For Sonny Weems, Tuesday was not just the first practice of a new season, it was the first of a new beginning for the Raptors.
"It was a great thing to start a whole new era for the Toronto Raptors, the after-Bosh era," Weems told reporters Tuesday.
"It’s an exciting journey that we’re ready to embark on."
Weems is looking forward to playing in a balanced offence that will rely more heavily on each player than it did when Chris Bosh, the most efficient but also most ball-dominant player was on hand.
"He was one of the superstars of the league so you had to throw it down there," Weems said, before adding that without Bosh there will be increased ball-movement.
Triano said he won’t have a problem playing Barbosa in a backcourt with DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems instead of only with point guards Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon.
“When he’s on the floor, we’re not necessarily going to make the other guy a dominant ball-handler,” said the coach.
“A lot of things we are going to be running this year are going to involve two guards being on the floor … A lot of the European teams (at the World Championship in Turkey), they had three guards on the floor.”
Triano said Barbosa will get a lot of dribble and post-rebound hand-offs and the opportunity to race down the court.
Not surprisingly, Barbosa approved of that plan.
“I love to have the ball in my hands, if that happens for me, that will be great,” Barbosa said.
“I love to keep everybody going, get everybody involved.”
After years of success with the veteran-laden Suns, life is very different for Barbosa these days.
But he’s not complaining.
“It’s all about having fun,” he said, admitting having so many youngsters around was “weird for me.”
Barbosa picked up on the positive chemistry in the room on Day 1 – a staple in Phoenix – and said he believes the Raptors will be fine, despite their overall youth, since so many on hand have experienced success internationally.
Personality-wise, Barbosa is the antithesis of Hedo Turkoglu, the man he was traded for.
Instead of sullen, withdrawn and under-motivated, he is jovial, welcoming and dedicated.
And that, perhaps as much as anything he does on the court, will benefit the Raptors greatly.
Reggie Evans has been around far too long to let having to return to Toronto after being all-but traded to the Charlotte Bobcats get him down.
The personable veteran, who thanked Toronto fans via Twitter this summer when it appeared he had been dealt to Charlotte along with Jose Calderon, only to see the deal evaporate at the last minute, has no qualms about returning to Canada.
“Hey I’m not bitter about it, I’m not bitter at all, it is what it is,” Evans told the Toronto Sun on Tuesday.
“It ain’t like I’m mad, I’m not mad at BC (general manager Bryan Colangelo), it’s a business, I respect the business aspect of it.
“That doesn’t stop me from doing what I’ve got to do on the court or from being professional to my teammates. I’m still going to be like ‘what’s up BC?’ I don’t really think about it.”
A year ago, the hard-nosed Evans was talked up as a crucial addition to a team that was maddeningly soft.
But a foot injury ended a strong pre-season and kept Evans out of action all the way until February.
Now, on a retooling squad Evans‚ role — other than to be one of head coach Jay Triano’s leaders — is highly uncertain.
Evans would like to play but is fine with whatever comes his way.
“If the minutes present itself, cool, if (they) don’t , I just have to take the pressure off (young big men like Ed Davis), something like that.”
The Raptors are using training camp to figure out just how to use the 27-year-old Barbosa. He is a prototypical combo guard, adept at handling the ball and taking his man off the dribble while equally comfortable playing the off-guard position.
Coach Jay Triano, without an offensive stud to build a system around, is trying to find different ways to use Barbosa.
“A lot of dribble handoffs . . . we’ll give him the ball,” said the coach. “When he’s on the floor, we’re not going to necessarily make the other guy a dominant ball-handler.”
Would that be okay, Leandro?
“Oh, I love to have the ball in my hands and if that happens for me, that’ll be great,” he said. “I love to keep everybody going and make everybody involved.”
Kind of like that other guy, the one out in Phoenix with the silly shooting drills and strong abs.
The Raptors got a bit of a bonus when rookie big man Solomon Alabi was able to get through the first workout. The second-round draft pick suffered a hamstring injury during informal workouts the week before camp and was questionable for its start.
• Among the things the Raptors have to figure out is precisely where to use all the players. Linas Kleiza, for instance, is comfortable at either forward position, which gives the coaching staff some options. Not knowing what to call himself doesn’t bother Kleiza in the least.
“I consider myself a basketball player. Positions to me don’t matter,” he said. “I’m pretty versatile — I can play a couple of positions — and for my career it gave me more opportunity to play and get on the court. I really don’t put too much emphasis on a three or a four. Whatever that team needs at that time, if I can fill that spot, I’ll do it.”
• The Raptors are young and athletic and quick. but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be some weak imitation of the Phoenix Suns. “Controlled” tempo is the buzzword.
“We’re not necessarily going to try to be run-and-gun,” said coach Jay Triano. “I think that we’ve got enough guys where we can get the ball from one side of the floor to the other and have enough scoring threats out there. We’re going to push the ball, but probably about the same tempo we had last year.”
Jose Calderon in a second unit with Barbosa also makes sense. We all know by now that Jose can not defend his position right? So Barbosa can guard the quick guards that Jose can not stay in front of. Kleiza can be a bigger scoring option in a second unit as well. Ultimately Andrea Bargnani should be playing at the 4. But unless Erick Dampier or some journey man center comes along that is not happening. You could also shift Kleiza to the 4 and give Wright some minutes at the 3 spot if he deems worthy of them. Also he can play at the 3 once Ed Davis is healthy and worthy of minutes. Which being a first round pick he will get unless he is a complete bust. All this talk of what Kleiza did at the World Championships is nice, but this is not that and he is not an NBA starter to me. Besides if you watched Summer League at all, it was really amazing to see what Demar and Sonny were doing on the floor together as a duo. It would be foolish to break that up.
Contrary to popular belief, Andrea Bargnani did not experience a surge in productivity WOB. He averaged 18 pts and 5 reb per game WOB, while shooting 46% from the field (compared to 17, 6, 47% on the season). The rebounding numbers are particularly surprising, and could be a good indicator that we shouldn’t expect a bump this season.
It has become clear that with the absence of Chris Bosh the Raptors will have to find scoring and rebounding from a number of different sources. Many of the Raptor players exhibited great teamwork during the World Championships as well as great scoring touches. Both should help translate into an exciting team. Hopefully points, defense and rebounds also follow.
But didn’t the Raptors play as team last year?
Jose Calderon spoke on the issue of team scoring during media day, “We go into the season with great expectations, we can be a better team. I think we have a lot of players who can play, maybe we don’t have that star role for somebody, I prefer sometimes it’s better to have five guys scoring 12, 15 points than to have one get 35. We have to play like that, share the ball more than ever and play like a team.”
There are obvious positives with this move, Dampier is a center which this team doesn’t have, and he will be paid veteran minimum contract since that’s all they have left. Dampier will get a lot of playing time unlike places like Houston or Milwaukee. In fact, Dampier will probably start for this team.
Dampier is a true center too, he can rebound and block shots. When motivated, he is a pretty darn good defender as well. He doesn’t do much offensively, but he doesn’t have to on this team. Also it doesn’t hurt that it would move Bargnani to a power forward.
Now, obviously there could be negative as well. For one, it means that Amir Johnson or Ed Davis won’t get a lot of playing time. Johnson’s foul problems may prevent that from happening anyway, but it’s crucial to develop a player like Ed Davis for the Raptors to have a good future. You also wonder how would Dampier play for a bad team after playing for a good team in Dallas for so many years. I remember when Dampier played for Golden States, he would show up in about 33% of the games. He only worked hard when he was in his contract year. Needless to say he is not a guy known for his work ethic. He did better in Dallas, as coaches like Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle pushed him. Here we have Jay Triano who has his issues motivating players to play defense.
When Colangelo introduced big men Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi to the media after the draft, he made it clear that the rookies would see significant minutes this season.
After summer league, some free agent signings, and some trades, perhaps things have changed?
At media day, Triano confirmed that if Davis had not hurt his knee, "Ed would have had a chance to play a lot." Since the injury is not expected to hold Davis out much past the start of the season, translate that to mean that once Davis returns, he will play a lot.
"Solomon is a guy we are going to nurture," said Triano. Translated, this could mean Alabi will have to earn his spot in the rotation or even on the bench. It is becoming increasingly more likely that Alabi could be seeing time in the D-league. Of course training camp and preseason can change that.
At the end of the morning session of day one for Raptors training camp, as his teammates filed off of the practice court, Leandro Barbosa was in the corner going through a shooting drill that required a second look. Hopping on one foot a few times, he would then land on his left foot and shoot an off-balance jumper from the one foot. Immediately a few cracks were made about former Raptor Marco Belinelli’s unorthodox shooting technique — Hey, look! He’s doing the Marco drill — but of course, I had to ask the point of such a drill.
Not all that surprisingly, Barbosa’s former teammate Steve Nash was behind it. While we have all been aware of the leadership Nash possesses, after nabbing the spotlight in Phoenix the entire NBA now knows. The praise that Nash gets as a leader isn’t accidental. Barbosa off by himself on a new team in Nash’s home country, still practising what Nash had preached is another testament to Nash’s impact on his teammates, both past and present.
Jarrett Jack is set to take on a leadership role for the ‘Baby Raptors’ and his close relationship with the ‘Young Gunz’ is going to show up in the box score.
Jack is one of the main reasons DeMar DeRozan is set for a breakout season as JJ will get his boy DD involved early and often in an attempt to ensure DeRozan takes the next step in his development and becomes a focal point of this team on offense.
Jarrett Jack is also likely to display some more of his shoot-first point guard tendencies this year without an All-Star in the lineup, however we feel his relationship is good enough with all 4 Young Gunz members that he will not morph into Mike James or Rafer Alston 2.0.
Barbosa, perhaps surprisingly, seems enthused to be in Toronto. He was dealt from Phoenix, where he was routinely part of 50-win teams.
“I think it’s all about having fun. I’m sure that this team is very fun,” Barbosa said. “I can tell that the chemistry is very good. This is the number one thing right now and if we get going, that’s great.”
Barbosa, of course, brings some Canadian content with him to Toronto. His Phoenix running mate was Steve Nash, with whom he remains close.
Nash sang the praises of Raptors coach Jay Triano to Barbosa — “He also said if he was a coach he would have come back,” Barbosa said Nash told him about Triano, referring to the Canadian national team — and tried to welcome him to his country.
“He definitely said when he comes here he wants to see me,” the guard said. “When he came here, I guess he had a show [during the Toronto International Film Festival], so he put a note on my chair so that was really nice. We’re pretty close.”
To be a running team you actually have to be able to create turnovers, get stops and rebound, and the Raptors aren’t good at any of that, which could stymie their much-ballyhooed up-tempo attack. They can promise to speed up their offense all they want, but their defensive offering will probably prevent them from actually doing so. The Raptors were 21st in the league last year in rebound rate, and that was with an 11 rpg player in Bosh (whom they have not statistically replaced, as Amir Johnson’s rebound rate dropped last year when he was a starter). As has been stated countless times, the Raptors ranked dead last in defensive efficiency, and they forced turnovers at the league’s lowest rate. The team’s two worst defenders, Bargnani and Jose Calderon, still have big roles on this club and Bargnani’s rebounding is so bad he’d need a 12-to-13 rpg guy next to him to help level-off the frontcourt’s numbers at a reasonable rate (which, it bears saying again, he doesn’t have).
If the Raptors wish to throw two-guard DeMar DeRozan right into the action, much like they did a season ago, then he too could have a starting spot all sewn up.
But with the strong play of teammate Sonny Weems towards the end of last year and throughout summer league, DeRozan may find himself in a dogfight for a starting role.
Along with Weems, the Raptors newest off-season addition, Leandro Barbosa, may also contend but it is remains likely he will be kept as a scoring threat to bring off the bench.
Even if DeRozan were to land the starting role, Weems would still be in contention for another spot as the small forward position also remains open.
The former Arkansas Razorback will be pitted against off-season acquisition, Linas Kleiza.
Former teammates in Denver, both look to impress coaches with their unique skill set — Kleiza a dead eye shooter, Weems an athletic penetrator — they’re ability to defend, however, may very well decide whom is named to the starting five.
Finally, the controversy that seems to plague the Raptors at the start of every season is who will be the starting point guard?
In both Jose Calderon and Jarret Jack, the Raptors have two viable options at the one [point guard] and who leads the team in the interim may very well land the starting role.