We are officially two weeks from the start of training camp. This is cause for celebration in Raps Nation, not just because it means Arse and I won’t have to stretch for topics of conversation, but because it also means after a somewhat disappointing summer, we get a nice clean slate.
Of course, the pessimists among us have already written the season off, citing a draft-day reach for Terrence Ross, an inability to acquire a key wing player or move Jose Calderon, or a somewhat disappointing Olympic performance from Jonas Valanciunas.
Then again, there are the eternal optimists in the crowd. While I don’t count myself among the blindly optimistic, I certainly see more reason for optimism than pessimism. After all, bad basketball is better than no basketball (right, NHL fans?). What follows is simply an update on the status of the Raptors heading into training camp, which commences October 1 in Halifax.
From October 1 to October 6, the Raptors will attempt to further their branding as Canada’s Basketball Team, heading out to the Maritimes to train for a week. The training will conclude with an intra-squad game on the 6th, and then the team will open up their exhibition schedule back in Toronto against Madrid (more on that shortly). There is no word yet on what Dwane Casey has planned in terms of team-bonding extracurriculars, though I’m sure his focus has been on the fact that he actually gets a training camp this year, a luxury he wasn’t afforded in last year’s lockout-shortened season. With a new point guard, three rookies, and three free agent additions, Casey will have to work quickly to teach his system anew to 47% of his corps.
Training camp will also be the first chance for players to stake their claim in position battles, of which there should be plenty. The wings, namely DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Ross, and Linas Kleiza, will be in a dogfight for minutes at the shooting guard and small forward spots, likely even trying to ward off one of the point guards taking extra minutes at the two. Down low, Jonas will make a case for playing time over unexciting but well-liked incumbent Aaron Gray, and Ed Davis and Amir Johnson will enter Year 3 of their battle for the back-up power forward role. John Lucas will also try to push Jose Calderon further out the door by proving a capable back-up to Kyle Lowry, and Quincy Acy, Alan Anderson and newly-signed Dominic McGuire will attempt to carve out roles beyond being just practice bodies. Only Lowry and Andrea Bargnani seem safe in their roles, which is how it should be for a team that has hopefully had enough of “rebuilding.”
There are a lot of interesting storylines to follow, though the generally close-lipped and short camp probably won’t tell us nearly as much as the exhibition games.
The Raptors open their exhibition calendar on October 8, hosting Real Madrid at the ACC, a match that might be a bigger test than you would think. Madrid actually beat the Raptors in Spain in 2007, and this year they’ll boast a roster that includes former NBA ballers Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez. From there, the Raptors play in Detroit, come home for four straight (Detroit, Washington, New York and Milwaukee), and then close it out in Memphis. The stretch of four home games from the 12th to the 22nd actually means the Raptors will be in Toronto for two full weeks, bookended by road games on the 10th and 26th, giving them plenty of practice time to build on whatever foundation they build in training camp.
While no one exhibition game is must-see viewing, it’s a series of seven games that should be telling as to how Casey plans to handle this roster that runs 12-deep but is really lacking in top-tier talent. While he’ll likely toy with different units in the first few games, the final tune-ups with Milwaukee and Memphis should be dress rehearsals for the regular season, especially considering each is followed by a few days off, putting fatigue concerns to rest.
The Raptors then open the season on Halloween, playing host to the Pacers, but there will be plenty of time for regular season talk later. This is your pre-season primer (albeit a thin one that will no doubt be built upon by my counterparts).
Where They Stand
The chart below shows the current Raptors roster and the salary structure for the next few seasons. The team is essentially capped out right now, though they could take on extra salary and still remain comfortably under the luxury tax. While they don’t have trade exceptions to make this work, the new cap rules allow for non-tax paying teams to take back 150% of the salary they send out if the outgoing salaries total less than $9.8M, or to take back an additional $5M in salary if the outgoing salaries are between $9.8M and $19.6M. Thus, trading Jose Calderon’s $10.5M deal would allow the team to take back $15.5M in salary. While the team can’t really offer a first round pick to sweeten any package, the depth on the roster may allow for some sort of package deal if a team is looking to get under the luxury tax and shed some salary at some point closer to the trade deadline.
Update: The explanation of cap status for trades in the preceding paragraph has been updated (it originally included the rules for luxury-paying teams by mistake, sorry).
If the roster remains in its current form throughout the season, the Raptors would lose just Calderon and Alan Anderson to free agency next summer. What this means is that if the team doesn’t perform well this year, more or less their only reasonable avenue to improve will be by shedding some of the players under contract beyond this year, so the position battles I outlined above have additional importance for the long-term future of some players.
Then again, a lot can change between now and the end of the year (or the end of training camp), so maybe it’s best if we keep our analysis to the current roster. I was going to re-hash some of this lineup and minutes analysis from late July, but not much has changed (and again, we still have two weeks to fill before there’s any on-court news).
Check back soon, as I know Arse has a piece ready for tomorrow, and I’ll be turning in another once ESPN finishes their NBA Rank project. And follow me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.