NBA Basketball returned and started with quite the bang in New York City. The Raptors make their way to far less exciting local in Cleveland Ohio. Given what is expected for this Raptor season it might be a fitting place for it to start. It also offers a dream start to a NBA Career for Toronto native Tristan Thompson playing against the team he grew up watching. Many including myself had hoped that he would be the first ever Canadian to start his career with the Raptors. But for the first time ever a Canadian will throw on a Raptor jersey and also likely start in Jamaal Magloire. I can't lie my level of excitement for this season is just above watching paint dry which is what the pre-season kind of felt like. But not all Raptor fans share in my lack of enthusiasm. Here is some proof.
See some people are excited. In fact the Raptors should feel fortunate so many fans still remain loyal to them given how things have gone the past few years. A lot look at this season as something they must endure to get to the end of the rainbow. But what happens when you get to the Emerald City and find out the wizard is nothing more than an incompetent boob? The Cavs will have two rookies in Thompson and Irving to watch this season. The Raptor fan base waits for their draft pick to come next season. While experts not just from here but around the league see a bright future for Jonas Valanciunas there is no guarantee in that. What you can guarantee is the pressure on him will be massive.
Key Match-up: I was inclined to say Tristan Thompson on Andrea Bargnani but Thompson is not expected to start so will see that match-up at times but not a lot. But I thought I would go with Kyrie Irving against Jose Calderon. Yet another point guard that has entered this league that will be an almost impossible challenge for our athletically challenged point guard. See the biggest problem with Jose Calderon is the league has changed so massively at his position since he arrived in Toronto. John Wall, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and many others that are just flat out fast. Not only are they fast but in many cases they are highly skilled. It is not that Jose is significantly worse as a defender it is the league has changed to make him so. Irving was the high scoring Rookie in the Pre-Season with 21 point vs the Pistons. In front of a home crowd with all eyes on him you can expect big things from him. This will be a real good test for Casey's defensive system which had mixed results vs Boston. It is not if Irving goes by Calderon it is when he does and what happens next.
Other Things To Watch: In the pre-season we saw one game of this improved Bargnani that we were constantly told about in training camp and we saw one example of the old Bargnani we have come to hate. Well some of us have. Which one shows up when the lights come on in Cleveland? Also beyond Demar DeRozan and the aforementioned Bargnani who is going to score for this team consistently? The defence will no doubt improve on some level but if it is at the expense of the offence how much further ahead are the Raptors really? It is a riddle that this season will likely tell us.
The Raptors continue to talk about this young core group that they have. What will lie ahead for the likes Ed Davis, James Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and Amir Johnson and the rest. In order for this plan to work some of these guys along with Bargnani and DeRozan must take their games to the next level. While this cast of castoff veterans the Raptors have brought in, will be expected to aid in that development can they add anything at all on the floor itself. Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire did next to nothing in the pre-season. While Carter and Butler didn't even play in both pre-season games.
The Raptor's worst season all-time was a 16-66 effort back in 1997-98. If the Raptors lose 66 games this year I officially give up. But in terms of percentage that 97-98 season was a franchise low .195 winning percentage. For the Raptors to sink below that it would take a 12 win season in this lockout shortened schedule. Vegas if you are the betting type of person has the Raptors at 15.5 wins. Slightly higher than that low mark. In the only other lockout shortened season the Raptors with a team that would grow into the best team they had in terms of playoff success road a rookie named Vince Carter to a 23-27 record. The next season they would win 45 games and make it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
It promises to be a long season with little to get excited about. The Raptors future beyond that may be left for ping pong balls to decide to a degree. But if the Raptors are to do any kind of surprising this season a team like Cleveland has to be a game that you win. If you can't beat them there is not to many teams in the league below them in terms of talent. They like the Raptors are trying to dig out of a hole left by a star heading to Miami. The one in Cleveland is a lot deeper.
I wanted to share a story with you all about one of the people in that video. They had been a long time fan of Morris Peterson. In talking with them I mentioned that Mo is on Twitter. @Mopete24 if you did not know. Anyway I had looked it up for them and in the process of sharing the info with them Morris Peterson happened to stumble upon the mention of him and thank this person for their support. It was nice of him to do that. It made the longtime fan very happy. It is also made me feel good to have played a small role in it. In a season such as this one it could be easy to take for granted that I get the chance to talk to many NBA players and all of the Raptors. But these events on Christmas Eve reminded me what a great thrill it is for fans to meet players and even exchange a brief conversation. If this team wins 12 games or 33 games it is still a privilege to have the chance to talk to players and know them on some small level in the context of work. Thanks for the reminder Movernie.
So regardless of how the Raptors end up doing it is a lot better to have them around than to not have basketball at all. It was a lot of fun to watch games again yesterday on Christmas. So hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and enjoyed time with the people you care about. It is time to go to work for the Raptors and me. In a season that will offer little break for either.