Published October 25, 2012
| Sports Network
The Toronto Raptors are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Atlantic Division is stacked this season. The Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets all have legitimate hopes of winning the division crown and making far runs in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Toronto does not share those chances.
It's not for a lack of trying.
Team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo overhauled a roster that couldn't be competitive. This one may not be either, but there is progression here.
"We've got some of the young core pieces back, but we have some additions coming in," said Colangelo. "We've got a high-character group of guys. Across the board, we've got a good foundation there. That's something you know I put a lot of weight on, in terms of roster conception."
Colangelo brought in potentially three new starters this season. He acquired point guard Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets in the offseason. Lowry is coming off a great season, but butted heads with Rockets head coach Kevin McHale.
Landry Fields signed a lucrative free-agent contract, although speculation was that the Raptors signed the former New York Knicks swingman to an offer sheet to move the Knicks' hand with regard to Jeremy Lin. The thought, according to reports, was to force the Knicks to sign Lin instead of Fields, and that would open the door for the Raptors and Canadian legend Steve Nash.
Well, Nash is with the Los Angeles Lakers and Fields has a three-year, $20- million contract with the Raptors.
The other newcomer is Lithuania star Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA draft. The 20-year-old put up spectacular numbers in his home country and should develop into a nice player. He can rebound and defend already.
That is a lot of new components to go with the scoring punch of former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan.
Bargnani has emerged as one of the best shooting big men in the sport and is earning that top-pick status.
DeRozan is a legit scorer, and not much else.
2011-12 Results: 23-43, fourth in Atlantic; Missed playoffs
KEY ADDITIONS: G Kyle Lowry, G/F Landry Fields, C Jonas Valanciunas, G Terrence Ross, G John Lucas III
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kyle Lowry SG- DeMar DeRozan SF- Landry Fields PF- Andrea Bargnani C - Jonas Valanciunas
KEY RESERVES: F Amir Johnson, G Jose Calderon, C Aaron Gray, F Ed Davis, F Linas Kleiza, G Terrence Ross, G John Lucas III
FRONTCOURT: This group would win you a Scrabble game for sure.
Bargnani missed a chunk of time last season, but before he went down with a calf injury, he was awesome. Bargnani will play more at the "4" than "5" this season, which will help his body. He won't take as big a banging as he has in seasons past.
Valanciunas can score a little, but he'll need a bigger body. He can rebound a little, but he'll need a bigger body. He can defend a little, but, well, you know.
Fields is fine at what he does, which is mistake-free basketball and decent defense. Fields is a limited shooter and will never live up to that preposterous offer sheet.
BACKCOURT: Lowry really blossomed under McHale, but that was not a great personality pairing. He is still explosive and worked his way into a respectable shooter.
He is an upgrade over Jose Calderon, although Calderon was always a better player than he got credit for. The Raptors are trying to do it with defense and head coach Dwayne Casey needs his starting backcourt to buy in to have any chance.
DeRozan is a cold-blooded scorer in both the good and bad sense of thinking. He can get to the paint on anyone, be it over a smaller "2," or past a bigger "3."
However, in three seasons in the league, he averages 1.5 assists per game. Shooting guards don't need to pick up a ton of assists, but DeRozan can occasionally forget basketball is a team sport.
BENCH: Casey has a lot of options here, but not all are great.
Calderon, Ed Davis, Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson appear to have spots sewn up. Aaron Gray is a serviceable bench big man and Terrence Ross was the team's first-round pick this season. Someone needs to score in this group, and there is no obvious candidate, other than maybe Kleiza.
Davis and Ross present the biggest upside in terms of talent. Davis is in his third season and it could be a scary trend to note that almost all of his numbers went down last season from his rookie campaign.
Ross is a shooting-guard who went way too high at No. 8.
Casey indicated that the bench will get trimmed some in playing time. As the Raptors opened camp, he stated that he ideally saw the rotation at nine, tops.
"We're going to be patient," said Casey. "Competition is on."
COACHING: Assuming he completes the season, this will be Casey's third full one as an NBA head coach. A season and a half with Minnesota in the mid-2000s is no one's formula for a good record.
Casey was an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks when they won the 2011 NBA title. He's a smart guy who works hard. He has some leeway here as no one sees the Raptors contending for a playoff spot for at least a few seasons.
OUTLOOK: And that is the reality, the Raptors are at least two seasons away from battling for a playoff spot. If Valanciunas wins Rookie of the Year, maybe they can be in the hunt for the eighth spot in the East.
But that Atlantic Division looks too tough. Toronto will be a team that brings high energy and has a focus on defense, but the talent level just isn't the same as the division rivals.
Bargnani is still on the rise toward All-Star status. Lowry can build on last season and be the leader this team needs.
If that all happened, the Raptors are still back in the lottery.