Today is Media Day, or as the rest of the population knows it, Picture Day. Tomorrow we should have some quotes to mull over but today we have to settle for Doug Smith informing us that the Raptors had interest in Primoz Brezec, but as the player pointed out on Twitter, he has signed with Krasnie Krilya Samara in Russia. Smith says that the Raptors “lost a chance” to bring him back, which we can speculate as meaning the deal offered by the Raptors didn’t compare to what the Russian side had on the table.

The Raptors were also apparently interested in Francis Oberto and some other players that nobody else was interested in. Frankly, this signing is getting a bit too much press, whoever we end up getting will either be third on the depth chart at power forward or center, and will likely get POB-style playing time. As already noted before, throw Alabi to the wolves and see how he reacts. Either the wolves will tear him apart and he’ll be sent down to the NBDL for a while to recuperate, or he’ll stand his ground, earn the respect of the wolves and eventually join the pack as an active hunting member. The guy is 22 years old, he’s not that young, this is the right time and age to get his feet wet. We need a back up center and he’s supposed to be a backup center, so I don’t see what the problem is and why the Raptors are hunting down Brezec like he’s going to make a difference.

I have no stats formatted in neat little tables today which can be subjects of discussion, so I’ll just write down some points that are going through my mind regarding the Raptors as training camp for season #16 gets underway:

Really thought the Raptors would be farther along by now, maybe not title contenders, but consistent playoff performers which gave fans something to look forward to each spring. When Colangelo took over, my hopes were high and after the success of the first season, I was optimistic about the future for only the second time ever (first was when Vince became Vince). But as they say, it’s much harder to repeat success than initially achieve it. As I pan across the roster, I see some decent players, some potential, a mix of veterans, but nothing about the unit truly excites the senses. DeMar DeRozan’s a nice young player and Amir Johnson will be serviceable for the next decade, but as far as getting excited about things, sorry, it’s just not happening.

The hope is that one of the YGZ® turns into a superstar, something along the lines of the old Vince Carter and puts the franchise back on the path to something good. The alternate route is actually the more difficult one to achieve, it’s one where the Raptors play as a complete team in a fundamentally sound framework marked with workman-like effort. There aren’t many teams that achieve success using the latter method. See if you can figure out what the common string that ties the following names together is: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Dwayne Wade, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant. Didn’t get it? Those are the best players on the 16 teams that made the playoffs last season. Of these 16, only Stephen Jackson and Brandon Jennings are questionable as franchise players, the rest are good enough to lead their own teams.

Do the Raptors have a player like that? Right now, no. Maybe in the future? Who knows how things could turn, one can only hope. I’ve given some thought to what the goal for this season should be, and what could be considered a step up from where we are now. With that in mind, here are some things I’d like to happen:

  1. Andrea Bargnani show us that he’s going to be good enough to be the best player on the team, and join the group of 16 mentioned above. If it’s happening, great, if not, it’s time to look in another direction because having a player like him play 35 minutes at center heavily influences what the team is all about. It’s impossible to “hide” his defense by parlaying responsibility across the board, the only way he can absolve his defensive shortcomings is by getting better at it and producing highly efficient offensive numbers. He needs to make his mark as a player this season, there are simply no excuses left to offer.
  2. DeMar DeRozan show us glimpses of Tracy McGrady. Remember when there was a debate amongst Raptors fans of who has the greater potential – Carter or McGrady? Everyone knew what Carter could do, but McGrady’s game was intriguing. He had improved his jumper, could lock down a guy, had impressive one-on-one stuff, unbelievable athleticism, was relentless going to the rim, and had the physical tools to dominate. The year one comparison of McGrady and DeRozan is interesting, the offensive numbers are similar but it’s the defense that McGrady brought that stands out, and that’s where DeRozan has to make his mark. No doubt that his offense needs to get better, specifically his ball-handling and jumper, but for him to be the rounded player that McGrady was, he has to start somewhere and defense isn’t a bad place.
  3. Frontcourt become a threat. Call me old fashioned, but unless you’re the Jordan-led Bulls, it’s going to be tough to be competitive without a frontcourt that has the potential to dominate on any given night. Maybe it’s the optimist in me speaking, but a frontcourt partnership needs to be developed where the power forward and center are on the same page and can lay the hurt on a team. Ideally, it should be a starting combination but I’ll settle for bench player playing his part. Whether it be defensive domination or simply offensive excellence, the frontcourt must show signs of enough growth that when the jumper isn’t falling, there’s something to hang your hat on.

Have a nice Monday.

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