12/13/11

Some Media Day Sunshine and Rainbows

Ah yes the sunshine and rainbows that is media day. There was a time in which I saw media day as an important event. Maybe because I have never been to one. But ultimately it really is just a lot of positive talk. It happens in every NBA city. The teams that have legit expectations tell you why they will live up to them and the teams expected to do little tell you why they will surprise people. The Raptors are expected to do little. In fact depending on who you talk to very little. But obviously the people in the Raptors organization are not going to buy into that. They believe that they can be better than what most expect. Still the actions speak louder than the words in terms of the moves the team as made. Not that they are bad moves for the direction the team is trying to head. There is no doubt a culture change was needed and required. That is one of the main reasons you have Dwane Casey as the head coach and not Jay Triano.

If Jay Triano came out with this whole "Pound The Rock" philosophy it would be looked at and scoffed at rather quickly. Dwane Casey has the respect of being part of a championship winning staff, that has it taken in a different light. Regardless of the messenger I think the whole concept is a bit like a college raw raw type thing. Having a giant rock in a locker room is not going to make Andrea Bargnani learn to play defence or rebound. Although having some vets who have shown they can defend and rebound elsewhere can. Ultimately if you or I buy into this latest culture change for the Raptors it doesn't matter, it will be based on if they do. Obviously at the start of a season people are on board but will they be after a long and tough January schedule?

But ladies and gentlemen perhaps the biggest news is Andrea Bargnani now knows he has to rebound. WOW it has only taken how many years for this to sink in? He also is getting his way and finally moving to his natural position with the additions of Jamal Maglorie and Aaron Gray at the Center this will move Bargs to the power forward spot. Once this move happens the excuses have basically run out for Andrea Bargnani. People hoping he will be run out of town sooner rather than later can't be thrilled he might be looking to become a Canadian. However once Chuck Swirsky became a Canadian he was gone the next season so you never really know. Coach Casey for what it is worth praised Bargnani for his leadership and work on defence in practice. Really? Leader and Andrea? Seeing is believing and if we see the same old Bargnani in pre-season games vs Boston no one will be buying it.

It seemed pretty clear by the end of last season the idea of Andrea Bargnani being the franchise guy had been thrown out. It was now going to be Demar DeRozan's team. Even though he is not wanting to say that just yet. But all signs point to DeRozan continuing to develop into the star player for this young core. Dwane Casey's job will be to groom him into a player that can play on each end of the floor. The potential is clearly there for DeRozan to make a big jump this season. When you look at big stars the likes of Kobe Bryant and T-Mac it was really year number three where there numbers took a massive jump. Although they did not have to endure the murderous schedule that DeRozan will. But if the Raptors are to be the surprise team that they claim to be it will take DeRozan being a big piece of that.

But the reality is what it is and at the end of the day this team still has a long way to go. In a perfect world could they be better than we expect? Absolutely it can happen but the chances it will remain slim. When all the positive talk ends and reality is here it will not be easy. A short training camp for a new coach with little practice time for a team trying to learn a completely different defensive system. It is hard to imagine it can work well enough to make the Raptors any type of playoff team. The time to create change will not be there to ultimately change fast enough in all likelihood.

Even though no one on media day is going to say it directly the Raptors appear to be focused on building alright but towards next season not this one. That doesn't mean this team is going to come out and go 0-66. But it takes time to make change happen. The Raptors do not have enough of it to make it happen this year. They also lack the talent pool to make it happen as well. But the veteran guys they have brought in can have a positive impact on this young core in their development. Many of these guys have come in from franchises that were based in the fundamentals of defence first. That will be the goal for them with the constant help of Coach Casey preaching defence first. In wrestling when a guy wins a championship and people expect his reign to be short he is labelled a transitional champion. The Raptors have some transitional players at the moment. But they could start the ball rolling in the other direction by their influence on the core talent that is here.

The question than will become is if this core is truly good enough to carry this team when the focus shifts to simple wins and loses and not changing cultures and mindsets. Jonas Valanciunas will be added to this core and likely a significant player in the upcoming draft. The Raptors look to establish a culture and identity for them to blend into.

The Raptors have to balance building and improving in the midst of a horrible schedule that will push them to the limit if not beyond it. The biggest thing will not be how much the Raptors lose, but how they react to it, and if they continue to work and try and build when all this talk of being a surprise team and a playoff team fades back into reality. This season will set the table for a season where all of the excuses will run out for everyone in this organization. Fans are tired of losing and desperate to get behind a winner. If the Raptors do not produce that winner beyond this season it is going to be difficult to keep people interested in them. In fact it might be impossible because a lot of fans are at the end of their rope.

If this is all wrong and the Raptors can be that surprise it will be a step in the right direction. But it will also be perhaps the wrong time to make it given the level of talent in this draft. But the good thing is that it is not a draft with just one good player it is one with many many good players no matter where the Raptors fall. I have said it and believe it, no one drafted in the top 5 in this draft class would get a sniff in this upcoming draft class in the top five.

When will we know things have started to change? When we are not talking about ping pong balls before we every tip it up to play a game. At it's foundation Media Day is all about the purist thing we have in sports....hope. All 30 teams hope to win but there are only a select few that know they can and ultimately only one that will. Raptors are still miles from being that one. Which after 16 years of hoping is pretty frustrating for fans.

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