Out of the fire and into the frying pan, there’s no rest for the embattled.
And no player feels as embattled as Jose Calderon.
Deron Williams did anything he basically wanted to do in dismantling Calderon in Utah’s blitz of the Raptors.
Now comes Chauncey Billups, a one-time Raptor who isn’t as likely to penetrate the lane as much as Williams did, but who is nonetheless a high-end point guard.
Billups is more likely to shoot the ball than Williams, but Calderon fully understands the challenge that awaits in the combo guard known as Big Shot and the Nuggets.
“They’re both great players,’’ Calderon said. “I have to play better, our team has to play better. We have 12 games left and we have to be ready.”
Against Utah, Calderon missed his first five shots from the field. He had an open look on each heave from the perimeter.
There’s a chance Calderon will be replaced by Jarrett Jack against Denver.
Head coach Jay Triano went back with Calderon last week against Atlanta.
Triano wasn’t tipping his hands following Thursday’s practice, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Jack starts the game.
The first line of defence is so important and it begins at the point position.
There’s merit in starting Jack because he’s a better defender than Calderon and matches up better against Billups.
Regardless of who starts, Calderon and Jack have to step up.
Regardless of how long this season lasts, perhaps this year’s Raptors will be remembered as a shooting team that simply did not know how to mentally regroup when shots weren’t dropping.
When the Raptors were among the NBA’s best during a stretch that saw them go 22-10, they were coming back from double-digit deficits, sharing the basketball, playing with energy and defending.
They’ve lost it all.
Jack hasn’t lost hope because he sees an opportunity of playing in the post-season for the first time in his five-year career, but time is running out.
The importance of the next three games, beginning with Friday’s visit to the Air Canada Centre by the Denver Nuggets, hasn’t been lost on Triano.
“Arguably three of the most important games of the year,’’ he said.
Triano wasn’t trying to be dramatic. He was simply being honest. The Raptors need some kind of momentum heading into a tough back-to-back road set against Miami and Charlotte, a boost that can only be created by defending their home court.
In their past two games at the ACC, the Raptors laid an egg. Fans turned on them and more venom is sure to be spewed by fans if the Nuggets are able to impose their will.
“We’ve let the home fans down,’’ Triano said. “We have to try to bounce back.”
There will be time to debate Colangelo’s assertion that this season’s wild swings in performance have had nothing to do with talent or coaching. But clearly what drives players, what drags them down, is never as simple as what we see on the floor. On Thursday, a guarded Colangelo chalked up his team’s struggles to, among many things, "the wrong mental approach" and "too many outside influences." He wouldn’t go further. He’s not much for public call-outs. He positions himself as a friend to all, from the agents to his all-star. The problem for the GM is this: He’ll take the brunt of the blame if the outside influences steer Toronto clear out of the playoffs.
"It’s a hard thing to explain. (Wednesday) night, it felt like there was no effort. It felt like there was no sense of urgency. It felt like there was no emotion," Colangelo said. "It’s almost like there’s a shutoff valve. And it’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like the entire team had that valve in the off position.
"But we’ve proven we can turn it on as easily as we’ve turned it off. It’s just got to happen fast."
“I just think our overall mindset, we have to be a little bit tougher,” said Triano, adding that he felt his team has let down the fans the past two games at home.
The team’s recent struggles appear to have taken a toll on Chris Bosh, Toronto’s all-star forward and undisputed leader, who these days looks like someone who has just come back from a two-hour session at the dentist.
“I think we let mistakes get us down and that kind of has a snowball effect on our play,” he said. “But if you make mistakes it doesn’t matter. You’re going to make mistakes, this is the NBA. Everybody can’t play a perfect game.
“We have to react the right way and we just have to play hard. I think right now we have a lot of plays where we’re just not in the right positions because we’re not working to get there.”
Bosh was supportive of Jack’s pep talk at the end of practice but he admits that, with just 12 games left, time is running short.
“There’s not much to talk about right now,” he said. “We’ve been talking all year. The time for talking is over.
“It’s just time to do it.”
The problem with Turkoglu leaving the game at halftime with an upset stomach is that he’s got no track record of leaving it all on the floor, so to speak. From his training camp sabbatical to his sore hip to his sore knee to his sore ankle and now his sore tummy, if Turkoglu ain’t right, Turkoglu ain’t going.
And, as I point out above, most times that’s the right move to make. And let me say out loud here: If he was puking his guts out at halftime and moaning on the floor calling for his mother, by all means, I’m not suggesting he should have or could have continued to play.
But the real issue is this: Is there one person who – upon hearing Turkoglu wasn’t coming back after the half – didn’t roll their eyes?
"There’s a lot of emotion right now as far as where our team is," swingman Antoine Wright said. "Guys are not happy."
"Let’s just lay it all on the line, regardless of what happens," Jack said of his message. "Let’s just put it out there and not let all of this hard work that we put into this season go to waste. As long as we go out there and we play hard and everybody knows we play hard and you put everything you have on the line, you win, lose or draw. That’s all you can ask for at the end of the day from anybody."
Jack was calm by the time he spoke with the media, but was impassioned when he was with his team. The guard failed to make the post-season in any of his first four years in the league, and this year’s spot seems to be slipping away.
As a team, though, the Raptors have made the switch from careful analysis to desperation. Sure, there is talk of not getting beat on the offensive glass, of getting back on defence in transition, of helping teammates when they get beat off the dribble.
Who’s hot? The Nuggets have lost three straight.
Who’s not? Chauncey Billups is 17-for-60 (28%) from the field over his last five games.
Nuggets: Denver is 17-19 in road games and 5-8 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. Asked about the road woes, acting coach Adrian Dantley said the problems included: "Intensity. Play hard, respect your opponents. Even though there are teams that don’t have good records, if you don’t respect them, they’ll whip you any night." . . . The Nuggets are sixth in the NBA with a .472 field-goal percentage, while Toronto is fifth (.478). . . . In Denver’s only other game against Toronto — a 130-112 victory Nov. 17 — J.R. Smith had one of his better showings, scoring 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting, while making five of his nine 3-point attempts.
Raptors: Only three NBA teams allow more points than Toronto (105.8), which is notorious for wishy-washy defense. . . . Buried on Denver’s bench a season ago, second-year player Sonny Weems averages 6.4 points for the Raptors. . . . Toronto has lost five consecutive games to the Nuggets. . . . In a season featuring numerous sparkling rookies, DeMar DeRozan hasn’t been heralded much, but the high-flying 20-year-old averages 8.5 points and 21.8 minutes. . . . Alex English, the Nuggets’ all-time leading scorer, is a Raptors assistant coach.
What if, Bryan Colangelo were to preempt the Bosh camp and decide that it was time for Bosh and the Toronto Raptors part ways? I mean Colangelo is really smart right? No, I am not being a smart ass here. I don’t think anyone questions his knowledge of the game or his ability to get things done. His inability to advance a round in the playoffs in Toronto, notwithstanding, no one is really suggesting he is or was a bad pick for GM. Could or would Colangelo say NO to the Bosh camp? Could Colangelo say we don’t want you back at max money so we want to pursue a sign and trade?
If Colangelo looks at Bosh and says, someone is going to be willing to pay him 130m, I can maximize the value of this asset right now and build this team in one fail swoop by actively pursuing a sign and trade. I am an admit NBA baphoon, so I don’t know what they would get in a sign and trade, but I gather it would be a combination of young talent, draft picks and cash. Tell me Raptors fans, should Colangelo pass on handing Chris Bosh $130m and instead elect to trade him in a sign and trade deal?
If the Raptors had instead made the fashionable choice, then you’re looking at a team with a crunch time five of Jose Calderon (or Jarret Jack), Igoudala, Granger, Roy and Bosh. Think that team isn’t going past round one? Is Roy or Bosh the leader of that team? I don’t know, but it’s probably academic. Any way you look at it, with Roy, Iggy, and Granger, as his running mates, nobody is now questioning Bosh’s chops.
Thus, ultimately, this is sort of like arguing who’s an ace in baseball, it only really matters in an academic sense. Or, it matters to NBA owners and GMs who have to figure out Bosh’s worth, but not to me, who just has to judge his play from the comfort of my sofa. Having said all of that, is Bosh better suited to being a number two?
It’s sort of like Pau Gasol. Pau led some solid squads in Memphis, but he was criticized because none of those teams breached the second round (sound familiar?). He was too soft, too gangly, too indifferent to defense, too foreign… But when he was traded to the Lakers, he became the perfect compliment to Kobe Bryant. The NBAs best sidekick.
The usual wild card in this is that Bryan Colangelo has managed to pull a few rabbits out of his hat but he would have to be Houdini to fix the mess he has this team in now.
As a Raptors fan this is a pretty low moment. For the next few weeks we are likely going to have to watch this team struggle through the end of the season and undoubtedly be left heartbroken when the news breaks that Bosh is taking his All-Star game elsewhere. Losing the best player ever to wear a Raptors jersey, in his prime nonetheless, is going to sting…for a while.
We have all off-season to discuss this, and who knows what happens, but doesn’t Bosh’s departure just feel inevitable at this point?
The point guard play was atrocious, let’s not kid ourselves here. Jose was a Spanish turd on both ends of the floor, and Jarrett seemed disinterested. Not unpredictable to anyone, Deron Williams was on fire. It’s too bad the Raptors couldn’t put together any type of game plan to at least try to contain him. But in my mind, Jose just couldn’t handle him, the same way he can’t handle any point guard in this league. At the same time, the Raps either helped out too much with double teams, or didn’t double at all. Listen, you assign one person or a person at a particular spot on the floor to come over to double. Everyone else stay on YOUR man. Instead, you have Bargnani floating over and sticking his nose into the business and his man ends up getting an easy jam. Or you got Bosh swinging in as well, next thing you know you got 2 opposition players on the other team with wide open shots. Or Turkoglu would just completely blow his cover and leave his man wide open.