I can’t wait for the draft to come.

Remember when I opined about the lack of news on the Raptors front? Well, ain’t a thing changed, and I’m now regretting expending three ideas for one single column. The summer months are a constant struggle with attrition.

Which brings us to here. Once again, I have three semi-formed thoughts to fill these pages. Two of them aren’t Raptors related, but that’s how these days are going.

Tim Duncan, ageless and elite

The major overarching narrative from the Spurs’ victory over the Heat is the supposed triumph of teamwork over individuals. That’s not inaccurate, as the Spurs were undoubtedly the deeper team, but the narrative outdoes itself when it denounces their stars — most notably Tim Duncan — as not elite to accent the story.

It’s silly to have to defend a now five-time NBA champion with two MVPs and 17-straight seasons of 50+ wins to his name. Even at the advanced age of 38, Duncan is still, at worst, a top-20 player in the NBA.

A variety of contextual factors work in his favor. First off, Duncan’s Spurs just won yet another championship with a team built around his skills. As always, he’s the defensive anchor in San Antonio, but unlike the early 2000’s, Duncan is no longer limited to elite shot-blocking and post-defense. He’s defied age and adapted his defense to the modern game, somehow maintaining enough mobility to cover bigs on both the perimeter, while being able to effectively snuff out the pick-and-roll.

There’s also his offense. His screen-setting remains elite, and although he can no longer sustain a day-to-day dominance, he can still dominate in the post. He demands a double-team, a highly rare skill given the proliferation of pick-and-roll oriented bigs in the current era. Speaking of pick-and-rolls, Duncan is quite good at that too.

The only two factors working against Duncan, by my estimation, are lackluster counting statistics and age. The first argument is silly, because a cursory look at Duncan’s per-minute stats show that he’s as productive as ever.

duncan per 36

And second, his age is just that — it’s a number. He’s still incredibly effective. His team is still winning at the highest level because of him. The Spurs’ superior team triumphed over the best player in the world, but they didn’t do so without an elite player. That would be a discredit to an all-time great in Tim Duncan.

The Raptors and the draft

I know nothing about the draft. I really don’t. College basketball is hard to watch because zone defenses and 35-second shot clocks make me ache for Milwaukee Bucks basketball. Seriously, Khris Middleton would absolutely dominate the NCAA. It’s just a lower quality of basketball in my eyes.

Having said that, the hottest topic around these parts is the draft, so I figured I’d contribute by rounding up the prospects they’ve worked out, and linking to their profiles. The Raptors hold three picks in the upcoming draft (20th, 37th, 59th).

Potential first-round draft picks

How the dissolution of the Heat’s “Big 3” could affect the Raptors

Although it’s fun to wish on a world without superstar teams, take a moment to ponder what’s more likely — a four-time Finals team disbanding in the hopes of finding more success elsewhere, or they reload and give it another shot? Right. With Bosh already wanting to stay, and Wade’s place in Heat lore cemented, the only decision that’s remotely in question is LeBron’s.

There is always the chance that LeBron leaves, but it’s rather slim. At this point, winning championships is his top priority. Unless a massive migration of talent changes coasts, staying in the pathetically weak Eastern conference gives him his best chance at capturing a third championship.

If James stays in the East, the question becomes which team offers him the best chance at another Finals appearance. Miami has Bosh and what remains of Wade, but have little cap room to speak of. Also, many key free-agents are likely to retire or leave in free-agency. If the Bulls amnesty Boozer and work out a sign-and-trade, they become an intriguing destination with Rose, Noah, Butler and Gibson forming a solid cast around James. However, James would invite incessant comparisons to Jordan, but that wouldn’t be anything new for him. James is effectively out of options.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say he leaves the Heat and the Eastern conference. That would theoretically open up a sizable power vacuum, which could prompt the Raptors to expedite their plans to contend. If that is the case, the Raptors have to consider the option of selling some young assets to acquire an upgrade in addition to bringing back their free-agents.

A sign-and-trade to acquire Luol Deng would be one idea. Assuming Deng commands a salary in the range of $10 million per year, a sign-and-trade with Ross and Hayes for Deng makes financial sense. That should allow for the Raptors to also stock up another weapon — likely a back-up center — with their mid-level exception. Provided that they draft a wing with their first-rounder, that should put the Raptors two-deep at every position.

The worry there, of course, is that it would lock the Raptors into a Nuggets-like trajectory. Without a true star to lead them, a band of very good players would top out at being a good, but not great team. Would a team of DeRozan, Lowry, Deng and whomever be enough to topple a healthy Bulls squad or what remains of the Pacers? I doubt it. They would be more on-par with the Hawks, who have quietly built a contender from spare parts.

Therefore, unless a trade for a superstar presents itself (…Kevin Love?), their best bet is to continue building, and wait for cap room to open up in 2015 to make their move. The East will continue to be weak a year from now.

  • Matteemo

    I’ve seen a fair bit of mention to both Luol Deng and Kevin Love lately. I can’t imagine either of these guys make the Raptors a significantly better team. The Bulls got better after they moved Deng, the Cavs did not get better after acquiring him. And while Love puts up very impressive numbers, his defense is terrible and Minnesota has been unable to contend for anything during his time there. Acquiring these guys seems like something Colangelo would do. I’d prefer to see the Raps make a string of base hits rather than strike out swinging for the fences. Wrong sport for an analogy, but you get what I’m saying.

    • GoingBig

      New Raptors Republic motto: WWBCND – What Would Bryan Colangelo NOT Do

    • dunkmycat7

      Matteemo
      so here we go again. :)
      I SO disagree with all this patience/slow build stuff…If the Raptors sign 1 or 2 impact players they have a chance of being contenders for YEARS. The window of opportunity is never open for long, past performance is no guarantee of future success,(standard financial advisor disclaimer :) and I believe they need to strike while the iron is hot and that is nownownow. They have some profile, they actually have a good team and when was the last time ANYONE of any consequence even wanted to come to Toronto ?
      And even if you use the AMAZING |Spurs as a perfect example of how to build a team they still have 3 (or 4?) GREAT players, but mostly they have a GREAT system.
      You don’t think that filling the 2 most obvious needs for this team makes them better ?
      Deng guards the perimeter, is a good passer,is a vet and JUST what this team needs , we already have enough scoring on this team.
      KL is a scoring and rebounding god. And yes I DO believe DC can get him to buy in to SOME defence, but really I want the other team to be worried about how you STOP this guy. So far NOBODY can.And that plus the rebounding more than makes up for what he does not do on defence. And he more than makes up for what we lose scoring wise with TRoss going away.
      And what makes you think they are going to “strike out ” swinging for the fences.? As to your reference,This is Masai not BC. These guys are PROVEN players with specific skill sets that I think almost perfectly match our needs.
      I’m all in on both these guys.
      Unless you tell me they can get Lebron and Demarcus C. :)

      • Matteemo

        DMC,

        I don’t disagree with you about the Raptors needing to make a major move in order to put is over the top. What I do disagree with you about is when our window for making such a move is.
        I think next offseason is the time to sign or trade for some big names. Two reasons for this: 1) our young core still needs to get a lot of floor time to improve and they won’t get this playing behind Deng who is a very good player, but not good enough for us to be considered a contender. And 2) next year we have so much money coming off the books that will allow us to add the key pieces at a time when we are (hopefully) more ready to make that leap to the next level.

        • dunkmycat7

          It’s an interesting discussion, can hardly wait for the draft and F/A to see what happens.
          It is so much more fun speculating on how we get there and the UPSIDE raather than speculating about what a black hole this team is in. You know – like the whole BC era.
          I’m just hoping that if it goes your way that the Raps don’t REGRESS(which I think is quite possible after last season’s surprise) and all of a sudden become the “we da north but nobody cares” again.

  • Will

    Watching the Spurs dominate was a thing of beauty. I hope Duncan and Pops return next year to defend their title. And poor Nando got traded out of a ring, while Daye gets one for wearing a suit.

    • DDayLewis

      I’m pretty sure de Colo still gets a ring.

      • Will

        Really? Why?

        • DDayLewis

          He still contributed to the winning team during the regular season.

          For example, the Mavs did this with Corey Brewer. http://mavsblog.dallasnews.com/2012/02/corey-brewer-to-get-his-championship-rin.html/

          • Will

            Brewer got a ring because he was actually on the championship roster and just changed teams during the offseason. DeColo got traded before the trade deadline so I’m pretty sure he’s not getting one.

            • DDayLewis

              That’s right. My mistake with Brewer. I’m having the hardest time finding an example, but I’m pretty sure that players who played for that team during the season, but were cut/traded before the playoffs still get a ring.

              • RRT Ash

                Sorry to say, but they don’t bro :/

                • Bendit

                  There is no hard & fast rule re ring giving….it is left upto team management/leadership depending on the player. Hope Nando gets it.

              • Pedro

                Mike James w/ Pistons?

    • asifyouknow

      I believe Nando stills get the bling……Duncan and company will be back with a few changes…

  • Will

    Matt Bonner is now a two time champion, same as LeBron. haha

  • ckh26

    If Lebron takes his ball and goes home to the western conference as a hypothetical that leaves the first round exiting Bulls and the stumbling bumbling Pacers as the teams to beat in your article.

    “Would a team of DeRozan, Lowry, Deng and whomever be enough to topple a
    healthy Bulls squad or what remains of the Pacers? I doubt it.”

    Don’t doubt it…

    Who are the elite players on the Pacers or Bulls as presently constructed that put fear into opposing teams. Your going to say Derrick Rose but two ACL’s injuries later his return to MVP form would be the subject of debate. So who after that on the Bulls and the rudderless Pacers do we fear as an elite difference maker ?

    The next Lebron decision could open up the east as wide as its been in a while.

    • DDayLewis

      The Bulls are primed to make offseason acquisitions and I trust Larry Bird and the management to right the locker room issues that ultimately sunk their season.

      • ckh26

        Two big “ifs” DDL

        If the Bulls make an offseason acquistion (Melo ?) If they don’t, same old BUlls.. lots of stops and no offense which killed them in the playoffs this year.

        If Larry Bird can right the locker room issue. Have to find out what it is to fix it. Lots of suspects and circumstantial theories but no arrests yet. (term of reference only).

        I think the east will be as open a shot for the up and comers next season as in recent memory if LBJ goes west.

        • DDayLewis

          The East will definitely be more open if LeBron goes West (like the band!) but the Raptors still wouldn’t be the favorites to win, even with an upgrade in Deng IMO.

          • ckh26

            Grist for your next column. Post draft and FA which team is the lead dog for the east. You may be surprised how high you have to rank the gang from the North. I see the Hawks/Raps/Whiz/BobHornetCats/Cavs all being better next year than this year. I see the Heat / Pacers / Nets slipping. The Bulls treading water. Regardless of who they draft Philly/Milwaukee/Boston will capitalize the S in suckage and the Pistons/Magic improving but from a lot farther back in the field. Keep the faith we’re on our way.

            • DDayLewis

              It’ll certainly make for an interesting exercise to see where everyone stands after the offseason deals are made. I think the Raptors sit in the second tier with Brooklyn, Wizards and Hawks. Miami, Chicago and Indiana still headline the conference for me.

              • ckh26

                What do you see in the Bulls and the Pacers that makes them any better than the Tier 2 teams.? If Lebron stays in Miami no arguments.

                But as the curtain dropped on the pacers we see Paul George embracing his inner Rudy Gay and Roy Hibbert’s psyshe in a mess that the offseason isn’t going to help with. They have no PG. to speak of to run the dysfunctional ship. BIrd is good but he is not that good.
                The Bulls have no offense to speak of. None. Niente. Nada. Unless they find a scorer (and they are @63M with Boozer) they will repeat the same scenario as last year. Its imprudent to think you will get a different result using the same formula. Tony Snell may get better but Jimmy Butler may remain the same or slide backwards and D Rose has those two ACL’s to overcome.

                Let your inner fan come out.

                • DDayLewis

                  Well first off, I see that the Bulls and Pacers, as presently constructed, have accomplished far more than the Raptors have. More playoff wins, appearances, more regular season wins, talent. Everything.

                  I also see that the Bulls are getting an upgrade in Rose over DJA, and have the option of amnestying Carlos Boozer to open up a swath of cap room. Their offense isn’t going to be an issue with the upgrades they can make with their assets. They also have more draft picks and a player in Mirotic coming over.

                  The Pacers have a budding superstar in Paul George, and if they’re able to turn Hibbert back into the first-half season verticality monster, they’ll have two players the Raptors simply can’t match. It’s easy to remember their ridiculous collapse and forget that it was made possible by playing so incredibly well for the first half of the season.

                • ckh26

                  I am not so sure anyone can convince the Bulls owner Jerry Riensdorf to shell out 16.8M dollars for the privelage of not having Carlos Boozer play for the Bulls next year. Easy for us to say amnensty this guy, waive that guy, but we are not signing real cheques and thats a serious whack of cash to ask the owner to pay out to in all likelihood watch him come back into your building and paying him to play for another team. Ouch.

    • Abused Raptors Fan

      A) wtf are you referring to when you say “If LeBron takes his ball and goes home to the Western conference”? LeBron was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, where he played ball in high school before bing drafted by the Cavaliers – based out of Cleveland, Ohio. Consequentially, LeBron cannot “go home” to the Western conference…
      B) You seem to have forgotten about the DPoY who plays for the Bulls – Joakim Noah. And, while Tom Thibodeau doesn’t actually play for the Bulls, I would still consider him an elite difference maker in this league.
      C) Much like the Raptors this past season, the Pacers depend upon team chemistry and an egalitarian style of play to fuel their performance on both ends of the court. Obviously, the mid-season additions of Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum fundamentally altered the team’s dynamic and initiated a downward spiral heading into the second half of the season, from which they never really recovered (Eastern Conference Finals appearance notwithstanding).

      • Abused Raptors Fan

        ** I apologize for replying to my own post, but my iPad froze before I finished and then wouldn’t let me edit my original post **

        Anyways, given the Pacers’ situation this off-season and the issues that plagued them throughout the second half of the season and the playoffs, a few smaller roster moves and some addition-by-subtraction should do a lot to reestablish their dominance in the Eastern conference.

      • ckh26

        Always love a rebutal that begins with the thought provoking “WTF”. It generally warms any audience up to take into consideration the next thoughts expressed as anything more than a rant.

        “Take your ball and go home” is a turn of phrase. But then you knew that.
        Thibodeau has been a head coach for four years. Pretty short stint to be an elite head coach. Still even elite head coaches don’t shoot, play defense, rebound or run the floor. Players do that and the Bulls don’t have enough good ones. .
        Noah while a very very good defensive centre and the DPoY just can’t score. They keep score. So scoring must have a little weight on the games outcomes eh ? Its not soccer where you don’t want to lose that 0-0 tie. Helps if you can do both. Score and defend. See Wizards- Washington vs Bulls.
        The Pacers adding two guys who didn’t play much as the reason your team implodes is obvious only to you. If that were the sole reason for the Pacers imploding then Pacers management would have rectified the problem rather than have it carry on for two months. If that were the case then the Pacers coaching staff would most likely be fired for not bringing this up to the GM. They were not. As for egalitarian play, thats the first thing I think of when Lance Stevenson has the ball. Lance’s demeanour screams selflessness.

      • asifyouknow

        Very familiar with the Akron / Cleveland area ..LeBron is not a welcome figure in that territory…lol…they hate him for saying “I’m taking my talent to Miami” Believe me this guy is less popular than Art Modell who is the guy that moved the beloved NFL Browns to Baltimore …

        • 2damkule

          yeah, they’ll hate him until the micro-second he announced he was going back to cleveland.

          • asifyouknow

            not happening………

            • 2damkule

              probably, but it’s not because he’s ‘hated’ in ohio.

  • guest

    Tim enters the discussion for top five all time.

  • DC

    It could be argued that San Antonio has four elite players (who decides?).

    • asifyouknow

      They do with Leonard…

    • DC

      i.e., who decides “elite”?

      • 2damkule

        isn’t the point, though, that their ‘elite’ players eschew elitism, and commit to playing a team-oriented style that requires all of them to give something up in the name of the greater good? none of their success happens if they don’t all buy in, on both ends.

        • DC

          Absolutely! My problem with the mania for “elite” players is when elitism becomes paramount – cultish, even – at the expense of the team.

          • 2damkule

            the power of the spurs execution of their game plan was such that it forced miami to abandon their own team-oriented game plan, and their offense devolved into a battle of 1-on-5.

            it was truly incredible to see, something that certainly doesn’t happen often at all. and that’s the level of competitiveness, selflessness, dedication & general excellence that it truly takes to win. as i watched the series unfold, and miami slowly disintegrate into the 2007 cavs, it made me think of just how far the raptors need to go to compete at that level. let’s put it this way…it will take significant leaps from every notable player, in all facets of their respective games, as well as some key acquisitions, to even get close.

            watching the finals was bittersweet, in that while watching the spurs do their thing was beautiful, it was also a stark reminder of how far our raptors have to go.

      • asifyouknow

        Winning!

  • DC

    “Would a team of DeRozan, Lowry, Deng and whomever be enough to topple a healthy Bulls squad or what remains of the Pacers?”

    Did we trade JV too?

    • DDayLewis

      Would you really put him at their level?

      • DC

        Before long, yes. Hopefully higher after that.

  • GoingBig

    Another thought – take a look at last year’s article as BC was heading on his way out & Masai was heading in

  • Microaggressive

    Please, wax poetic about Kevin Love’s defensive prowess.
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    I don’t think so.

    • 2damkule

      you’re not wrong about his D, but that’s certainly not the entire picture. love get’s criticized because his teams haven’t made the playoffs, but to what degree does the fault for that lie at his feet? would he being a marginally better defender have changed that? some players are such dynamic offensive players, they can get away with being sub-par defenders, because at the end of the day, they’re bringing enough in other areas (in KL’s case, scoring from all over the floor and elite-level rebounding) that it offsets their defensive short-comings.

  • RapsPowerhouse

    Why no mention of the Raptors as a potential landing spot for LBJ? With the Leiweke factor you never know….

  • Amobogio

    The graph in the Tim D article is useless. A simple two column or two row table would provide the information in a legible fashion. For example, it is not possible to tell anything about TD’s FG% from the graph – and that is a fairly important statistic.