Five games, five losses and nine days later, the Raptors return to Toronto in possibly worse physical health than when they left.
We won’t begin to talk about their mental health.
And they weren’t exactly bursting at the seams with any kind of health when they left.
Added to the injury list since the team left Toronto have been Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey and now possibly Jose Calderon.
Coming home 0-5 and dragging a seven-game losing streak with them isn’t exactly brightening the Raptors picture.
Kleiza (knees), Dorsey (patellar tendon) and Calderon (on-going foot problems) join Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems and Leandro Barbosa on the list of injured.
Calderon has been playing hurt and appeared to go over on his ankle late in Saturday’s game. The team was off Sunday and takes on Memphis Monday when more will be known about Calderon’s situation.
Barbosa, who strained a hamstring in the Detroit game that preceded the trip, is probably another week away, according to head coach Jay Triano. Evans is itching to get back and is making progress but isn’t at the stage yet of practising with the team. Even when he reaches that point, he’ll still need a week or so to get back into basketball shape.
Who knows how long Weems’ back problems will keep him out. There have been a few occasions already where Weems has been ready to return only to have a relapse.
There is a chance that by Monday the team will be finalize the deal for Alexis Ajinca, the 7-foot-3 centre from Dallas who looked healthy enough when he was pulled off the practice court Friday night in Chicago on the premise that he might be dealt.
Ajinca wasn’t getting much run in Dallas, but at least he’s healthy.
In a new wrinkle to the contest, each of the four competitors has been assigned a “dunk coach.” DeRozan’s man is Darryl Dawkins, the backboard-breaking NBA legend.
That match, it says here, couldn’t be more perfect. While DeRozan’s world-class gift for flight saw him record the contest’s only perfect score of 50 a year ago, one can argue he finished second to Nate Robinson because of his shy aversion to showmanship.
Dawkins, never accused of subtlety, made his name as an attention-seeking carnival barker from the school of Muhammad Ali, a 6-foot-11 hulk who named the most damaging of his dunks in rambling rhyme.
“I want DeMar to do what he’s comfortable doing, but only with a little more flair, a little more twist, a little more swagger,” the big coach said.
Dawkins, speaking over the line from his home near Allentown, Pa., then inexplicably broke into a stream of CB-radio-style banter, apparently rehearsing an imaginary conversation with DeRozan.
“It’s Darryl Dawkins to DeMar DeRozan, Double-D to Double-D, breaker-breaker one-nine. Roger that, Double-D. Ready for takeoff, Double-D. We have lift-off . . . Now we’re going to see if we can get a function at the junction, and get the rim rocking and get the door knocking.”
Did Dawkins care to offer a translation?
“I’ve got to coach DeMar like I’m coaching to win the NBA title,” he said.
Now, as Chris Bosh gets ready for his February 16 return to Toronto following his own rather unpleasant departure from the Raptors after seven years with the team, he hopes the anger that fans in Hogtown have for him won’t be quite as harsh as it was in Cleveland for LeBron back in December.
"I hope not. I don’t think it could get any worse than that," Bosh says. "It was something else. You had to see it."
James, for one, doesn’t think the reception in Toronto will even come close to rivalling the one he faced in Cleveland.
"It will be nowhere near as bad as it was for me going back home," James says. "He’s not going back home, he’s going to a team he played for. There’s no comparison. He’ll be fine."
Bosh says heckling and booing are to be expected, and that he hopes he can use some of that negative energy as fuel – a skill he picked up from his new teammates in Miami.
"When I looked at Dwyane and LeBron, as soon as the game (in Cleveland) started playing, I could kind of read their body language from the get-go and I was like, ‘Wow, they really like this, they like this environment, they like just the tension and the excitement and everything,’", says Bosh. "So I was like, ‘Man, I gotta step up.’"
When Bryan Colangelo took over the Toronto Raptors, the best player on the team was Chris Bosh. Now, Bosh is/was a very good player. A perennial All-Star and a 20-10 big man in a league where that is rare. Colangelo decided to build the team around this All-Star and he went out and surrounded him with a bunch of very good role players, including a couple from Europe, and they went out and won a franchise best 47 games and won the Atlantic Division and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
That 2007 team was a team that was build to compete, but it would never win a Championship. There were several reasons why.
The first is that the team simply didn’t have a lot of “upside”. Upside is a rather vague term and can be a scary thing when referring to player are can’t actually play very well, but exhibits a few skills that make everyone hopeful he might one day be able to. In this respect, though, it simply means that the majority of the players were at or past their prime. Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Morris Peterson and Rasho Nesterovic were all, at least, 29 years old. The average age of the all the players who played at least 20 mpg was 26.5 years.
You see, if you want to be competitive, the easiest way to do it is to get a roster full of veterans. Obviously these guys need to know how to play, but you don’t need a superstar if you have a team full of veterans. Philadelphia started the year as one of the worst teams, but the minute they started playing their veterans more over their young players, lo and behold, they started winning.
The other big problem with the Raptors was, unfortunately, Chris Bosh. Now, I’ve often felt that he was unfairly criticized and his accomplishments in Toronto have been minimized since he left, but the fact of the matter is that Bosh is simply not the type of big man who is going to be able to lead your team to a title.