There’s many “X moves the Raptors should make” type articles out there, and I’m here to tell you that all of that is nonsense. The Raptors don’t need to do anything, all they got to do is fill out the remaining roster spots with minimum salary players, preferably D-Leaguers with short fuses, and then add that big man or whatever Casey feels is necessary to get his offense/defense thingy going. I can sign off on that. If something nice like Marc Gasol can happen, great, if not, wait. In short, at this juncture in this team’s evolution, any acquisition we make has to fall into one of two categories:
1. Guy who will be a key piece for the next 4-5 years and can turn into an All-Star, even though he’s not one right now. This is the Marc Gasol type signing I’m talking about, other guys here could include DeAndre Jordan, Arron Afflalo (very happy in Denver), Wilson Chandler etc., I don’t need to name them, there’s a list here. This to me is where a GM makes his money, the question is whether Colangelo can find someone and hasn’t realized his potential due to some reason, and have him do it in Toronto. Supplying a player like this with a change of scenery and a fresh smart can make all the difference. See Zach Randolph for more details.
2. Oh shit man, we are so bad in this area of the game that we need to get a stop-gap in here just so we can run a few plays without being torn to shreds. An example is the big man that we’re led to believe we desperately need. The sexy signing is Tyson Chandler, the smarter one is Kwame Brown, Marcus Camby, actually wait, we did compile a list of these dudes in the summer. Same idea as before applies here too, it’s one thing to pluck out an established player from the market at a high price (Battier?), that’s fairly straightforward GMing, but can you get someone on the cheap who becomes good while in Toronto instead of fading. Colangelo’s done this (sort of) with Amir Johnson, that kind of a trade needs to be struck again.
Speaking of Colangelo’s attempts at buying low, James Johnson is back in town and talking big:
“I’m not afraid to work harder than my opponent and I think that starts on the defensive end.”
Well James, that’s news to me and just about everyone who saw you play last year. I’m not going to rip on JJ here, and will say my peace by pointing out that Johnson is a very good example of a player that should be a good defender, but is not. Andrea Bargnani gets to be the subject of discussion when Casey’s influence on the current crop is brought up, but a guy like Johnson is likely a better example. Johnson has the “tools” to be a good defender and hasn’t quite made his mark in any capacity yet, granted his playing time has been in shortly supply.
We focused on his point-forward role in a post over the summer, so I thought I’d complete the circle and look at him in defensive situations. Here are 20 plays from last year, 10 are of him in pick ‘n roll situations, and 10 are in spot-up (closing out a guy etc.). Have a look:
What do you see? Do you want me to tell you what I see? Sure. I see tons of issues ranging from coaching to individual: soft coverage on PnRs, poor spacing, late reactions, half-hearted contests, the list goes on. I also see a guy who isn’t quite giving it his all when given a chance to finally play (these are clips from his first few games with the Raptors). Before you slag him for not fully appreciating the PT given to him by the Raptors, you should know that it’s very difficult to start D’ing up like a madman when you’re the third-worst team in the league. I don’t care what kind of a competitor you are, when the team sucks and is going nowhere under a soft coach who isn’t holding anyone accountable, it’s awfully hard to pick yourself up. There are exceptions like Reggie Evans, but Reggie is crazy.
The technical influences Casey will have on James Johnson, Andrea Bargnani and the rest of the defensively challenged Raptors will be carefully observed, but that’s not what’s going to be the key driver of success. If success is indeed in the cards, what will be critical is how players heed the example of professionalism and commitment set by others, something sorely missing under Triano. The fact is that when your team leader – say DeRozan or Bargnani – is busting their ass on defense, you as a teammate will be inclined to do the same. If they’re hustling down the floor and taking charges, there’s no doubt the James Johnson types will take note and follow example. Up until now these examples have been provided by fringe players like Reggie Evans who don’t have the influence many fans think they ought to, simply because they’re scrubs and don’t carry influence. This has to change. It makes a massive difference when Bargnani dives for a loose ball than when Evans does. The former can lift a team, the latter is ho-hum.
What this goes back to is how your team leaders – remains to be seen who they are – act and play. When Chris Bosh was the silent leader (whatever the *&^% that means), he wasn’t able to raise anyone’s game through his play or presence. The Raptors will likely not end up having the type of personality in the lockerroom that makes sure you bust your tail out of pure fear, because there aren’t any Charles Oakleys around. This group will have to pick each other up collectively, it’s Casey’s job to make sure that the perceived franchise-type guys such as DeRozan, Bargnani, and Davis commit to playing at a high level. The rest will follow.