Before we get to the crux of media day, let’s welcome our guest, Ryan McNeill from Hoops Addict who was at the ACC on Monday afternoon. In the first Rapcast of the season, Ryan and I talk about a variety of issues ranging from the impact of P.J Carlesimo to what’s different about Andrea Bargnani this year, if anything. Ryan also talks about the atmosphere around the clubhouse and how it has changed from last year, and why this season could surprise some people. As he dishes out his predictions for the campaign, we find that the word “surprise” can have different meanings.
Moving on, one of the key questions this year is what kind of impact Linas Kleiza would have. Most of us remember him from his Denver years where he played a very specific role, that of a spot-up shooter. The Raptors are hoping that the man they signed for the mid-level exception is going to provide a lot more than just spot-up shooting, and Kleiza accordingly reckons that he has more to offer. When asked how his European experience had helped him out:
It helped me a lot, with Denver I had a set role, I was a spot-up shooter mainly. Going back playing for a year for a very good team having a very big role, I kind of expanded my game and showed everybody that I can do way more than just shoot.
What jumps out at me about that quote is that given the level of competition of the two leagues, he might be comparing apples to oranges. Could a big role for a year in Europe help someone’s NBA game? If you ask that to Brandon Jennings, he’ll probably give you a different answer than Will Solomon. At the end of the day it’s about talent and Kleiza has some of it, he was definitely underutilized in Denver and the Raptors will get a taste of what his entire arsenal is all about, much more than what the Nuggets did. The European experience has to have helped his confidence more than anything else, because after playing a narrow role for a team for as long as he did, a player tends to get pigeonholed, often below his actual capability. His year in Europe has served well to release him of the spell that the Nuggets put him under – that of a high-volume three-point shooter.
Last year’s training camp was marred by Hedo’s fatigue, Bosh’s injury and a lackadaisic attitude towards things. I went to the Ottawa scrimmage and the atmosphere around the team was very casual, to the point of being worrying. As it turned out, the training camp was foreshadowing our sad season. Jarrett Jack was asked about how he envisioned this year’s training camp, specifically the intensity of the whole affair:
I hope the competitive level is really high. I think once you get everybody playing at a certain level, it raises everything. That’s first and foremost the thing that we’re all going to be looking at. [We want to] establish a brand of basketball that’s going to be tough, hard-nosed and just going to out-work you every night.
An admirable but predictable quote from Jack who was one of the few Raptors last year that seemed heart-broken in defeat. Jack plays hard, carries a sense of toughness about him, and can be easily classified as the best leader of the team. My only criticism of Jack is that when things start to go wrong, he tends to lose his cool and composure, which is a terrible quality for a point guard and a leader. There’s a lot of talk about the “growth” of DeRozan, Weems and Johnson, but the growth of Jack as a leader and a quarterback is equally important. I could argue that last year was a learning experience for him more than anyone else, and it’s imperative he make the transition from backup-turned-starter to the rock in the starting lineup that the Raptors need him to be.
Jack also took a swipe at Colangelo about his criticism of Bosh:
I feel like if you felt like that, why didn’t you say it or tell him about it while it was going on? I’m going to approach you while it was going on, while it’s fresh. We can have a healthy discussion about it. Saying it now, it doesn’t matter. He’s with the Miami Heat now. Like Dan Gilbert, he did all that stuff with LeBron, that he was a quitter and all this other stuff. But if LeBron would have signed back with Cleveland, you would have welcomed him back with open arms.
Let’s browse the chat session that the Raptors hosted and pick out some quotes. We start with Amir Johnson who says that the most important thing he has to work on is his offensive game, specifically the jumper. His goal is to average a double-double this year, it’s a fairly modest goal since his PER36 last year was 12.7/9.8, so simply playing more minutes should help him achieve that (more in the Rapcast about this point). He was asked about what the team is like this year and what he thinks of his partnership with Bargnani in the frontcourt:
I think we’re going to play together more as a team instead of relying on one person to score 20-30 points per night. We’ll be more of a team and we’ll be alright…It’s going to be as a team together. Instead of passing to that one guy for that shot, it’s up for grabs now. We’re going to be an up-and-down fastbreak team…I think it will be great because [Bargnani] can shoot the hell out of the ball. My strength is rebounding and defence with me adding some offence. I think we’ve got a great vibe together.
On paper it works great, but splitting the responsibilities of offense and defense across two players is going to fail in practice. For these two to have realistic success, they have to meet each other at the halfway line and improve their respective deficiencies. Between the two, Bargnani is the one who has the burden of proof on his shoulders since the Raptors can live without Johnson scoring 15 points a game, but it’s going to be very difficult to achieve any measure of success without Bargnani significantly improving his defensive presence.
Speaking of Bargnani (new website), he makes an interesting parallel about his European experience helping him out with the Raptors by saying that since he was “the main guy” there, the transition to the new-look Raptors will be easier.
[It helped me a] lot because I was the main guy there. I had the opportunity to play with my back to the basket and work on other things. [It'll] be a big help coming into the Raptors season. My natural position is the four. But it’s not my job to make the decision [of where I'll play]. [People are underestimating us] because of Chis leaving, that’s the main thing. That’s the only thing people have really looked at. We definitely have to run this year. That’s got to be our strength because we’re young. I never had a problem running. I’m seven feet tall, but running’s never been a problem for me.
There’s a forum topic about Joey Dorsey wanting to average 8-10 rebounds and why not? It’s optimistic thinking because he’s unlikely to get that kind of playing time here, but I like the goal. Dorsey compared himself to Ben Wallace and is fueled by Daryl Morey’s belief that he can be a top ten rebounder in the league:
I think I’m one of the good undersized rebounders. I think of myself more like Ben Wallace on defence, never give up on the play, outhustle my opponent. When I was in Houston, my GM Daryl Morey told me I could be one of the top ten rebounders in this league, if I ever get major minutes…I think that I can bring that physical energy and be an intense kind of player. The league has been missing that physical presence… they don’t let you get that physical anymore… like a Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace type of player.
Me sonny, demar and amir have formed a close relationship. We’ve been to Wonderland and paint ball. That bond is really good for on the court, that way you can hold your teammates accountable. That’s how it was at Memphis.
I love tough players who play tough but still manage to keep their smarts. Reggie Evans didn’t do that last bit and was injured too often to have a significant impact, the hope is that Dorsey can bring what Evans was brought in to do – carve out space in the paint so somebody on his team can get the rebound. Besides the hustle and rebounding which we know he can bring, he’s shown an ability to create a very good seam for himself on the pick ‘n roll, he’s not a guy who sets the screen and disappears from the play. As long as there’s hope for the ball to come back to him, he’ll make a very honest cut to the rim. As for the Ben Wallace comparison, remember that Ben Wallace was an absolute nobody when he was with the Magic. Wallace is listed at 6’9″ whereas Jorsey is at 6’8″, in reality they’re both an inch shorter. The early comparisons aren’t entirely unjustified, they’re very similar in terms of body-type, strengths and weaknesses, Wallace gets the clear edge when it comes to athleticism and leaping ability, and of course, the intangible of just knowing how to play defense and not just being a garbage man. Similar to how Wallace found a perfect fit in the Pistons, Dorsey hopes to find one here but he’s got a long ways to go.
Speaking of fringe NBA players trying to find a fit, Julian Wright’s quotes speak for themselves:
I’m looking forward to playing through training camp with the focus of playing hard every possession. I feel like that will be my staple, in terms of making big defensive plays and running the floor. I anticipate everything being communicated to me, as the preseason goes on. I definitely think that this change of scenery will bode well for me! I’m looking to mesh with this young core of guys and get it rolling in training camp. I have taken pride in being able to cover multiple positions. I want to be counted on to get stops from any position (outside of center). I think with my length and athleticism, I can hopefully cause problems for the opposition.
He sounds very Antoine Wright-ish but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wright’s success with the Raptors is heavily dependent on his usage, players with limited skill have known to thrive under the right circumstance. From Bryon Russell to Bruce Bowen, defensive-minded wings can find their niche in a team which is organized enough to utilize their strengths correctly. However, expecting the Raptors coaching staff to harmonize Julian Wright into a key cog is a tall order, over the last few years a few decent NBA players have traveled though Toronto without the Raptors making the most of them: Jason Kapono, Carlos Delfino and Marco Belinelli come to mind. These aren’t great players by any means, but they have enough skill that they should be serviceable on an NBA roster.
We’ll end with Jose Calderon trying to convince himself and the fans that he’s still a good fit for the team. When responding to a question asking if he’s suitable to play an up-tempo style of basketball, Calderon responded:
Yes for sure. I just play the way the coach wants me to play. Before I came here, I played an up tempo style and slowed down when I came to the NBA based on the way the team wanted to play. Whatever is best for the team. I just want to win again.
I’m not going to get into details, but Jose Calderon is to up-tempo what Paris Hilton is to celibate. The Ford/Calderon combination was successful because there was a change-of-pace factor involved, Ford played at a much higher speed and Calderon came in to calm the nerves, giving the defense a different look. It was a natural style of play for both point guards, not something forced by the coach or franchise. I’m getting a different sense this year (much like last year) where Jack and Calderon are put in a position where they have to increase their natural speed of play because of who they’re playing with. Calderon saying he’ll do whatever the coach wants him to do is a natural response, but I’m not sure it’s one that he feels fully comfortable with. Jose is a great quarterback and surveyor of the court, and those are strengths that need to be leveraged (maybe as part of the second unit), just don’t ask him to run ‘n gun because that’s not his strength.
On the trade rumours:
It’s our business. You have to be professional and be ready for anything, but I’m happy to be in Toronto and a part of this team and a part of this city.
As Ryan mentioned on the Rapcast, Jose loves Toronto and would have no qualms on staying here as a backup.
And finally finally, Bryan Colangelo in no uncertain terms sets the goal for the season:
I do know we have a goal, a collective goal to make the playoffs.
All the interviews can be seen here. Season’s just around the corner.