We ended up taking a rather extended long weekend. Not that much news has been going on other than the Olympics in London. Today is Demar DeRozan's Birthday. We wish him all the best. John Lucas III one of the Raptors latest signings has been vacationing in Barbados or the Bahamas I forget which it was. Amir Johnson was in town ridding on a float for Carribana and having fun I would assume. Twitter kind of kills the allusion of guys working hard in the gym all summer long I guess. Still, we all can use some time off at this time of year. I keep thinking to myself is this really it for an off-season the Bryan Colangelo had built up for over a year. It is kind of like the build up for Jonas of over a year. It remains to be seen if his debut will fall as flat for me as this Raptors off-season has.
It is not to say that Raptors have not improved somewhat. I think they have made some decent moves and will likely be a top 10 team on defense this season based on the roster moves they have made this off-season. Pretty much every new face to the mix is an upgrade in terms of that end of the floor. Jose Calderon being pushed to the bench by the arrival of Lowry could alone be a big enough change to push the Raptors up to the top 10. Clearly the Raptors have made a point to get players for their coach that should blend well with his skill set. They have also said so long to some that would not.
All of that being said do I feel this team has made the kind of changes to make that huge jump to being a playoff team. I would like to say YES! YES! YES! ( Wrestling Fans Laughed at That), but I just really can't see it. What is would take for that to happen is the Raptors getting significant internal improvement from both DeRozan and Bargnani along with others. That could happen but it remains to be seen. I still am not sold on Bargnani and really is he any better than what we had in Chris Bosh as an overall product on the floor? I would say no. While DeRozan enters the last year of his deal and if he shows signs of progress it will be good, but the Raptors will be left with a tough choice on what to do with him at the end of the season. As much as I do like DeRozan and believe in him, I am not inclined to commit huge dollars to him on a long term extension. The only thing that would change my mind is if he were to have a total break out season. Which might be difficult as I would suspect he might play slightly less minutes in favour of Ross based on Ross having better abilities to both defend and shoot the three in the eyes of most at this point.
Lowry should change to point guard position for the better. I think he could have a positive impact and it will be interesting to see how meshes with the various weapons he will have around him. In terms of Jose I would be greatly concerned. He has not exactly had a stellar Olympics and he clearly is not happy with his NBA situation here. I don't see how the Raptors can expect this to last for a season or even to the trade deadline. John Lucas III is a nice 3rd option if he bumps up to 2nd on the depth chart, if Calderon is moved on would be a concern to me.
Landry Fields to me does not really inspire confidence as the answer for the Raptors at 3 spot. Linas Kleiza and his inspired play for Lithuania doesn't either. While Fields will be an upgrade on D to a degree it really wasn't that bad with James Johnson on that end of the floor. Fields is a guy that could add some punch on the offensive end. In terms of non-basketball wise he seems like quite the character and someone I will look forward to talking with this season. Maybe dating tips with Landry Fields that would be fun. Still I might be the only one but Fields will always be a haunting reminder of how the Raptors failed to land Steve Nash. While Bryan Colangelo has said on the record he feels that he has addressed the issues at the small forward position. I would politely disagree. All we have is new question marks. Which is a constant theme since Vince Carter was traded away. It is a long list of guys that have attempted to be the answer at the small forward position and none of them have come close to being a long term solution.
As for the Raptors prize pick Jonas Valancuinas, I just find it odd so many people feel they can evaluate him without him ever having played a game with NBA rules. The biggest challenge he will have beyond matching the unrealistic expectations that have been created is being able to stay on the floor. It could be a major issue for him and how quickly he can address that will greatly define his first season in the NBA. This is not to compare him to Amir Johnson in terms of who is better, but Johnson when he has been able to stay out of foul trouble has shown ability to put up impressive numbers. Jonas is capable of doing that and likely greater numbers at times. The key is can he avoid that foul trouble that will no doubt come. If he can't he will be the most talented guy sitting on the Raptors bench. Josh in his post on Raptors line-ups had Jonas coming off the bench and not starting. I honestly can't see how the Raptors would not start him. After all the hype and build up it would seem odd to than sit him on the bench. Also look at the Raptors approach with Demar DeRozan in which he started from day 1. That said the Raptors did not have the depth of talent they do at Jonas' position. I still personally would be shocked if Aaron Gray is the guy in the starting 5 on opening night.
In the end, I would say the Raptors have got a lot more interesting, but ultimately I don't see them as team that has improved to the point of being a playoff team. I also don't see them as a team that can be much better than last in their division. Which makes the playoffs seem unlikely. The Nets have made some major improvements and while I expect the Knicks and Sixers to take slight falls backwards it is not like they are worse than Raptors in terms of talent. At the top of food chain Boston has done a good job in maintaining their status as the top dog in division despite losing one member of the original Big Three that won them a title. Raptors should be a scrappy team that will fight hard on most nights. They will kind of be like the Canadian Women's Basketball team at the Olympics. They will be in almost every game even against teams with more talent, but the odd time will get mauled by the big fish of the NBA. I am not saying the Miami Heat will beat them as soundly as the U.S Women did Canada this morning, but that the Raptors will be fighting an uphill battle on more nights than they are not. Not exactly the expectation this off-season was billed as bringing. Raptors are on a slow build to being playoff fodder in the first round for years to come at this point. Something dynamic needs to happen to change that outlook.