Toronto Raptors Should Pray They Don’t Return to Mediocrity

February 26, 2009

by David Aaron Lindsay… With the hope and/or changes that the trade deadline provided now basically gone, I think it’s time to think about what those changes mean to the franchise going forward and what would be in their best interest for the rest of the year.

I would argue that a horrible start to this season would be a terrible thing to waste. As Raptors fans, we’ve already been through the disappointment and letdown that was the first half of this season. This also has absolutely nothing to do with the evaluation of the success or failure of the Marion/O’Neal deal going forward.

When you examine the current state of the Raptors a couple of things jump out at you. First off, honestly, what is the best case scenario for this year? We would probably have to win over two-thirds of our remaining games to get even a sniff of the playoffs.

And then, once we were there, what could we honestly expect when, as the seventh or eighth seed, we would draw a powerhouse such as Boston or Cleveland? (Against whom we would stand absolutely no chance.) Would a first round beatdown against a far superior team really help in the development of our so-called young players?

I just don’t see the benefit of getting in and then getting trounced. I’m sorry, but I don’t.

That means this year is basically a washout whether we get into the playoffs or not. And what is one of the only possible positives that could come from a lost season? A really good draft pick, that’s what.

Let me ask you this: Would you rather make the playoffs (barely), get beat down quickly, and end up with the 16th, 17th, or 18th overall pick? Or would you rather just throw it in cruise control and shoot for a top fourth, fifth, or sixth pick that could be legitimately critical to our future success? (Things such as getting Bosh that little extra rest and making sure guys are completely healthy could go a long way.)

If nothing else (and don’t mistake this for me hating on Bosh, because I am still in his corner, and we need him going forward), haven’t we learned that Bosh isn’t going to get us over the top without an elite level wing player to help?

Marion, even if we re-sign him, can hardly be considered that player. His body of work proves that while he is a nice player, he isn’t that third-spoke-in-the-wheel kind of guy.

He couldn’t help the Suns get over the top with Nash winning MVPs and Amar’e playing the role of Bosh, so we cannot reasonably expect him to do it with this cast of characters.

I wouldn’t mind retaining Marion going forward for something in the $6 to $7 million range (which is likely unrealistic), but anything more than that and I’m taking a pass.

There were high hopes for this year, and I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that would analyze this Raptors season as anything other than purely underachieving. So we’re likely going to be better next year almost by default.

Take this rare opportunity and nab one more really high draft pick to add to this core. If we could get to the four to six range we could realistically end up with a Brandon Roy or Danny Granger type.

In my opinion, it’s really our only shot at taking the next big “step.” The Wades, LeBrons, Carmelos, and Roys of the world almost never end up in free agency, and we all know what happens when they are scheduled to: Big cities and teams start clearing the decks for them.

What would be our legitimate chances at luring one of those guys here? One percent? Less than that? Probably.

This draft does seem to contain some promising wing players. That Harden kid out of ASU would be a great fit, I think. Although most mocks have him in the top three, some people think he could fall to four or five depending on which three teams are in the top three just based on their needs.

Aminu out of Wake also looks like a good athletic wing with an NBA body, although he is not as offensively polished. Even DeRozen out of USC, who is more of a project, seems to have loads of potential.

But I’m not here to anoint the “guy” we should take—that’s what Colangelo gets the big bucks for. I am just here to say that I have come to terms with the Raptors’ 2008-09 season and that I am okay with being bad the rest of the year if it means that I have legitimate hope for the future.

So, there it is. While I cannot bring myself to openly cheer for losses as I much prefer to watch them win games, I am finding solace in each loss from here on out.

Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors: Match Maker

January 2, 2009

by David Aaron Lindsay… Here’s a crazy idea, and I KNOW I will get some real flak from both sides for this, but hear me out here and then make your final judgment.

Toronto Raptors trade Andrea Bargnani, Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, Will Solomon and their 2009 first round pick.

Golden State trades Corey Maggette, Marcus Williams, Marco Belinelli and Brandon Wright.

First let’s evaluate pure feasibility. Right off the top, this deal wouldn’t be able to be approved until after Dec. 15 because that is the earliest that players who signed in the offseason can be traded.

This could also help explain why the Raptors made the coaching move now; to see how they perform with the current roster before those signed become available for trade.

Secondly, dollars. The Raptors would be sending over about $14 million in contracts with Golden State sending back about $13.5 million. So the Warriors’ owe slightly more money immediately, but save money in the long run as all the players coming in have short deals or deals that expire at the end of the year. Either way, the money works.

Toronto Raptors Perspective:

The Raptors are built to win. And more importantly NEED to win now. If we don’t start winning and winning fairly big now, then we can guarantee Bosh will be saying bye-bye in two years.

O’Neal is not getting any younger, and while some people have been down on him, I actually think he has been pretty good and is definitely further along than I thought he would be at this point. So this satisfies that criteria for us. Not only does the trade make us deeper right away, but it makes our starting five more balanced as well.

Maggette is a solid defender at small forward, plus he gives us another scoring option that isn’t afraid to take it to the rack.

Williams gives us a solid backup PG that has recent NBA experience.

Belinelli is a European player and great shooter that I know the Raptors were high on when he came out.

Wright is a versatile front court player that slides in behind Bosh and could also get some time backing up the three. He is still very raw but we really don’t need to get a lot out of him right away.

The Raps Depth Chart would look something like this:

PG: Calderon, Williams, Ukic
SG: Parker, Belinelli, Adams
SF: Maggette, Moon, Wright
PF: Bosh, Wright, Hump
C: O’Neal, Hump

This lineup makes me feel a whole lot better when thinking about if the team can compete in the East this year.

Sure Bargnani has looked like he is starting to figure things out, but let’s be realistic here folks, he isn’t a SF and Bosh will always will be blocking him at PF, where he belongs. He is also probably another year or two away from developing his talents and by that time, what are we really left with?

You HAVE to give up something to get something and he is the only logical choice.

Kapono has never really fit in Toronto but could be valuable in the right system.

Graham and Solomon are more for contract purposes to make the money work.

I don’t like dealing another first rounder, but we need to win now, not three years from now when that first rounder will be able to contribute.

From the Warriors perspective:

Golden State is off to a terrible start. They are in, and should be in, full rebuild mold. Nellie says he is sticking around for the rebuild, so the Warriors need to bring in players that are going to fit his system.

By acquiring Jamal Crawford, they further congested their wing situation. Anthony Morrow looks like he has real potential and needs to have more playing time. This really helps by taking Maggette out of the equation. Maggette has a long-term contract and is a player that “needs his minutes”.

Bargnani has been referred to as Dirk-like right? (Due to a similar skill set). So who better to guide Bargnani in his early years than the coach that helped develop Dirk. I think Barney is the kind of PF that fits Nellie’s system as well. With Biedrins proving that he’s a defensive force at center, Bargani would be able to play at his natural PF position.

Kapono is another player who seems to fit Nellie’s run and gun style. He is one of, if not the best, three-point shooter in the league and Nellie’s teams always throw up a boat load of those.

Graham and Solomon would just be bench fillers and depth options at best.

The first rounder gives Golden State a chance to add more youth for the future of the franchise next summer.

The Warriors depth chart would look something like this:

PG: Crawford/Ellis (When he’s healthy), Watson, Nelson, Solomon
SG: Jackson, Morrow, Watson
SF: Azubuike, Kapono, Randolph, Graham
PF: Bargnani, Randolph, Kurz, Hendrix
C: Biedrins, Turiaf

Now that’s a run and gun lineup that could take advantage of Nellie’s style.

Signing Maggette was probably a mistake for the team to begin with. The Warriors were already deep at that position. In addition he’s not a signing you make if you’re building for the future. They would probably relish the opportunity to undo this transgression.

Williams obviously has fallen out of favor with Nellie as he barely sees the court and doesn’t appear to be part of their long term vision.

Belinelli might be Nellie’s kind of player but again, with acquiring Crawford, the Warriors are over-stocked at that position. In addition, Watson seems to be performing well and Morrow looks like he may have passed him on the depth chart.

Wright also doesn’t appear to be a favorite of Nellie. I mean, the Warriors don’t have a lot of depth at power forward and his minutes are some of the most sporadic in the league.

I don’t know whether I have convinced you or not, and obviously no one of any consequence is paying attention. But this seems like one of those rare opportunities where both teams could end up getting exactly what they need and want. Let me know what you think below.

Trade Vernon Wells to the New York Yankees…NOW

December 25, 2008

by David Aaron Lindsay… It’s been well documented that, this offseason, the New York Yankees have been seeking a new CF. There had been several reports over the past week that the Yankees had reached an agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire Mike Cameron. Now today, there are several reports out stating that those talks are now dead.

Now, I realize that the main alternative being speculated about is that the Yankees will now make a push for Ramirez and move Damon back to CF. I, however, would propose a different alternative.

The Toronto Blue Jays should make a concerted effort to trade them Vernon Wells now. The will likely be a very small window of opportunity here, as I am sure the Yankees will solve the CF dilemma at some point this offseason.

Wells’ contract is brutal and is absolutely handcuffing the Jays from addressing their other needs. They already have a very good replacement for Wells in Alexis Rios. There is a glut of corner OF’s available in the free agent market this year, so replacing Rios in RF should not be prohibitively difficult.

Whereas I suspect the list of teams that could absorb most, if not all, of Wells’ contract, is probably a list of One; the Yankees.

I’m not even advocating that the Jays seek prospects in return. If it were up to me, I would literally take a bullpen catcher in return if the Jays could expunge the Wells contract from their books.

This is not a case of what he would net the Jays in return, but a case of the flexibility they would gain to address areas of greater need by the money they would be saving.

This sort of thing might be hard for some Jays’ fans to swallow. It would be trading with a hated division rival.

To some people, it may seem like the white flag for 2009. But as I have already stated, I feel confident in the assumption that unless we were willing to eat $10 million a year, there aren’t any other teams that would be interested, and if we had to eat that much of the contract we might as well keep him.

Secondly, it wouldn’t be as much of a white flag as some might initially think. We have a CF already plus we’d have the financial freedom to try and address the rotation as well as our shortcomings at shortstop. So there it is, my brief proposal for the trading of Vernon Wells to the New York Yankees.

What Jermaine O’Neal Actually Means to the Toronto Raptors

November 5, 2008

by David Aaron Lindsay… There definitely hasn’t been any shortage of analysis on what Jermaine O’Neal may or may not bring to the Raptors this year.

However, there is a common theme in most of the analysis I have come across that simply baffles me—the idea that JO would only have a major impact on the club if he is able to return to 20-10 form.

I got news for ya.  If JO returned to 20-10 form the Raptors would be the odds on favorite to win it all, not just improve slightly. Nobody—and I mean nobody —has two 20-10 guys in today’s NBA. I went back to 2001 (as far back as ESPN has readily available) and NOT ONE team has had two guys even average 10 rebounds in the same season, let alone 20 and 10 each.

I’m going to focus on the rebounds portion of this analysis because there are numerous teams that have had two guys average more than 20 points a game with little correlation to overall success.

The closest teams to having two 10 rpg guys were as follows:

‘06-07 Suns: Marion and Amare averaged just under 10 rebounds each. That team, won 61 games—and had a rough (and questionable) playoff exit.

‘05-06 Clippers: Brand was right at 10 boards a game, with Kaman slightly under at 9.6. That team won a respectable 47 games in a year where there were two 60-win teams and a Suns team that put up 54 wins in the same conference. They also lacked a true point guard, which the playoffs exposed.

‘04-05 Heat: Shaq pulled down 10.4 and Haslem added just over nine. This team won 59 games that year, and won the championship the following year with basically the same team.

‘04-05 Suns: Marion pulled down 11.4 that year, with Amare right around nine. That team won 62 games and made the West Finals.

So basically, in the last eight or so years, there have been four teams that have come close to having two guys average 10 boards a night. All four experienced a great deal of success (except maybe the Clippers) in the regular season, with other deficiencies eventually killing them in the playoffs.

The thing I take from this is, that even if JO where completely healthy and in his prime, it would be nearly impossible for two guys on the same team to put up 20-10. That’s not to say they both don’t have the ability to do so, just that there isn’t enough ball to go around on a nightly basis for both guys to average this over the entire regular season.

If this ever happened, I am quite confident that we woudn’t be looking at just a good team or a great team, but a once-in-a-lifetime team. I just don’t see the precedence for any conclusion to the contrary.

So for people to yap their mouths about how O’Neal needs to put up 20-10 beside Bosh for them to be legitimate contenders—well, that just doesn’t stand up to logic.

Personally, I think the Raptors could be extremely competitive with a simple 12 ppg, 7 rpg and 1.5 bpg stat line outta JO, and if he were ever able to put up 15 ppg, 8.5 rbg and 2 bpg, I think their win total would easily be in the mid 50s, and Toronto would become serious contenders to come out of the east.

In my opinion, people are just overstating what he needs to contribute to the Raptors for them to really take a step forward. In the NBA, you are typically only as good as your “big three” will let you be.

Everyone is crowing about how the 76ers are a sleeper in the East this year, with a big three of Brand (peaked equally with JO, with just as many health questions this year), Iguodala (most people consider a complimentary player and not “the guy”) and Dalembert (so far a one-year wonder, with that one year coming with an otherwise bare frontcourt).

I think the Raptors have a much higher probability of being the sleeper team in the East with potential, if all goes right, to really wreak havoc in the playoffs. They have a big three of Bosh (coming off a life-altering Olympic experience and poised to take it to the next level), Calderon (a consensus top-five point guard who takes care of the ball better than anyone) and O’Neal (a former All-Star and 20-10 guy who has lots of questions around him but is only being asked to be the third fiddle).

So I just wish everyone would quit spewing this dribble about JO needing 20-10 to have an impact.  It just isn’t happening, whether he’s healthy or not—and I’m here to tell you it won’t be the end of the world.

Toronto Blue Jays Offseason Note: Improving the Rogers Centre

November 1, 2008

by David Aaron Lindsay… Don’t get me wrong, Rogers has done a pretty decent job of improving the Rogers Centre baseball experience since they purchased the stadium four years ago. But take it from a relative local; there are still lots of complaints about the stadium and even the odd unrealistic call from fans for a new stadium. This simply will not happen for quite some time. So that leaves the only option being how to improve it.

The main way I would improve the Dome would be to replace all the seats. I would look into brand new seats that were wider than the existing seats (I don’t even care if they all have padding or not, just make them wider). The seats are my No. 1 complaint from every game I have ever been to at the Dome; they honestly feel like they are six inches wide. What are we, sardines?

All it really takes is some guy beside you that is a reasonable 220 and all of a sudden you feel like you accidentally landed yourself on a charter flight with the Japanese sumo team and you’re in economy (and not with the coaches). Trust me, you don’t even want to know what it’s like if you lose the ticket “lottery” and end up beside a guy weighing 300-plus. (I’ve honestly gone and sat in open seats that were in a worse area to get some semblance of comfort).

Bottom line, the seats are nowhere near wide enough right now, not even close. Of course I am overstating a bit, but anyone who has been there live knows what I am talking about. Even my girlfriend, who is not a baseball fan but actually enjoys being there live, wonders whether the seats were designed for Oompa Loompas.

This would actually solve one of the other big problems with the dome; not enough people go and the place looks empty. Let’s do a little quick match. Current baseball capacity is around 50,000 at Rogers Centre, so if the current seats are 15 inches wide (just a guess) and you increase them to 18 inches wide that is 20 percent increase in seat space. Those three extra inches can make a huge difference in seating comfort (Just ask anyone who has sat in both a Pinto and a Cadillac).

Increasing the seat size by 20 percent would then decrease your overall capacity by 20 percent; meaning your new baseball capacity would be around 40,000. Now, if this were the early ’90s, that’s nowhere near enough seats. But when was the last time the Jays drew 40,000-plus on a regular basis? Probably 1995.

Also, look at the capacities of any of the new ballparks being built; Citi Field (Mets) has 41,000 seats and Target Field (Twins) has 40,000 seats. Or look at existing parks that were built recently, like PNC Park (Pirates), which has 38,500 and Nationals Park (Nationals), which has 41,000. So basically any team that is not the Yankees is pretty much shooting for somewhere in the 40,000 range. All of a sudden if you get crowds in the 30,000 range, (which is around the yearly average in recently), you are looking at having the place 75 percent full instead of 60 percent.

That makes a pretty substantial optical difference. Also, if the Jays ever were able to get Toronto baseball-crazy and selling out again, you would have supply and demand forces at work enabling you to increase prices substantially.

I would love this, and would honestly make an effort to go to a lot more games live (not to mention it would be an easier sell to the girlfriend). I would gladly pay a couple extra bucks per ticket for these new seats (of course while I was at it, I’d also put cup holders on ever seat, but I don’t want to get too greedy here).

Basically you have to improve your in-person game experience for the average baseball fan if you want to increase attendance. I am by no means an average fan, but this still affects my decision making process. I can’t imagine what it must do to someone who is on the fence.

Today, with big screen HDTVs (which didn’t exist in the early ’90s) and that comfy sofa calling your name, why would anyone ever leave the comforts of home to be stuffed into some seat that is barely wider than your ass, only to take a chance that you might get seated next to Shamu at feeding time? This is a no-brainer to me; I think this is the one change they could make that would have the single biggest positive influence on my happiness and opinion of the live baseball experience at Rogers Centre.

What do you think as a Blue Jays fan who has attended a game at Rogers Centre? Do you agree with me? Disagree? What improvements would you make? I’d love to read everyone’s take on how to improve the game day experience. Please comment below.

Toronto Raptors: Post-Preseason Bench Analysis

October 28, 2008

by David Aaron Lindsay… http://arsenalist.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/raptors-fans.jpgLast year, one of the Toronto Raptors’ main strengths that helped carry them throughout the year was their overall depth. Can the same thing be said for this year’s bench? How will the tweaks affect this year’s dynamic? Will Bargnani show improvement based solely on experience?

Let’s take a look at these questions and figure out where this year’s bench will help and/or hinder the Raptors’ 2008-09 season.

Point Guard

Last year this was by far the Raptors’ deepest position and a major source of strength for the club. When healthy, they were by far the deepest team in the league at PG. Not only did they have a top 10 PG starting, but they were running out a top 10 PG as a backup. This year is a completely different story.

Sure, you have to deal from an area of strength to improve other areas of your team, but by dealing T.J. Ford to acquire Jermaine O’Neal, they basically decimated their PG depth. Calderon is, arguably, a top five PG in the league. His backups, however, are nothing but question marks.

Roko Ukic

Even though I think the Raps start the season with Solomon as the first guy off the bench, I think Ukic will grab that role by midseason (maybe slightly after). There is only one word to describe this guy: raw—and that’s after three or so years of seasoning in Europe.

From the preseason action I caught, he seemed to be able to drive off the dribble with some efficiency, but he didn’t take care of the ball all that well and really seems to be struggling to adapt to the overall speed of the NBA game. He needs to develop a high game IQ to be successful.

The good news on that front is, from everything I have read anyways, he asks a lot of questions and is by no means disillusioned about his current ability.

Will Solomon

This guy has a lot of question marks surrounding him as well, but for different reasons than Ukic. Being six years older than Ukic and possessing some brief NBA experience you would expect him to adapt more quickly.

However, Solomon was a featured player for most of his European stops and seems to be having some difficulty accepting a much more reserved role for the Raptors. Again, from the brief action I have seen, he definitely is more T.J. than Jose.

He definitely likes to assert himself within the offense and, in my opinion, tries to do too much himself rather than be a facilitator for the established scoring threats with whom he shares the court.

He could prove me wrong, but I really haven’t seen anything (even flashes), that indicate he will be anything more than a one and done type and be back in Europe after failing to resuscitate his NBA career.

Shooting Guard

This is probably the second greatest area of concern for the Raptors. Losing Delfino and his versatility is without a doubt the second biggest hit to our bench depth. The second main component here is whether or not you consider Kapono as an SG backup as well.

Technically he is an SF and always has been, but with Hassan Adams as basically our only “true” SG backup, I can’t help but suspect that we will see some looks where Kapono is playing the SG position on the floor with Joey at SF.

Hassan Adams

Adams is sort of an intriguing player. Not only because he is still just 24, but because he also came out of a strong program in Arizona—with a coach that has a history of producing good NBA wing players in Lute Olsen.

If he could improve his conditioning I could see him developing into a poor man’s Jason Terry to provide some solid minutes off the bench. Having said that, he has already bounced around quite a bit for a player his age, and obviously there are some things to dislike if he’s on his third NBA team in three years.

The other possibility is that he is just a “system” type player and may not have fit well into the Nets’ and Cavs’ systems. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to Mitchell’s style and integrates with our bench.

Overall though, even if Kapono gives the Raps some SG minutes, I foresee the SG reserves becoming an area of weakness.

SF

This should be a source of relative depth on an otherwise shallow bench, even with the loss of Delfino (even though Delfino was more of a guard for the Raps last year). Kapono and Graham should be a nice one-two punch coming off the bench.

They both have their own distinct looks and should provide Mitchell with some flexibility. Kapono will likely be first off the bench in most cases, with Graham filling more of a situation role.

Jason Kapono

What can you really say about the guy that hasn’t already been said. He is a sharp shooter from long range and should benefit from more consistent playing time stemming from the loss of Delfino.

The key for him, as always, will be his ability and the ability of the second unit to get him some open looks. I also suspect he will see some minutes with the starting unit when the matchups dictate. He will probably see the second most minutes of any reserve, behind only Bargnani.

Joey Graham

Again, here is a player whose analysis from over the past two years could probably be cut and paste and it would still be accurate. He is something of an enigma. Flashes of brilliance mixed with flashes of Stephen (his twin bro who bounces from team to team).

Like always, if he could ever find some consistency, he could actually turn into a decent starting SF.

Will this be the year? Or will it be the same Joey from the past two years who is destined to play out 2008-09 and be non-tendered next summer? Only time will tell, but judging by his limited preseason action, not much has changed.

PF/C

I will group these two positions as there is probably no true C backup outside of Nathan Jawai—who has hardly seen the inside of a gym so far, let alone game action. If you considered Rasho the true starter last year, then personnel wise there is little to no change up front with both Bargnani and Humphries back.

Baston is gone, but was he ever really here?

Andrea Bargnani

I don’t want to get overly excited as it is just the preseason, but he looks like a completely different player from last year. He is bigger, he exudes confidence, and he seems to have accepted the fact that, due to his sheer size, he has to grab some rebounds for him to have a consistent role on any team, not just the Raptors.

I really like him going into this year and I believe he has the potential, not only for a breakout year, but for possible “sixth man of the year” consideration.

The pressure’s off this year. He will be consistently facing backups and he might even get some looks with Bosh, O’Neal, and he on the floor at the same time—which means there will be no one left on the court with enough size to guard him.

Really, watch out for him. I think he is a HUGE sleeper, and easily our first guy off the bench.
Kris Humphries

What can you really say about Hump? The guy has almost single-handedly salvaged the Araujo pick by turning that piece of garbage into something—anything—of value.

Not to say that Hump would have been the better pick at six than Araujo, but considering the Araujo mistake was made, it was a relative miracle that the Raps were able to turn him into anything remotely useful.

We all know what you get out of Hump. He is a bundle of energy who tries really hard. He might not have the most talent in the world, but he makes the most of what he’s got. The only thing he might be guilty of is trying to do too much at times.

He absolutely can turn into a human vacuum down low, and I’ve heard the only way to get him to pass you the ball is to hold your arms in the shape of the rim and trick him into “shooting” at you. But seriously, the guy just needs to pass a little more often.

He’s got some good low post moves, but he needs to get better at recognizing double teams and/or cases where he is simply over-matched and not try to force things.

I think with Bosh and O’Neal primed for big minutes up front, Bargnani and Hump can provide more than enough depth off the bench. Where the Raps were lacking depth up front last year, I would consider it a rare source of strength this year.

Overall, the Raptors had better pray that they have got the right starting five in place. Outside of Bargnani (and even he is no guarantee), Kapono is about the only other legitimate difference maker.

I honestly don’t think you can count on anyone else on that bench for meaningful minutes in meaningful games. You might get flashes or fluke performances once and a while out of some of them, but I think bench consistency will be the biggest ongoing theme this entire season.