By Ryan McNeill
Last Years Record: 27-55
Key Losses: Rafael “Hoffa” Araujo, fan favourite Charlie Villanueva, Matt “Red Rocket” Bonner, Andre Barrett, Antonio Davis, Eric Williams, Loren Woods and Alvin Williams.
Key Additions: Andrea Bargnani, second round pick PJ Tucker, Spanish league MVP Jorge Garbajosa, former first round pick Kris Humphries, former dunk champ Fred Jones, a new starting centre in Rasho Nesterovic, Euro star Anthony Parker and former second round pick Uros Slokar.
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
In the inaugural Hoops Addict magazine writers Dave Randell and Adam Francis wrote in article about the Raptors that Bryan “Colangelo’s short stay thus far parallels the historical renaissance started in Italy – development and innovation which leads to thinking ‘outside the box.’”
This summer instead of going with the traditional mode of getting a lumbering centre to build a team around Colangelo instead elected to build around athletic big man Chris Bosh and paired him up with one of the quickest players in the League in T.J. Ford. Both players grew up in Texas and have a long standing friendship that will pay big dividends on the hardwood this summer.
Another approach that raised some eyebrows this summer was Colangelo’s decision to refrain from giving a free agent a big contract and instead he elected to spread out the Raptors salary cap money on a handful of prominent players that played last season in Europe. Colangelo elected to add Euro stars Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa and Uros Slokar to the roster. None of these players will become stars this season but they will provide the Raptors with a deep bench that they sorely lacked last season. It was this lack of a bench that resulted in Sam Mitchell not having the confidence to rest his starters and by the end of the season Bosh was out with an injury and Peterson was barely hanging in. This year with a deep bench look for Mitchell to keep his startes minutes between 30-35 minutes per game and for his players to be healthy to challenge for a playoff spot at the end of the season.
The final big addition this summer that needs to be talked about was Andrea Bargnani who was the top pick in the draft. Bargnani instantly became the tallest player on the team but his game is perimeter orientated and I expect him to be our small forward of the future. With the Raptors brining him into the fold it made Charlie Villanueva expendable because the two have similar playing styles and Charlie V was shipped to Milwaukee for our new starting point guard, TJ Ford. I feel that Bargnani has a bright future in Toronto but I expect that the Raptors to ease him into the NBA much like they did Villanueva last season. Look for Bargnani to only play him 15-20 minutes per game until the All-Star break and in the second half they will ease him into the starting rotation but his minutes will be limited to 25-30 per game at that point.
2. What is the team’s biggest strength?
A player that stands out amongst the recent influx of European players on the Raptors roster is All-Star forward Chris Bosh. This summer Bosh spent his summer balling with the American National team and it was during the World Championships that Raptors fans got their first look at the new swagger that Bosh is playing with. During his first four seasons as a Raptor he was known as a laid back player on and off the court but this summer he showed a passion and swagger that the Raptors will need from their star player if they are going to make a push for the playoffs this season. Look for Bosh to put up massive numbers this season (20 plus points and over 10 boards per game) and carry the Raptors into the playoffs.
3. What is the team’s biggest weakness?
The team’s only weakness right now is their head coach Sam Mitchell. Last season Mitchell failed to motivate his players to run his offense (you could blame Mike James’ ego for this though) and he was unable to limit the high amount of minutes his starters player which resulted in Chris Bosh missing the end of the season due to injuries and Morris Peterson breaking down as well. I think the biggest change this season is that last season Sam Mitchell looked down his bench only to see Bonner, Sow and Hoffa looking back at him and now he has the benefit of a roster that is 12 players deep. This will allow Sam to lengthen his playing rotation and prevent Peterson and Bosh from playing the 40 minutes per game which resulted in Bosh getting injured and Peterson getting worn down after the All-Star break.
Also worth noting is that many writers that cover the NBA feel that Mitchell is a lame duck coach as it’s the last year of his contract and Phoenix Suns assistant coach Marc Iavaroni will likely be coaching the Raptors this time next year. If the Raptors get off to a slow start in November these rumours will only intensify and possibly distract the franchise.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Bryan Colangelo will tell you that the goal for this team is to improve but I feel a reasonable goal for the Raptors is to make the playoffs this season. Worth noting is that last season the Raptors lost 21 Games by 6 points or less and playing 10 games that went into overtime. I may be overly optimistic but with a deeper bench, the continued maturation of Bosh and a legit floor general in Ford running the offense I think the playoffs are a legit goal for this season. The only think that will prevent this if if they fail to hold onto some of the fourth quarter leads and they squandered fourth quarter leads like they did far too many times last season.
Predicted Record: I’m sticking with my boy Chris Bosh and his prediction for a season where the Raps go 42-40.