The 2-6 pre-season and the lack of defense was disturbing for Raptor fans or at least it should be. When the lights come on for real the Raptors will be seeing a number of the better squads in the NBA. Opening with the Cleveland Cavs is just the start of a challenging October/November schedule. This team needs to find itself on the defensive end in a hurry or they will be staring at a record that is similar to the one they produced in the pre-season. It is going to be a real test for Jay Triano to get this team off to a respectable start to this season. I really like Jay as a person and even had a chance to met him and talk with him at training camp. He is a true Canadian success story. If you got a chance to watch the special on Jay on Raps-TV done with Matt Devlin you understand what I am saying. It really looked at how Jay has grown to the point he sits at now. So as a person who loves the sport in this country and wants to see all from Canada be a success, I root for Jay to be just that. However as a Raptor fan I still remain concerned and need to see Jay have some success before I will be convinced. There is no questioning how hard Jay works and how much he knows about the game. USA Basketball would not keep having him comeback if that was not the case. However the challenges that are in front of him this season are huge and the future of this franchise really hang on what he can do. He needs to get this team on the right path in a hurry to match the significant challenges that this schedule is going to provide.
Hedo Turkoglu is happy to be in Toronto and why wouldn't he be given the money he is making. The question will be will Toronto be happy to have him when all is said and done. I had a conversation with a Magic fan who saw some video of Hedo and he commented how tired he looked. Otis Smith Hedo's former G.M had made a statement that Portland should be happy they lost out on Hedo. Some could say Smith may have been bitter but it seems clear his man was V.C and not Hedo. On behalf of all Raptors fans good luck with that Otis. However given how Hedo has looked out of gas from the start here in Toronto it does not inspire confidence for the next 5 years. Maybe when the lights come on Hedo will suddenly get it together. The Raptors have about 10 million + a season riding on the fact he will.
If Jose and Andrea want to continue to play basketball with Chris Bosh beyond this season they will need to fill their rolls as core players of this franchise. In terms of Jose the defense has to be better. You can be as talented as you like on offense, shoot 99.8% from the free throw line, break the league record for assist to turnover ratio but bring your defense or get out of the way. For as great an asset as Jose can be on the offensive end he is an equal liability on the defensive side of things. THAT MUST CHANGE!!! What also needs to change for Jose is to take more chances and to his credit I have seen some evidence that it is. Calderon needs to understand that taking chances can lead to easy points for his team. Even if he makes the odd mistake it will be worth it if he can get Demar DeRozan and others easy points in transition. What also will be different is with Jack and Hedo it will not always leave the responsibility of running the offense in his hands. This could and should help Jose become more of a scorer than he has been in the past. If Jose does not get it together on the defensive end of the floor he can call up his former teammate in T.J Ford and swap stories on how Jarrett Jack took their starting spots away. If you think that is crazy consider that Bosh and Jack are close, and if Bosh thinks Jack can be a better option to win, you all the sudden have a real situation to deal with. In a contract year and being the franchise player he may not have the final say in it but make no mistake in that his voice will be heard. Jose can avoid all of that by just doing all he can to improve on defensive end and doing the things I have outlined in this paragraph.
Andrea Bargnani recent came out talking about wanting to be an All-Star. Wanting and doing are not the same thing but it is the first step in a process to realizing what he can be as a player. The Raptor struggled last year but Andrea improved under Jay Triano. That is perhaps on of the best accomplishments for Triano in his short time as Raptors head coach. If Andrea is to continue down the path to being a good to great NBA player he must build on what he did last year. What did he do? Improved his defense on a team that did not play well as a unit. Also he started to develop the basic elements of a post game. This year both of those areas need to improve and if he can find a way to grab a few more boards on a nightly basis that would be ideal. There seems to be a much more aggressive approach on both ends of the floor from Andrea. On offense in almost every game I have seen Andrea play this pre-season, from the opening scrimmage in Ottawa to game 8 of pre-season, you have seen a fake and a drive and a massive throw down jam. It is fun to see and great to see if you are pulling for Andrea to take his game to the next level.
Demar DeRozan is likely going to be a starter and I think that will help in his growth and perhaps speed up the process in his development. Demar will have a huge learning curve to get use to life in the NBA but the rewards should come down the road. Demar seems to be determined to learn all he can and is becoming a true student of the game. In this pre-season chasing around Ray Allen, trying to match up with Andre Iguodala and others, every night will offer a huge challenge and it goes for 82 games. If Demar is not worn out from that on the defensive end he will get a chance to fly and sky in transition for the Raptors. One thing that will be interesting is what the impact of the real refs return be on DeRozan. Demar has done and excellent job of getting to the line. Will a rookie still be ale to get those calls when the lights come on and the real referees are back on the job? If the calls do not come will Demar continue to drive it? Questions to be answered for sure. However in terms of answering the question of if he deserves to start on this team, I think Demar has answered that challenge and should hear....Starting Guard from USC....Demar DeRozan. He has earned that right in how he has preformed. But he will need to continue to work just as hard to remain in that starting role.
I will be putting together my Western and Eastern conference previews but that is a look at some of the things I see for the core of this team heading into the season. Other guys will be a factor as well. I will talk about those role players in another blog before we tip it up for real. But those are some thoughts as we head towards the season. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself? I am not sure about that the guys wearing 23 and 33 for the Cavs would scare me a little.