the Raptors point guard believes booing Bosh is uncalled for — stressing that Bosh signed with the Heat as a matter of business, not because he dislikes Toronto or the fans.
“He was up here not too long ago to gather his things,” Jack said. “Obviously, he could have sent some people to do that for him. But he came up to say his proper goodbyes, to a lot of the people who lived in our building and that sort of thing. And that says a lot about a person.
“People actually loved Chris here. And there was nothing fake about it. He was like Michael Jackson up here. He was larger than life in a sense. And when people love you, they hate to see you go. But that’s just life.”
Jack acknowledged that Toronto fans have a reputation of turning on former Raptors and Leafs.
“They boo who they feel need to get booed,” he said. “But they don’t boo everyone. When Matt Bonner comes back, it’s like the president. Morris Peterson as well, they cheer him heavily.”
Davis, drafted by the team with the 13th pick of the 2010 draft back in June, said Monday he is perturbed that a knee injury will keep him out of training camp.
“It’s real tough to deal with,” Davis said.
“It’s very frustrating because I never missed a game until I broke my wrist (last season at the University of North Carolina, costing Davis much of his sophomore season).”
Davis admitted that not being on the court for his first NBA camp will set him back.
“I think it puts me behind a lot,” he said.
“It will be a learning experience, but it puts me far behind.”
“I feel like it’s a family, everyone just takes you in and if you need anything you can call anytime of the night,” said Davis, the newest member of the group.
And that, they all agree, should come in handy on the floor.
“It’s very, very rare when you have a team where everybody likes each other,” Weems said. “If you have that relationship, it carries onto the court.”
Jack, the elder statesman, agreed. “It’s never a bad thing when you take a liking to someone,” he said. “I know a lot of guys during the season we talk, after the season we don’t. If you are close, you will go that extra mile for each other.”
DeRozan and Weems complemented each other very well in dominant Las Vegas Summer League performances this off-season, while Johnson spent time playing with DeRozan in their native Los Angeles.
Davis said he has known DeRozan for a few years, dating back to high school AAU ball.
Calderon is not happy with the way his season went last year. Looking back he feels he got too caught up in the team struggles and didn’t pay enough attention to his own game.
Calderon vows that won’t happen again.
“I want to be here but I do want to change myself because I was bad,” Calderon said during a break from the photo shoot which is a big part of media day. “I was worried about too many things, about the team and the way it wasn’t working out. It was tough. Sometimes I worry too much about the team and I have to think a little bit more about myself.”
Calderon, who will battle it out with Jarrett Jack during training camp for the starting point guard role, made it very clear that this change in philosophy had nothing to do with bad feelings over his near trade this summer to Charlotte or anything other than his own unfulfilled expectations of himself a year ago.
“That is stuff you cannot control and that stuff you can’t worry about,” he said of the aborted trade.
“The thing is they had a good deal on the table,” he said. “They thought it was better for the organization. That’s the way you have to think about it.”
Leadership, or more precisely the lack of same in the Raptors locker room, was a popular topic of conversation Monday as the team held its annual media day event on the eve of the 16th training camp in team history.
“The leader has yet to be determined,” head coach Jay Triano said. “That is something we are going to have to see through training camp. It doesn’t have to be the guy who talks the most.”
Amid plenty of suggestions that there wasn’t a de facto leader at all last season, Triano said he isn’t even sure any one player necessarily has to take the role.
“I don’t know if somebody has to do it, but if they don’t it becomes the responsibility of the coaches,” he said.
“This is Raptors team,” Bargnani said when asked point-blank if this was his team Monday.
“That’s something you don’t say at the microphone, it’s something you (earn) on the court, practice by practice, game after game,” he said. “It’s something that the team has to give to you, it’s not something you talk about before the season even starts.”
But teammate Sonny Weems did it for him.
“Bargnani is going to step up in a big role, I mean he has to,” Weems said. “He’s basically our guy.”
Indeed. If you are the highest scoring and highest overall draft selection on a club, as Bargnani is, generally, it’s your club and you better go out and prove it. (Jose Calderon is the highest paid Raptor.)
That, at least, Bargnani seems ready to do.
“I have to be a good player, the best player possible and keep getting better,” he said.
Linas Kleiza knows a thing or two about beating the odds. He spent the better part of the summer hearing how the Lithuanian team he would be the face of would have difficulty making it out of the preliminary round of the world basketball championships.
The 2003 European champions had fallen on hard times and a Kleiza-led team of mostly young, unproven players wasn’t getting much respect.
Kleiza is hearing the same things now, just four days after arriving in Toronto to begin his first NBA campaign in two seasons. Only this time it is the Raptors that are being counted out before a game has even been played.
Having just arrived and familiar with only a handful of his new teammates like Reggie Evans, Leandro Barbosa and Sonny Weems, Kleiza isn’t prepared to say this collection of mostly young, unproven NBA players can buck the odds the way Lithuania did in Turkey, but then he’s certainly not prepared to say they can’t.
What he does know is it is possible, just as it was possible for Lithuania this summer to go from would-be first-round casualties to eventual bronze medallists.
“Everyone knew their role on the team and that’s why we were successful,” Kleiza said of the Lithuanian team that beat world powers like Spain, France, Argentina and finally Serbia to cop that bronze medal.
“It was all about a team. It was not about one player,” he said of that Lithuanian turnaround in Turkey.
Again, Kleiza has no idea whether the same magic can be worked by the rag-tag bunch of Raptors that form this year’s team, but he is very much aware of how they can give themselves the best shot and it all starts with a team-first approach.
“If it’s going to happen here, that’s what we need to have happen,” he said. “Looking back and forth they are two different stories (Lithuania at the worlds and the Raptors upcoming NBA season) but we kind of have a similar situation. If we come in here and don’t play that NBA-selfish basketball that tends to creep in sometimes, I think we can be OK.”
And right now “OK” would suffice assuming “OK” is a berth in the playoffs.
I’m positive of this: The Raptors will not make the playoffs.
They didn’t get there last year with Chris Bosh. They won’t get there this year without him.
Colangelo can paddle as best he can but still he ends up going in circles. He has done some nice work coming up with first-round draft picks, including one he traded away. He has a more flexible salary cap situation. He has a trade exception. All of which should help down the road. But none of those players will be starting or coming off the bench for coach Jay Triano.
This Raptors’ season, in truth, is not about this season; it’s about next year and beyond. It’s about making a deal or three to take the Raptors back to some form of prominence — which is better than no prominence at all.
It’s just not about now. “We have a completely different financial situation going forward,” Colangelo said.
Which is nice. But I’m also positive about this: Not one night during the season will Colangelo’s financial situation lead the Raptors in scoring.
Colangelo did make a potentially great trade in the summer that never got finalized. He agreed to it. The general manager of the Charlotte Bobcats agreed. Everyone was fine. And then Michael Jordan, the owner, stepped in and made a mess of the deal.
“I’m not going to give you the details on everything, said Colangelo, who has never really explained how this turnaround trade got turned around.
“I would tell you, though, before the age of Twitter and as much as there is out there on the Internet today, things like that happen all the time. Deals are agreed to, deals are rescinded before the actual trade call (to the league) happens.
“You agree to a deal and it’s not a deal until the deal is consumated … When I shake hands on a deal or agree to a deal verbally, it’s a deal. It would have been a phenomenal deal for us … It would have been a great deal for us but it didn’t go through. We’re moving on.”
“I played with the (Italian) national team a couple of months so I was playing the centre over there so I always played with my back to the basket, played a lot of minutes,” said Bargnani. “Of course I was the main guy there so I was getting a lot of touches. It was great for me, it was great to learn a lot of stuff coming into a new NBA season.”
But without a teammate to command a second defender, Bargnani is going to have to expand his game to increase his production.
“Andrea’s gotten better this year because he played a lot in the summer with his back to the basket with the Italian national team,” said head coach Jay Triano. “He’s going to have to be a little more creative with how he finds his points.”
To a man they did it good-naturedly, the biggest job being how to provide refreshing quips to age-old questions.
“It’s like walking down the street,” said Jack, who was at his sixth season kick-off session. “The first dude’s going to ask me about it; I’m going to hit the corner and another guy’s going to ask me; when I get in my cab, another guy’s going to ask me. When I’m ordering dinner, someone else is going to ask me. It’s all right.”
But, oh, does the urge to goof around hit often.
“I might change an answer one guy to the next, might be fun,” joked Jack.
This group of Raptors seems as good-natured as any in franchise history and there was enough goofing around in the relaxed atmosphere of media day to put all thoughts of the coming season out of mind for a little bit.
Jack stopped by to try to bust up an interview teammate Sonny Weems was doing, mugged for a camera or two along the way and had the good graces to stand in a scrum with a half-dozen reporters, patiently answering question after question.
He began his afternoon a bit late — the team’s red jerseys were late arriving, causing about a 45-minute delay — but ran through the 10 stations of the media gauntlet everyone had to go through.
“Ah, it’s okay, really; gets a little old but you’ve got to do it,” he said at one point, just before scarfing down a mini-cheeseburger. “It’s a bit tiring, but it’s all right.”
Toronto will also have to wait for forward Eddie Davis, its 2010 first-round draft pick. The former North Carolina star had arthroscopic surgery last week to repair a meniscus tear to his right knee and is expected to resume basketball-related activities within five weeks.
Still, not much is expected from Toronto this season, which is fine with Triano.
“I love that challenge,” he said. “I love the challenge when people tell us we’re no good, that people don’t think we’re going to be that good.
“I want the other teams to believe that when they come in here that it’s going to be an easier game for them just because we’re going to have something to prove every single day.”
Yet there Colangelo was on Monday, talking about versatility and athleticism and youth and having six players who can handle the one, two or three spots, and how Lithuanian Linas Kleiza had a great world championship this summer and DeMar DeRozan was, in Colangelo’s words, “one of the top five performers out of 300 participants” in the NBA’s developmental league and how it will take more than one player to pick up Bosh’s statistics.
Much was made, too, about Andrea Bargnani’s experience in the post playing for the Italian team. Did Colangelo really use the words “newness” and “a bright light?” Why, yes – yes, he did.
You can see how this impresses his bosses at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and why Colangelo was likely telling the truth when he said a contract extension was something he “looked forward to concluding.” The summer hasn’t changed his tune: His peers still like his players (not enough apparently to trade for them, however,) and – dammit! – that Raptors team last year really was “a 50-win team.” And don’t forget: He ditched that stiff Hedo Turkoglu and that contract that was “supposedly immovable.” So there.
“The worst thing that could have happened is us coming back to camp with the same miserable faces,” Colangelo said, adding it was nice not having “some pretty expensive handcuffs,” for a change.
Due to Bargnani’s occasional aloofness and Bosh’s status as team spokesman, most questions, even those about Bargnani, were often addressed to the departed all-star. Now, they are all Bargnani’s.
“This season will be fun,” one reporter suggested. “You’ll get to talk to us more.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Bargnani said.
Believing that will take some getting used to, but the Raptors’ belief in Bargnani is not wavering. This might not be his team now that Bosh is gone, but Colangelo’s view on Bargnani’s ceiling as a player has not deviated much from the night he drafted him in June 2006.
“He’s going to have all kinds of new opportunities,” Colangelo said. “Every team that calls wants to ask about Andrea. Is he available? They smell blood in the water. They read articles about how bad he is. I’m telling you, from a standpoint of value, it’s definitely there.”
“My first year here, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I told you all I wanted to make the playoffs,” said Colangelo. “And we did. Last year, I would have said you guys are crazy if you didn’t think we were going to make the playoffs, and we didn’t. I will repeat the same thing I told you last year — that team was a 50-win team. Hands down. And things that affected it, obviously, are mostly gone. We’re moving on.”
They are moving on without Bosh, whose high-efficiency scoring, team-leading rebounding, unique ability to get to the free-throw line and all-around excellence sounds like a real pain in the behind, now that he is in Miami. Coach Jay Triano spoke of how the ball stuck last year instead of moved, and how the offence will be less predictable, and how now nobody will know where the ball will go at the end of close games.
This, of course, both assumes a lot of close games, and neglects to mention that the team doesn’t know where the ball will go at the beginning of such games, either. When asked who would be the leader of this team, Triano simply said, “That’s to be determined.” He could have said that about everything, of course.
There are two ways to look at this year’s Toronto Raptors: either as a team poised to enter a long period of losing following the departure of Chris Bosh, or as a team about to rebrand itself as young, athletic and exciting in the wake of Bosh leaving. Or, maybe, both.
Frankly, there are not many known quantities. Nobody knows how good Andrea Bargnani will be when he is the primary option in the offence. Nobody knows if Amir Johnson can stay on the floor for 30 minutes per game. Nobody knows if Sonny Weems can turn a few good months into an entire season. Nobody knows if Jose Calderon can stay healthy for months at a time.
All of the unknowns should help make training camp more than what it usually is: an opportunity for involved parties to deliver wide-eyed optimism to the masses. Sure, there will be a lot of that; but there will be more, too.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with respect to roles right now,” Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo said. “Hopefully that will be defined within the 30 days of pre-season.”
Here are five questions that could conceivably be answered in the next month:
The departure of Bosh may make the Raptors unpredictable in crunch time, as their scoring will come from a variety of sources. However, the NBA is a star driven league, and not having a clutch shooter who can grind out the tough points under pressure could leave Toronto without an identity.
Whether you were a Bosh supporter or not, this will be the first time in seven seasons that the Raptors take the court without their all-star power forward, and there will be an adjustment period as the new pieces try to figure out how they will fit together.
Prior to the 2008–2009 season, no one really cared about Calderón’s defensive issues because he had guys like Morris Peterson and Anthony Parker guarding the perimeter, and Bosh, Bargnani, and Jorge Garbajosa to protect the paint. Calderón’s defense was exposed when over the past few seasons Jason Kapono and Marco Belinelli were expected to help whenever he was beat by his man.
But the real problem for the Raptors’ defense is going to be the interior. While Bargnani is solid when it comes to one-on-one, his help is severely lacking.
The Raptors do have an advantage that not too many other teams do though — and that’s depth. Their second unit will be one of the better ones in the league this season, and if Toronto has anywhere near a .500 season, it will be because of their bench.
The head coach of the Raptors joins Prime Time Sports on the eve of training camp to discuss what to expect from the team this year, how to move forward without Chris Bosh, and why Hedo Turkoglu failed to pan out.
As a collective they realize this is a great chance to improve their reputations around the league if they are able to gel and rise above what many expect them to be capable of as a team.
And, if some silly rankings from ESPN at the start of training camp serves to fire the team up, so be it.
“It should,” new addition Linas Kleiza told the media when he was asked of the rankings will help motivate the team. “All of us are here in Toronto because we compete on a night-to-night basis. If people think that then we are definitely going to try to go out there and prove them wrong.”
This sentiment was echoed by Weems but mixed in with his own unique sense of bravado.
“It’s just a bunch of guys who sit behind a desk and all they do is talk,” Weems vented to the media. “So no, it doesn’t bother me. Whatever they write and feel is just their opinion. I really don’t care what they think.”
However, just because he doesn’t value that opinion, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care or notice.
In fact, it appears these power rankings will give Weems something he will use to fuel himself this season.
“It definitely gives you motivation because you always want to prove people wrong,” Weems later admitted to the media.
Jose Calderon showed up looking fit and ready to play. Contrasted to last season when Calderon came to camp in terrible condition as a result of rehabbing all summer, this year’s camp should be a lot more productive for the veteran.
The leader of the Raptors is yet to be determined and the coaching staff expects they will fill this role until someone steps up. But Triano sees lots of potential leaders. Reggie Evans was acting like a leader until he got hurt last season and both point guards have leadership ability. Colangelo admitted that the leader does not have to be the leading scorer, and for now, they are waiting to see what develops.
On the coaching front Triano replaced the New York Knicks Head Coach Mike D’Antoni as a coach on the USA National team at the World Championships in Turkey. Triano admits to learning a lot from his fellow coaches and has brought back some great experiences and a lot of new ideas.
This year the tone from the Raptors is decidedly more cautious than at the last media day, but make no mistake, Colangelo still believes it is his job to try to get the Raptors back to the post-season. Colangelo believed that the deal that fell apart earlier this summer to bring in a veteran and a center would have really helped his club and he is always looking for a good deal.
On if he’d be disappointed if Bosh doesn’t get a cheer when he returns: "I would. Being mad at a guy for switching teams, people switch teams every day. People look at it as if he’s not a regular guy, like this isn’t his profession…Just being honest, we’re regular people at the end of the day. It’s not a very regular job, but if they told you tomorrow you could be the head editor of The Washington Post, or The New York times, you’re telling me you won’t go? And you get a significant pay raise (laughs), I don’t know what your ultimate goal is, but head editor sounds important. You’re like top of the list at the New York Times or whatever, you would definitely take it into consideration. It’s the same thing, it’s just that 20 thousand people don’t get to go to your job every day. And they don’t know you make millions of dollars and it’s cool because people actually loved him. There was nothing fake about it. I used to tell him he was like Michael Jackson out here. He was larger than life in a sense. When people love you and they hate to see you go, emotions get involved, but that’s just life."