A turning point for the Toronto Raptors

February 13, 2012

By Jack Maidment

After playing with the kind of lethargy normally associated with a morgue employee, the Toronto Raptors found themselves in a familiar 21-6 hole early against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon.

They were doing everything they were supposed to: not playing defense, not making shots, not really doing much of anything.

Just as advertised.

The offensively challenged Lakers proceeded to pour in 34 points in the first quarter, a season high for an opponent of the Raptors. Oh, and Kobe was scoreless.

What happened next was deeply surprising and for those who doubt the veracity of the Mayan 2012 prophecy perhaps a little worrying.

The Raptors gave the Los Angeles Lakers a game. An actual game with lead changes and everything. Unbelievable.

Toronto have been in the NBA basement for so long that writers could feel confident copy and pasting season projections for years: Replace Bosh with Barnani, Carter with DeRozan, cap up the word ‘soft’.

But on Sunday lunchtime the Raptors did something new. They showed some heart. They fought.

The old Raptors would have thrown in the towel; hopelessly out matched and outclassed by NBA royalty.

But this time they dug in and found a way, clawing back an 18 point deficit over three quarters and actually going ahead with under a minute to play on a Jose Calderon jump shot from the free throw line.

Nobody thought the point guard’s shot was going in. He may have been in the midst of a career night, he scored 30 points, but nobody in the Air Canada Centre thought he was actually going to sink it; that’s what years of perpetual losing will do for a fan base.

But he did.

And if the Lakers didn’t have a player who can consistently make fadeaway 18ft baseline double-teamed jump shots the Raptors would have tasted an improbable victory.

Despite the loss, 94-92, the Raptors and their fans should be encouraged by the performance.

They have had close losses before, plenty in fact, but this one felt different. This one felt real, like they actually had a chance.

If you google news search Raptors+heart you get 90 results. And most of those also include the words ‘lack of’.

If there is any justice in the world that should change after their monumental come back on Sunday.

Their roster may be… interesting, and a little short on elite NBA talent, but team basketball and belief can be great equalisers.

Just ask the Knicks.

(On a similar, but unrelated note, I felt the need to share this quote. It’s great: “You got two minutes, you have Kobe Bryant on the floor, you have Pau and Drew on the floor. What is there to really worry about except play hard and win the game?” Ron Artest.)


Toronto Raptor’s offensive prowess enough to keep Chris Bosh in Canada?

November 13, 2009

bosh1by Jack Maidment

Best scoring teams in the NBA this year. Phoenix Suns. Golden State Warriors. Toronto Raptors.

Wait.

The Raptors? As unlikely as it may seem, the Canadians rank third overall in points scored this season.

108.12 points per is pretty damn impressive, especially when you consider that the franchise has experienced a fairly radical reshape in the past few months.

Shawn Marion has gone. As has Anthony Parker. Both athletic wing players, both versatile, both missed?

Losing two of your better players doesn’t seem like the type of business strategy designed to keep your restless star player in town next year.

With that in mind, it was far from surprising when the Raptors aggresively pursued Hedo Turkoglu whose value, fresh from a trip to the Finals, was at its peak.

Whether or not the amount of money Toronto splurged on snatching Turkoglu from the clutches of the Portland Trailblazers has had the desired effect on Chris Bosh’s mindset regarding 2010 and free agency, there can be no denying the benefits of having the ex Orlando Magic forward on your squad.

14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists may not exactly justify the man’s contract, but Hedo is certainly balling as he tries to adapt to a new home town, a new system. The level he was at last year should eventually come back to him as he adjusts to the wants and needs of his new team.

If Turkoglu isn’t blowing up with points every night, how are the Raps so prolific on the offensive end?

Their much coveted big man and his larger frame is perhaps the main reason. Chris Bosh has been putting up the kind of numbers that will have GMs across the land salivating. 29 points, almost 12 rebounds, 2 assists and a block a game. Numbers worthy of the anticipated demand for his services next summer.

The problem for the Raptors is that basketball is a game played on both ends of the floor. They are currently suffering from the same affliction that has dwelt in Golden State for some years. Entertaining for sure, but the ‘we’ll score more than you’ philosophy can only get you so far.

Defense is the key. A boring fact, but a fact all the same. Allowing 108.62 points a game just isn’t going to get it done in the NBA and it is for that reason the the Raps sit at .500, 3 games won, 3 games lost.

Until they develop a defensive identity the Raptors will remain a team on the cusp of greatness. They have enough fire power to worry any team in the League, but the consistency that a solid defense would bring is sorely missing.

Their status as dark horses for dishing out a playoff upset is well founded, especially given the promising play of rookie wing DeMar DeRozan who is right next to Brandon Jennings in terms of chances of excitement when a rookie plays.

The question for Toronto fans is simple: will the Raptors’ collective performance this year be enough to convince Chris Bosh to stay north of the border?

If it is, Toronto should have a promising few years ahead of them: Bargnani is always improving, Turkoglu should have 3 solid years to come, Calderon’s ability to run a team is unlikely to evaporate and the future of DeRozan is undeniably bright.

If not, Toronto will truly feel the sizeable hole left by Bosh, in all probability consigning the franchise to further years in the NBA wilderness, neither awful or great.

Mediocrity. Nothing more frustrating.


Shawn Marion to join Dallas Mavericks in 3 team deal, Memphis pursuing Iverson

July 9, 2009

shawn-marion-hands-upby Jack Maidment

Shawn Marion has agreed to join the Dallas Mavericks in a sign and trade deal with the Toronto raptors which also includes involvement at least one other team.

Marion will move to the Mavs on a 5 year, $40 million contract, with Jerry Stackhouse and his enticing contract moving to the Memphis Grizzlies.

By signing Marion and then trading him the Raptors will receive around $3 million from Dallas: important cash when considering the amount of money Toronto has committed just recently.

Memphis will give up one draft pick to Dallas for Stackhouse’s contract which guarantees him just $2 million for next year, giving the Mavs the elbow room to sign a player who they hope can send them over the top.

By going after Marcin Gortat and Shawn Marion, the Dallas Mavericks will certainly move up in people’s Conference predictions especially given the strength of their returning core: Jason kidd, Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki.

Memphis are also actively pursuing Allen Iverson, offering the guard a 1 year, $5 million contract.

Such an offer only serves to illustrate the extent to which Iverson’s stock has dropped in recent times: only a brave man would have betted on Iverson’s demise when he left Philadelphia for the snow of Denver.

The fact is that nobody really wants to take a gamble on Iverson who harmed his reputation substantially during his time in Detroit. There was a time only a year ago that Iverson would not have even considered a trip to Memphis; widely considered one of the least desirable locations in the League.

Quite simply there is not the money around to spend, but more than that team’s just do not want him.

A sad time for basketball.


Hedo Turkoglu chooses Toronto Raptors, Portland Trailblazers look for Plan B.

July 4, 2009

hedo

by Jack Maidment

Fresh off of a trip to the NBA Finals, the Orlando Magic’s free agent small forward Hedo Turkoglu has elected to join the Toronto Raptors after much switching and swaying.

It was widely believed that Turkoglu had agreed terms with the Portland Trailblazers for 5 years and $50 million. However, Toronto offered $6 million more for his services and looked to have signed Turkey’s finest export.

The move forces the Raptors to allow their free agents, Shawn Marion, Carlos Delfino and Anthony Parker, to seek employment elsewhere or face the penalty of the luxury tax.

Turkoglu’s decision further emphasises the dominance of money in today’s game: he trades playoff contention with the Blazers and the Magic for a team which was flat out awful last year.

The hope for the Raptors is that Turkoglu can fire this team back into the playoffs and in so doing keep Chris Bosh in Toronto. Two big tasks indeed.

But, on paper at least, the Raptors should be infinitely better this year: Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in the middle, Hedo at the 3, DeMar DeRozan growing into the 2 and Jose calderon running the floor at the point.

Add the toughness of Reggie Evans and the addition of one scorer on the bench and Toronto will be back in the mix for the 5,6,7 and 8th playoff spot in the East.

The Blazers are left to wonder what might have been as Turkoglu’s experience was what they needed to go deeper into the playoffs. It remains to be seen if they will move for anyone else this off season.


Toronto Raptors Trade Jason Kapono, Philadelphia 76ers Real Winners

June 20, 2009
Firepower? You could say that...

Firepower? Kapono's your man.

by Jack Maidment

On June 9 2009 the Philadelphia 76ers sent Reggie Evans to the Toronto Raptors in return for the services of Jason Kapono.

In Evans the Raptors gained a player who can add toughness and rebounding to their front court, something that they desperately lacked this season past: getting banged on the boards was one of the bigger reasons why they were so disappointing this year.

In Chris Bosh and Andre Bargnani the Raptor’s possess two big guys with great scoring ability but little in the way of defensive presence.

Evans, who once led the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes, should prove effective in compensating Toronto’s existing finesse game inside.

Toronto certainly gain a quality player through this trade, a player that they really needed, but there is a reason why Andre Iguodala was so excited when Kapono’s arrival was announced, a reason that suggests that the Philadelphia 76ers can be more than content with their shopping.

In the 2006-07 season Jason Kapono led the League in 3pt % shooting at a clip of .514, 4th best in NBA history. He has two All Star weekend 3pt scoring titles in his locker. He shoots .454 from 3 for his career.

There can be little doubt that Jason Kapono is the League’s best 3 point shooter. Stats don’t lie.

That is not to say that you want the ball in his hands down the stretch, because, well, because you probably wouldn’t, but for scarily consistent production from down town, Kapono is your man.

For a team like the 76ers, this is the sort of trade that can only make your team better, another piece that can help push you to the next level.

If Andre Miller can be re-signed, Kapono will join a core of players who have been a constant in the East for the past two years: just below Cleveland, Orlando and Boston but competitive.

The Sixers have achieved that largely without their All Star forward Elton Brand and if the pivot man can stay healthy for the whole season, allowing some rhythm to grow in the team, the 76ers have the pieces, and now the fire power, to legitimately challenge in the East.

Samuel Dalembert and Elton Brand holding down the paint, Andre Iguodala slashing from the wing, Kapono spreading the floor and Andre Miller running the show.

Add to that the ever improving Thaddeus Young, Louis Williams and Willie Green and the Sixers may be the force that they were predicted to be last year.

 


2009 NBA Free Agents? Tempting and Troublesome for Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz

May 30, 2009

chris-boshby Jack Maidment

Talent. The single most important commodity in sports.

Hustle can help your cause. Team spirit the same. But without the Big T you likely are not winning much.

The extent to which sports has become dominated by corporate America dictates that without a talented team, and preferably an exceptionally talented individual, your commercial and therefore economic viability are slimmer than slim.

It is with that simple fact in mind that the NBA’s GM’s sit conspiring and salivating over the prospective Free Agent Class of 2010, arguably the most talented selection of individuals to ever become ‘available’ at the same time in the history of sports.

The potential to turn around a long time meandering franchise is shouted from a list of players, anyone of which would immediately impact your team and your market for positive gains.

It is worth remembering that 2010 is not spelt L-E-B-R-O-N as media coverage would have you believe.

The question of Mr James’ residence come 2010 has been hot topic number one for sometime, eclipsing the fact that he is far from alone in terms of his desirability to teams around the league in the 2010 class.

However, that is more than one year away and in all of the excitement it would appear that the merits of this year’s free agents have been forgotten altogether.

Kinda weird when you consider the classes valedictorian is a certain Kobe Bryant.

I know, I know. Unlikely that he will move considering that he plays for the NBA’s most popular team and that the team is built entirely around him. But, until he signs, it remains a possibility.

2009 is not just about Kobe for the LA Lakers but also two key members of his supporting cast, the supporting cast that has helped him to the Finals for the second successive year: Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom.

Both men will be unrestricted free agents this summer and both are highly coveted around the L.

Ariza has used this post season to build himself a reputation as a big time hustle player with springs in his shoes. The type of player that every Championship team needs, a la James Posey.

While Ariza’s loss could be covered, the departure of Lamar Odom would seriously set the Lakeshow back. He brings so many different things to an already immensely talented team that his work often does not receive the plaudits it deserves.

He will likely only be appreciated once he is gone. To some other team willing to pay him second option money.

The Lakers are not alone in having decisions to make this summer. The Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz all have a number of contracts coming off their books.

The Raptors must decide whether or not to offer a no doubt huge contract to an unsettled Shawn Marion.

If they decide to abandon Marion to pursue his quest for respect/money/star status elsewhere, they simply must look to sign another superstar. Why? If they don’t Chris Bosh is leaving in 2010.

Another losing season like the one that Toronto has just experienced will all but secure his departure to greener pastures.

In all likelihood the Raptors will need to sign more than one ‘big’ player to help assuage Bosh‘s feelings. Luckily they do have options, if the money is available.

They could make a run at Carlos Boozer whose time as a member of the Utah Jazz could well be over. A Boozer/Bosh front court? Ummm. The Jazz, who also have Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap to re-sign, will struggle to make an offer to Boozer which will satisfy his $100 million contract rumours.

Certainly the Jazz have much to ponder, as do the Detroit Pistons. Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Allen Iverson are all unrestricted frees this summer and Iverson is almost certainly looking for a new home.

Wallace’s contract demands could force him away from the franchise, leaving Detroit to wait for the opportunity to offer LeBron or Dwayne Wade a shed load of money in a years time.

The Jazz, Pistons, Raptors and Lakers are just four teams who have to consider their immediate futures, and with players like Hedo Turkoglu, Ron Artest, Jason Kidd as well as Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion and Kobe Bryant available, there is enough talent out there to tempt teams into making big decisions to try and improve their teams.

2010 may be the main event, but 2009 is certainly a worthy appetiser.


NBA Draft 2009: Top 10 Largely Picks Itself

May 26, 2009
Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

by Jack Maidment

Why would you pick Blake Griffin with the #1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft?

The answers are two fold:

1. You get the only player ‘guaranteed’ to make an impact straight away a player destined for All-Star status sooner rather than later.

2. As a struggling franchise you draft the player that will sell the most season tickets through sheer weight of interest.

Now, both of these reasons are obvious and self explanatory. Yet it is with no surprise that we hear that the Clippers are listening to offers for their pick.

Such a rumour has started to grow pace as a result of one man’s actions: Ricky Rubio.

It could be argued that the DNA of this Draft class rests heavily on how the man from Spain decides to handle himself as the Big Night draws closer.

Rumours are rumours and their one constant is that they don’t have to hold an ounce of truth: they will still grow larger and gain more talk time. Whether Rubio will commit to the draft regardless of location could dictate the specifics for, at least, the other players in the top 10.

It is difficult to isolate Rubio because his decision will affect everyone making the first 10 picks largely difficult to predict. However, some should be sure things. Observe:

Barring trades and Clipper Madness, Blake Griffin will go first to Los Angeles. As Ron Burgundy would say, ‘that’s a given’.

If Rubio plays hard ball the Grizzlies will likely take Hasheem Thabeet for two reasons. Firstly, he should compliment Marc Gasol’s post game.

Secondly, Memphis couldn’t accommodate another perimeter player who needs the ball to be successful. They already have OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay to demand the rock and it can only be shared so much.

Ricky Rubio may well look attractive to the Thunder, but the bottom line is: could he play in the same backcourt as Russell Westbrook? No. Westbrook can play at the 2, but both want the ball in their hand. Conflict? Yep.

So who do Oklahoma take? James Harden, the best SG in this class would provide them with a perimeter threat who can go to the hoop and finish. A perfect compliment to Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green.

The Sacramento Kings could be a viable alternative for Rubio who would get the reigns to the team and would sell tickets. But, whether he would mesh with Kevin Martin, the franchise’s main scorer and ball demander, is a tough question to resolve.

The Washington Wizards will likely take Jordan Hill who will bring toughness and heart to a front line which lacks fire. His offensive game may be far from polished, but the fact that the Wiz will have Arenas, Butler and Jamison, Hill wont be relied on for production anyway. Just clean the glass and hustle.

Hill seems like a lock for Wahington. He just makes sense. The same can not be said for the next two picks.

It would appear that the T-Wolves and the Warriors will take Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, but which way round does not scream out.

Nellie Ball would suit Jennings more but Monta Ellis might not be too keen. But, to be fair, he might not like the other option any better.

Tyreke is probably a better fit for the Wolves who can persist with Randy Foye at the 1.

It’s a tough call.

If he is still there, the New York Knicks will take the best shooter in the draft, Stephen Curry who should fit perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s offense. That will be nice.

Toronto picks 9th and they will need to address their lack of backcourt power, probably by taking Demar DeRozan. A real slasher, he should fit nicely with Calderon and compliment the Raptors frontline perfectly.

Ramon Sessions’ contract demands will likely lead the Bucks to draft a PG in the shape of Jonny Flynn.

If Rubio pulls out then everything will change, with Jennings the one to benefit.

If he stays in the draft and Memphis or Oklahoma call his bluff, the landscape will change all over again.

It’s all on Rubio.