Raptors Win Home Opener But Fail To Impress

I guess when you cover the Toronto Raptors you should never be upset when at the end of the night you walk away with a win. However, I can’t help myself from feeling that way after the home opener which they hung on to win 93-87. It did make think about the merits or lack of them in watching the pre-season to some degree. DeMar DeRozan had been without question the best Raptor through the seven complete games of the pre-season. His line for the home opener was pretty horrible with 13 points shooting a terrible 6-19 shooting night with 5 turnovers and steals in 40 minutes on the floor. Terrence Ross in just 12 minutes looked better with 6 points in about one quarter of the time. Rudy Gay did lead the Raptors in points with 19 but also had 5 turnovers and the same two steals while shooting 8-18 from the field. 

Amir Johnson who was on cruise control for most of the pre-season knew it was time to play for real games as he had 13 points and shot 6-8 including a three which you would rather not see him taking. In fact all the Raptors big guys  had nice nights. Jonas had just 8 points but 11 rebounds. While Tyler Hansbrough off the bench was the one guy that looked much like he did in the pre-season with 7 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes off the pine

Entering the game there was some questions about Kyle Lowry and how he would play with his injured finger. Not a good shooting night going 2-8 but got to the line a lot despite not shooting well their either going 7-12 but the best sign was the 8 assists and just 2 turnovers on a night that was full of them. D.J Augustin took the back up minutes and was equally as bad shooting it going just 2-7 with 5 points and one assist and just one turnover.

The Raptors within this game were wildly inconsistent. They came out flat as pancake after the over top player intros and pre-game nonsense. They trailed after one and started off giving up the first 6 points of the night before Amir Johnson broke the seal on the basket that seemed to be there in the early going. They came out in the second and looked like a totally different team. They would get up by a significant margin only to let the Celtics back in the game. At one point in the third the Raptors had a 16 point lead and by the end of the third the game was tied. Again in the fourth the Raptors got up 10 only to let the Celtics creep within shouting distance before finally shutting the door.

I guess it goes like this, if you accept the fact that Boston is a terrible team and factor that into things you really are left to wonder how good Toronto actually is. I mean at several points in this game it looked like two very bad basketball teams. When you look ahead the Raptors schedule in November and December is far from easy. A lot of road games and if this game was played on the road you have to wonder if the result would have been the same. The Raptors will need to be much better if they hope to avoid Masai Ujiri from hitting the self-destruction button on this group.

A couple of non-basketball notes for you, the first on the new mascot Stripes. At first I was like this is lame and they copied the name of the Hamilton Ti-Cats Mascot. I guess Mascot names are not copyrighted. I was angry until I saw what the Pelicans of New Orleans have as a mascot. It was some horrific green bird like creature that looked as if it had been on Bourbon St and was puked on. So the moral of the story is it could be worse and we are extremely lucky to have the best mascot in all of sports in THE REAL RAPTOR.

Secondly and maybe the most significant story of the day? I will not have to rant like a crazy person about pizza anymore this season. If you forget look below for a reminder:

Pizza Pizza has finally at least 3/4's fixed the problem with the pizza promotion. Now if the Raptors score 100 points AND WIN you get a free slice of Pizza. It will still allow for those awkward moments where the team is up 99-82 and have the ball with less than 24 seconds to play. Which is still an issue but at least we won’t have fans cheering for Pizza with the Raptors down 20. It only took 3 years or more to get that done. It only took New York fans one game to boo former Raptor Andrea Bargnani. Thankfully that is no longer our problem.

Raptors still have many problems though and nothing they did convinced me this is anything close to a playoff team. It is only the first game of the year so there is time to change my mind but it was not a ringing endorsement to save for your playoff tickets tonight.

Oh and actually the pizza thing is the second best thing that happened today. The first was not me completing the Wrestlemania Mode on WWE2K14 but the game is great. No it is Sam Mitchell being on TSN broadcasts this year. Maybe if we dare to dream he can replace someone rather than work along side them. Regardless of that it is great to have another truth teller on Raptor Broadcasts. Jack Armstrong and Sam Mitchell will always shoot straight from the hip and this Raptor fan base respects people like that.More to the point I do and that is what I do in my small way here everyday.


Starting 5 Season Preview with Jack Armstrong

A new season is here and I can't think of a better person to preview it for us in the Dino Nation Blog than Jack Armstrong. Jack and myself have are usual 20 minute interview that turns to double that. We cover everything from playoffs to hunting for Wiggins. Great stuff on many of the key players that will make up the core of this team for as long as they are competitive. So have a listen Jack never disappoints.

Thanks to Jack as always who has been a joy to work with for many years now for me. By the amount of people that come listen to these interviews I know it is not just me who enjoys when Jack pays the DNB a visit. Enjoy the game and the season ahead no matter what your rooting for Playoffs or Wiggins in the end we all want a better Raptors basketball team at the end of the day.


This Week In Raptorland: Season Preview

Raptors get rolling for real tomorrow against the Celtics. Today myself and John Chick preview the season and hear from Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan in this episode.

Tomorrow a special edition of The Starting 5 as we preview the Raptors season with Jack Armstrong. So tune in for that tomorrow.


Raptors Get Ready To Roll For Real.

Over the next two days will be having two season previews. This Week in Raptorland with me and John Chick will have an interview with Amir Johnson and some thoughts from DeMar DeRozan too. In addition we will have a season preview with the one and only Jack Armstrong.

In case you missed it the Raptors final pre-season game vs. Bucks never made it out of the first quarter on Friday. The court was deemed unplayable do to condensation coming up from the ice below the court. If I remember correctly they have an AHL Hockey team that plays in the same building.

Over the weekend the Raptors cut Chris Wright and Carlos Morais were told thanks for coming out and waived from the roster. Julyan Stone is currently injured but it seems like he may have nailed down the fifteenth roster spot.

Kyle Lowry as mentioned will be playing with a splint on his ring finger on his non shooting hand for likely the next 6 weeks. Given what we have seen at the back-up point guard position if Lowry were to miss any time that would have been a major blow. Even though he is not, you still have to wonder how well he will be able to deal with the pain.

It all gets started for real on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics.


Lowry Damaged But Not Out For Raptors

It has been determined that Kyle Lowry has the tendon in his left ring finger. He will be able to play and practice with a splint on the injured finger. He will be wearing this splint for a period of six weeks on his none shooting hand. Lowry was checked out this afternoon in Toronto and did not make the trip with team for the final pre-season game in Milwaukee.

Jonas Valancuinas was back at practice today with the three stitches in his chin. He was feeling much better and is expected to be fine. He also as a formality had his option on his rookie contract picked up as did fellow rookie Terrence Ross. No surprise in either having their rookie contracts options picked up. It is more shocking story around the league when a player doesn’t have one picked up.

Raptors will try to stay healthy as they close out pre-season against the Bucks on Friday. Tyler Hansbrough and Julyan Stone also came out of Wednesday with some minor bumps and bruises. One thing that even the most optimistic Raptors would have to admit is this team can not afford injures.

Back At ACC To See Raptors Maul Grizzlies

I made my first trip to the ACC for basketball this season. Let’s be honest it wasn’t much of a game on Wednesday night. The Grizzlies looked like they decided to hibernate from this pre-season contest. The Raptors took control of this game and were never really challenged the entire night.

It was however a night that was cause for worry as Kyle Lowry left the game with an injury to his left ringer finger that is expected to be evaluated some time today. Jonas Valanciunas took a hard shot and need only a few stitches in his chin and coach Casey said in a regular season game could have returned. It was not a gash like we saw in the main event of the UFC show that was in town about a month ago.

Speaking of the UFC had some fun talking with Amir Johnson who was at those fights. We talked about a number of things and as always it was a fun conversation. You’ll be able to hear it on the next episode of This Week in Raptorland. In addition will have some thoughts from DeMar DeRozan on how he has been playing this pre-season. That episode should be out next Tuesday.

In addition date to be determined but Jack Armstrong will be stopping by to preview this Raptors season. It is always a highlight when Jack drops by and he often has some interesting things to say and I expect this time will be no different. We just have to set something up with Jack’s schedule which is always a busy one but he does always find time for us in the DNB which is fantastic.

As for the game itself honestly it was hard to make many evaluations from it. This was a pre-season game that one team showed up for and one team just didn’t. The good news was the Raptors were the team that showed up to play. Some points worth noting:

  • Casey still says that the back-up point guard spot is up for grabs. Bad news for D.J Augustin and good news for Dwight Buycks and Julyan Stone.
  • DeMar DeRozan remains the most consistent performer the Raptors have had this pre-season.
  • Landry Fields really seems to have found his game finally after a long search and battling with injures and recovering both physically and mentally.
  • Terrence Ross is gaining some confidence scoring but he still needs to remember it will be his play on defensive end that will determine his minutes.
  • Kyle Lowry has been turning up his play and it continued tonight until the injury. Will see if it is a minor one. I would suspect minor or not he might not play Friday. In addition he might not have played much anyway with some indecision on his back-up.
  • Nice night for Austin Daye and Raptors as a group picking it up from long range. Steve Novak has been on the sidelines but seems on pace to be ready for opening night.
  • For the moment Rudy Gay seems content to be Robin to DeRozan’s Batman will see if that remains the case going into the real season. It seems clear what both said last season remains true. They have said they can play together and they are showing it thus far in the pre-season.

Probably some other things I could note but those are the major ones that come to mind. Hansbrough continues to be the sixth man for this group to this point. I wasn’t crazy about the signing but he has seemed to gel with this team. In a bench that has been far from great this pre-season he has been the one consistent element.

Just one more pre-season game Friday in Milwaukee and then it starts for real next Wednesday against Boston. How this team gets out of the gate is going to be really important. They can not afford to fall behind if they do the pressure to take a part this group will increase. 


The Little Boy That Cried Raptor.

I find myself trying to get inspired for this Raptors season and it really just isn’t happening for me. I want to believe there is a brighter day and that may well be the case with Ujiri and Leiweke. This is of course likely the way many felt when Bryan Colangelo first got here. This might be the point I am getting to after 18 years of this team basically I think we have seen it all. 

Ok I admit a Global Ambassador rapper was new but really maybe not. Is Master P getting a tryout really much different than Drake? I guess time will tell on that one.  Both at the end of day seem like gimmicks to draw in a broader audience and attract attention.

Landry Fields is the latest over paid guy that people hate based on just that. Terrence Ross is the latest young up and comer that people try to make into Vince Carter or Tracy McGrady. It takes so little to get people excited about players like Ross. He has a fan friendly type of game with the highlight dunks. A couple of good games and the T-Ross train is back on course to super stardom.

I remember long before there was this blog I use to host a basketball segment on a sports talk show. On that segment I would chat with at the time Raptors broadcaster Chuck Swirsky. I remember being in the little studio thinking how awful the week ahead looked for the Raptors. I would have a conversation with Chuck and I was convinced that maybe I had been wrong and to jaded. Most times I in fact wasn’t and the grim reality started to sink in about what the Raptors actually were as a team.

No one could sell this team like Chuck Swirsky. I think what happened though is a lot of fans like myself wanted to believe in this team and what Chuck was selling. Now it seems far too silly to buy into the hype and nonsense that is said about a lot of the players on this team.

Raptors are once again looking like a team on surface that looks pretty good in the pre-season. The record that we all say doesn’t matter is still kept and let’s face it if this team was 1-6 and not 6-1 people would be in a panic mode. Just last season this team exited the pre-season with just one loss and had a lot of people wondering if they would be a surprise team. After a 4-19 start there was no one left wondering about the merits of how good this team was anymore. 

So what is different about this team? The obvious is Rudy Gay who was not a part of that horrible start to the season. I just have not really been impressed with what we have seen to this point. The guy is paid like he is an elite player and an all-star but he falls short of that level. Tyler Hansbrough has got a lot of talk in the pre-season but is he really going to be much better than the hot start Ed Davis had last season? Bargnani is gone at least there is that right. Jose Calderon is as well but the Raptors situation behind Lowry is far less stable without him.

To take this to a broader level the Raptors bench which was by no means world beaters last season looks to be not even as good as that this season. Even if I put on my rose coloured glasses on full blast I have a hard time seeing this team being any better than seventh in the East. Which when you haven’t made the playoffs in five years isn’t the worst thing in the world. In any other year but this one that might be true.

The elephant in the room and that hangs over this season not just for the Raptors but many teams in this league is a young talented Canadian native at the top of every draft board at Kansas. He is backed up by some more than acceptable consolation prizes. If there was ever a year to target the lottery this might be the year for the Toronto Raptors and several other traditional NBA bottom feeders. It has to be good when the Celtics and Sixers have already waved the white flag on this season before it ever tips off.

To me Andrew Wiggins is the answer to many of the Raptors problems. I have preached for years in this blog about the need for a true Canadian contributor for this team. Drake is not going to score a basket for the Raptors at the end of the day. Andrew Wiggins quite simply will be a game changer for whoever drafts him but no where is that more the case than in Toronto.

Perhaps I am just looking for something or someone to believe in. If I am forced to choose if I believe in this group or Andrew Wiggins to me the answer is pretty obvious. It is hard to believe in much of anything after 18 years that have offered very little joy or hope for the future.


9 Days Left To The Real Deal For The Raptors

We are nine days from basketball that means something and it could not come soon enough. My apologies about the end of last week we had some internet issues here at DNB HQ. Raptors have three games to survive to get to basketball that matters. What this week should be about are the guys that are on the fringe of this rotation. In the game on Wednesday DeMar DeRozan went down and looked like he turned an ankle. It turned out he was fine but it was a big reminder that this stuff doesn’t matter at the end of the day. At least for the guys that are going be your starters.

On Wednesday we finally saw a pulse from both Terrence Ross and Landry Fields, once is great but over this next week we need to see some consistence from both. In general the Raptors bench has looked very weak throughout this pre-season with some rare exceptions.

You hopefully learned from last year that record in the pre-season means very little. So if the Raptors win tonight against the Knicks tonight or later in the week against the Grizzlies and Bucks is not the point. It is about keeping the main pieces of this team healthy and the people that are fighting for a spot to use this time to earn it.

As far as the Raptors final roster spot it seems clear that Julyan Stone is the favourite to occupy it if the Raptors plan on using that fifteenth spot at all. To be honest Wright and Morais were in an uphill battle from the start. Raptors already had almost signed Stone in the summer and due to health concerns had to move on and sign Dwight Buycks.

The Raptors get a second look at the Knicks tonight but will see what exact version of the Knicks we get. New York is a team that has no problem with giving it stars a seat for pre-season games. The Raptors have been resting Steve Novak quite a bit to make sure he is one hundred percent for opening night.

I’ll be down at the ACC for the final home pre-season game against Memphis. Looking forward to seeing what is going on with some of the guys heading into the season. The real NBA season and WWE 2k14 video game can not get here soon enough.


Raptors vs Celtics: Take Two In Toronto

Take two goes down with Celtics at the ACC tonight. In the Raptors Pre-Season opener they beat the Celtics in Boston. Raptors already have played a pair with the T-Wolves in which the Raptors lost in Toronto and won their last outing in Minnesota. In the first match-up with the Celtics, the Raptors dominated on the glass winning by 20. This made up for all the turnovers they committed.

This is the Raptors only game of the week which should allow guys to go all out. Well as all out as anyone actually goes in the pre-season. The Raptors have reached the halfway point of their pre-season schedule at 3-1 but that said there have been a lot of concerns.

The Raptors focus going into camp has been defense and they have shown little evidence of that in the pre-season games we have seen. It really needs to be better if the Raptors are going to be able to have success in their early schedule.

The fact the Raptors open against the Celtics it is safe to assume both sides are holding back some things from their opening night opponent.

As far as battles go for the Raptors in camp there really are not many. The one seems to be for who will be the back-up point guard between Dwight Buycks and D.J Augustin. To be honest neither has really stood out at this point. Casey in post game comments seems to suggest that the role of back-up point guard could be situational.

The other battle is if the Raptors will add someone in the fifteenth roster spot. We have seen little of the three guys battling for this one spot. Based on the comments we hear coming from Dwane Casey it seems like Julyan Stone has the inside track. It makes sense based on a couple things. The Raptors were prepared to sign him before some red flags with some health concerns. In addition Casey seems to like that ability that Stone has to guard three different positions.

At this point of the Pre-Season you realize that as much as we try to get something out these games it can be hard at times. We are just two weeks away from the games that matter and I would suspect we might start seeing less of the starters as we get closer to the games that matter.

It will be a chance for Canadian basketball fans to get a look at Kelly Olynck. He was a lottery pick for the Celtics and really should have a chance to shine in what is clearly a rebuilding/tanking year for Celtics.

There are only four more of these to get through thankfully.


This Week In Raptorland: Pre-Season Edition

Back from the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. Not much to say on the Raptors win in Minnesota as you couldn't even get an audio feed for that one. The Raptors did win that game to go to 3-1 on the pre-season. Prior to that game we recorded the second episode of This Week in Raptorland with myself and John Chick. So have a listen at are thoughts on the Raptors so far.

That does it one more of these as a season preview and than we will establish a day you can expect this week in Raptorland this year. Raptors are back in action tomorrow at the ACC.


Bargnani Is Back In Town

Pre-season is not just for players, tonight is the pre-season workout for the ACC fans on booing. This is of course the Knicks first visit to the ACC with Andrea Bargnani. Mike Woodson clearly has yet to understand what Toronto already knows. He thinks that Andrea Bargnani can fit his system. He was quoted expressing his love for Bargnani in an article by Marc Berman that is titled Knicks thrilled the Raptors gave up on Bargnani.

Here are some of the highlights of what Woodson had to say in the New York Post article:

Woodson: "I like everything about him,’’ Woodson said. “That was the reason we brought him over. I think he’s just a talented kid who knows how to play. I’ve got to keep his spirits up and pat him when he needs to be patted and ride his [butt] when it needs to be rode."

As someone that has watched Andrea from day one I say to Mike Woodson.....GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!!!

But there is more Andrea love from Woodson in the article talking about Bargnani being the perfect fit for Woodson's system:

Woodson: "I see a player, I think, fits in [the] scheme of things I do. It’s not about that team anymore. It’s about getting him acclimated to what we’re doing. I think he’ll be just fine."

Woodson also goes on to call Andrea a triple threat on offense. That might be true but that isn't why Toronto got rid of him. It was the other end of the floor where Bargnani as most Raptors fans are fully aware was a train wreck.

Even Carmelo Anthony has allegedly been fooled into thinking Andrea can be a help. No love for Jeremy Lin but love for Andrea Bargnani. That makes sense seeing as Bargnani is not likely to want to steal any of Carmelo's spotlight in New York.

Bargnani scored 12 points in his debut for Knicks in the pre-season against the Celtics.

It seems clear the Knicks goal is to try and rebuild Andrea Bargnani confidence that was completely shattered after seven years here in Toronto. I suppose it is not impossible for Bargnani to get off to a decent start with Knicks with this tactic. However, once adversity hits I think Toronto fans understand what will happen after that.

Andrea Bargnani has many faults but at the top of list is really his lack of ability to deal with adversity. He does not have a burning desire to fight through adversity.

But perhaps the best thing of all came to us from Amir Johnson. He was asked if he thought fans would boo Andrea Bargnani? At first he responded with he doesn't know than when pressed jokingly about it he admitted that he does in fact know.

Raptor fans have been criticized for booing former stars in the past. In the case of Andrea Bargnani I think booing will help throw him off his game. It clearly did as a Raptor and I think it will work as an opponent.

Aside from all the Bargnani talk the Raptors still need to figure out how to play D and make some three point shots as a group. They have struggled at both through two games of the pre-season.


Raptor on the IR and D Is MIA

Playoffs? Playoffs? I just hope they can win a damn game. Too much panic for game two of the Pre-Season right? The Raptors on defensive end of the floor have been pretty awful through two games. Which makes this even more concerning is that is suppose to have been the focus for the Raptors in training camp. The Raptors showed no sign of a pulse on defense last night against Minnesota. The Raptors were able to keep pace in the first half because Minnesota was about as defenseless as them. But in the third quarter the Raptors got torched 28-16 that was enough to roll on to a 101-89 victory over Toronto. 

The Raptors did not have the greatest game on the defensive end in Boston either but a 20 rebound advantage on the glass made up for that to some degree. The Raptors got beat on the glass 41-35 last night at the ACC. Another problem in Boston was turnovers. While they did clean that up a little bit they still had many of the 14 they committed last night turn into easy scores for Minnesota. Steve Novak got his first action as a Raptor and was as advertised going 3-5 from long range. The rest of the team was brutal going 3-17. Dwight Buycks led the long range brick parade going 0-5 from distance.

About the only thing that you could hang your hat on if you are in desperate for something positive was the performance of DeMar DeRozan. He was working in the post and the paint and getting the job done leading the Raptors with 17 points going 6-7 from the field and 5-6 at the line in 22 minutes on the floor.

Some other lines to be concerned about begin with Rudy Gay who was just 2-7 and had just 11 points. Terrence Ross after drawing some praise against Boston was just 3-10 from the field with 7 points and 3 turnovers. In addition Landry Fields was a team worst -18 with just two points going 1-6 from the floor. In the case of Landry you wonder how much is physical and how much is mental at this stage of the game.

The Raptors still have 6 more games to sort this stuff out but also just 20 days until they open up the NBA Season for real. I have alluded to the fact their schedule is challenging to start the season and if we do not see major improvements on defence and shooting from distance they could be in a lot of trouble.

The games come fast and furious in the pre-season as the Raptors will be back at it at the ACC on Friday as Andrea Bargnani’s new team the New York Knicks will pay a visit to the ACC.

A couple of programming notes for the DNB. The Week that was our feature on all the news around the NBA is getting a week off. Stephen will be back next week with all the news of interest from around the NBA. In addition another episode of This Week in Raptorland should get taped over the weekend with me and John Chick looking at the Raptors pre-season so far. It should be out to the masses on Monday.

Lastly you likely heard last night that The Raptor the team Mascot has been injured and unable to do his thing this year as he tore his ACL. I mean this in all seriousness that it was a blow to learn this news. He is one of the most entertaining mascots in sports. I have always been a fan of mascots and think it will be a shame to have a season without him. Someone else will try to fill his claws but it can’t be done. So to the Raptor I sincerely wish you a successful and healthy recovery and hope you are able to continue entertaining us all for years to come.




Pre-Season Preview: Wolves At Raptors

Raptors hit the floor at the ACC for the first time this season coming off a win in Boston to kick-off the pre-season on Monday. Minnesota has been a team that people have been projecting to rise for years now. Injuries have gotten in the way of that with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love not getting to see the floor together for a full season. Much like the Raptors the concern in Minnesota is about if this team can get job done on the defensive end of the floor.

One of the positives of the win against Boston was the Raptors performance on the boards that will get a stiff challenge from Kevin Love and company tonight. The T-Wolves also played on Monday losing to CSKA Moscow 108-106 in overtime. CSKA Moscow is the team that former Raptor Sonny Weems is playing for these days but he did not see action on Monday. Rubio played 27 minutes with 10 points and 3 assists but Derrick Williams the former second overall pick in 2011 that led the way with 21 points and 9 rebounds.

One of the problems in the game against Boston was a familiar one for the Raptors struggling from beyond the 3 point-line. Will see if Steve Novak gets some minutes tonight to try and help solve that issue. The Raptors in their inter-squad game looked good from long range but against Boston it was just 2-13 from long range.

Kevin Martin has made his way from OKC to the T-Wolves making this his fourth stop in the NBA but who is counting right. He should be a step up for DeMar DeRozan to deal with. In fact lots of good match-ups in this one highlighted likely by the Lowry versus Rubio match-up.

Both teams have some offensive fire power but are focused on improving on the defensive end of the floor. Will see what we get tonight at the ACC both coaches will be hoping to avoid a shoot-out.


Positives and Negatives For Raptors In A Pre-Season Win

So let’s get the yearly speech out of the way about the pre-season and what it actually means in the grand scheme of things. The Raptors only lost once last pre-season and starting the season going a disappointing 4-19 to start the season. The wins and the loses are really not the most important thing at the end of day at this time of year. When the Raptors play these same Celtics on October 30th that will mean something that will matter.  It is about what we can see from individuals and groups of players in various situations.

So with that out of the way the Raptors had some positives and negatives in what turned out to be a win in Boston. As a group the main negatives were both turnovers and fouls, which we saw to many of both in this game. Something typical of the pre-season but if it becomes a constant will be a growing concern heading into the season.

Individually Jonas Valanciunas had his issues with both in this one despite putting up a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in between the fouls. He had already racked up 5 fouls with over 3 minutes to play in the third quarter. He also had three turnovers in this game as well but he was far from alone in that regard.

Raptors as group had 26 turnovers and of those 26 it was the starting 5 accounting for 16 of them with Rudy Gay with a team high 4. The good news was Gay led the Raptors with 17 point and maybe more importantly a very efficient 7-11 from the field. DeRozan had 13 and also was decent shooting 50% from the field on the night.

The Raptors second unit struggled on defensive end of the floor at times. The Raptor would consistently build leads in this game only to quite literally throw them away. Positives on the bench though as Tyler Hansbrough who sat out the inter-squad game Saturday was in full effect in Boston. He tied for the team lead in points with 17 points and had 9 rebounds and just because he has a reputation for it add a silly tech to the mix. Terrence Ross had a much better start to pre-season than he did in Las Vegas as he had 12 points and showed some of those defensive skills we were promised when he was drafted with 4 steals.

Acy, Morais, Novak, Stone and Wright all did not see action in this one. Raptors dominated on the glass out rebounding the Celtics 46-26 on the class. Canadian Kelly Olynck was playing for the Celtics and had 4 points and 5 assists but was just 1-5 from the field in his NBA Pre-Season Debut.

In the end the Raptors take their first contest where they keep score this year 97-89.  They will make their home pre-season debut Wednesday against Minnesota. Pre-season basketball is just as fun as I remember it. It isn’t but it is part of the process in getting ready for a season. You need to keep in mind a great many things in the pre-season when playing another team. Overall what is their talent level and how much of their talent is actually playing in the game. Boston is a team that lacks talent and is project to be a front runner in the race for Andrew Wiggins so it really is not a quality opponent the Raptors faced in this one.

But for whatever it is truly worth the Raptors did get a win. It is better than losing even if it doesn’t count in the W or L columns at this point. 

A Season Of Many Agendas Gets Going In Boston

Well Team Black put the boots to Team Aaron Gray on Saturday. The teams made up for the Raptors inter-squad game seemed fairly one-sided. That was even more so when Rudy Gay seemed to be a step slow as advertised. He and his 20 extra pounds of muscle were not moving as fast. That combined with everyone in black that took a three was making it. This included DeMar DeRozan who was bragging on Media Day about his improvement from long range. His first shot in the scrimmage was a three that he made without breaking a sweat.

Team black also featured D.J Augustin, Steve Novak, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas along with DeMar. Lowry was on the other side with Terrence Ross and the aforementioned Gay. Take it all for what it is worth but the guys in the black jerseys had a much better day. Tyler Hansbrough did not suit up for either side as he was held out with hamstring issue. It was said to be a precautionary measure and nothing to be concerned about.

The Raptors start for real tonight in Boston. The Celtics are already in the Andrew Wiggins chase before they ever tip up a ball for this season. Rondo is injured and Pierce and Garnett are now on the Nets. No offence to Canadian Kelly Olynck but it is going be a long year in Boston. The Celtics have tried this whole tanking thing before and failed to land Greg Oden. They took their well earned fourth overall pick and used it in a trade to get Ray Allen who joined Kevin Garnett to create the original Big Three before the Heat came up with their version. Speaking of Oden, who has been an injury waiting to happen, he is trying to keep his career going with the Heat.

So for those banging the “don’t tank drum”, Boston is your example of how it can not work out for you. They however in the end were very lucky as it turned out and made much better than lemonade out of the situation. Portland on the other hand ended up the lucky ones that took Oden over Kevin Durant.

In any case as I debated on Twitter over the weekend, I am much more interested in a lottery ticket than a first round playoff sweep if the Raptors fall in the seventh or eighth seed. In fact, I would consider this season a complete disaster if the Raptors finished between 7-10 in the standings. That is doing nothing for the long term future of this team.

The good news is the way the Raptors schedule is constructed you are going to know in first two months if this team is any kind of threat. I am not going to say they will have an especially bad start like last year with a 4-19 start. After all, they never had Rudy Gay and a much improved bench that they do now. It would not shock me if they were well below .500 though by the time 2014 rolls around. If that is the case the Raptors need to tear this down a bit to position themselves in the draft lottery.

That likely would mean trading Kyle Lowy and Rudy Gay most likely and perhaps several others. That said, if you caught the highlights of Andrew Wiggins from early Saturday morning in a Kansas inter-squad game you understand why the NBA is all about tanking for his services in the draft. Have a look and try not to drool:

I got a first hand look in Hamilton and this kid is all that people say about him and more. Not since Lebron James have we seen this kind of talent at the high school level. Ok maybe, since Kevin Durant is more realistic. Whatever the case Andrew Wiggins is one of those special talents that you can say with some certainty will be the number one pick in the draft. Unlike Anthony Bennett getting selected this year at number one, it will shock no one to hear Wiggins name said by Adam Silver. What is the question for every team that knows they can't win this season is what team it will be too.

The simple fact is Wiggins would mean more to the Raptors than any place else as he would be literally a franchise changer for the team. I like his individual upside much more than I do this group of Raptors without him. This group does deserve a chance to make their case on why we should have faith in them. As many will tell you the team with the worst record seldom wins the NBA Lottery. You just need a ticket to win, but if the Raptors struggle it would be irresponsible not to shift focus to Wiggins and this highly talent draft class behind him.

Funny things tend to happen in that NBA Lottery over the years. Cleveland just so happened to land Lebron James. Chicago native Derrick Rose just so happened to become a Bull. The Bulls only had a 5.7% chance of that happening. Rigged or legit the stakes are far too high for the Raptors to not at least be interested in having a pony in that race.

It is going be a strange season with a lot of people with a lot of different agendas as part of this story. Kyle Lowry is in a contract year and needs to perform well personally. Rudy Gay eyeing free agency this off-season or next depending on what makes the most sense. Dwane Casey coaching for his job has to win at the end of the day. Masai Ujiri looking to reshape this Raptor franchise into a true contender for the long haul. Along with a Raptor fan base that might be the most divided it has been since Jose Calderon and T.J Ford were here. Some fans, clearly wanting to see the Raptors sport camouflage jerseys all year and tank for Wiggins. While others are desperate to see this group grow and make the post-season and leave the Andrew Wiggins talk for free agency 5-10 years down the road.

As much as people and these players want to succeed it really is conflicting to what Andrew Wiggins could mean for this franchise. Wiggins is an instant game changer and the fact he stated he wants to be here only added fuel to a fire that was already raging. Like it or not that is the back drop to this season. Raptors fans will have one eye on Kansas and one eye on the Raptors. They will not be alone as other teams like Boston have already unofficially entered the race for Andrew Wiggins. If Boston or Philadelphia were successful that would be a painful pill to swallow for Raptors fans for years to come. This will be especially true if this current group flounders and falls apart without him. You can take Damon, Vince and Tracy all leaving and multiply it by ten and it still might not hurt as much as this would.

It is a strange season that is about to get underway and however it plays out will have a huge impact on the future of this franchise.


Dwane Casey Must Win To Remain With The Raptors

Dwane Casey finds himself in a very difficult situation entering the final year of his new contract. Not unlike the situation Sam Mitchell found himself in when Bryan Colangelo was first hired. Like when Colangelo took over Masai Ujiri is allowing Dwane the chance to play out his contract. Sam Mitchell of course had that dream season for anyone in a contract year. He set a record for wins for the franchise and the team won its lone division title in team history.

In terms of making the playoffs for this season Dwane Casey says “We’re going to find out fairly quickly.”  When you look at the Raptors schedule I think everyone would agree. Not to mention the elephant in the room of a stacked draft class led by Andrew Wiggins.

If we do find out fairly quickly that Raptors do not have what it takes to make the playoffs what does that mean for Dwane Casey? It likely means the end of the road you would have to think. Just like this group that he coaches it is even more vital for his future to win early on.

Casey has no doubt looked and examined the schedule that faces his team in the first two months. It is far from easy and sees some really challenging road trips in December. Under different circumstances the Raptors might be able to weather the storm of a slower start to the season. Given the shake up at the top and the stakes of what being in the NBA Lottery could mean make that not an option this season.

Obviously a 4-19 start like last season would be a death blow for Casey and likely this roster as a whole. But realistically if the Raptors are anywhere below the .500 mark at the end of the calendar year it likely is not good news Casey or this roster sticking together.

It seems hard to think Casey will be able to keep his job if the Raptors decide to unofficially join the Wiggins race in the NBA Lottery. At the end of it all no one is more motivated to win this season than Dwane Casey because you have to figure his job depends on it.

Casey is a good coach and has done a decent job in his time here to this point. However once the people above him change the loyalty commitment and responsibility all lie with the people that hired him that largely are no longer around.

The simple fact is the odds of Dwane Casey coaching Andrew Wiggins as a Raptor are next to nothing. If the Raptors head towards trying to get a solid draft pick and chance to get Wiggins that will surly spell the end for Casey sooner or later.


Week That Was In The NBA

Raptors Get Drake And 2016 NBA All-Star
Pro Bball reports, “We couldn’t be more proud to have the All-Star game here,” Leiweke said.  “We are bringing today a new partner and an Ambassador – Drake.

Smith, Stoudemire sit, but Knicks insist they'll score
NBA News reports, J.R. Smith is recovering from knee surgery, then faces an NBA suspension when he returns.  Amare Stoudemire is recovering from knee surgery - yes, that's three in the last year - and faces a restriction on his minutes when he returns.

Knee surgery sidelines Wolves' Budinger indefinitely
NBA News reports, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is out indefinitely.  The Wolves made the announcement on Tuesday that Budinger had a procedure on his left meniscus. Budinger had a similar injury last season that caused him to miss more than four months.

Bobcats' assistant Price working to fix Kidd-Gilchrist's jumper
NBA News reports, Bobcats assistant coach Mark Price said fixing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jump shot is akin to performing major reconstructive surgery: It's going to take some time.  Price was one of the NBA's best shooters during his 13-year career, which is why Bobcats owner Michael Jordan hired him to correct Kidd-Gilchrist's flawed mechanics.

Pacers' Granger looks good in early practices
NBA News reports, Granger will not participate in back-to-back practices or practice three days in a row. He got through practices on Saturday and Sunday, the first two days of training camp, then sat out Monday to be safe.  West said Granger doesn't appear to be slowed in any way.

Irving, Cavs ready to pounce on playoff scene
NBA News reports, "I want to be the best player in this league," Irving said. "In order to do that, I know we have to win a lot of games. But I'm the leader of this team, and I'm ready to take responsibility for it by helping us make the playoffs. This is the best I've ever felt coming into a season."

Athletic Pistons eyeing return to playoffs
NBA News reports, "I don't expect anything less than the playoffs," said forward Josh Smith, who signed with Detroit in the offseason. "We're a confident bunch. You see it all over everybody's faces - the need to win."

Nets focused on title, not Knicks
NBA News reports, "(Beating the Knicks) Truthfully, that's not that important to me. I came here to win a championship. I don't even want to see an Atlantic banner put up if we win it," Pierce said.

Rivers gets down to business with Clippers
NBA News reports, "We have a chance to do something," Doc Rivers said Monday at the team's media day. "I believe we can (win a title), but we have a lot of work to do first."

Toronto Raptors Media Day Quotes and Pictures
Pro Bball reports, “We are excited to have Drake as part of the family, the MLSE family,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey.  “We want to be where Masai (Ujiri) was talking about by 2016 – having winning championship aspirations.  We are going to start out with defense.  That is the way it should be with any team that wants to get better.”

Predicting the NBA East and West Standings
Pro Bball reports, The Bulls operated at a first-place 62-win pace for two seasons behind Derrick Rose’s leadership. The winning core of Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Carlos Boozer are back and this team is good enough to produce another 60-plus win season.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors


DeRozan and Johnson: The Sole Survivors Of The Post Bosh Era

They are the sole survivors of the Post-Bosh era of the Raptors. Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan are the only two guys on the roster that remain from when Bosh last wore a Raptors jersey. It has been a tough few years to be Raptors fans let alone on the front line in the battles on the court.

Johnson has in a sense filled the role that once was Chris Bosh’s maybe not in terms of being the Raptors' best player but clearly it’s most visible and socially active. Bosh once was the twitter darling or the Raptors' fan base but that role now clearly is the title for Amir Johnson.

Amir holds the distinction of being the last ever high school player to be drafted. He continued his education in Detroit on a scholarship to the NBA. Johnson learned a lot from his time there as he reflected on at Media Day on Monday:

“It was huge because it was kind like my college days.  I didn’t really know anything; I didn’t know how to play in the NBA coming from high school to the pro level.  What do I need to learn? What do I need to do? They kind of took me under their wing and taught me how to play. “

Amir also talked about how he is trying to pass along that knowledge to younger players like Jonas Valanciunas, as well as being a more vocal leader. This is something that DeMar DeRozan talked about as well being more vocal on the floor and off it.  DeRozan also talked about being tired of watching friends of his go to the playoffs while he sits on the sidelines. You see it in his eyes and feel it in his voice when he says this. This makes this whole concept of asking players about tanking a silly one. Players on every team always want to win and when they fail to feel that way you have a serious problem.

DeRozan has grown so much from the shy young man that I met back in Ottawa when he and Johnson first joined the Raptors' franchise. They saw Bosh take his talents to Miami and they were left to endure the fallout. DeRozan feels that frustration of enduring through the losing but desperately wants to see the good times.

“I hate to say it feels like we’re the last men standing but we just got to take advantage. Myself and Amir, this is where we want to be. We went through the bad times, we definitely want to be here when the city gets (what it is) deserving, the enjoyment and the good times.”

DeRozan enters into his much talked about contract extension that he received prior to the start of last season from Bryan Colangelo. DeRozan is starting to accept the responsibility that comes with the money. He agreed when asked that he now a young veteran and you can sense he feels ownership of this team.

Much like Bosh had things thrust upon him far too soon with the departure of Vince Carter, the same can be said for DeRozan when he came in just prior to the exit of Bosh. He has grown and developed but not always to the rate that people wanted him too. He has grown up a lot in the 5 years and you see the changes in him. Both in life and on and off the basketball court a great deal has changed.

Regardless of what happens with this Raptors season be it positive or negative, you hope that DeRozan and Johnson can make it to that other side when things do turn for the better for this franchise. You can not deny how both have fought through losing and improved as individual players and people to become the guys that had to lead this franchise through the Post-Bosh era.