The Toronto Raptors are in a somewhat similar position to the Detroit Pistons. Sub-.500 since the 2008-09 season. Defensive-minded coaches entering their second year trying to right the ship, young low-efficiency guards that need to grow with a lot riding on their young center prospects. It seems, however, that Toronto is a little closer to turning things around, in the short-term anyway.
2012-13 Toronto Raptors Offseason Recap
Draft Picks: Jonas Valanciunas (2011 Draft), Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy, Tomislav Zubcic.
Free Agents: John Lucas, Landry Fields.
Trade Acquired: Kyle Lowry
Gary Forbes, Solomon Alabi, Jamaal Magloire, Ben Uzoh, Jerryd Bayless, Leandro Barbosa, James Johnson, Rasual Butler, Anthony Carter
2012-13 Toronto Raptors Prospective Depth Chart
PG: Kyle Lowry | Jose Calderon | Josh Lucas
SG: Landry Fields | Terrence Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan | Linas Kleiza | Alan Anderson
PF: Andrea Bargnani | Amir Johnson | Ed Davis | Quincy Acy
C: Jonas Valanciunas | Aaron Gray
The Toronto Raptors are not going to be a very good team but they seem to be doing things the right way. They didn't lose anyone of significance, they got younger and they are pegged to have three new starters on opening night. Although he hasn't played a minute of NBA ball, everyone seems very high on Jonas Valanciunas as a possible impact center. He will probably start from day one as his defense is ahead of his offense and they simply have nothing that can compare to him on the bench.
And the team hasn't just paid lip service to the importance of defense under second-year coach Dwayne Casey. In his first season, Casey was able to knock eight points off their points per 100 possessions, which launched the team from dead last in the NBA in 2010-11 to 14th last season.
Replacing the horrendous defense of Jose Calderon with a nice two-way player like Kyle Lowry will go a long way to shoring up the remaining defensive weak spots on the roster. And the only way that Andrea Bargnani could ever hope to live up to his lofty contract would be if you can surround him with enough quality rebounders and defenders that all he has to do is shoot early, shoot often and make the shots. Because he has proven he can't do much else.
But as was so painfully clear last season the team can't just rely on Bargnani for offense. When he was in their offense was bad and when he went down to injury it were dreadful. Calderon has always been a willing passer but he had no one to give the ball to. Two of their five biggest shot-takers (Leandro Barbosa and James Johnson) are off the team and their offensive contributions will not be missed.
The team way overpaid Landry Fields (three years, $20 million) in an attempt to lure Steve Nash into considering them a worthy destination but it didn't work out. Now Fields stands as the third-highest paid player on the team but if the team behind Calderon (who the team is trying to give away) and Bargnani and will need to fill the quiet stat-filler role he was able to play so effectively in New York. Of course, in New York he was playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire. Now that he won't get so much open space to work with I don't think he'll be nearly as effective.
The team had what the commentariat considered the biggest reach of the 2012 draft in Terrence Ross. He is a jump shooter that has the athleticism to develop into a quality wing defender. But getting your shot off in the NBA is a lot harder than in college and decision-making remains a big question mark. Kind of sounds like Nick Young and would anyone say that Young made a bad Wizards offense particularly better?
The Raptors are a bad team making the slow climb to respectability. They are a few ladder rungs ahead of Detroit but don't have that star to build around. DeRozan and Bargnani have proven to not be that star player and the jury is still out on the intriguing Valanciunas. Still, the team has young talent at every position, some cap room in the near future, have taken a step forward on defense and could conceivably battle for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The danger is that might be their ceiling beyond 2012-13.