The usual story: the present is dark, the future is bright!
This mediocre basketball season for the Raptors is like a mediocre season of a TV show. You expect great things at first, but you get quickly disappointed when it finally starts. Then, after a couple more episodes, it again shows some kind of promise, so you continue to watch it, until one night after a random episode you ask yourself that one question: "Why? Why am I still watching this?" You suddenly realize that you're still watching that show not because you enjoy it (as was originally expected), but because it has become a part of your weekly routine and it's hard to go against it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the Raptors are useless, or that I or You should stop watching or loving them. It's not a TV show, it's real people, playing competitive basketball on most of the nights, showing real effort. Real fans stick to their teams and go through thick and thin in this imperfect as usual of a marriage. But me, as a fan I got to make some changes within this difficult marriage, my attitude has to change a little. I have not missed a single Raptors game in more than three straight seasons, but I think it's time for me to miss a game every now and then, just to take a breather and gain some perspective.
In short - it's time for me to change as a fan and trade some of the games for something else. It's also time for the Raptors to change as a team, not in talks and speculations, but as in actual change - it's time for those big trades. But first, back to the last episode of basketball and later we'll take a look at some good reasons to continue watching this Raptors team, win or lose, trade or no trade:
In this last episode the Raptors lost to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Like so many games, this was supposed to be a win and after the first half it should have been an EASY win. But... an inexplicable implosion of the team in the third quarter and an absence of any kind of coaching set up a rather "interesting" fourth quarter showdown. Eventually this game would be decided by one (or should I say yet another one) incompetent inbound play, epitomizing the Raptors season-long struggles to hold on to leads and closing out games, whilst also highlighting the Raptors coaching deficiencies in critical moments of a game. Overtime was a formality from that point on. The Raptors have no business losing these games, much less in this fashion, but they do! Again and again... It's like that TV show on an intriguing subject with good quality script writing, but with some corny twists or details or a cheap ending to a chapter or case.
The Raptors playoff hopes for this season are definitely over, at least for this Raptors team. They had a chance here the last couple of weeks to get back on track chasing that last playoff spot. But key games, winnable games have been lost due to reasons "unknown". Now a tough stretch lies ahead of this team. With the morale about to hit the bottom again, whether it's among the players, the staff or the fans, NOW would be the right time for that "big trade" everyone is pondering and talking about. But don't stick to talks only, it's time to actually pull the trigger. The Raptors could still make the playoffs if they can significantly improve that roster. Everyone of you knows about the Raptors needs and the possible trade scenarios... but you know, the script writers of Raptorland have their ways to disappoint us fans. It wouldn't be the first time, but for Colangelo it would be the last time for sure.
But we are positive people around here, aren't we? And we are not short sighted, are we? Among some of the long-term-positives to turn to at these harsh times are the rookies.
Ross has lots of talent and he's shown plenty lately. Though missing consistency, he's playing really well or rather a "mature" kind of basketball for a rookie. His defense is already good, but he has the potential to reach elite level on that end of the court. His offensive decision making has improved so quickly over this young season, you wonder how quickly he'll get to that comfort zone, that level of confidence, which would allow him to become consistent with his offensive game. Once he gets there - and, by the looks of it, it won't take him long - watch out!
Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Ross surpassed DeRozan with his overall play somewhere during his second or third season. In Ross one can see the offensive game of a mature, good-shot-selection JR Smith, while on the defensive end he's like a the pesky Sefolosha, only more agile. In short, he's got lots of potential and although he's got long ways to go, it's very exciting to watch this young man's game evolving and getting better each and every day. He only needs to keep on working very hard and keep the right mentality.
Our other rookie BIG V. Valanciunas has been out so long it seems... when he gets back to playing, it'll probably feel like a start of a new season. It's entirely possible though, that it's just me missing him too much.
When JV gets back, it'll be interesting to see what an impact he will have on this team. There will be changes in roles and playing time. It's really unclear whether Casey would start him again. Amir and Davis have played well together, but Amir is no center and I guess Amir himself wouldn't mind resting his body some more at this moment, as he has given his all and lately he basically kept on playing on one leg.
Looking at some of the latest JV footage and pictures, he looks bigger to me. I guess he didn't waste his time while nursing his injury. We'll see if he has added some muscle and whether that's going to help him right away.
What I wonder most about this situation that Jonas finds himself in though, is how it'll impact him mentally. He had lots of time now for thinking and just observing things. His mind must be more at ease with his "new" surroundings by now. I hope this time off will have had a positive impact on him and that it will result in him playing more relaxed and with more confidence. He definitely has huge potential, but right now he just needs to get healthy and get back on the floor, then we'll see about the rest.
In Jonas' absence another rookie had plenty of opportunity to show his qualities. Acy has quickly become somewhat of a fan favorite with his abundant energy and his trademark beard. He is very raw, but he plays with the energy and gives his best every second that he's on the floor. He could be anything from a Reggie Evans to an Amir Johnson type of player in the future, good energy guy off the bench. He brings some positive emotions, even when the games are bad. So, he too is a good reason to watch some mediocre basketball right now...
Some points on the rest of the guys.
In the absence of Bargnani, Ed Davis and Amir have played really well. One can only hope they continue playing as well as they have. They can only improve in time. And, so that there's no hindrance to their improvement, hopefully very soon Primo Pasta will relocate it's headquarters to somewhere south of the border.
Jose has had a good run, Lowry had his moments off the bench, but expect one of them being traded soon, with Calderon being the more likely candidate to find a new home. This should bring some more consistency from a more permanent starting point guard solution.
DeRozan started this season nicely, but recently has been somewhat disappointing, seemingly disappearing for long stretches of a game, struggling at others. But he's been ok for the most part.
Although Anderson is playing way above his payroll, he's not the solution at the small forward position, neither is Fields or Kleiza. They can be good contributors off the bench though.
Looking forward to the future
Future looks bright with the core consisting of JV, Ed Davis, Ross, DeRozan and maybe Lowry. But Lowry needs to prove he can be a consistent starting point guard without being a ball hog, while minimizing his hero ball attitude in close games.
Amir looks like a good big off the bench to play the 4 and 5 spots, Fields can play the 3 and 2 spots, but he needs to start hitting his shots, otherwise his usefulness is limited.
How Lucas III pans out as the reserve PG in case we trade one of Jose or Lowry - remains to be seen. Playing as the third guy usually kills your consistency, so it's entirely possible that JL3 is not as bad as he looks right now.
Outside of the core, Raptors should look for trades to improve the team. The perfect model team always was and will remain the same - an 8 man rotation team. 5 solid starting players and 3 guys of the bench - one big, one wing and a guard with one of the three being the "sixth man". All other players are bench warmers being used in specific situations like injuries, foul situations and certain match-ups. Right now the Raptors have a future 5 in JV and 4 in Ed Davis. There is a need for a starting SF. SG is covered by DeRozan or Ross, one of them could be the 6th man - the Ginobili or Harden (when in OKC) of this team. Kyle can be the PG. Amir is a good big off the bench.
So, Raptors most urgent needs are these: a young and good starting SF, a better back-up PG, the rest is covered. Better fitting starting PG than Kyle would be good too. But he could adapt well.
There is always room for roster improvement. But in regards to what we have with our young talents, the future of Raptorland looks bright, as long as the writers do their job correctly!