We’re allowed a 15 man roster of which we’re not using two spots. So we’re down to 13. Then we have Jawai so we’re down to 12. Then we have Hassan Adams, Will Solomon and Roko Ukic so our NBA quality players are down to 9. Of that we got Jamario Moon who’s about as worthless as an asshole on an elbow so we’re down to 8. Of those 8 we got Joey Graham and Kris Humphries who on good days can be good players but have never been used properly or given the proper chance to be a productive functioning part of a team. So we’re down to 6. Of those 6 we have Jason Kapono who is playing out of his element on most nights and cannot be counted on to provide a consistent punch of anything. So we’re down to 5. Of those 5 we have Anthony Parker who is aging worse than an expired carton of milk. So we’re down to 4. Of those 4 we have Jermaine O’Neal, his hurting knee and cap-killing 21M salary and a turnover to points ratio that could scare of a bad accountant, so we’re down to 3. Of those three we have Andrea Bargnani, the #1 overall pick who although improved this year, has not been the difference-maker or impact player that we hoped he would. So we’re down to 2. Of those two there’s Jose Calderon who’s effort and desire can never be questioned but who’s ability to distribute the ball and check his man is always a subject of conversation. And finally we have our superstar Bosh who as we’re fast finding out is turning out to be nothing more than a great second option.
We don’t have it, we can try and pretend like we have it and its just a matter of time or coaching before it comes out but getting blown out consistently suggests otherwise. We are struggling not to get blown out, its hard for us to keep a game close for more than two quarters and there are plenty of things to point fingers at. You can point to the first quarter starts, the bad defense, our “superstar”, our desire and willingness to compete, our mental strength, our talent, our coaching, everything. They’re all lacking, not a single component of this team is functioning at an NBA level. Nothing at all. There’s a difference between losing and getting crushed and right now we’re struggling not to get crushed. I think that Rob Babcock team with Voshon Lenard can beat our current squad the way they’re playing. No joke.
Where do you begin? I guess you have to start with the first quarter. The job of the starters is supposed to be to get you off to a good start and set the tone for the game. You know, something to pass on to the bench when they come in and get back after your late first, early second quarter breather. The shit hits the fan so early for us that we have to play the entire game from behind and that’s a hard thing to do. Our first two possessions are turnovers which are stuffed in our faces for two big LBJ slams. Nice start fellas. If Delonte West is breaking down Parker in the first quarter, I don’t even want to know what he’s going to do in the fourth when Parker’s legs are tired. When your team sucks (and the Raptors do in fact suck), you’re supposed to go to your superstar for production and Bosh happens to fold like expensive toilet paper against good teams. 4 of 11 for 9 points? Fuck. Off. Seriously. We needed him in two stretches today, the start of the first when we needed to get out of the gates quickly and the start of the third when Cleveland was trying to put the hammer down on us after we had clawed back in the game. He failed on both occasions.
Trailing threes are not what MVPs are made of. Nor are they made up of passing the ball off when covered by Mo Williams on single-coverage in the post. They definitely aren’t made up of checking out against Boston, Detroit, Denver, Utah and now Cleveland. The Cavs were all over us in the first quarter, they were getting enough dribble penetration to attract a double and start swinging the ball, luckily for us they weren’t hitting all their perimeter jumpers so we were somewhat still in the game at the end of the first (down 10). Jose Calderon, Jermaine O’Neal and Anthony Parker (the same trio that made that fourth quarter run against Portland) stepped up and cut the Cavaliers lead from 17 to 6 in the second quarter and got us somewhat back in the game down 8. Enter the third quarter and all eyes are on Bosh to start carrying the load against Wallace and Varejao and what does he do – he fizzles out like a candle hit by a wave. 1-4 for 2 points in the quarter. Lebron in this quarter went 4-6 for 10 points and two steals. 20 point lead. Game over. That right there is what a superstar does for you. He takes a game that is close and creates separation. We needed Bosh to step up and be aggressive against Cleveland’s immobile bigs and want to get to the FT line and get fouled, instead he settles (and I can’t stress this word enough) for flimsy perimeter jumpers that play exactly into the hands of the defense.
There’s a fine line between a great second-option, a star and a superstar. In Bosh’s four years with the Raptors he’s shown us that he can be a very good player but has far from proven that he’s worthy and capable of being a cornerstone of a franchise. I keep waiting for him to deliver in the spotlight when matched up against elite NBA players in games that mean more than a single W or L and time and time again he’s come up short. Very short. All the talk in pre-season was positive and he was playing aggressive earlier in the year but all that is gone and replaced with something which I dare say resembles complacency. Has he finally come to recognize the roster he’s playing with and has checked out? Is he pulling a Vince on us? You’d like to think he’s cut of a different cloth than VC but in his last couple outings he doesn’t seem to care about the result. Is it Triano not giving him the ball enough and not running enough PNRs? Whatever it is, Bosh’s attitude seems to have taken a 180 degree turn over the last couple weeks. I can’t imagine it’s fatigue, LBJ also played in the Olympics and he seems to be breathing normally. Yeah, Mitchell stretched Bosh for the first 15 games of the year but don’t tell me that’s the reason for burnout, it’s December for fuck sakes.
God bless Jermaine O’Neal’s heart because I know this losing hurts him more than anyone (definitely more than Bosh, smiling at the end) and I appreciate that he’s trying to carry this team by going into the post against other bigs but its just not happening for him. We’re 20 games in and I was counting on this to be the time where he finds his offensive groove and starts hitting those layups and lane-jumpers that were automatic for him a few years back, but its just not happening. Either his shot isn’t there or the legs aren’t there, he was starting to find his rhythm before he went down with injury and since he’s come back he hasn’t been able to get back to where he was. 6 turnovers is no joke, dribbling off his knees, losing the ball out of bounds, failing to keep defenders on his back….those are signs of somebody who’s losing it. You can see when he’s trying to gather himself before going up that he’s relying on sheer strength to finish rather than skill. The old Jermaine O’Neal would’ve led with his shoulder and layed the ball in, but this JO is trying with all his might to dunk it. The fluidity in his game is missing and he’s trying to compensate for it by power and its not working, it’s resulting in turnovers.
There was a play in the second half where O’Neal, Bosh and Bargnani were all in the paint with Big Z “contesting” for a rebound, when the shot was missed, Z just reached up and layed the ball in as our trinity stood there embarrassed. Nobody said anything to each other, they just inbounded the ball and walked up the court. That to me is a timeout call followed by expletives, broken chairs, stare-downs and a team-meeting. There’s no point analyzing the technical aspects of a game until we’ve got our effort and motivation issues ironed out. These three are supposed to be the headliners of the team and when you get this kind of play out of them, what can you possibly expect from someone like Jamario Moon?
We fail to execute basic basketball plays. I’m not talking about a PNR or a back-cut, I’m talking simple, fundamental tasks. For example, I just realized that we cannot throw an entry-pass into the post without making it very interesting, every completed pass into the post is a near steal for the defense and even if its caught, the post player has to come out of an advantageous area just so he can catch the ball. Our cross-court passes are weak, predictable and don’t have any zip on it, LBJ looked like Scottie Pippen tonight when he was playing those passing lanes, he even motivated the defensively indifferent Mo Williams to get in on the act. We cannot seem to get our best shooter and our best post-up player on the same side of the court, it’s like Kapono and Bosh are wearing two huge repelling magnets and cannot occupy the same side of the court while Bosh has the ball.
Did you catch that play where Bargnani drove the ball from the right elbow, got sealed off and threw it behind him hoping somebody was there to bail him out. That right there speaks of a man going solo without having any idea where any of his teammates are. I don’t know if that was a one-on-one play born out of frustration or a set-play which went horribly wrong, either way its a sign that Triano’s a long ways away from instilling any sort of a system with the Raptors. Judging by the rate at which this team learns things I fear that it might be too late before we finally grasp Triano’s style of play. So what is his style of play? I don’t know for sure but so far I’ve been able to decipher this: 1) Less Moon, more Graham, 2) Less high PNR, more ball movement, 3) Less fighting through screens, more switches, 4) More flashes and quick-hits. These can all be good things but the question is whether we have the personnel to execute any kind of system. It’s also why I was sometimes hesitant to rip into Mitchell too much because the talent pool that he was working with is not good or fierce enough to compete.
Matt Devlin, Leo Rautins and Jack Armstrong can harp on about the strength of schedule, the early injuries and Bosh’s fatigue all they want, but those aren’t factors in getting blown the fuck out. I understand if we lost a 5-point game or went through a cold-spell in the fourth quarter to lose the game, but that isn’t the case. We’re getting chased out of the arena and embarrassed in the first half. If it weren’t for the JO/Parker/Jose second quarter run, LBJ would’ve iced his knees in the second quarter.
Here are some facts that were reinforced last night: Bosh’s mental state is questionable. Jermaine O’Neal’s a hard worker but he’s not having the rebounding impact that we needed him to have. I think this has more to do with communication and defensive rotations and less to do with skill, our bigs have a nasty habit of challenging the shot but not making our interior rotations and our guards don’t box out which leaves ample offensive rebounding opportunities. The dribble-penetration is worse than it has been the last three years and we’re scrambling to recover too often. Even a great defensive team like San Antonio would struggle if they had to make as many defensive rotations as we’re forced to. Bosh cannot consistently create his own shot and if he isn’t doubled early in the shot-clock, our offense automatically reverts to one-on-one moves. Joey Graham has been a nice little surprise but our wing position is the weakest in the NBA and this happens to be the most loaded position in the league. There is a significant drop in production when we sub Jose off and the bench fails to provide that boost that good teams look always count on. The bench is supposed to fire the team up, ours digs the hole even deeper. Finally, we seem to have a GM that refuses to cross the luxury tax in order to fulfill a need. I cannot explain 2 empty roster spots on a team which is so shallow to begin with.
I’d like to give Jose Calderon some credit tonight, yeah he threw some bad passes that were picked off and didn’t check Boobie or West as well as he could’ve but he looked to attack. He had at least three drives to the rim (two for scores) and looked to genuine push the ball and setup early. When garbage time came in the fourth quarter, him and O’Neal were the two players that looked the most distraught. The perplexed and disappointed look on their faces spoke of a team that has deep problems and the worst part being that there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.
On the bright side, Roko Ukic and Joey Graham are playing hard and that alone should warrant more playing time. If the starters can’t get the job done in the first quarter maybe its time to send a big message and start Humphries and Graham, if for nothing else than to rattle some heads. This team needs to buy into something and develop an identity, right now we’re wandering on a possession-by-possession basis without believing in anything that we’re trying to do. Let’s start off by motivating players to lay it all out there and there’s no better way to motivate someone by stepping on their ego, and starting scrubs might be the way to go. Losing is contagious and once you accept it as reality it’s very difficult to get out of that state of mind. Bryan Colangelo should see the warning signs and act accordingly because waiting too long might be waving goodbye to a playoff spot. If things don’t turn around very soon we might even have to make a a move for the sake of making a move. Things are starting to look that bleak, I can handle the Ls, I just can’t handle the way we’re getting annihilated in the Ls. If the answer is to trade Chris Bosh and start over, I’m fine with it, this franchise recovered from losing Damon, T-Mac, and VC. We can handle it.
We here at Raptors Republic realize that without the readers, this site sucks ass. So we’ve decided to give you, the fan, the chance to have your say and not just for 30 seconds like on a radio show. Every now and then (as often as possible) we’ll get your take on things, doesn’t matter who you are, if you got something to say, RR is your place to say it. So tonight, a fan named Chris (handle is Sir Carl English ) wanted to chat some hoops and vent about the Raptors so I called him up, here’s the talk:[audio:http://raptorsrepublic.com/blog/audio/2008-12-10-ChrisFan.mp3]
Remember that you can listen to this in iTunes. If you’d like to get on and chat, just email arsenalist at raptorsrepublic.com and we’ll try to get you on. Remember to also check the live blog which couldn’t be finished due to pure disgust and the hilarious Roll Call.