What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Sunday, December 7, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 6. Toronto Raptors

Overall Win/Loss Record :  48-34,  first place Atlantic Division

2014/2015 Projection: 47-35, first place Atlantic Division, fourth place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 101.3 (13th)
  • Points Allowed: 98.0 (7th)
  • Team FG%: .445 (22nd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .450 (10th)
  • Team FT%: .782 (5th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .372 (9th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.5 (17th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 41.0 (4th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.4 (8th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.3 (13th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impacts:

  • Kyle Lowry (PG)
  • Demar DeRozan (SG)
  • Terrence Ross (SF)
  • Amir Johnson (PF)
  • Jonas Valanciunas (C)

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impacts:

  1. Greivis Vasquez (G)
  2. Patrick Patterson (F)
  3. James Johnson (F)
  4. Lou Williams (G)
  5. Tyler Hansbrough (F)

Canadian basketball fans are still swooning after their NBA team's magical season where not only did it post its best record in franchise history, but for once in their entire existence in the league, Toronto was no longer the team on the outside looking in.  The Raptors finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference trailing the second place +Miami HEAT, who would return to its fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, and the +Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately, however, their regular season success did not translate into the postseason as they would be eliminated in the first round once again by a Nets team led by +Jason Kidd, but this time, instead of leading the team on the court, he would manage it on the sidelines as head coach.  Nonetheless, last season sparked a fire that has been long standing dormant in the Great White North as flags and hash tags of "We the North" have been planted throughout the city and posted throughout the information super-highway.  Regrettably, this is not the first time where Toronto fans had experienced the thrill of victory and had high hopes for the future as the excitement often dissipates as soon as it arises leaving not only Raptor fans, but all of Canada as general with a flat and sunken feeling in the end.

Usually a strong finish such as last season has often been followed by a less than impressive performance where the Raptors would fall in the standing, but still managed to make the playoffs; however, once that season ends, it is often back to drawing board as Toronto is forced to rebuild once again.  The first time Toronto had to deal with the +Vince Carter fiasco where after three years of playing like a superstar, he started to lose interest and was subsequently traded to the then New Jersey Nets which would still remain a scar Raptor fans to this day.  The second time, both the franchise and its fans had to deal with the loss of another franchise player in +Chris Bosh, as he choose to flay south for the winter signing with the Miami Heat once his contract had expired joining +LeBron James and +Dwyane Wade  to become one of the most dangerous and devestating tandems in professional sports. Now come the third incarnation of Toronto's short but bittersweet stay among the NBA's elite only to quickly fade away to irrelevance, but what will be the lynch pin that will pulled out leading to not only the team, but an entire nation of nascent basketball fans to crash down back to reality once again?  Perhaps, the third time will be the charm as this sweet success will be the seed that will grow and blossom into a new era of Toronto Raptors basketball where this will not be the peak, but a stepping stone to even greater things; sadly, however, history has shown that Raptors fans should not get their hopes up, because more than often, they often don't materialize to anything.

Consider the Raptors as an NBA version of Shaggy, not to be confused with the cowardly cohort of the world famous canine sleuth known as Scooby Doo, but the reggae/hip hop artist who gave us such gems as "Oh Carolina," "Mr. Bombastic," and "It Wasn't Me."  Like Shaggy, the Raptors would have a big hit where the rest of the league and the sporting world would take notice only to simply fade away never to be seen again until three or four years later where they would have another hit song like Shaggy and pull off the same disappearing act once again.  Ironically, the Raptors greatest playoff streak occured at the same time as the release of Shaggy's ground breaking album Hot Shot, which would be his last multi-platinum album he produced and was never seen or heard from again.  In addition, similar to Mister Lover himself, they followed a big hit season with two lesser tracks which were decent enough to listen or dance to, but not nearly as good as the track that got them so much notoriety until finally people start getting tired of their act and start losing interest altogether.  It is almost predictable when and how the Raptors collapse whether it be a disgruntled player tired of floundering in mediocrity or another who simply wanted to leave Toronto because he simply did not get as much exposure as his peers, so why would this Raptors team be any different from all the others?

After all, it was not as if the Raptors faced any real competition in their ascension up top the Eastern Conference elite as the road was essentially cleared for them thanks to the collapse of division rivals +New York Knicks and +Brooklyn Nets.  And although Canada's team finished with a franchise record 48 wins which nabbed them a third place finish in the East, that would not have even got them a playoff berth in the West where it took 49 wins to nab just barely the final eighth spot.  To make matters even worse, instead of realizing that their ascension was merely by a fluke, the team's front office chose to not to use the off season to bolster the team that it already had by adding a marquee name player to help secure their hold on the Eastern Conference.  Team Vice President and GM, Masai Ujuri had a chance to use the expiring contracts of Landry Fields and Amir Johnson--both amounting to nearly 13$ million in additional cap space--in order to acquire a game changing player that can bring his team to the next level.  Instead, he chose to pass on such tantalizing options as veteran two time NBA Champion +Pau Gasol, who could have easily been had and would have been an excellent complement and mentor to the Raptors' up and coming center Jonas Valanciunas, and decided to stand pat with the team he had which can be considered average at best.  Other options that could have been possible game changers were Josh Smith, a player that the +Detroit Pistons' would have easily considered trading for Johnson and Fields since the contracts essentially matched and would have given the Raptors one of the league's elite athletes; however, that became another lost opportunity.

Ujiri could have even picked up a two time All Star veteran big man in +Carlos Boozer off waivers for cheap after he was amnestied by Chicago, but he allowed him to be snagged by the +Los Angeles Lakers instead of giving Toronto one of the league's strongest front courts without even having to give up either Johnson or Fields. Even +Andray Blatche, who despite playing two solid seasons in Brooklyn and posting his best basketball performance for the Philippine National team during the +2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, could have been had at a fairly negligible price; however Ujiri sat on his hands on that opportunity as well.  Sure, he did re-sign the team's star point guard Kyle Lowry to a long term extension, secured the services of Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson for another couple of years, and acquired combo guard Lou Williams from the +Atlanta Hawks for additional scoring off the bench; however, retaining Lowry, Vasquez and Patterson were essentially no-brainers and Williams could be at best considered an X Factor as consistency is not exactly his forte. Fortunately for him, the +Phoenix Suns picked up the player he coveted in +Syracuse Orange guard Tyler Ennis in last summer's draft, forcing him to pick what can be considered a steal in draft snagging little known Brazilian swing man +Bruno Caboclo.  With his size at 6' 9" and 205lbs, his amazing polished skillset at the age of 19, Caboclo has the chance of becoming a solid contributor in the NBA for years to come, whereas Ennis, a 6'0 guard with not nearly the athleticism or upside that Caboclo possesses, probably would not even stay in the league past is rookie contract.

Basically the mantra throughout the off season by the Raptors' front office was that the organization's plan is to continue building on the players they have instead of looking outside for a quick fix as they put it; however, this is more a philosophy of a team looking to rebuild into a contender rather than one looking to continue its winning ways.  And that has been not just the problem with the Raptors, but all of Toronto's professional sports teams--they're too busy looking to build rather than getting focused on actual winning--and it is this "losing mentality" that keeps not only Raps, but all of its fellow MLSE associates from achieving anything greater than mediocrity.  Last season, the Raptors were lucky in that they played in a cream puff Eastern Conference which allowed them to look far better that in truth than they really were and with the emergence of +Cleveland Cavaliers thanks to the "Return of the King," and a new "Season of Love," the playing field has just gotten even more contentious.  Toronto will not be a lock to win its own division thank to a resurgent Knicks team and and Nets team looking for redemption as well numerous other up and comers such as the Bulls, +Washington Wizards, and the newly minted +Charlotte Hornets to name a few.  Unless any of these team stumble out of the gate early allowing for Toronto to come out with an impressive and unrealistic start, look for the Raptors to once again follow inflated expectations with depressing results.  

Can anyone really see the Raptors emerging into one of the true elite teams in the league instead of spending the rest of its existence of the NBA's "token team" where their successes are met with a pat on the head as if they were a dog doing a trick for its master?  This season Toronto will celebrate its 20th anniversary as an NBA team and all it has to show for it are a handful of playoff appearances, three all star players, and a fan base who would rather follow the city's hockey team, which has been far worse over the years, than actually take their basketball team seriously.  That is not to say that the Raptors will not return to the post season once again, but they certainly will not have the free ride that they enjoyed last season because now the Eastern Conference is tougher than its as ever been and both the team and its fans may just have quite a rude awakening.  Nor will they take anyone by surprise either as many teams will, for at least this season, take Toronto somewhat seriously and not allow this upstart known for its disappearing acts over the years to get the better of them once again.  So prepare yourselves, Toronto fans, as your team has probably reached as far as they will ever get and like reaching the top of the roller coaster, the Raptors will then head for a long devastating fall to the bottom.