Can you smell it? I can, it’s training camp and it’s just around the corner. It’s the time when wins and losses are seen as meaningless with much more weight given to team cohesion, practices, conditioning and such. It’s a time when there’s room for mistakes and sub-par performances are brushed off with a broom called “it’s just pre-season”. Last year we had a terrible one. It was an outright disaster because it didn’t accomplish anything for anyone. We went an uninspired 4-4 and looked lethargic and out of sync from the start. The major task was to integrate Jermaine O’Neal and build some sort of continuity heading into the season but there was no change between Day 1 of training camp and Game 1 of the regular season. This year, the player turnover is higher and the task even tougher.
The worst part about last season’s camp was that everybody watching the games, listening to the post-game pressers knew that the team wasn’t gelling. All the signs were there: lazy defense, missed coverages, bad shots, excessive late-clock situations, the whole shebang. Whenever a reporter brought it up he was quickly hushed under the blanket excuse: It’s pre-season, this is what pre-season’s for, to iron these problems out. Those problems never got ironed out. We can’t have that happening this time around, this time we need to build momentum in training camp and take it right through pre-season and straight to opening day. I remember a couple years back we played the C**tics in Italy. Kevin Garnett had them ridiculously pumped for every game and it showed, they started their championship quest early and saw it through. All we did was sell some Italian and Spanish themed alternate jerseys.
Leave the X’s and O’s aside, a team with nine new players needs leadership and somebody to set the tone early. The tone that laziness, indiscipline and lack of seriousness will not be tolerated. It should be made clear in no uncertain terms that the team needs to go about things the right way with the right attitude. No more Jamario Moon BS. It starts with the coaching staff but a big part of forming a serious level of commitment comes from the team leader. I don’t know who that is – is it Bosh? Maybe. Jack? I hope not. Bargnani? No. Hedo? Probably not. Calderon? Ummm…who knows. You ever been part of a team or played pick-up? You know that guy on your team you want to impress and secretly fear? We don’t have that guy and one needs to emerge fast so that a simple glare to an offending player will send the message. Rewind back to the Bad Boy Pistons or the early 80’s Sixers, you didn’t want anything to do with Bill Laimbeer after you missed a defensive rebound. You didn’t want Maurice Cheeks to take you into the corner after you foolishly gambled on a steal and left him out to dry. You just didn’t.
Mistakes need to be recognized early and
punished addressed early to avoid them later. Defense is my major concern. We have size and athleticism in Wright, DeRozan, Belinelli, Jack and Turkoglu, but will it be translated into actually good defense? It’ll be tough, last year athletic but undisciplined teams such as Golden State, Washington, New York, Phoenix and OKC were in the bottom third in FG%age allowed. The Raptors have addressed the athleticism to a degree but will they take the next step of playing defense the way Denver, Boston or Cleveland did? Those three teams know how to play defense and it’s driven by the pistons of cohesion and effort. The Raptors need to get themselves a sniff of that. Triano seems to agree:
We have to be better at the defensive end of the floor. We have good players coming in that are good defensive players. We believe that we’re going to upgrade in that but the biggest difference is going to be whether we can learn how to play together and how quickly we do that.
I’d rank defensive continuity and effort as the #1 thing to work on in training camp. The offense will come, unlike last year, we now have enough firepower that we shouldn’t struggle to score. The essence of good offense is simple: make a defender pay attention to a player other than the one he’s guarding and go from there. We have at least two players in Bosh and Turkoglu that can create mismatches and force defensive reactions that the coaching staff can take advantage of. If our offense struggles to score it’ll speak directly of the coaching staff, if our defense is still 21st in the league, it’ll speak to the players first, and then the coaching staff.
So to sum it up: Somebody please set the tone and theme of this team early. Even if we struggle through our tough opening schedule, we can still recover if we’re a mentally strong team that has a leader who can pick the squad up after tough losses, which we’ll have our fair share of. Here are just 10 of the many, many questions I’m hoping training camp will answer. They’re in no particular order.
- How will we replace Marion’s rebounding in the starting lineup? Will Turkoglu or Bargnani pick up the slack?
- How will DeRozan be used? Will he be asked to run around off-the-ball with minimum responsibility or will we actually use him as a first-touch weapon.
- Turkoglu and Bosh/Bargnani on the pick ‘n roll. Will the high-screen return to its normal 80% usage rate and become our bread and butter, or will Triano continue going away from it.
- Reggie Evans v Amir Johnson. Rasho’s going to get his share of minutes because he’s a matchup-sub and brings a wide body to the mix – something no other Raptor does. If there’s a position where minutes are up for grabs, its Evans v Johnson.
- Jack/Calderon PG split and Jose’s role. What is the PG split going to be here? Will Calderon get 32 minutes at the point (67%) or will it be lower? Will he be used off-the-ball like some expect? How can Triano utilize his outside stroke while still having him quarterback the offense?
- Calderon’s defense. Last year was tough for him and both Triano and Colangelo admitted it. This year they’re saying that Jose can “play a defensive system” which translates to “Yeah, we know he’s bad but we think we can hide him”.
- The amount of freedom given to Belinelli. Will he come in and try to shoot himself into the game or is he going to follow some sort of plan where he’s the focal offensive player in the second unit?
- Will the real Andrea Bargnani please stand up? I can almost sense the return of VL if he struggles early. Year four is when Nowtizki averaged a double-double of 23/10 on 48% shooting and this time around, expectations will be higher than ever before. Was the second half of last year a fluke? Nobody knows.
- Bosh’s bulk. He’s apparently added 15lbs. What’s he going to do with them? Are we finally going to see an improvement in his paint game or will that muscle be used to launch longer jumpers?
- Iavaroni. I want the media to interview this guy as much as they will Triano. I really want to know what the big deal here is and understand what he brings. I’m desperate to know why we courted him so much.
You got any?
So Bosh has a hammy problem and could sit out the first week of training camp. Not good, hopefully its nothing but no point talking about it unless we know more. BTW, what do you think of him saying “That’s not going to be a problem coach” to Triano before the final game of the season when told that he needs 18 rebounds. I know I’m making something out of nothing but if he’s confident enough to get 18 rebounds against Brad Miller, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas, can’t he do it more often? Is it a question of motivation?
I recently wrote a piece about Belinelli and the Raptors looking for him to provide some offense, but Triano seems to be expecting a lot more of him than I thought he would:
He’s going to be a scorer. He’s a scorer. He has a knack of not just being able to score but create for others. He knows how to score, he knows how to find points for his teammates. The guy knows how to score. He’s going to be a guy like Eddie House, he’s going to come in and he’s going to provide points off the bench, if things can’t get flowing offensively, we know we can put this kid in and he’s gong to find a way to score.
One more thing, I always thought Raja Bell could bring us something and now he’s apparently being shopped. The Raptors should make a play, he’d be a solid acquisition, would help with the toughness and has a reasonable 5.25M expiring contract. In other words, he does what Delfino does, only better and cheaper.
That’s it for this morning. Our twitter account is back up but it cost Raps Fan his virginity. Those Twitter folk bargain hard.