Watching these playoffs you come to realize just how important it is to have a mean streak about your team. People either overrate or underrate this intangible but one thing is for sure: you can’t deny its not important. Skill will always be weighted more heavily but as we look at the Rockets and Artest/Scola, Celtics and Rondo/Davis, Hawks and Zaza, Denver and Birdman, you have to feel that the Raptors do not have a comparable player that can provide a consistent physical presence and toughness on the defensive end, especially on the boards. We instead are left clutching to an under-performing Kris Humphries, a seemingly failed project in Patrick O’Bryant and an NBA fresh-face in Pops to be the pillar of defense and intensity in times of battle.
As Colangelo gave his State of the Union address at the end of the season he openly acknowledged that the team was just “too nice”. It was an admission of something that the fans had seen much earlier, to be precise, right after the 2006-07 campaign. Given his summer acquisitions that year, Colangelo obviously didn’t share that perspective. But now, two years later and a gone a few steps back, the GM is set to make a move to address the issue. To his credit, he did acquire Jermaine O’Neal in order to fill a similar role but his evaluation of his injury situation was poor and the risk as it turns out, was too high. In the same address he ended up labeling the trade as a “swing for the fences”. The ball was caught for an easy fly-out.
At last year’s trade deadline I was openly calling for the Raptors to acquire a physical presence like Reggie Evans, an experienced trench player that cares about rebounding, defense and nothing more. I thought it would’ve helped out tremendously against Orlando where we were left with no option but to have Chris Bosh ball-deny Dwight Howard which took away from his own offensive game. As the current poll on the site continues I’m noticing that fans liked Pops and what he showcased ahead of Kris Humphries, a capable hustle-guy in his own right. But asking Pops, who proved to be a 7/10 in his 19 games with us, to provide an inside presence like Scola, Zaza, Davis or even Birdman is setting him up to be a failure. Currently, we have three all-hustle, little-skill guys on the bench in O’Bryant, Pops and Humphries, I’d like to see only one of them start on the bench next year and the Raptors acquire a veteran big man such as Udonis Haslem who would bring better rebounding and more importantly, a veteran’s touch to the mix.
Toughness isn’t restricted to inside the paint and we’re soft as a marshmallow on the perimeter. Marion’s defense was a welcome addition to the Raptors but even if we re-sign him we still need another athletic drive-minded, hard-nosed player off the bench. Carlos Delfino appears to be Colangelo’s pick to be that player but let’s be serious, we already know what Delfino can do and it’s nothing to get too excited about. This might be a need which can be filled through the draft, perhaps even through clever second-round drafting where the Raptors could find themselves a player of a similar make as say, Tony Allen or a Thaddeus Young.
Leadership is another thing which is lacking from this side; some might even argue that your toughest player should automatically be your leader. The persona of the team is indicative of its leader and sad to say, Chris Bosh has done a poor job of being one. Just like it is hard for greatness to be thrust up on you, it is equally hard for leadership qualities to develop just because you happen to be the best player on a bad team. It’s also hard for him to be a leader because one must lead by example and there were countless times last year where he made costly offensive decisions, suffered though defensive lapses, and put forth sub-par performances in big games. It’s very hard to call or inspire your teammates in the locker-room if you’re culprit #1. Unless you’re yelling at Jamario Moon, then its OK because c’mon, it’s Jamario Moon.
That’s why it’s sometimes better that the leader of the team not be counted on so heavily in the boxscore. Kevin Garnett in Boston, Battier in Houston, Miller in Philly and going back, Charles Oakley in NY, are all example of leaders that don’t have great pressure to produce on the offensive end but still serve as the ‘spine’ of the team. In the Raptors’ case, after Bosh we’re forced to examine Marion and Calderon as leaders, the latter has a language barrier and the former might not even be here. What I’m trying to say is that we need to import toughness and leadership, just like we had done years ago with Antonio Davis and Charles Oakley. People didn’t like the Camby-Oakley or the Davis-Bender trade at the time but they were bold moves by Grunwald that paid off. That is the kind of sense and instance that is required of Colangelo this summer.
In the midst of finding us a new shooting guard, a backup ball-handler, dealing with the Chris Bosh situation, re-signing Marion, these two important qualities can easily end up being overlooked. The key is to kill two birds with one stone and with the Raptors running low on assets you have to wonder if Colangelo has the wiggle room to address so many issues. Unless of course, he trades Chris Bosh in hopes of resurrecting the franchise, something that’s already happened a couple times before.
Damon Stoudamire was traded with the team in the middle of a 16 win season and Vince Carter was off-loaded for future flexibility, proving further that Raptors fans do have patience to stomach development processes. If we trade Bosh I don’t think the “rebuilding” process will be as severe as either of the last two cases: we have assets in Bargnani, Calderon and possibly Marion that were not there when Damon and Vince got moved. If we manage to get a starter or two in a Bosh deal while offloading a bad contract, things could be good. Bosh could be the stone that kills those birds for us.