And just like that, it’s time to shift into NBA mode with a deal in place, a season less than a month away and a flurry of player movement likely in the interim. As the I’s get dotted and T’s get crossed, let’s get you ready for some Raps basketball with a look at where the team stands (ugh) and who to keep an eye on as we gear up for a likely December 26th tip-off.
General Manager Bryan Colangelo
There are plenty of holes to fill on the roster, with just 10 guys under contract, a significant UFA in Reggie Evans and a starting SF, among other pieces, desperately needed – not to mention new CBA rules to navigate. Even with the team coming off a 21-61 season, it’s hard to see this being the time for any kind of dramatic overhaul. I could see Colangelo seeking out a few veteran free agents to round things out with about $11 million in cap space to work with and then allow some young guys to be thrown to the wolves during a shortened season in which, realistically, no one is expecting big results anyway.
Head Coach Dwane Casey
The new head coach still won’t have much chance to make much of an imprint on the club out of the gate, with no more than 16 or 17 days to implement a game plan and offensive/defensive tactics. Still, he will get some say in personnel moves and his fingerprints could likely be all over the opening night line-up. Could be a trying start for Casey, who faces the daunting task of preparing a young, inexperienced, rudderless team – many of whom may not be in 100% game shape – over a short timeframe and helping them adjust to playing together. The key for Casey will be identifying his preferred building blocks moving forward.
DeRozan will be given every chance to claim the reins as face of the franchise this season, with Andrea Bargnani unlikely to be a favourite of Casey’s and the USC product having already made strides during Year 2 of his NBA career last season and will likely see more of the offence run through him. There’s room for growth on the defensive end, too.
The success of Bargnani this season is directly connected to those around him. If he continues to play with the same core group of guys from last season, they already know to find him at the top of the key and along the perimeter, and the shot attempts (and points) will come, accordingly. If, however, Casey is able to make his mark while introducing a few new guys into the mix, Bargnani may be forced into seeking out his own scoring opportunities – something that could be beneficial to the club in the long run.
Assuming he avoids the sharp blades of the new Amnesty Clause, Calderon should find himself sharing point guard duties with Jerryd Bayless once again. For the oft-injured Spaniard, conditioning is absolutely critical and he will struggle to absorb the grind of a condensed, 66-game schedule against other, more physical PG’s if he isn’t in tip-top game shape.
In the short-term, Davis’ opportunities will hinge largely on the team’s pursuit of Evans. But even if the fan favourite is brought back into the fold, it’s difficult to see the UNC alum playing any less than a significant role in his second season with the team. Expect the 22-year old to be given a ‘trial by fire’ type shot at learning on the go.
Simply hard to see where the Brazilian Blur fits on this club. The Raptors, who are looking for develop young talent, don’t really need him and Barbosa, who would ideally serve as a spark off the bench for a contending club, doesn’t need them. Still, the team was sufficiently far enough below the cap to pick up his $7.6 million option in June and he might hold trade value as a mid-season rental on an expiring deal. One way or another, I don’t see him in Toronto after this season.
Along with DeRozan, Bayless has to be among the players that Casey is most interested in getting an extended look at. 2010-11 was a teaser season for Bayless, wherein he offered a hint that he was turning a corner into a viable scorer and combo guard but still couldn’t grasp that fleeting consistency. Despite the presence of Calderon, the point guard job is Bayless’ for the taking.
Has Johnson plateau’ed in his development? The thought may seem like a cruel one for a 6’10” 24-year old with great athleticism and a huge wingspan, but I can’t shake this nagging feeling that last year was his big chance to take the jump. Yes, his scoring and rebounding numbers enjoyed a nice bump (3.7 points and 1.6 rebounds up from the previous year), but so did his minutes (17.7 to 25.7) and, most significantly, his fouls (3.11 to 3.65). If he can stay effective while remaining out of foul trouble, there’s still room for growth. If not, the $27 or so million left on his deal seems pretty onerous for a single-digit points and boards guy.
The other Johnson came over mid-season from the Bulls and it seemed like an excellent match on both sides. The Raptors got a defensive-minded ‘three’ who can still grow into more of a scorer but has a distinguished role for now, while the 24-year old received his first real opportunity as an NBA player. While the early returns have been modestly promising, he remains too raw offensively and too unproven to serve as the primary SF option.
Kleiza happens to be the one Raptor who remains relatively unaffected by the lockout (well, aside from the lost pay), as he continues to rehab from knee surgery that was going to keep him out until at least February, anyways. Kleiza could, however, be affect by the resulting agreement, as he and his remaining three years and $15 million may be an Amnesty candidate.