People are filled with optimism at this time of year. I learned that in a big way in my debut article on Bleacher Report covering our beloved Raptors. Over 72% (the last time I checked) believe the Raptors will make the playoffs. That for me would take a perfect storm of everything going right. Josh in his last article made a bold prediction that the Raptors would finish 6th in the Eastern Conference. While I have a hard time seeing how they can even make their way out of 5th in Atlantic Division. We both could ultimately be wrong. Still here are some things the Raptors need to find if they are to return to the playoffs.
1. Leadership: Let's face it this has been a problem for a long time with this franchise. Chris Bosh tried to be a leader but could never really pull it off. So he decided to say screw it and follow Lebron to Miami. Andera Bargnani is no answer either. It has taken him many years just to fit in. Also his lack of hustle on the floor at times has been an issue. Sure we saw signs that Bargnani might have changed his ways last year. Rome wasn't built in a day and Bargnani as the leader of this franchise has not been built in 6 years. Who else we have? Longest serving Raptor Jose Calderon has never in mind shown any kind of leadership. There is a reason the Raptors traded for Kyle Lowry. Actually there is many. Calderon even if you believe he is a leader is on his way out the door sooner or later. Demar DeRozan is to young and has to much on his plate to worry about leading a team just yet. Any other name you want to bring up simply should not be considered in terms of leading this team.
2. Rebounding: Yes maybe they have solved this with the addition of Jonas and perhaps an improved Ed Davis. You might even get a board or two from some of the other new guys. Acy not this year, but down the line should be able to help on the glass. Bargnani even with his break out performance last year still painfully struggled to find a rebound. Who on this team can we count on night in and night out to get a double double? You may all have your reasons to dislike Chris Bosh, but he was able to do that on a somewhat regular basis. It may be changing but until it is proven on the floor, the Raptors need to show me they can rebound before I am going to buy it. Andrew Bynum coming to the Sixers will be another challenging big for the Raptors to deal with. Also in general I would say the Raptors lack some size 1-3. Also they don't get a lot of rebounds from guys like DeRozan for example who with his athletic ability should get more boards.
3. A Rival: As I wrote in the Bleacher Report over the holiday weekend the Raptors are a team without a true rival. Sure you may consider the Celtics, Heat, Knicks or others the Raptors rival. But ask yourself this? Do they consider the Raptors a rival? The answer is no. The Raptors need to have a team to measure themselves against. All teams that win Championships have some rivals along the way. Jordan had to push his Bulls through the Bad Boy Pistons. You need that one enemy that motivates you to do that extra set of weights in the summer. To push you to run that extra mile on the treadmill. The Raptors have been without a true rival for some time. Maybe this year they will find an answer to who that team is.
4.Experience: The Raptors really lack in this area. Most of the guys on this roster have little to no playoff experience. Still you have to get there to get it so at some point experience or not the Raptors should get there. That said a lot of these guys have not been in games that matter in April. The ones that have might have forgot what it feels like. For the ones that can remember, they had reduced roles on other teams. Bottom line to steal a line from Jack Armstrong, you need crawl before you can walk and you need to walk before you can run. The Raptors are still learning to walk and falling more than walking.
5. Small Forward: Bryan Colangelo claims he has solved the Raptors issues at small forward. We have heard this so many times since Vince Carter left town it is getting to the point of it being like the little boy crying wolf. Landry Fields we think is the latest answer to the question of who will replace Vince Carter. Heck even Vince couldn't replace Vince at this point in his career. Maybe this is the wrong topic. Vince was something else beyond being the best player perhaps in franchise history and definitely the best small forward. He was a true superstar in the NBA. In this modern NBA it is not uncommon to see teams with 3 or even 4 superstars in their starting line-up. I have heard Jack Armstrong and others say the Raptors can build a core like the Pistons had with no true stars. You remember that group that played the right way for Larry Brown. That Championship was won over the heavily favored Lakers and it was a decade ago, as of this season. I know time flies doesn't it. The NBA is a different league from 2002-03. You simply can't win without a true superstar or two. Raptors have a lot of young players that have a lot of talent but none of them would be considered a superstar outside of Toronto.
You know it's bad when some Raptor fans are already starting their tanking plans to draft Canadian Andrew Wiggins. Who could very well be that superstar if he continues on his current path. The Raptors have improved, they are pointing the ship in the right direction. They have a coach that can guide them along this path. All of that being said, the Raptors are still in need of some things before they can consider themselves true playoff contenders. Even Bryan Colangelo agrees with me. He is no longer talking about the Raptors making the playoffs as many were after last season. He is talking about contending for a playoff spot. That is different from actually making the playoffs. It is also a step in the right direction. Just not as big a one has people want. Let's face it the Raptors just being in a playoff race would be a refreshing change. In the past few seasons the Raptors were out of contention before the calendar changed to the next year.