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Pumpin’ the Brakes: Examining the Raptors’ New Roadblocks

Thoughts of escaping a road trip unscathed usually end up as wishful thinking. Not to mention lending itself to a team exposing some of its flaws.

The Raptors currently reside under that umbrella, though we can all breath easy knowing the positives to start the year surely outweigh the setbacks encountered over the weekend. Whether or not that’s an overly optimistic point of view in its own right is up for debate but, I’d probably hold off on installing that panic room.

The good news is tonight’s return home offers a chance to regroup, and another opportunity to finally showcase a complete game. It’s early so the brakes should be pumped, but in-game shifts in identity are becoming a concern.

The bad news is the friendly confines of the ACC will be short-lived, as six of their next seven are back on the road, including a five-straight stretch waiting in the wings.

Beginning the year with so much travel does come with an under-the-radar upside, though.

There may not be an analytic formula used to measure team chemistry (not yet anyway), but I firmly believe it should be treated as an advanced stat all the same. With so many new personalities added to the roster, the chance to build a close-knit foundation is there.

The last thing this team needs is for self-indulgence to rear its ugly head more than it already has. But hey, at least it hasn’t reached Lakers’ territory. Though the following does bear a striking resemblance to a few of DeRozan’s offensive shenanigans:

Still, when a squad comes back to town with a two-game slide hanging over their heads, questions need to be addressed.

With that said, should the recent disappointment be given somewhat of a pass? Yes, and no. For as much as we own the right to hold players and coaches accountable, we’ve only just begun gathering intel on what this team can become.

However, that doesn’t mean situations can be overlooked. And two storylines in particular are starting to materialize. Both of which own the potential to become repeated roadblocks as the season progresses. Let’s lead off with the greater of two evils.

Raptors

The Carroll Conundrum

This is purely injury related. And a painful one at that. It just goes to show you the effect Plantar Fasciitis can have when its tolerance threshold claims a player like DeMarre as one of its victims. DC’s reputation of playing through pain rivals anyone in the league, so it can also help explain why Carroll all of a sudden became disengaged at both ends of the court.

If you’ve never owned Albert Pujols or Antonio Gates on your fantasy team, the injury’s knack for lingering can be extremely frustrating, with the need for rest acting as its leading treatment.

This is a chaotic turn of events, and has the potential to wreak havoc on the Raps’ season blueprint. The new-look roster has a chance to make some real noise this year but, when you look at the big picture, a healthy DeMarre is arguably the deciding factor in making it stick.

His absence in Miami was evident, as dysfunction on defense started to set in with the likes of Bosh and Whiteside taking total control by the time the second-half rolled around. Without Carroll managing the wing and help-defending on the blocks, it was almost a forgone conclusion. Shooting an abysmal 15.8% on attempts from downtown and constantly getting caught in transition didn’t help matters, either.

If a silver lining popped up, it was the chance given to JJ to once again prove he’s worthy of a rotation spot. Though to most of us he’s already gone above and beyond any audition process.

But the lineup is built in a way that makes Carroll the vital cog. Take JJ’s energy and passing skills, mix it with the shooting prowess of Patterson and Ross, then throw in the rebounding assistance of Louis Scola, and you have a skill-set Carroll already owns. Add DC’s cutting ability and defensive mindset on top and you essentially get the attributes of five different players from one spot on any given possession. Which goes a long way in the Raps forming their now feared around the league closing lineup of CoJo, K-Low, DD, DC, and JV.

As I write this piece, Carroll’s status for Tuesday remains unclear. The smart money says he sits for a few more games, or maybe even through the upcoming road trip. But when he does reappear, and if the injury is deemed manageable, can he still be his usual self? Will his minutes be limited?

In the short-term, one can’t help but be skeptical. And if the goal is long-term success, why not let the injury heal? Well, because the Raps might not get the chance to see that success through if Carroll doesn’t try to play through the injury all season.

Terrence Ross to the rescue? Well, before we can dream big, his matters at hand need to be dealt with first.

Raptors

The Ross Column

In many ways, what’s old is new again. The appearance of “Terry”, the non-tentative version of Ross, has seemingly decided to go back into hiding.

Creating a buzz isn’t out of the ordinary for Ross, with hints of his upside popping up on random occasions, but neither is Ross pulling the plug on his own performance.

Don’t worry if you keep taking the bait, I’m right there with you. Though this time around, I propose we view Ross in a different manner.

Looking past his potential (though he has it in spades), and treating him like what he might ultimately become (a journeyman heat-check shooter), could leave us with an actual appreciation for what he brings to the table.

I get it, though, his recently signed contract makes that easier said than done. I also get the argument that next year’s rising cap, which should simmer the noise of an overpay, still can’t be seen as his saving grace.

Patterson’s lack of bench contributions haven’t done Ross any favors in terms of his own being magnified. And the level of disappointment has reached its peak when you consider the timing of Ross’ most recent letdown.

Nobody was expecting a world-beater, hell, all we wanted was a sign that Ross was at least looking to show he wanted to earn his payday. Yet the response his play has suggested basically amounts to a shoulder shrug, and arguably a regression.

Despite a few early flashes against Dallas that helped keep the faith afloat, he’s been as hesitant as we’ve ever seen him since. Highlighted by going 3-for-19 from the field in his last four games, and zero trips to the line over his last five.

Some would argue it’s too small of a sample size to judge someone especially when spurts of above average production have been on display. Well, it’s now his 4th year of employment, and I’m basically repeating a story told in each of the last two seasons. I could argue the sample size is gigantic.

I choose, however, to remain against the grain. Amidst all this negativity, I still back the signing. Not just because his deal will soon look a lot cheaper, it’s also the flexibility that it offers.

DeRozan’s contract situation is cloudy at best, so locking up what could be a potential need moving forward was a calculated and preemptive strike. A possible scenario could play out where Ross’ future role is more or less the same as it is now, but he’d be backing up Norman Powell instead. And as much as I have every confidence that Powell will become a lineup fixture, he seemingly won’t be given a chance at real minutes anytime soon.

There’s also Ross’ perceived value. Just because Ross is signed, that doesn’t mean he can’t be shipped out in same sentence. In a landscape where his contract is recognized as economic friendly, Masai has made it possible that he’d have to pull minimal strings to move it.

You can’t bench him if you want his perceived value to stay where it is, but at the same time, you can’t exactly justify extended minutes if his slide continues. Tuesday night is ripe with opportunity, Terry. I mean, Terrence.

To help send some good vibes his way, here’s a little blast from the past.

History / Miscellaneous Items

When you combine the club’s recent 20-year anniversary of their first-ever game played with the Knicks being on tonight’s schedule, it’s only fitting to revisit 1946. A night which featured the Knickerbockers visiting Maple Leaf Gardens to take on the Toronto Huskies in the league’s first-ever game played of its own.

History such as this deserves much more than just a mention, and perhaps I’ll hit you with that another time. Even if it’s just written for the sake of covering Frank Biasatti, the only Canadian that suited up.

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As far as tonight goes, let’s just hope Kristaps Porzingis’ theme song isn’t trending on Twitter by the time the final buzzer sounds. Though I have to admit, it’s an instant classic.

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