Raptors Look To Finish 2013 Strong

As crazy as it sounds the Raptors after back to back wins over the struggling Knicks are now looking like front runners to win the Atlantic Division. That is almost as bizarre as envisioning a black and gold Raptors colour scheme which is rumoured to being considered as part of the team’s re-branding efforts that will happen in two seasons in conjunction with hosting the NBA All-Star Game.

The one thing that still keeps me from buying into this change of direction for the Raptors fortunes for this season is Kyle Lowry. I don’t think as a Raptor fan or someone who has covered this team to be afraid of this team not being able to re-sign him. He has been a big part of why the Raptors are winning and as there stock goes up so does his as a free agent this off-season.

If you think about it the Raptors short term thinking has always been their downfall even at the points the franchise was successful. Once again a bright shinny short term full with a ticket to playoffs is there for the Raptors. It seems quite appealing for a team that has not seen the playoffs in going on five years. It would make sense if you could have some reason to believe you can keep this group together and they will continue to improve.

There is no question you have seen that improvement in guys like DeMar DeRozan who is looking like a guy capable of being the number on option on this team. A young guy like Terrence Ross, who was in a dramatic tail spin after winning the dunk contest and having an off-season that at Summer League looked to be going totally wrong has turned a corner. He still is a major liability on the defensive end but with the added depth the Raptors got in the Gay trade they are able to hide him when needed. On the offensive end he is a scoring threat of late on more nights than he isn’t

Jonas Valanciunas has also been given some sort of re-birth in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. He is starting to show the promise he did last season that had everyone excited about his future coming into this year.

The Raptors have no time to party and bring in 2014 as they face a game against Chicago tonight who are on the second half of their own back to back and struggling. This is followed by a New Year’s Day match-up with Pacers who have been the only other team in the East aside from Miami that has been a true contender. If the Raptors can take care of business and save something for the Pacers that would be the ideal circumstance. How the Raptors do against the Pacers should be interesting to watch. A win recently over a top team like Oklahoma City has to give the Raptors some confidence to match up with the Pacers. 

Unlike many teams in the East Jonas while still raw and young does have the size to match-up with a Roy Hibbert who is a big piece to the Pacers puzzle.

In any case or any colours no one could have imagined the Raptors contending to win their Division prior to the start of the season. Thanks to injures for the top two teams in New York and Brooklyn combined with uninspired play even when healthy this is where the Raptors find themselves.

Things schedule wise for Toronto really turn in their favour now it was just most never saw them being competitive and still looking to win games at this point of the season. They are though and obviously are trying to balance this somewhat underwhelming success without much attention being paid to their uncertain future as far as the roster going forward.

What the Raptors decide about Kyle Lowry will ultimately go a long way in deciding their ultimate fate for this season. Unlike trading Rudy Gay there is little chance a Lowry trade makes the Raptors anything but worse. Where they stand come the trade deadline will make that choice tougher assuming they can continue on this roll till than. Their schedule definitely offers them the chance to do just that.

It is great to see a competitive and exciting basketball team for the first time in a long time. The really worry is can it be sustained and last. That is where the Raptors have struggled in the past.

It has been a pretty difficult 2013 for me personally and keeping this thing going. I have no idea what 2014 will mean as far as me trying to keep this thing going. Will see what the future holds for both the Raptors and DNB I guess. But what I really want to say is Happy New Year and all the best in 2014 for all of you that have stuck with me. If you can help out by using are Amazon banners and get yourself some new stuff for the New Year please do.

Will talk with everyone in 2014 likely after the Raptors and Pacers game is in the books. Can’t remember a year where the Raptors have got stuck with this lousy New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day back to back. I am about as thrilled about that as having the colours of a rapper for the team’s colours. In retrospect I am starting to think this Drake idea might have been one of the dumbest things the Raptors have done and that cover a lot of ground.


Raptors Short Term Stock Is Rising In NYC

The Raptors were playing their best basketball of the season winning 2 of 3 on the road against high level Western Conference competition. The Knicks have struggled all year and took a loss to the Bulls on Christmas Day. They would be without their best player as Carmelo Anthony would not suit up in this one. It had the makings of an easy win for the Raptors on paper.

In true Raptors fashion when you get confidence in them they often disappoint and at the start of this game this seemed to be the case. In addition the Raptors would face something they rarely had seen in a motivated Andrea Bargnani. The former Raptor number one pick played with a noticeable difference from his normal effort level on a night to night basis.

The Raptors had a terrible first quarter and for the rest of the night it was a pattern that developed until the fourth quarter. Toronto would make a little push to make the game close and the Knicks would respond. The Raptors would head into halftime down 9 points and looking pretty terrible for the most part. Andrea Bargnani would get a double-double early in the second half as he rebounded his own miss and scoring on Amir Johnson who had a very sluggish night at the office. After that, as Bargnani had done many times as a Raptor he would fade into the background failing to produce much the rest of the way.  He would only get a few points and a couple more rebounds on the night to finish with a Knicks team high 18 but shot just 6 for 17 and had 12 rebounds. Bargnani had failed to record a double-double in his entire last season with Raptors.

As Bargnani faded Jonas Valanciunas would come to life in this game especially in the second half and specifically the forth quarter. He had on the night 16 points and a career high 18 rebounds 7 of which came on the offensive glass. Kyle Lowry continues his great play of late with 15 points and 11 assists for his own double-double on the night. It was DeMar DeRozan as he is on most nights that provided the most consistent effort with 25 points on 7 of 13 shooting to lead all scorers in this game.

The Raptors would manage to cut the lead to 5 points heading into the final quarter. Both teams would start out cold as could be in the fourth. The Knicks were almost begging the Raptors to take the lead in this game. They finally took them up on it and once the Raptors got rolling they would not be stopped. They out scored the Knicks 29-12 in the final quarter to win it 95-83.

The Raptors creep closer to being a 500 team at 12-15 as the Knicks fall to 9-20 on the season. If the Raptors win the second half of this back to back it makes it seem unlikely they would come back from this. While much was made of the difficulty of the Raptors first two months of the schedule they have for the most part survived it and now the schedule starts to turn and the chances this team changes direction and plays for the draft becomes far less likely.

If the Raptors do decide to go all in to maintain their lead in the Atlantic Division and make a push for the playoffs there are still some long term concerns. The most glaring is the future of Kyle Lowry beyond this season. He was rumoured to be traded but if the Raptors are in it to win it you would think that likely doesn’t happen. If that is the case the Raptors run the risk of Lowry walking away in the off-season for nothing. If they are able to re-sign him how much will it be to keep him? Lowry currently has a very friendly contract in terms of the cap for his position. It is safe to say if his play continues he will earn a huge raise where ever he decides to play next year.

The combination of that and missing out on a top pick in the lottery would be a significant blow if they lost Lowry as well. The Raptors short term has never looked this bright in a long time. The long term remains clouded with uncertainty no matter what they do this season that is positive.

Masai Ujiri has a tough minefield in front of him to balance the short term success and secure a future that is a viable one to build on that success. If he is able to retain Lowry and this group stays together it might grow into something that can be competitive. DeMar DeRozan making strides to be a legit number one option obvious helps build the case to roll with this group. Valnciunas gave you a sample of what he could be in this game against the Knicks. While Terrence Ross struggles on the defensive end he is becoming more consistent on the offensive end.

The Raptors are a house of cards that you could easily see fall down if things go the way they have in the past for Toronto. It is becoming pretty clear though that they will have a hard time avoiding being good enough to win their Atlantic Division. It is hard not to argue they have the most talent that is performing well in the division. Heck outside of Miami and Indiana who is playing better ball in the East right now? Atlanta might have been an answer but they just took a huge blow losing Al Horford with a torn peck muscle which the last time that happened he was gone for four months.

It seems like it or not the Raptors and Andrew Wiggins or any top lottery pick are not going to be matched up in the short term. The Raptors look on a path to the post-season like it or not. In terms of the players and Dwane Casey you can put them into the like column for that. Raptors are looking like a different team since Rudy Gay left town. It was like Gay was holding back a number of folks on this roster. Gay was able to get a win in overtime last night for his new team over Miami but Raptors fans will not miss him. He never was the leader the Bryan Colangelo promised him to be when trading for him to try and save his job more or less.


Raptors Perform A Christmas Miracle In OKC

The Toronto Raptors had evacuated Toronto and the ACC not because of the ice storm that rolled through Toronto but because they can’t seem to win there. Realistically though the road trip that was awaiting them had losing streak written all over it. This seemed even more the case after dropping a contest to their unlikely bully the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Raptors would make an amazing comeback in Dallas and surprise the Mavericks earning their first win in overtime in four tries heading into Sunday. The stop on Sunday was in OKC where the Thunder came in on a 9 game winning streak and was a perfect 13-0 on their home floor. The Raptors had about as much hope of winning as some in Toronto had in having power in time to watch the game.

Call it a Christmas miracle or a statement but the Toronto Raptors fought hard for four quarters and by the end of it all had beaten the OKC Thunder. In a strange way the Raptors are the Thunder’s Charlotte Bobcats it seems. Toronto for whatever reason seems to be able to compete with one of the Western Conferences best teams of the past few seasons. Sometimes it was catching the Thunder at the right time with Kevin Durant being injured and other times they just find a way to get it done.

It is not that long ago the Raptors last won at OKC just back in 2011. The Raptors were pretty competitive for the majority of the night. They took a six point lead into halftime scoring 62 points. They would have some turbulence in the third quarter and it looked as if OKC would flex their muscles and put the plucky Raptors away.

However, the Raptors refused to lay down for the 22-4 Western Conference contender. Individually and collectively the Raptors stepped up to the challenge. Kyle Lowry going up against one of the best in Russell Westbrook brought out the best in Kyle. Lowry had one of his best games of the season with 22 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds.

As much as Lowry was the heart of this win he is also the source of debate with this franchise going forward. If he continues to play well he increases his stock around the league and likely have several attractive offers and like others in the past could walk for nothing. Masai Ujiri could face a decision similar to the one that Bryan Colangelo had with Chris Bosh. We all remember how that worked out. It is why as really exciting as the Raptors have been it is hard to get behind this group and think this is any kind of a long term core group.

Lowry has been far better than the other options the Raptors had prior to the Rudy Gay trade. Even since the trade with the Kings he has been on a different level from Vasquez who is reminding people a little of Jose Calderon who Lowry beat out and ultimately was the reason trading Calderon was possible.

As the Raptors keep adding to their win total the choices that Masai Ujiri get tougher to make. The safe bet is any kind of short term success could be short lived if you can’t secure Lowry to a contract. Another player that will definitely draw interest on trade market is likely Amir Johnson who prior to the Gay trade was struggling and had just been sent to bench in favour of Tyler Hansbrough. Since Gay left town Amir Johnson has been a force on both ends of the floor. He has regained his position in the starting line-up and looks unlikely to be giving it up anytime soon.  He had 17 points and led the way on the boards with 13 rebounds.

If the Raptors decided to change direction and suddenly become a buyer in the trade market it would be interesting. There is no question it will be a buyers market with so many teams looking to head in the opposite direction. I can’t see a situation where the Raptors don’t move Lowry by the deadline in February.

As for the here and now the Raptors finished the fourth quarter strong out-scoring the Thunder 29-14 to seal the 104-98 upset win. The Raptors only allowed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to get to double digits scoring. The Raptors face another tough Western Conference foe in their house in the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs laid a whooping on the Raptors back at the ACC on December 10th winning the game 116-103.  The Spurs had 7 players in double digits scoring including four from off their bench setting a record with 72 bench points against the Raptors. It seems hard to believe but 13 days later the Raptors look like a true contender to win their Division and make the post-season. It is one of just two losses the Raptors have had in the seven games since the Rudy Gay trade.

The trade gave the Raptors some depth that was on display in this unlikely win against OKC. None of the players from the trade were able to suit up for that game with the Spurs they would debut 3 days later in a win over Philadelphia. John Salmons lead the way with 14 as he along with Vasquez and Patterson accounted for 26 of the Raptors 29 bench points against OKC.

The Raptors have a winning record on the road for the first time since 2008 and have a 4 game winning streak on the road for the first time since 2002. You would never expect them to have a chance against the Spurs but you could have said the same for this game tonight in OKC.

The best analogy I can come up with for where the Raptors sit at the moment relates to this time of year. Let’s say you go out and Christmas shop and decide to spend more than you should. It seems worth it when you see the joy you give to people with the gifts you bought. You feel good until the bills come in January. That is what this Raptors season to me is like. Sure we would all like to see Toronto get back in the playoffs. However the fallout of that can be just like those bills that come in the mail when you have an over generous Christmas. Sometimes you need to look to the future and not be caught up in moment. It isn’t easy or fun but it is right thing to do.

Which with as entertaining and fun as the Raptors have been it is hard to say that. It is the harsh reality and truth of situation though. If you want to be a constant and consistent playoff performer you have to think ahead and be smart.

The Raptors as far as the players and Coach Casey they do not want any part of this future talk. For players and coaches the future is always now and it should be. Masai Ujiri has a much different responsibility and his job is not easy based on his squads’ unexpected success. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I wouldn’t want to be King or G.M of this franchise it is not an easy job at all.

My thoughts go out to any of you being impacted by the power outages and weather issues going on here in Southern Ontario and primarily Toronto. That said if you don’t have power you likely can’t read this at the moment but never the less I hope everyone is able to have a happy holiday despite the challenges Mother Nature provided. 


Role Reversal Night In Dallas

You have to admit this about the Raptors if nothing else they make it entertaining. It sure didn’t seem like that would apply on Friday night in Dallas. The Raptors had a terrible first quarter allowing the Mavericks to score 33 points while shooting close to 70%. It would get worse before it got better as the Mavericks extended their lead to 19 points. It seemed time to check if your favourite holiday movie was on as alternate entertainment. The Raptors would suddenly find a way to play on defensive end of the floor. They would go on a crazy run and actually hold the lead briefly late in the half. The Mavs would re-take the lead and make it to the locker room with a 3 point advantage. The second half was a dog fight back and forth affair that ultimately could not be decided in regulation.  The Raptors seemed to be hanging on with their finger nails as their former point guard Jose Calderon was answering everything the Raptors threw at the Mavs.

The Raptors were coming off an overtime loss to the Bobcats and having two other losses in OT including one to a very good Rockets team. The outcome seemed to be obvious to everyone except perhaps the Raptors. The Mavericks would be down one and have a chance to win it but they could not score on their final possession and the Raptors surprise everyone with a 109-108 overtime win.

It also makes the Raptors 5-5 on the road which defies all logic as bad teams just don’t play well on the road. Even good teams the Raptors have had have struggled on the road. The Raptors great home court advantage with passionate and dedicated fans has produce just 4 wins in 12 tries. It just goes to a long laundry list of things that don’t make much sense. Like losing to the Bobcats and beating the Mavericks. A move that most felt was the start to the team accepting its fate and looking toward the draft sees the Raptors in a playoff spot.

The one thing that does make sense is DeMar DeRozan and his attitude and play this season. He doesn’t want to hear about Andrew Wiggins but more to the point he doesn’t want to hear about losing. He has said he is sick of the losing and saying it is one thing but trying to do something about is another. For any basketball website to be suggesting the Raptors are going to trade this kid of their own accord is simply not paying attention. DeRozan has shown improvement year after year and a work ethic that is hard to match.

Many including myself were not sold when DeRozan proclaimed he had a three point shot in his bag of tricks. Well he does and at the very least he is confident in it which makes his release smooth and in rhythm. This makes it a lot easier to make those threes. But it was not is new found range that was on display in Dallas. It was a skill that he has been improving on slowly but surly. Rudy Gay wasn’t passing but DeMar DeRozan has been and it was on full display with a team leading 9 assists.

All of the starting 5 was in double digits which included the Raptors sophomore class of Terrence Ross with 15 and Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Ross made some big buckets at times in this game but never saw much action down the stretch or in overtime. The biggest challenge facing Terrence Ross is proofing he can defend his position. While Jonas has had his struggles this season and while Rudy Gay has been shown the door opened one up for Jonas he is still not walking through it on a nightly basis.

Kyle Lowry must have been drooling at the prospect of going against Jose Calderon. Lowry had a nice night but Jose was better. Still the Raptors will happily take the 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds on the night. Calderon was a little better with 23 points to lead all scorers and 9 assists. But the overall point guard battle goes in favour of the Raptors as Vasquez who is kind of like a poor man’s Jose Calderon had 14 points to lead the Raptors bench.

This is probably the Raptors most impressive win of the 10 they have. As great as the Raptors played tonight it is hard to imagine them having much chance of beating the Thunder or Spurs on their home floors. If the playoffs started today the Raptors would be in them and facing the Pacers. Let’s face facts the teams that finish in both seven and eighth in the East are pretty much the biggest losers. They miss out on the lottery of perhaps one of the best and deepest lottery picks in sometime. As much as DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson are truly desperate to see the playoffs come back to Toronto getting swept by the Pacers or Miami is not going to help the future of this franchise.

Kyle Lowry is the real fly in the ointment as far as if this team decides to go all in to make the post-season. You would have to assume he would play well in order for the Raptors to accomplish that goal. This would up his value as a free agent and likely means he would look to go elsewhere at the end of the day. The Raptors have made this mistake before with Chris Bosh and I can imagine Masai Ujiri making that same mistake. To let Lowry walk for nothing would be a mistake. Vasquez and how he performs is also something to consider. In reality the Raptors are in the position that coming into the season they just couldn’t or shouldn’t be in.

The Raptors remind me of the Bobcats team that made the playoffs a few seasons back. That was a one year thing and the team was quickly dismantled. The Raptors have stated that they want to be consistent visitors to the playoffs and that will be hard to do with what they currently have.  Every game the Raptors win that they are not suppose to win makes Masai Ujiri’s job more difficult. Not to mention the pathetic Eastern Conference that has all of 3 teams with a winning record.

So if you’re asking Santa for something for the Raptors a clear direction might be nice at this point. The issue is the one that people that want to start up the tanks have never understood. A coach in the last year of his contract and a young player that has never seen the playoffs in his career collectively has little interest in losing. This goes for the rest of the Raptors as well. They showed that in this gutsy comeback win. There are so many individuals and this team as whole that are wildly inconsistent it is enough to drive you crazy. It is not a case of lack of effort with this group on most nights though.

So that is about it. I am back in the saddle and riding this crazy roller coaster once more. A reminder if you’re doing any shopping on Amazon this holiday season please use the link on our site up at the top. DNB will get a little cash from your purchases and it has zero impact on your price of purchase. It just takes you taking the time to come to the site and click on the banner. Once you have bookmark it and you can help the DNB out every time you make a purchase with Amazon. DNB has never been making those Rudy Gay dollars so your help and support in this endeavour is greatly appreciated. So if you’re boxing day shopping on Amazon do it here.

Happy Holidays to everyone and I can honestly say it is nice to be back.


In Time For Holidays The DNB Is Back

Just in time for Christmas the DNB is back. I feel an explanation is in order for the DNB being missing in action for the last little while. I guess the simplest explanation is I was feeling a combination of burnout and having issues in my life. I touched on the struggle it has been this season in talking about our anniversary earlier in November. The Raptors season has not exactly been all that inspiring to break me out of this funk that I have been in this year. I have in the past been referenced by others as one of the hardest working and doing this. Clearly that title is not something I have earned of late. But I always have treated the Dino Nation Blog like a job and that is how I earned that reputation in first place. The reality of life might make doing that moving forward harder to do. What I have come to realize though is that people still value my thoughts and I think that even if it is not as consistent as it has been in the past people enjoy it. I guess will see how it goes and if I am right or wrong.

I still have been watching the Raptors and sharing my thoughts and opinions on Twitter so it is not like I have taken a vacation from the Raptors during this time. As far as the Raptors go I have found it to be so typical of the things we have seen in the past. Losing to the Bobcats on Wednesday in overtime was almost the explanation point to that thought process.

You will notice something new on the site as there is an Amazon banner at the top of the site. If you shop with Amazon if you could click on that banner and doing you’re shopping as you normally would Amazon as part of their affiliate program will kick a percentage of your purchases to the DNB. It will have zero impact on your price for your items you are purchasing. It would be a great way to help out and support the DNB.
I figure if ex-professional wrestlers that are in far better financial positions than I am can do this, why not me.

I have always had a difficult time in the business aspects of doing this with the hard financial times that so many are going through in recent years. In this case though, all that your being asked is if you are planning to make purchases Amazon to take the extra minute to connect to Amazon through our site.

Hopefully this is something that can be successful and help develop some revenue for DNB and a way you can support myself and my work.

Now on to what is going on with the Raptors as they lick their wounds going on a road trip that for even the most optimistic Raptor fan seems destined to be 0-3. Stops in Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio do not offer much hope.

In all honesty the Raptors need to focus on a direction to head at this point. It seems far more likely the Raptors look to do more to take this team apart than make a push for the playoffs. Kyle Lowry is likely the key part in this whole equation. I would say regardless of how the Raptors are doing record wise you almost have to trade him by the deadline. If you don’t it is just repeating the mistakes of the past by letting a player with talent walk away for nothing.

In addition to that it allows you to get an even better evaluation of Grievous Vasquez who you do control going into the off-season. He will be an RFA and the Raptors could walk away from his rights or keep them and can match any offer he is given as a restricted free agent.

So I am back on the horse so to speak. Again I truly apologize for my being MIA and hope you can understand and will continue to support the DNB. If you are upset hopefully I can earn back your support and respect.


This Week In Raptorland: Rudy Gay Trade Edition

I want to start off with saying my apologies on the inconsistencies with the podcast this year. This falls on me as I have been having a bunch of things on my plate and the DNB has suffered a little bit from that. In any case with the big news of the Rudy Gay trade seemed as good a time as any as to get this thing back on the rails. Myself and John Chick look at all the angles of this trade and where it is leading us. Lots to talk about and I even manage to get in an old school wrestling analogy as part of it.

So that sums things up as best we can at this point. As mentioned none of the players part of the trade are expected to be in the line-up as the Raptors return home to face the Spurs. So will see how the short handed Raptors make out with one of the best in the West in the Spurs.

Raptors Get A Hollywood Make-Over and Spoil Kobe's Return

It was your typical Sunday it seemed until news broke just after dinner that the Raptors had made a trade. Not just any trade but one that involved Rudy Gay. Ujiri apparently was not a fan of Bryan Colangelo’s last major move with the Raptors and he sent him packing to Sacramento as part of a seven player deal. Along with Gay it would be Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray that would be going north with him from L.A where the Raptors were last night to Sacramento.

Just Gay being gone had Raptors fans excited before they ever heard what was coming back the other way. He never really felt like a Raptor to these fans and his play that was selfish did not make him any fans. Ujiri brought back short term assets that he could turn a couple into long term ones if he chooses too.  This trade also at least makes people wonder if this was just the start of a larger deconstruction of this Raptors’ roster.

To Toronto:

Greivis Vasquez (PG)
John Salmons (SG/SF)
Patrick Patterson (PF/C)
Chuck Hayes (PF /C)

To Kings:

Rudy Gay (SF)
Aaron Gray (C)
Quincy Acy (F)

This deal on it’s own may just improve the Raptors slightly with allowing  the ball to flow on the offensive end and adding some needed depth in front court as well as a legit option behind Kyle Lowry at point guard. This is seen however as move to strip the Raptors down and the start of a rebuild that would allow the Raptors in the hunt for a high lottery pick and a shot at Andrew Wiggins.

This is the direction that a lot of fans have been begging for the team to take quite frankly. It is clear that Ujiri has not been blinded by the failure all around him in the Eastern Conference. Both Ujiri and Leiweke have talked about getting the Raptors franchise to be competitive for the long run and not the short. This has been made pretty clear with Ujiri unloading both Gay and Bargnani in his first 6 months on the job.

It also sends a clear message to this team on what was thought of their play to start this season and that you need to earn your right to stick around. Rudy Gay was not helping this team in the short or long term. In the short term he was really dominating the offensive side of the ball at the expense of others. Jonas Valanciunas who Dwane Casey said in the summer was suppose to be a bigger part of the offensive attack has not been and a big reason for that has been Gay and DeRozan taking a majority of the shots on a given night.

What also became quite clear was the Raptors lack of depth and this trade gives them options in that regard. Kyle Lowry has not been great this season but he was far and away better than any option the Raptors had behind him. Now the Raptors have a PG that looks for the pass first and is much more willing and able to run pick and rolls with both Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas.  It also allows the Raptors to consider moving Lowry who one would have to figure has little chance of resigning with the Raptors.

In the end Bryan Colangelo’s last two major moves have been effectively dismantled and the Raptors now have options moving forward and have not walked away with nothing for players that have value. What Masai has that GM’s in the past have not really had is a clear understanding of the history and problems that the Raptors have faced in the past. After all he was here to see some of it happen and how Colangelo got caught with his pants down with Chris Bosh fleeing for Miami.

If a message of any kind was meant by this deal it clear was received as the under manned Raptors led by Amir Johnson with a career high in points defeated the Lakers in Kobe Bryant’s return.
In a sense by trading Rudy Gay it allowed the Raptors to have much more control over their future both on the floor and off the court as well. Chuck Hayes is the only player that has a contract the Raptors will not have the final say in for 2014-15 season. Solomons is on a team option next year and could be let go for just around a million dollars which in NBA terms is chump change. While Vasquez and Patterson can be retained or let go depending on what they do as Raptors. They could offer both Qualifying offers and retain an option to keep them as restricted free agents if the so choose.

After this trade it will be interesting to see what happens to DeMar DeRozan who in effect has become the number one option and leader and face of the franchise for now. This is something that DeRozan’s play has quite frankly earned him this season. Things will now get tougher for him and will all get a chance to see if he can respond to that challenge.

If he continues to have success I suspect he and Jonas Valanciunas are the only guys that can say with certainty they will be Raptors next season. The deconstruction of this roster is under way and that likely also spells the end for Dwane Casey sooner or later.

Casey in some senses might have been better served not to be retained by the Raptors this year. Nothing that happens this season is going to be favourable on his resume should he attempt to be a head coach again in the NBA. Dwane is a good man and I honestly feel bad for him but at the end of the day he was given a chance to change his fate and he has not been able to deliver on it. Granted he was not exactly given a team that offered him much hope in that regard that fit his defensive mindset.

In the end change was always coming this trade is just a major indicator that it is here. The Raptors 6-12 record (Prior to the trade) if anything just solidified it was needed. 


Kobe Is Back To Face The Struggling Raptors.

The Raptors in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season tonight will play second banana to the return of Kobe Bryant to the Lakers line-up. The return of Bryant has got this game to be bumped onto NBA-TV down in the U.S. It will also spark references no doubt to Bryant’s amazing 81 point performance against the Raptors. While no one expects that from Bryant it is hard to know what to expect at this point in his career. He is returning ahead of all peoples predictions for is recover from a torn ACL/MCL. In football Adrian Peterson returned from the same injury and nearly broke the NFL record for rushing in a single season. Bryant is obviously older but to bet against him being as good as he ever was would not be a wise one.

Raptor fans may not want to hear this but this seems the ideal game for Kobe to return for. It is against a team that is struggling that he has had a lot of personal success against. It seems like a perfect fit from the Lakers point of view.

The Lakers without him and with a Steve Nash that has been injured more than healthy the Lakers have still managed to be above five hundred in the Western Conference at 10-9. In the East that would get you home court advantage while in the west it is good enough to have you out of the playoffs in tenth place.

Obviously aside from the hype and fanfare to Bryant’s return it will change the Lakers attack quite a fair bit and only they know where Kobe is in terms of this skills at this point. Safe to say he will draw a lot of attention from the Raptors on defensive end of the floor.

The Raptors really have their own issues and an already thin roster got even more slim with Tyler Hansbrough going out early in the lose to the Suns. What might be most disturbing is the Raptors in going 6-12 have been for the most part health with close to the fewest man games lost to injury. This is a clear indicator that this group as constructed is just not good enough to compete even in the shameful Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have failed to show much of a defensive presence especially lately allowing teams to score at will at times as highlighted by the collapse in the fourth quarter to lose to the Warriors blowing a 27 point lead.

It is a homecoming game for two of the Raptors in DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson. DeRozan has been one of the few bright spots in a rather dim season for Toronto. This has been a season that Johnson has struggled at times and really had issues since that missed three that lost the Raptors a game against the struggling Nets. He bounced back in a loss to the Suns but DeRozan was held in check. Both will likely be in the starting line-up if Hansbrough is unable to go tonight against the Lakers.

While jokes will fly about Kobe topping his 81 point career high against the Raptors it is more likely the Raptors just lose and extend the longest losing streak in the weak Eastern Conference to 6 games. This ending a Western Conference road trip going 0-3 and following a similar path to the one this team took last season. That might be the biggest indication that Rudy Gay has not been the difference maker that Bryan Colangelo at the time hoped he would be. He has failed to shine as first option for the Raptors and you can argue DeRozan has been more worthy of that consideration on a nightly basis.

It will get no easier when they come home as they face the San Antonio Spurs who sit just outside of first place in Western Conference. The rest of the NBA will get to see the Raptors looking at perhaps their rock bottom point which is never a good selling point.

In the end it is a team that feels much like the other teams that have failed in the post Bosh Era to be competitive.


Raptors Bring The Worst Losing Streak Currently In The East Into Phoenix

The Raptors head into tonight’s game with the Suns on the longest losing streak currently in the Eastern Conference. They have set team records in futility in back to back games giving up the most bench points in a game and blowing the largest lead in franchise history. The talk has been to leave that lose to Golden State behind them but that is easier said than done. Casey’s change to the starting line-up can only be considered an abject failure at this point.

The Suns have been surprisingly average in the tougher Western Conference with 10-9 record and are 5-3 on their home floor. P.J Tucker once a second round pick of the Raptors who fell out of the NBA has fought his way back and is playing for this Suns squad after an exodus on several years from the NBA.

Balanced scoring has been the way the Suns have been getting it done with 6 players averaging in double figures scoring. It is a team that has had a major turnover in the last couple years. Steve Nash would not recognize the team that plays in Phoenix currently. A extremely young group lead by Eric Bledsoe and featuring recent college standouts like Miles Plumlee from Duke and the Morris twins who they reunited through a trade that played together at Kansas.

Heading into this road trip this was the game the Raptors had to have circled and the one they likely had a chance at winning. It seems even more the case when rumours began that Kobe Bryant could make his return tonight and face the Raptors on Sunday. The Suns actually come in riding high with a road win over the Rockets 97-98 on Wednesday night.

Much like last season the Raptors have started December on a major slide and it is likely to continue if the Raptors do not find a way to win tonight. The date of December 15 th is fast approaching when all NBA teams can trade all of their contracts available to be traded. It has traditionally been the start of teams exploring the trade market. The issue the Raptors will face if they decide to take this roster apart will be the fact the market place will be highly in favour of the teams that consider themselves buyers with so many teams focused on the draft class for the upcoming NBA Draft in June. 


Raptors Delusions Of Grandeur Come Crashing To The Ground

At this time of year the stores get more crowded and you hear Christmas music where ever you go. It is also the annual time of year the Raptors chances of being a playoff team realistically go up in smoke. While technically with the East being as horrible as it is the Raptors still mathematically could be alive for a long time in the playoff race realistically it is hard to imagine.

Back to back records in futility with losses to Denver and Golden State make you believe this to be the case. The Raptors gave up 72 bench points to the Nuggets while after a change to their starting line-up only produced 16 from their bench. A promising start would get washed away by the play of a bench that was far from acceptable. The change of adding Tyler Hansbrough to the starting line-up and Amir Johnson coming off the bench has amounted to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

If that Denver loss was not bad enough for you the Raptors out did themselves last night in Oakland. Again it was a positive beginning with the line-up change only to see it eventually go down in flames. The Raptors shocked many by going out and lighting up the Warriors. They built a huge lead after one quarter and even built on that to a point where the Raptors led by 27 points. The Raptors would get blitzed in the fourth quarter and go on to lose this game by 9 points. You really have to work to give up a 36 point swing in the span of a quarter and half of action. This is also another Raptors record of failure as it is the biggest lead the team has surrendered in their history.

Many are calling for the head of coach Dwane Casey at this point. While a game like that is one that I think ranks right up their as one that can get you fired I doubt we will see that happen anytime soon. After all the Raptors most likely will be making the shift to rebuild mode sooner than later. Casey’s contract ends at the end of the year and I doubt the Raptors will be in a rush to find his successor. When you consider his calling card is suppose to be on the defensive end these last two games are object lessons in how he is failing in that regard. I am not sure why that is in terms of the players not buying into the system or just not capable of its execution. Given the fact they have at brief points looked solid on the defensive end it could be assumed it is the first suggestion of not buying into it.

It may not seem like it at the moment but this may be looked back on as blessing that the Raptors imploded like this. Masai Ujiri has all the ammo he needs to start the deconstruction of this team now without the strange optics of being first in a division while doing so. The Raptors around this time last year went on a 7 game losing streak that basically ended any hope they had. This year it is a four game losing streak that could grow to that number as well. The Raptors most realistic shot at a win in the next three games comes up on Friday as they take on the Suns. Lakers could have Kobe Bryant Sunday as he is rumoured to return on Friday. As they come home licking their wounds they will face a Spurs squad that is one of the best in the NBA.  If you think it will get better as the holidays draw near you might want to check the schedule. The Raptors hit the road prior to Christmas break and play Dallas, OKC and Spurs again just before Santa comes to town.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing in all of this is core people that make up this fan base are not surprised in the slightest when things like last night happen. It has become a case of being something we just have come to expect and in some ways accept about this franchise.

Personally, I become more shocked when things go right for the Raptors than wrong. It is mainly based on a history that screams to us that it is the correct line of thinking. My expression to sum up this feeling is “That’s so Raptors” and it really is.

Masai Ujiri is the latest to come in and have the unenviable task of trying to change that thinking and establish some basis for hope in the future. Even hopeful things Raptors fans have come to see the dark side of though. As an example DeMar DeRozan despite all of this has really taken his game to the next level. Now instead of rejoicing in this, Raptors fans are already considering he will be the next in a long line of players that will want out of this situation to have a chance to win elsewhere. DeRozan has looked increasingly frustrated as of late despite his own personal success. I think that might be jumping the gun a little to think that DeRozan will want to be elsewhere. History suggests at some time he will but I am not convinced that is sooner rather than later.

If I can offer an advice to frustrated Raptors fans it is to not let all of this consume you. I use to be that angry fan that took these things to heart and allowed it to hang over me like a dark cloud. It will only drive you crazy at the end of the day. Instead I take a much more detached approach and do not allow my emotions to get involved as much as possible. There is a life outside of this and as much as we may deem this to be important it is not in the grand scheme of life. It is much easier to say this the day after on of these terrible loses than it is when you have stayed up to the early morning hours watching the team you cheer for blow a lead that seemed to be impossible to lose.

For those hoping for change and not clinging to the false hope that this team was going anywhere, the time of December 15th and the opening of all contracts and realistically the trading season is almost here. Make no mistake the job of taking apart this team will not be an easy or quick process. Masai Ujiri will be earning the money he was paid when he was brought here because this is going to be a challenging endeavour indeed.


Nuggets Hit Toronto On A Roll

The Raptors tough December gets rolling with a visit from the red hot Nuggets. First time Masai Ujiri will see his former club face his current club.  Denver has won 5 in a row and 8 of their last ten to recover from a slow start to the season. This marks the start of December that will see the Raptors face five Western Conference opponents to begin the month. They will face 8 overall and that includes two of those being against the ageless Spurs that continue to be a top squad in the NBA.

The Nuggets are riding high coming off a close win over the Knicks. This is the start of a six game road trip against Eastern Conference teams and a really chance for the Nuggets to build on their impressive win streak. After Toronto they head to Brooklyn, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington. You want a view of how bad the Eastern Conference is that is a combined record for all of there teams Raptors included of 34-64.

Brian Shaw is now the coach of the Nuggets as he replaced George Karl who left after Masai Ujiri did in the summer. Shaw for years had been on of the names that would always come up for head coaching jobs that became available. There was a time he was thought to have been the successor to Phil Jackson in L.A. He instead finds his long awaited head coaching opportunity with a Nuggets team that has some great talent.

Shaw is worried about his team under estimating the competition on this road trip to the East. Randy Foye who was college teammates with Kyle Lowry was quoted in a Denver Post article as saying the Nuggets will have their hands full with the Raptors.

I am not as sure about that as the Raptors seem to find a way to lose games while making them entertaining. Not that it matters much but the Raptors did win the last meeting with the Nuggets last season. This is a big game for Toronto not just to snap a losing skid but because they have their own 3 game swing in the Western Conference after this one. That is followed by returning home to face the Spurs. The Raptors record could look just as bad as some of their fellow Atlantic Division foes very easily if they are not careful.

Raptors will have the 1pm start time that might cause the Nuggets a bit of issues as they will be jumping a couple time zones and playing in morning by their natural body clock. So a fast start from the Raptors would go a long way in helping them stay in the fight in this one.  The Nuggets may be to hot to be stopped at this point though as they are playing some really solid basketball in their last ten outings.