For a number of reasons this training camp and pre-season will be very important for the Raptors. First reason has nothing to do with the roster turnover at all. Dwane Casey never even had much of a training camp last season. Despite those less than ideal circumstances for a new coach he was able to do a fantastic job. He was able to turn the Raptors in an acceptable team on the defensive end of the floor. He took huge first steps in changing this team’s culture and identity. When you factor in injures the Raptors endured it makes it even more amazing. Casey had more wins in 66 games than Jay Triano could muster in 82.
Now Casey has had an entire off-season to manage his players off-season activates and a full training camp to fully implement his defensive system. Just on these things alone the Raptors should be somewhat improved. You factor in the roster changes made and that makes you even more optimistic to a degree. You have more talent and more depth to work with. Casey has options this season if players fail to perform. It should help expand on a culture of accountability that he was able to create last season.
It will be important for the Raptors to see what they truly have in guys like Jonas Valancuinas, Terrence Ross and even Quincy Acy. Jonas will be at the top of that list as his learning curve will be the steepest of all. When you factor he is living in a brand new country something than Linas Kleiza should be helpful with adapting too. Learning the many nuances of the NBA game will be a challenge. Along with dealing with a mountain of expectations built in the year of fans waiting for his arrival. He will likely have the largest role of any of the rookies and it would be a disappointment if he was not the starter at center by the end of this season.
Terrence Ross has a lot less to worry about. He will not be expected to start and will be given time to grow. If Demar DeRozan is able to play like expected Terrence’s role should be very focused and controlled. While he can shoot and has great athletic ability, expect his defence to be his main focus at first.
Quincy Acy will likely not see much time on the floor. He will be asked to push all the Raptor big men in practice something he is capable of doing. He is an energy guy and if guys like Air Johnson and Ed Davis and others let up Acy will make that obvious. If he sees the floor it will be to send messages to others or because the Raptors have some serious injury issues.
It was made clear that DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis were impacted negatively by the lack of a normal off-season last year. If that theory is to be proven right than we need to see a much better performance from both out of the gate this season. If we do not that is a problem and something that will need to be addressed in some form or fashion.
Kyle Lowry has been given the starting job by most. He still has to go out and earn that spot technically. That should not be an issue for him. What will be is learning his new team and developing chemistry with guys like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. In fact at his position you really need to know everyone and how to get them the ball and make them most effective. He also needs to lead the charge on defence as he offers something the Raptors have lacked for some time. Lowry is an effective defender at the point that will challenge the opposing point guard and make life difficult for them. In addition to that he has to be mindful of Jose Calderon and do his best to deal with a situation that will be tricky to navigate.
Lowry has to establish himself as the guy and do it in a way where he doesn’t offend Jose Calderon in the process. How Calderon reacts to Lowry will also be something to wonder about. He could help Lowry make this transition easier. Most think this will happen based on Calderon’s reputation as a team guy. I am not as sold based on what we have been told about Calderon’s reaction to the Raptors off-season moves in which it was made pretty clear his days starting in Toronto were done.
All of these things and we haven’t touched on Ed Davis and Amir Johnson fighting for a spot in the rotation. Not a word on how Landry Fields fits into the mix and if he will be the guy starting at the small forward for the Raptors. Can Demar DeRozan learn to split time at the two and three positions? Will Andrea Bargnani stay injury free and show that the way he played when healthy last year was not a fluke.
There are a lot of things to be accomplished and maybe that is why most of the team is already on hand and working out on their own prior to training camp. It feels a lot like the first full season Bryan Colangelo had as G.M here in Toronto. The same results from that season would be far too optimistic as that team won a division title and finished in third place in the Eastern Conference. The NBA landscape has changed since that time. In fact forget the league, the Atlantic Division has changed in a major way. The Raptors will have to fight hard to compete in a division that is truly stacked and offers no easy games.