C’mon, have faith. Smiiiile.

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.

Training Camp
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.

Exhibition Schedule
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.

  • Puffer

    Nice wrap-up Blake. With nothing to report you do a nice job of reporting anyway…sorely needed during the NBA Dog Days.

  • Andrew Doucette

    Landry Fields will be the starting SF not a SG. Other than that nice work. 

    • WJF

      I am pretty sure he never said Fields would be a shooting guard, rather he lumped the shooting guards and small forwards together to show that there is no clear cut favourite at either position. 

      • http://www.blakemurphy.com/ Blake Murphy

        I put him as an SG in the chart but yes, you could have just as easily made him, DD, Ross, AA all “swingmen” and ignored the SG/SF designation, at least until we see how Casey rolls them all out.

    • Sam Holako

      DeRozan isn’t big enough, or rebound well enough, to be a starting SF in the NBA. I wish people would stop saying that; makes me nervous like the failed Bargnani-starting-at-sf-out-of-nowhere-in-the-playoffs-for-some-reason fiasco

  • cesco

    “The stretch of four home games from the 12th to the 22nd actually means
    the Raptors will be in Toronto for two full weeks” . Not exactly , they will have to come here ( Montreal ) for a game on the 19th vs NY . Is it a home game for TO or NY ? .

  • BCsMaBoi

     Good job Blake! A little more substance to this piece!

  • FAQ

    I predict the Raptors will surprise us this season…!

    • ad

       Much more likely they will surprise in a bad way than a good way.

      • FAQ

        If Casey has to put any of these rookies in the starting lineup, you know the Raps are in trouble.  Gonna be an interesting season.

        • Lorenzo

          Jonas WILL be starting for most of the season. And I’m looking forward to Demar being traded for a bag of marbles so Terrence can also start

  • NBAguest

    If I’m not mistaken, the Raptors are able to re-structure Landrys contract to 6.24M/year for the 3 year deal. The main benefit for the team signing away a RFA and why the “poison pill” is so devastating for the team trying to retain as they have to pay the contract as signed?

    • http://www.blakemurphy.com/ Blake Murphy

      Right you are. The values displayed for Fields are ACTUAL dollars to be paid, but for cap purposes it’s 6.24/yr. Doesn’t change much for this year or next, but could have big implications on the 2014 number.

      • Matt52

         JL3 is a team option next year.

  • Ps3_lover

    I’m actually excited to be a raps fan right now. solid young team and is the only Toronto team that has a shot at the playoffs anytime soon!

    • ad

      Kool aid drinkers like this piss me off. I dont want to burst your bubble, but realistically the raps suck and will suck until they can acquire all stars through trade or free agency. The draft can be used as well to acquire stars if you are ok with sucking for a few years. BC is an awful GM.

      • ad

         Also, they are a 35 win team at most as presently constructed and dont let BC fool into believing they are a playoff team. The state of toronto sports is pathetic.

        • Biebermyballs

          i’m glad we have experts like yourselves to post their “educated opinions” on here.  Now if you actually gave reasons why they will be bad such as, Lack of depth(which they have), no potential all-stars( lowry, bargnani) bad coaching, then maybe people could actually respect your opinion.  Spouting garbage like you just did without any insight makes your post pretty much useless. Go read a book or something.

          • ad

             Bargnani is an all star??? I would love to know what book your reading or maybe its an italian porn mag. Lowry is a pretty good player who is a borderline all star. However, he cant carry the team on his own. What I meant was they need a very good wing player who they can rely on for 20+ ppg and who can create his own shot. They dont grow on trees but a good gm should be able to acquire 1.

            • Lorenzo

              “a good gm should be able to acquire 1″

              Dumbest shit I’ve heard in a while..

              What, you think people just get offered shit like this?? And what kinda dumbass free agent would have want to come to Toronto the past five years??

              • Lorenzo

                let me answer that for you, HeDONT Turkoglu

            • Biebermyballs

              lol so your definition of an all-star is someone that puts up 20+ points a night and can create his own shot? I do believe that raptors have one of those except he is a 7 footer and his name is andrea Bargnani.  No he’s not a wing but I’m gonna guess that the raps are hoping that either one of Derozan or ross are going to turn into one of those players on the wing.  I never said that Lowry could carry a team on his own but that’s not what the raps need. They need a PG that can play defence and run an efficient offence.  They have guys on the team that can score the ball, they just need someone to get them it.  Raptors also have a very solid bench that is better than a good majority of teams in the NBA.  It’s not all about offence there bud.  It’s a team game and not all about having 1 guy that can win a game for his team.

      • Dp00k2

        An excellent lesson for others that deal with a(ttention) d(eficit)!!: copy and paste what others have repeated 10,000 times.

  • ZZ

    Something to point out: JV gets a little taste of home before the season begins… His Lithuanian National Teammate Martynas Pocius plays for Real Madrid, who we are facing in our first preseason game.

  • jomel1

    Just a point of curiosity, how would you rank the group of 2s and 3s in terms of ball handling. I’m assuming that at times they have to bring the ball up the court.

  • KaioKev

    Maybe this is the roster that can attract top-tier talent???