Kyrie Irving

This is the kind of postgame that writes itself. You look at what happened on this Sunday afternoon, and you see all the early season themes playing out perfectly:

– a close hard-fought loss (now 1-6)
– questionable minute allocation (Ed Davis)
– questionable officiating
– Andrea Bargnani bringing his shooting in-line with the rest of his (non-existent) game

Why are we losing all these close games? The unpopular two-guard lineup featuring Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon? Not playing Jonas Valunciunas in crunch time? Let’s talk about the coach, Dwane Casey, then. Before we jump all over the guy, let’s take a step back here.

Dwane Casey is the third coach in Bryan Colangelo’s tenure. Granted, Sam Mitchell was not hired on his watch, and sure enough Smitch’s treatment of Bargnani got him canned after a horrible 8-9 start. Colangelo then hired Jay Triano, who ended up being a combination of a PR move and a coach that Colangelo could “influence”. When that didn’t work, he cut his losses and hired Dwane Casey, who was supposed to help this team become better defensively, and he did just that.

Regardless of what you want to think of him, he is Colangelo’s third coach, second of his choosing. The players on the floor, have been under his control for over 6 years now. So he’s cooked both ways. If the coach is bad and the players are good, that’s on him. If the coach is good but the players are weak, that├Ęs on him too. If both are bad…

Now, the real question is how much someone like Andrea Bargnani should be playing. What his role on this team should be, if any. Is Dwane Casey being put under some sort of pressure to play Il Mago? Or is it that this team just doesn’t have enough offensive talent to overcome his absence?

The bigger question should be the way certain players get babied in this organization. Seeing Tony Parker calmly rip through the Raptors defence today hearkens one back to the days when Gregg Popovich would rip into a younger Parker for things the casual fan wouldn ‘t even recognize. Mistakes that were probably far less egregious and common then Mr. Bargnani commits.

But really, what choice does Casey have? You have Kyle Lowry, who is probably the best we have, but hasn’t averaged more than 15 points in his career, and with low percentages. And DeMar DeRozan, who is still a one-dimensional scorer who has not shown the ability to score in the most important moments. With pretty much nothing to offer at the small forward position, he (Casey) feels compelled to have a major defensive liability like Calderon on the floor. The real problem with this small lineup isn’t having Calderon out there. It’s having Bargnani on as your 5. One of the worst rebounding and defensively stupid, yes stupid is the perfect word, “centers” to have ever graced an NBA court.

Even on a day where Ed Davis pretty much hustles his way into being noticed, the lack of scoring talent on the floor forced Casey to bring Bargnani back. For me, and all the Raptor fans out there, we don”t care. The accountability part is way more important for an organization that’s trying to create a “winning culture”. It’s almost never happened. Maybe his minutes get reduced, he gets taken out a little earlier and he returns a tad later than normal. But a complete benching, nope. That’s just too bad.

Ed Davis has done all the necessary work. He clearly put on some muscle and he has been rebounding at an elite level this year. Look at his rebounds per 48 minutes:

Ed Davis can rebound

Even Reggie Evens is getting more love than Ed Davis. The rest of the guys on the list are quality players who are garnering major minutes. Free Ed Davis, seriously. His only flaw is that he happens to play the same position as Andrea Bargnani. This team will win more games if you switch his minutes with Bargnani. Anyone with some knowledge of the game will agree to this. The general manager of this team doesn’t.

Officiating in this league has always been questionable, because any kind of contact can be called. This is why NCAA is more much more enjoyable. Fouls are fouls. Hacks to the arms, hard contact. Being a non-elite team with no real superstars, it’s been a rough ride for the Raptors, but this year does actually seem weird. There is no conspiracy against Toronto, or Canada. When this team will play mediocre to bad teams at the ACC, the calls will be pro-Raptor but noone will remember that. The feeling is that they are letting more stuff go, so perhaps it’s a matter of getting used to it.

So don’t blame the coach in a game like this, because his hands are tied with the lack of talent on this team. If you do want to blame him, remember that not all on-court decisions are his decisions, that the same GM who hired him exerts a lot of influence. Even if he truly is a bad coach who could be getting more out of this team, how many coaches does a GM get to have? Not 5, not 6, not 7?

On the bright side…

This team is definitely better than it’s record suggests. They are still a fringe playoff team in this weak Eastern conference. Kyle Lowry may have come back early to right the ship, because he doesn’t look like he’s as quick or aggressive as he was to start the season. He’s the most important player on this team. Terrence Ross has NBA talent but is an afterthought right now.

And Val. How can you not cheer for this kid? He had a an eye-opening game against a re-energized Tim Duncan. The jumper, the fearlessness going to the basket. He’s doing this while being repeatedly being hung out to dry by Bargnani, who rarely helps or comes into rebound. In a weird kind of way, having Bargnani around is like throwing the kid to the wolves. If that kid survives, you’ve got something special. The hope is that he doesn’t get hurt dealing with two bigs on his own. He almost busted his elbow today trying to fight for a ball near the basket.

Eventually Jonas becomes a dependable 15 pts, Lowry looks like he’ll give you 20 and Demar 20 as well. Do we really need to add another 20 points a game from a player who is a liability in almost every other facet of the game?

Even if we do, I’d rather lose with players who give a damn.