It was a long day in Toronto for me yesterday. First there was the annual end of the year press conference for the players. Normally commonly refereed to as locker clean out day, but the Raptors still had a game to play. A concert by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers allowed this uncommon event to take place. The common theme of those exit interviews was a general consensus that things had changed for the Raptors. This was stated from longest serving Raptor Jose Calderon to second year man Ed Davis. What was also a common theme was a desire to grab the brass ring and make it to the NBA Playoffs next season. To say it is one thing, to believe it is another. The respect this team seems to universally have for Dwane Casey has been obvious throughout the season. Ultimately the Raptors seem to feel they now have an identity and blue print to build on towards that goal of returning to the post season.
No one seemed to have any answers or be willing to share thoughts of what they needed in terms of additions to the roster that will help in that goal of being a playoff team in 2012-13. They all deferred to Bryan Colangelo who has a massive off-season in front of him. The days of everyone just accepting the genius of Bryan Colangelo is no longer just accepted anymore. The first thing that he will be judged on is his draft choice from last season in Jonas Valanciunas who if you hadn't heard will be coming next year. While the Raptors odds of landing Anthony Davis seem bleak at this point, if Valancinus lives up to the considerable hype it might not be the disaster it appears to be for some. In my opinion the Raptors would actually be better served in some respects to wind up the runner-up and select Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also of Kentucky. The Raptors need a better option at the small forward position. James Johnson can be a good player for this team but ultimately does not have the overall skill set to be in the starting line-up. Johnson spoke of his late season blow up with coach Casey and said it is in the past and that he respects him. If the Raptors add someone that ultimately will play in front of him, it will be vital that he is able to stay motivated and contributing. While he still strongly believes in his game on the offensive end, it will be his defensive game that will be what is required for him to be part of the solution.
Andrea Bargnani looked like another person when this season began. When asked what was his best memory from this season, he said it was two minutes prior to ultimately re-injuring his calf muscle in Utah. When that happened you saw some rare raw emotion from Andrea Bargnani. After that we saw little of Bargnani and the Andrea we saw after that point looked a lot more like the Bargnani we had seen in the past. Dwane Casey in his post season remarks today praised Andrea for allowing him to push him. Ultimately heading into next season there will be two main questions. One is if Andrea Bargnani can be healthy and when injures happen can he grind and play through them. The fact this same injury was a factor no less than three times this season has to be a major concern. In addition Andrea Bargnani needs to prove the guy that many were saying was playing at an all-star level is the guy that shows up next season. Italy will not be going to Olympics so Andrea unlike some other players will not be part of things in London. He will have a entire off-season to figure all this out.
Jose Calderon will be in London and likely playing major minutes for Spain given the fact Ricky Rubio is no longer an option for the Spanish Team. Raptor fans outside of Spain may not be so thrilled with that. The Raptors have not exactly had the best of luck in terms of players participating for Spain. Calderon had one of the more solid seasons he has had in the past few years. Colangelo dismissed any thought that Calderon will be going anywhere in his remarks to the media today. He praised Calderon's defense which has improved to some degree under Casey. I would debate how much it has in comparison to Colangelo's assessment.
There seems to be a common consensus that both Ed Davis and Amir Johnson can not both remain as part of this team moving forward. I would tend to disagree with that given the uncertainty to Bargnani's health moving forward. You can throw Linas Kleiza is in that mix as well but given the coming of Jonas, if for no other reason than to help with his transition to life in the NBA and North America it would make sense that he remains on the roster.
In terms of Ed Davis this off-season will be vital for him and his long term future with the Raptors. He has yet to have a full off-season and training camp based on injuries and the NBA Lockout. I personally have concerns about Ed and his ability to develop. He seems to need to be constantly pushed. Casey consistently as mentioned his desire to see Ed and Demar both hit the weights in the off-season and get stronger. Davis when asked about it responded in a rather concerning way. He felt that people will always be questioning his size throughout his NBA Career. This sounded a lot like what use to be said by a young Chris Bosh. That said, the comparison between Bosh and Davis ends there. It is one thing to put up 24 points in a game that the other team had no desire to win and doing it in a game that matters. The organization has stated that he will be the primary focus of the Raptors Summer League team in Las Vegas. Colangelo in his remarks today basically stated that Ed Davis will be held more accountable moving forward and there will be less tolerance in terms of allowing him to develop.
There will be not much said about Demar DeRozan in this post because I had a chance to talk with him later in the day prior to the game last night. Colangelo in his remarks today said that the sky was the limit for DeRozan and he mentioned the same things that Coach Casey has stated about Demar getting bigger and stronger. He also made the point that Demar was the youngest player on this roster on a team full of young players. Colangelo also broke some news in his remarks as he stated that Dwane Casey has got his contract extended. He also made reference to Casey earning bonuses based on this teams dramatic improvement on defense.
That sums up the interviews of the players and we touched on what Casey and Colangelo had to say. Will have more on that later today or tomorrow. However let's shift to the game from last night briefly and touch on a few points.
First the crowd was addressed by Jaamal Magloire and as I had mentioned I was not looking forward to this. It was all I expected and even more. Keeping in mind that Magloire is not even under contract for next season at this point. It is thought that the Raptors might be willing to keep him around and it is clear he is desperate to be around. All of that said he when out and thanked the fans and encouraged them to stick with the team. That is your standard stuff no shock in that. The next part was, in which he more or less gave a promise of the playoffs next season. I am fine if that is Andrea Bargnani talking or Demar DeRozan stating that. We are confident they are going to be here and be a huge part in making that happen. Jaamal Magloire for all of the praise he gets has little impact directly on the floor. Everyone will tell you about his impact off of the floor and that is hard to evaluate in it's actual impact. If he is back I would not be happy about it, but that will not shock anyone.
This game was a utter shame on so many levels. The Raptors and Nets played in effect a glorified Vegas Summer League game. The only thing that made this somewhat bearable was the performance of Ben Uzoh. He got a triple double and became the first Raptor to do so since Alvin Williams in 2001. Sure this game was utterly without meaning in almost every way. That said to get a triple double under any circumstances is not easy to achieve. If it was than surly someone on the Raptors would have done it in 12 years. If you want to earn some respect or dough in the future remember the name Ben Uzoh and triple double and you will have the ultimate trivia question in about 5 years. Who is to say what the future holds for Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh and if they will ever wear a Raptor jersey again. What you can say is good for them in doing a solid job in building a case for themselves to be in the NBA even if that isn't here in Toronto. They had an opportunity and they ceased it and took advantage of it.
Ultimately this season was about Dwane Casey establish a positive identity for the Toronto Raptors. Everyone from the players, to the fans, to other NBA Teams now have an understanding of what it means to be or face the Toronto Raptors. It seems almost comical now how some people at this time last season were still convinced that Jay Triano would still be the coach of this team heading into this season. The best decision the Raptors made this past off-season was hiring Dwane Casey and nothing else comes even close to that. The fact he earned an extension based on his performance this season will surprise no one. The Raptors will pick up the option year on his contract. He has brought back an accountability to the Toronto Raptors that had been lacking for years. When you go in the Raptor locker room it is very clear who the boss is on this team and it is him. To earn the respect of NBA players and be able to get them to buy into what you are selling is a tough job and a constant struggle. In a season that was challenging for any coach in the NBA, it allowed Casey to thrive and survive his first season exceeding almost all expectations that may have been made on what he could realistically achieve.
Up next on our off-season madness of work will be taking a look at Demar DeRozan and hearing his thoughts on what lies ahead for his future and off-season. So be on the look out for that. Also as I was making people aware on Twitter I have lined up a number of guests to talk with us about the season that was and get their thoughts on the future. That begins with my favourite guest Jack Armstrong sometime next week. Many of you missed him on the broadcasts during the final stretch so you will get you fix of Jack here in the DNB. He always has some interesting thoughts on what is going on with the Raptors and I just love having him in the blog. He even helps me learn some things when he is. So that said the season is over but the Dino Nation Blog marches on the entire off-season for the most part. So make sure to stick with us through the off-season which promises to be an eventful one for the Raptors.