By Jeff Wong
Former Toronto Raptors coach Kevin O’Neill once said, “you’re either selling wins or you’re selling hope,” and this franchise was as good a salesman as pathetic ol’ Gill from “The Simpsons.” That is, until now.
Fortunately for faithful followers of the Raptors, the MLSE bigwigs decided enough is enough – let’s get someone good to turn this team around. Even more fortunately, reigning Executive of the Year and GM of the Phoenix Suns Bryan Colangelo decided it was time to move on AND Toronto was the place to move to. Voilà, we have hope in a high collar.
Colangelo is among the best of the best, certainly a step above his predecessors: overwhelmed and underwhelming rookie Rob Babcock; the “nice guy” Glen Grunwald; and now New York disaster Isiah Thomas. He’s got the genes, the accomplishments and the respect of the basketball world. Indeed, Wily Bry wasted no time in flexing his muscles and overhauling this Raptors squad over the summer.
Here’s a rundown on the roster as it stands now, with the nine newcomers in bold and deleted players in brackets.
Point guards: T.J. Ford, Jose Calderon, Darrick Martin (Mike James, Andre Barrett)
While both Ford and Calderon are excellent passers, ranking high last year in assists per 48 minutes (“Calde” at #8 and Ford at #9), both are poor shooters. Darrick Martin returns to the club as the third-string PG, and his efficiency from the arc (40%) is respectable. If Ford or Calde go down for any length of time, though, I’m not sure I want to see “D-Mart” as the backup.
Combo-guard: Fred Jones (Alvin Williams)
Jones is an exciting, athletic player and former dunk contest winner. With the Indiana Pacers, he came off the bench and played in a more conservative system, but with the run-and-gun Raptors, Jones could improve in every category and appear more regularly on the highlight reel. He could play the one in a pinch but, as with Martin, I don’t think that’s an ideal situation.
Swingmen (2/3): Morris Peterson, Anthony Parker (Jalen Rose)
Just like last season, Mo Pete will be on the floor almost constantly. With Jalen Rose, Charlie Villanueva and Matt Bonner gone and his rookie teammates learning the NBA three-point range, shooting from downtown will be his specialty.
In the Euroleague, Parker was a multi-faceted MVP. In the NBA, he is projected by some to play the sixth-man role, and could very well do that with the Raptors. With his myriad of skills, he should see minutes in many different situations.
Small forwards: Joey Graham, P.J. Tucker (Eric Williams)
Graham was expected to be a defensive specialist who powers to the hoop with authority. Last year, however, we saw some hit-and-miss D (expected) and a bunch of attempted long bombs (33.3% made). He seemed to be working on his guard skills during summer league, specifically ball handling and shooting. Hopefully, he can bring all those elements together and meet his expectations.
Tucker is known as an intense, physical player who makes the most of his 6’5″ frame. He’s drawn comparisons to Charles Barkley and Ron Artest for his willingness to play inside and play tough. Some suggest that he’s here to push Graham … or replace him.
Combo-forward: Kris Humphries (Charlie Villanueva)
As a freshman, Humphries impressed with his scoring and rebounding, but Utah tired of him and traded him for Rafael Araujo. Supposedly a suggestion by Sam Mitchell got Humphries in Toronto (or Hoffa out of Toronto). He’s a natural four, but claims to be able to play the three as well. If so, he could get some decent minutes.
Power forward: Uros Slokar (Matt Bonner)
When Slokar was picked 58th overall in 2005, DraftExpress said, “The jury is still out … Sometimes he looks like a much slower version of Nowitzki (or maybe a poor man’s Matt Bonner?), and sometimes he looks soft and timid even by European standards.” In the summer league that same year, Slokar impressed with his rebounding, moving Mitchell to champion his staying in North America. Unfortunately, circumstances required him to return to Benetton Treviso and play sparingly behind Andrea Bargnani. It seems Slokar may very well be stuck behind Bargnani again, but likely he’ll be sent to the D-League instead.
PF/Centres: Chris Bosh, Jorge Garbajosa, Andrea Bargnani, Pape Sow
Bosh is among the top power forwards in the league and ranked in the top 20 in many statistical categories last season, including minutes per game (39.3). He should continue to get the lion’s share of PT at PF but will also play some C to spell the much slower Rasho Nesterovic.
Garbajosa is a Spanish League MVP and now a World Champion but is expected to have a reduced role in the NBA. He will play some four and five, defend and hit some shots from 15-20 feet. It would be great if he could approximate Rasheed Wallace, but that’s not likely, at least not this year.
Bargnani bears the burden of being the first European to be drafted first overall and of being in a long line of Euro-bigs compared to superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Mitchell promised to slowly break him in.
Pape’s out with a broken neck. Shockingly, he’s described as “85 per cent of full capacity” before even training camp has begun, telling Chuck Swirsky that “he’s a month away from intense scrimmage activity.” Nevertheless, Colangelo will err on the side of caution.
Centre: Radoslav Nesterovic (Loren Woods, Rafael Araujo, Aaron Williams, Antonio Davis)
As the team’s only true centre, I suspect Nesterovic will get more minutes than he did with the Spurs. Though slow, he is a good defender and shot-blocker. Having played with some long and lanky PFs in his career (Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan), he should be right at home next to Bosh.
It remains to be seen when and whether this new roster pans out as it’s younger, has less NBA experience and is less capable of hitting the long bomb. However, the Toronto Raptors right now have genuine hope for sale, and I’m willing to buy in.
* On a related note, Clayton Smith at Group Sales was great in helping me buy some tickets for the December game against the Nets. Thanks, Clayton!