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Best of Both Worlds: Featuring Masai’s Master Plan(s)

Raptors

A look at two season scenarios. A new level of success, or another playoff collapse. Either way, Masai Ujiri has installed a bright future.

If you’re still reeling from yesterday’s baseball drama, you’re not alone. With that in mind, I’ll now attempt to pen a positive spin on this city’s basketball squad.

Which on the surface, exists as wishful thinking to some. Specifically speaking to the contingent of fans who refuse to welcome an impartial approach. But as we dig deeper into the grand scheme, it will become increasingly clear that the two scenarios looming over the upcoming season (even though their outcomes reside on opposite ends of the spectrum) really do represent the best of both worlds. Which in turn, directs a deserved round of applause towards Raptors’ GM, Masai Ujiri.

Let’s not get it twisted, though, as my rooting interest still firmly lies with witnessing this reshuffled roster soar to new heights. And I stand by my recent prediction of the Raps advancing into the second round, even with the masses seemingly setting up shop in the opposing camp.

Side note: I can only imagine the amount of people who got burned by the time slots given to the Jays’ first two playoff games. If one of your first reactions was a feeling of déjà vu, then we think alike. As for the Raps, they’ve received similar treatment two-years running. A lack of U.S. interest in watching a Canadian-based team compete is understandable but, after a while, it begins to grow to insulting levels when not given a proper chance to shine.

Still, it just adds fuel to the fire. As in a way, teams north of the border have a built-in advantage. An “us against the world” mentality can surely aid a team’s performance while encouraging a hardcore following at the same time.

Now, for my aforementioned prediction to come true, and for this season to end up a success, many factors must eventually work in unison. All of which have been discussed in-depth throughout the offseason, so i’ll offer up my own personal Coles Notes version mixed with elements of the preseason. Ujiri’s current construction offers plenty of optimism.

Raptors

Plan A: A Cheat Sheet of Hope

  • K-Low’s performance has been so impressive that I’m tempted to throw the “preseason grain of salt” reference out of this discussion. So far, Lowry is as energetic as we’ve ever seen him while combining his usual score-at-all-costs mindset with a renewed sense of spreading the wealth. It was one thing to come into camp with a reinvented physique, but it’s another to have one’s on-court decision-making follow suit. If an 8-to-2 AST/TO ratio and 18 Free Throw Attempts in just over 47 minutes of action is how he’s going to begin answering his critics, we could be about to witness the restoration project we’ve all been waiting for.
  • DeRozan doesn’t exactly share Lowry’s current vote of confidence. DeMar still owns the potential to transform into a true game changer, though. The first order of business to get there: aid the offensive flow instead of holding it hostage. Ill-timed and prolonged ball-handling have resulted in too many fallback one-on-ones that end up becoming one-on-threes. Forcing the flow has put him in danger of becoming a career spurt-scorer, but DeRozan is capable of so much more. This ongoing saga can be helped with more time at the 3-spot in his near future, however. Though his contract status will do its best to get in the way. There might not be enough time for DD to prove his true value.
  • By all accounts, we’re finally going to see Valanciunas receive a more substantial opportunity to cement himself as a cornerstone of this franchise. Even though “JV-Smooth” would only become his nickname the same way a group of friends would call their 6-foot-10 buddy “Tiny”, encouraging signs of expanding his limitations are beginning to occur. Any semblance of an outside shot can skyrocket not only JV’s production but that of the entire offensive unit. Not to mention taking charge on the glass and an uptick in blocks belonging in the same conversation. A 7-foot, 265-pound frame is not meant to be a timid presence. But of course, the minutes must stay consistent, frustrating stretches and all.
  • When we look back at the Carroll signing, it may go down as a franchise-changing acquisition. Small sample sizes take a backseat when so many attributes are on a display at one time. The praise he earned over the course of his time in Atlanta have the makings of an undersell, even with such a lucrative contract handed out. A once viewed complimentary addition is currently screaming versatility. A rare description when it comes to a Raps’ roster member, one who actually relishes a defensive assignment. This is going to be fun to watch.
  • What about T-Ross’ back and forth swings? Well, when fellow Republic writer, Matt Shantz drops a gem like the Terrence Ross Belief Chart, there’s no need to elaborate.

That may have ended up as the essay edition of Coles Notes, but the Raps are a sensitive subject, what can I say.

I left out the defense and Power Forward position in this section for a reason. Both are pivotal parts of the success equation, but they also open up the other end of this dialogue. Otherwise known as:

Raptors

Plan B: Light at the End of a Potential Collapse 

The Power Forward spot has a chance to flourish if Casey and company know when to push and when to pull back. We’ll get to see just how creative and progressive this coaching staff can be. But as the flipside suggests, as well as another fellow Republic member, Tim Chisholm breaks down, it isn’t without a host of potential problems.

The same premise relates to team defense. The now infamous sighting of Toronto “icing” pick-and-rolls has wet the appetite for what can be accomplished. As the ‘ICE’ philosophy advocates: forcing ball handlers to the baseline, or depending on where the screen takes place, negating (or at least, stalling) the opposition’s ability to continue off the pick would work wonders for the Raps’ annual rotation miscues. Hell, it may even help cure DeRozan’s ill-advised mid-rangers if he’s helping to force offenses into taking them, thus seeing how inefficient they can be.

But even with Carroll bringing a wake-up call on the defensive end, do we have faith that attention to detail such as this can last for the long haul? Recent history says old habits always come back to haunt, so the new overall defensive mandate ought to be viewed as a work in progress. A telling sign will be the first couple of times the Raps are down double-digits in the middle of the third quarter and have them not succumb to a sellout on both ends. Chucking up threes with no potential rebounders and mad scrambling in their own end are not easy habits to break. Not to mention the lack of confidence instilled by Casey when it comes to controlling a slippery situation.

Which leads us to the big picture. With so many moving parts, an eventual downward spiral is highly possible.

Let’s now bring Masai back in.

Any quality GM operates while thinking numerous steps ahead, and while Ujiri has gone above and beyond installing pieces that promise to help lead this club to its most stable season in years, pieces are also in place if that competitiveness ends up going south.

First, the soon to be expiring, and moveable assets. Paterson hits Unrestricted Free Agency in 2017, James johnson and Scola as soon as next season (though something tells me the latter will be back for another round at a very affordable price), and last and sometimes least, Ross becomes restricted as soon as the year is out.

The working theory being that the frontcourt was not made a priority simply because the master plan all along was to make a play for an upper-tier name(s) the following year. Combine those names available with the upcoming cap spike, and it’s an easy notion to get behind. To name a few of the unrestricted FA’s: Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Al Jefferson, and Hassan Whiteside. Or if Masai really wants to make a splash, a restricted name like Andre Drummond could be on the table.

The working theory refuting that suggestion is DeRozan’s impending contract situation, as even with the influx of new revenue league wide, DeMar will surely net a max-type deal, putting a damper on any hopes for any high-priced name coming to T.O. Well, let’s see what else Plan B has to offer.

Parts of which are already in place. A locked up two-way small forward, a newly drafted backcourt duo joined by an underrated (at the time) Free Agent, one with a defensive, pass-first mindset, the other two impressing more and more each time out, and a re-upped Center with upside to spare. It also looks like Lowry, who one could have formerly argued was existing on borrowed time, might even be working his way towards an extension. With an asterisk of we’ve-been-burned-before attached.

Would DeRozan’s future services then be deemed essential by the time Joseph,Powell, and Wright are ready for full-time duty? Only Powell can match DeMar position wise, but at that point, the money that would be spent on DD could go towards a much more needed area.

If Masai is the astute executive I’m portraying him to be, he wouldn’t want to lose him for nothing, he would not want to awaken the ghosts of Bryan Colangelo. Let’s just say that if DeRozan doesn’t unlock his next level soon, an extended stay back home in L.A. could very well be in his future.

With the season not yet started, Plan B is only a what-if at this point, while Plan A still holds my faith. But if a second-half swoon ensues, it will be interesting to see what avenue Masai travels. Either way, just remember the future remains bright regardless.

By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

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