. But honestly, did any other NBA team want him at this stage of his career? If they did would they now? Anthony Carter is no Jeremy Lin. In fact he maybe no Darrick Martin and maybe only slightly more valuable than Marcus Banks. Gary Forbes might be the only guy that you would even consider, but he has barely seen the floor and is pretty much a non factor most nights. So is it by omission that Aaron Gray is the Raptors best pick up. Yes in part, but he has done something which is more than can be said for the others.
Dwane Casey's impact on this team. I admit the whole "Pound The Rock" thing didn't play with me a bit. It still doesn't to any large degree. However, the fact the Dwane Casey has been able to make progress with this group on defense so quickly is a surprise to me. I know, he won a ring in Dallas and was the guru behind there D that shut down Miami. However, this was the Raptors, a team that for the majority of their existence have been a team challenged to play even average defense. The fact he has been able to even get Andrea Bargnani to look like he is actually trying to play defense is pretty amazing. In that building of defense first mindset, Casey has brought back something that had been lacking for a long time in Toronto. Accountability was something we never saw under Jay Triano and to be honest you are left to question how much the Raptors truly respected Triano in the role of head coach. No one is questioning if they respect Dwane Casey. I recently came up with an expression I like about Casey. In terms of how he deals with the media. He is a less entertaining version of Sam Mitchell. He like Sam did tells it like it is, but just does it in a very low key way. While Sam Mitchell might have said of the loss to Bobcats, that we let the Washington Generals come into our home and kick our butts. Casey said of his great disappointment in how his team performed and failed to show up. Sam's makes the better quote, but the honesty is there from both. All the candy coating losses and players is pretty much gone. Which is something we can all appreciate.
Demar and Ed were suppose to be part of what made this season somewhat bearable at the end of the day. To watch them develop into part of this young core that Colangelo keeps telling us we have. Both have failed to show consistency from night to night. They also have shown very few signs of improvement. Beyond the fact that now and then Demar DeRozan can make the occasional three point shot not much has improved. While there are some very legitimate excuses as to why this has been, it does not change the fact it has been. It seems that when Ed Davis has big days, it is on days when the Raptors as a whole struggle. Case and point the last game vs the Bobcats. While DeRozan has had his fair share of issues on both ends of the floor. Andrea Bargnani not being around has shifted the spotlight to DeRozan and made his flaws more glaring and obvious. While Andrea has proven he can play some defense under Casey, the same can not be said for Demar. Also when you are playing along side the team's best defender for many in James Johnson that makes it more obvious as well. While on offense he has at times drifted away from his strengths and been exposed for his below average handling of the basketball. This off-season for both and what is left of this season, are going to be vital for both Davis and DeRozan to step up and be counted. At this point you have to say in terms of both, we have seen regression not progression.
On a team that lacks a roster that is very talented in comparison to many other teams around the league, the last thing you need is injuries. While in the brief amount of time he has played we have seen a much improved Andrea Bargnani, that does very little to help when he is not playing. In fact it does nothing at all. His injury and subsequent re-injury of his calf has been the most glaring and obvious issue. But the Raptors have seen Jerryd Bayless barely play at all on top of it. We touched on this earlier in talking about both Carter and Calderon. Missing Bayless has been also a big deal, if for no other reason than it allows Jose Calderon to have more gas in his tank. You started the season without Linas Kleiza and Aaron Gray both who when healthy have contributed. It has been a season in which we have seen very little of the Raptors at 100% in terms of healthy bodies. This is not unique to them in this crazy NBA season. Almost every team has had to endure injuries and some teams to key players like Al Horford in Atlanta who is out for the season. But the Raptors given their lack of talent to start with are hurt more by this than other teams.
Were almost halfway through this season. When I look back on this year five years from now I probably will just be thankfully that I survived it. This has not been one of the more fun times in the history of the Toronto Raptors or the NBA in general. Sure there have been moments. But aside from looking back on the start of Jeremy Lin's hall of fame career what will I honestly remember? Maybe nothing, and maybe Jeremy Lin is not even around. But at the end of the day as much as we may love basketball, this season will not be one that has made you more of a fan, it will be one that you have endured and looked for reasons to be excited. That maybe a contributing factor in the rise of Linsanity. While it is a great story it makes up for all the ugly basketball that has been seen throughout this season. There has been a lot of that. Raptor fans have seen some of it first hand just like they got to see Linsanity come to town.
But in any case we are almost halfway home in a season that from the outset had never been promised to be anything but a hard season to deal with. It has delivered on that promise to a great extent.