Posted on: January 21, 2009 11:12 am

2009 Free Agent Class - Overlooked and Forgotten?

I know we are all focused on 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh become free agents and the rumours that are swirling around with that, but what about next years class? looking over the list i see a lot of pieces that many teams would love to have, so, the question is do you think this season's batch of free agents will be pretty much ignored or will there be a flurry of trades and deals to secure some of these guys before 2010 which, in my opinion, is really a three team race right now.

Here is the list

Hawks -Josh Childress, Solomon Jones, Marvin Williams
Mike Bibby, Zaza Pachulia



Celtics - Glen Davis, Leon Powe
Eddie House (P)


Bobcats - Shannon Brown, Jermareo Davidson, Raymond Felton, Ryan Hollins, Sean May



Aaron Gray,Drew Gooden



Cavaliers - Lance Allred, Tarence Kinsey
Zydrunas Ilgauskas (ETO), Damon Jones, Joe Smith, Eric Snow, Wally Szczerbiak, Billy Thomas, Anderson Varejao (P)

Mavericks - Brandon Bass, Gerald Green, Eddie Jones, Jason Kidd, Keith McLeod, James Singleton



Nuggets -Linas Kleiza
Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter, Steven Hunter (ETO), Allen Iverson, Dahntay Jones


Pistons - Will Bynum (T), Jason Maxiell, Check Samb
Kwame Brown (P), Richard Hamilton (ETO), Rasheed Wallace



Warriors - C.J. Watson
Al Harrington (P)


Rockets - Mike Harris, Luther Head
Ron Artest, Ron Francis



Pacers - Danny Granger, Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts
Maceo Baston, Marquis Daniels (T), Travis Diener (P), Jeff Foster, Stephen Graham, Rasho Nesterovic


Clippers - Ricky Davis (P), Steve Novak, Brian Skinner
Jason Hart



Lakers - Coby Karl
Trevor Ariza, Kobe Bryant (ETO), Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom


Grizzlies - Juan Carlos Navarro, Hakim Warrick
Antoine Walker (ETO)



Heat - Stephane Lasme, Joel Anthony
Mark Blount (ETO), Shawn Marion


Bucks - Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villanueva
Malik Allen (P), Tyronn Lue, Desmond Mason



Timberwolves - Rashad McCants
Calvin Booth, Jason Collins


Nets - Nenad Krstic
Trenton Hassell (ETO), Jarvis Hayes (T), Stromile Swift



Hornets - Melvin Ely, Mike James (P)



Knicks - David Lee, Nate Robinson
Jamal Crawford (ETO), Eddy Curry (ETO), Jerome James (P), Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson (ETO), Malik Rose


Thunder - Johan Petro
Adrian Griffin, Chris Wilcox, Damien Wilkins (ETO), Donyell Marshall



Maqic - Marcin Gortat
Keith Bogans, Brian Cook (P), Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson (P), Hedo Turkoglu (ETO)


76ers - Royal Ivey (P), Andre Miller, Kareem Rush



Suns - D.J. Strawberry
Matt Barnes, Grant Hill



Trail Blazers - Ike Diogu, Channing Frye, Martell Webster
Raef LaFrentz



Kings - Bobby Brown (P), Francisco Garcia
Shareef Abdur-Rahim (ETO), Bobby Jackson



Spurs - Ime Udoko, Jacque Vaughn



Raptors - Carlos Delfino, Joey Graham, Jamario Moon, Will Solomon
Jermaine O'Neal (P), Anthony Parker



Jazz - Paul Millsap, Kyrylo Fesenko (T)
Carlos Boozer (P), Jarron Collins, Brevin Knight, Kyle Korver (ETO), Mehmet Okur (ETO), Ronnie Price



Wizards - Etan Thomas (ETO)

Posted on: January 13, 2009 12:45 pm

Raptors - Celtics - Back To Back reviewed

I think at this point in the week, I need to pause and do some reflection on the two games we just witnessed with the Celtics. The Celtics came into the game Sunday having lost 4 straight games to the Knicks, the Bobcats, the Rockets and the Cavaliers and were looking to turn around the play of the team to where it was when they were 27 – 2 and winners of 19 straight. The Raptors were coming off a week which saw them beat the Magic, the Wizards and the Grizzlies, but lose to the Bucks. Both teams were looking to show signs of life but are at very different points in their seasons. The Celtics seem to have been deflated by the loss to the Lakers on Christmas but are still a top 3 team in the league but are struggling to maintain consistent energy and focus during the long season. The Raptors were looking to show that the gains made as a team last week despite the injuries to Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon were not just blibs on the radar of this below average season of hope.

Sunday, January 11th, 2009 Celtics @ Raptors

Celtics 94
Raptors 88

Ray Allen was allowed to hit 5 open 3’s in the first after the Raptors had opened up a brief lead and never allowed the Raptors to hold the lead again as this game was not close for the majority of it. The Celtics were without Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins but got huge defensive games from Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine to shut our interior game down. Glen Davis had 11 rebounds off the bench to add to the pressure the Raptors felt inside all afternoon. The Raptors did battle back from 20 points down to a point where they could have tied the game late, but shooting under 30% for most of the game and finishing at 37% from the floor, they were just unable to hit the shot they needed to complete the recovery.

Monday, January 12th, 2009 Raptors @ Celtics

Celtics 115
Raptors 109

Paul Piece scored 39 points as the Raptors found some defense, but were just not able to stop one of the best wing men in the game. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were held 12 and 9 points and were bothered all night as the Raptors Jamario Moon and Roko Ukic played solid defense and gave them a chance to win with Andrea Bargnani leading the team with 23 points including the game tying 3 point shot with about 1 second left. It was a game in which the Raptors had a lead going into the 4th quarter but allowed the Celtics to make a couple of quick 3’s by Scalebrine while committing turnovers and allowing them back into the game. Jason Kapono and Joey Graham played well but could not make a shot late in the game. Will Solomon was replaced by Roko Ukic down the stretch after turning the ball over 3 straight possessions costing the Raptors the game in the Overtime.

Here are a few things that I saw over these past two games that I think will bode well as this team moves on after going 0 – 4 against the Celtics for the season.

Play of the Point Guards

Roko Ukic and Will Solomon combined for 32 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds and only 6 turnovers over these two games. As I see it, Roko has moved closer to becoming the full time back up with his poise and his ball control making better decisions in the overtime than Will while facing a Celtics team who were pressing him at every spot on the floor. His 16 points last night were a large part of the reason we had a lead going into the 4th and why we should have won that game if someone could make a stop on Paul Pierce.

Play of the 3 position

Jamario Moon had 15 points and 7 rebounds on Sunday, but had only 8 points – most coming very early in the game and 1 rebound Monday. I wish I could say he was playing tough and that Paul Pierce was just too much, but he was often lost in the key or caught out of position helping weakside while Pierce was planted at the 3 point line waiting for the ball. Jason Kapono had 12 points and 2 rebounds Sunday but was held to 7 points and 1 rebound last night. He did have the sense to get the ball to Andrea Bargnani for the tie, but he has become a liability on defense night after night. Joey Graham had 12 points and 8 rebounds Sunday, but was held to 7 points and 3 on Monday as he was unable to provide the same intensity defensively as he has shown and Paul Pierce was feeling it. This has been and will continue to be the Achilles heel of this team. Wing play has been spotty at best and when we play teams like the Celtics or the Hornets or the 76ers who have athletic wing players, our guys just can’t compete.

Play of Chris Bosh

Many will say that he disappeared last night or faded down the stretch or cowered in the face of Kevin Garnett. All have merit, but none speak of the heart he has brought these past two games. 33 points and 22 rebounds playing perhaps the toughest PF in the game are pretty good numbers. KG over these two games had 30 points and 23 rebounds, including a couple of offensive boards that kept the ball out of the hands of the scrappy Raptors. To say Chris was outplayed by KG is not accurate and unfair. Of those 45 rebounds combined, Bosh had 6 offensive boards including the one that lead to the game tying shot last night while KG had 5 over the two games. Sure KG brings an intensity that we all wish CB4 had, but there is only ONE KG and he has played the game at a very high level since his days with the Timberwolves. That is not how Chris Bosh plays nor does anyone else in the league. Bosh battled KG for the past two nights and held himself to a standard that no one else on the floor had to battle. I for one was thoroughly impressed by his performance and his leadership and hope this is a sign of what could be over the rest of the season.

Play of Andrea Bargnani

Since the injury to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrea has been the starting Center on this team and has begun to blossom into a much more able scorer, a tough defender and a gritty player. Soon, the refs will stop calling those stupid touch fouls on him and he will begin to draw more contact calls as he has begun to show what Bryan Colangello must have seen before he drafted him. In the games against the Celtics, he scored 40 points, grabbed 17 rebounds including 3 offensive boards, handed out 6 assists on 4 turnovers. All of these are aspects of his game that have been improving this season and we are seeing an Andrea Bargnani who has confidence in himself and has won his teams respect and his coach’s confidence as well.

With games against the Bulls led by Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, the Pacers lead by Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels and T.J. Ford with the Suns coming in on Sunday with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire and a guy named Shaquille O’Neal, let’s hope the Raptors will see a lot of great things they have done over the past 2 games and keep building the momentum.

Posted on: January 5, 2009 5:05 pm

Raptors - Week 11 in Preview

Week 11 begins tonight with a game against the 16 – 19 Bucks, currently in 8th place one place ahead of the Raptors for the last playoff spot in the East. In the past 10 games, they have won six including wins over the Spurs, the Jazz and the Knicks, split games with the Bobcats and have lost to the Rockets, the Pistons and the 76ers. Following this on Wednesday, the Wizards complete a short 2 game road trip with neither Jose Calderon nor Jermaine O’Neal traveling with the team. The Wizards are struggling for consistency as well and are a dismal 7 – 25, yet were able to defeat the Cavaliers who have gone 2 – 2 this past week splitting games with the Heat and defeating the Rockets before losing last night to the Wizards. Friday brings the Grizzlies to town and their 11 – 23 record having lost to the Suns, the Spurs and the Timberwolves before knocking off the Mavericks Sunday. Here is how I see the week shaping up.

Monday, January 05, 2009 Raptors @ Bucks

With Andrew Bogut questionable for the game tonight and Malik Allen out, the Bucks will have a tough time up front with Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh both playing very solid games this past week. Starting Dan Gadzuric and Luc Richard Mbah a Mouteand and Richard Jefferson up front, the Bucks will have trouble with our inside game and should Jamario Moon continue to gather rebounds as he has been, the Bucks will be forced to beat us with Michael Redd and Luke Ridenour. Not entirely out of the question and the Raptors will have to be sure to keep the defensive pressure on as Will Solomon, Roko Ukic and Anthony Parker look to continue the guard play that has been solid this past week. Jason Kapono is set to have a big game and he should find lots of room to shoot, as the Bucks send a smaller line up to the court.

Wizards - 7 - 23 heading into the week following a win over the CavaliersWednesday, January 07, 2009 Raptors @ Wizards

The Wizards start Antawn Jamison and Andray Blatche with no real Center as Caron Butler fills the other forward position. This should give the Raptors the edge inside as Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh will look to put pressure on the interior of the Wizards all night long. With Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson hurt, the Wizards have been starting 4 forwards with Dominic McGuire filling the 4th forward position and Mike James running the point. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon should be able to control this lineup with speed and help defense as Will and Roko should be able to control this game from start to finish. I can’t see the Wizards winning unless the Raptors fall asleep as the Cavaliers did.

GrizzliesFriday, January 09, 2009 Raptors vs. Grizzlies

The Grizzlies bring Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Kyle Lowry to the game with Darrell Arthur as well as Hakim Warrick. The Raptors had best be paying attention as this team could take advantage of any attitude that might develop should they win the first two games this week. I think they will be ready after a short road trip and looking to prepare for the back to back with the Celtics on Sunday and Monday. I am confident that Coach Triano won’t let this team drift away this week.

Celtics - starting the week 29 - 6, 1st in the East and second over allSunday, January 11, 2009 Raptors vs. Celtics
Monday, January 12, 2009 Raptors @ Celtics

I will do both here as they will be hard to separate in the course of the weekend. The Celtics have been inconsistent the past 10 games winning only 6 losing to the Lakers on Christmas day then the Warriors on the 26th. Since then, they have lost to the Trail Blazers and the Knicks but are still comfortable with a 29 – 6 record and still 1st overall in the east, but second over all in the league just behind the Lakers. With Kevin Garnett playing as well as he ever has and the surging play of Rajon Rondo, this Celtics team offers depth and skill to about 10 players with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Leon Powe, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Tony Allen leading the way. The Raptors will need to be at the top of their game but will be looking to steal one of these games and I think they might be ready to do it at this point. The Raptors have looked more confident with a lead than at any other point this season so I look for 2 very good games.

Next week brings us the Bulls, the Pacers and the Suns as this team heads to the all-star break looking to get back to or above %.500. That would be a very good recovery from what looked like a dismal season not 2 weeks ago.

Posted on: November 17, 2008 4:46 pm

Week 3 Raptors Review

Week 3 for the Raptors started with a tough fourth quarter collapse in Boston as the Celtics rode the hot hand of Paul Pierce to a victory. We had a 16 point leads twice in the third quarter as Jermaine O'Neal recovered from an awful game in Charlotte. He ended the game with 23 points and 11 rebounds, but better than that, he has played 3 solid games this past week, which is a very good sign for this team. Anthony Parker had 15, while Jason Kapono had 14 while Kevin Garnett made Chris Bosh work for all of the 9 points he scored. The biggest thing we learned Monday was that this Raptors team is going to struggle containing SF's all season until someone can step up and consistently provide both solid offense and tough defense. This game could have been won if anyone would have stepped up and made a couple stops instead of watching Pierce drop 22 points on them in that last quarter. We ended up -5 in turnovers and -2 in steals. Ball control is a huge issue with this team as we saw against the 76ers.

Against the 76ers, the Raptors struggled the entire game as the quicker 76ers caused bad passes and put pressure on our back court all game. The biggest news from this game was the loss of Jose Calderon to a hamstring injury. We were able to get the game to 4 points a few times, but it seemed the next offensive set would result in a turnover, a quick bad shot and transition basket by the 76ers as we stood around wondering how it missed, then we were suddenly down 10 again. Maurice Cheeks had this team ready to put pressure on our back court, especially after Jose went down and Will Solomon and Roko Ukic had to find a way to step in and control the ball. The Raptors were out rebounded, had more turnovers and gave away more steals to this team as Elton Brand scored 25 and 8 rebounds. Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller added 18 points each and a total of 25 rebounds. Samuel Dalembert, who grabbed 17 boards in the season opener, was very quiet with 2 points and 2 rebounds before fouling out as Chris Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal pounded the ball inside all night, but just couldn't keep the ball going in to these guys consistently enough to take the lead back. CB, JO and Andrea Bargnani combined for 64 points and 28 rebounds as a trio.

With Jose Calderon in a lovely suit, Sam Mitchell started Andrea Bargnani at the SF against the Heat Sunday as they brought a good back court of Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers with Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn adding 27 points off the bench. The game provided us a look a the possibilities this Raptors team could bring to any game with our front court able to floor Chris Bosh, Jermaine O'Neal and Andrea Bargnani up front leaving Anthony Parker and Will Solomon in the back court until Jose returns. I was impressed with Will's game with 15 points and 11 assists in a game in which we were to be outplayed in the back court, he held his own as Anthony Parker added 10 points while trying to contain Dwyane. Perhaps the surprise of the game was how much life sitting seems to have put under the feet of Jamario Moon as he was attacking the hole again and was rewarded with 5 trips to the line. The other big part of this game was watching Kris Humphries add 14 points and 9 rebounds in the 16 minutes he played allowing us to keep a steady rotation of bigs on the floor. A couple notes on this game that I really enjoyed seeing. The Heat shot 40% as a team including 3 – 19 from outside the arc in the second half. Well done guys. Perimeter defense does actually pay off. Though Dwyane Wade had 29, he did so on 13 – 31 shooting with only 3 of 4 from the line. Keeping him shooting tough shots was key to containing this offense as Shawn Marion struggled to find his range and Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley could only provide 23 points inside.

Overall, the week was tough with 2 losses, but I think what we learned about the guard situation will carry us a long way when Jose returns. When JO begins to hit the easy inside shots he seems to still struggle with, this team will be very hard to match up with in the front court night after night with 4 solid big men able to rotate through playing solid defensively and starting to understand how to rebound as a group. With games against the Magic and a return game in Miami then home to receive the Nets, this week could see us get to 8 – 4 with some good play. I would be very happy with that as the next week will bring us the Celtics, the Hawks and the Lakers.

Posted on: November 11, 2008 11:14 am

Raptors - Celtics - the one that got away!

Last night we witnessed a total meltdown of a team that is quickly becoming very easy to beat! The Celtics came into the game against the Raptors having played a tough Pistons team in Detroit the night before. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce as well as Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen. The nucleus of the Championship team with Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe adding minutes up front with Glenn Davis, this team is playing awesome team defense allowing only 84 points per game coming into last night!

The Raptors brought to the game a team in search of itself after a great start and 2 losses against the Pistons and they young Hawks, they had rebounded with a win in Charlotte against the Bobcats. Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon were leading this team offensively with Bosh over 26 points per game and Jose around 18 with 9 assists and in total command of the floor when he is out there. What this team was looking for was someone to step up and score on a consistent basis! Jermaine O'Neal was brought in, Jamario Moon was given the start, Jason Kapono looks comfortable off the bench and Anthony Parker draws the toughest checks night after night!

The Raptors opened the game giving the ball to JO who scored 19 in the first half and ended up with 23 and 11 boards! An excellent game from the other option inside! He battled all night long and won most of them! Jason Kapono as well added 14 while Anthony Parker had 15! Offensively we could ask for nothing more from these 3 men! However, it seems Doc figured out that holding Bosh to 9 and Jose to 7 would probably win them the game! The Celtics collapsed on Bosh and forced Jose to pass all night! The fourth quarter saw us ahead going in to it, but 6 steals and -5 or 6 in rebounds will cost you a game most nights! Last night it cost us a huge divisional win!

At this point in Sam Mitchell's tenure as coach, he has pretty much the same group of men he has had for the past 3 seasons or so with the loss of T.J. Ford and Morris Petterson and the promotion of Jose and Anthony Parker, these guys have played a lot of games for Sam! At some point he must be questioned on why his guys refuse to play perimeter defense! Paul Pierce should NOT be allowed to score 22 points in a quarter! Nor should anyone for that matter! The rest of the league is very aware of how weak we are on the outside with Jason Kapono being slow and Jamario Moon seemingly disinterested! Either the coach can't motivate them or they just can't play at this level!

Some bad things about last night!

The Raptors were 11 - 16 from the line while the Celtics were 24 - 27! The calls were pretty even at 23 - 21 against the Raptors, but the difference is the Raptors have seemingly forgotten how to attack the hole! Being beaten and fouling on the shot killed them last night as the Celtics battled back into the game on the free throw line in the third. We gave up 6 steals in the fourth and were at least -5 in rebounds in the quarter as the Raptors had been ahead on total boards the whole game! We also turned the ball over at least 4 times in the 4th! That is unacceptable in HIGH SCHOOL ball! We were also -5 in turnovers against the toughest defensive team in the league (I hear the Lakers are rated over-all number 1 but i have not looked into that yet)

This level of mediocre defense will quickly turn this team to an after-thought in an ever tightening Eastern Conference where the Celtics, Pistons and Cavaliers have serious competition to about 10 spots this year. The Hawks, the Magic, the Heat, the 76ers and the Pacers all look to move up the Conference and the Raptors are quickly turning into a stepping stone as they can't seem to stop anyone!

Some Good things about last night!

Well, we did grab 39 boards, a bit better than our 35 per game average with a +2 on the offensive end! The team had 25 assists which means ball movement was there and the open man was found a lot! It was great to see JO step up and score and grab 11 boards! Jason and Anthony did well to provide the 29 they did.

I believe this loss will haunt them a long time! I hope they can learn a few things from the game and move ahead into a long season filled with more ups and downs.

Some things they should learn!

Defense Wins Championships! Until we can defend the wing positions and limit the cutting and slashing that we have seen from Tayshaun Prince, Joe Johnson and now The Truth, this team will not make the playoffs! Defense requires the committment we saw for the first 3 quarters last night! Getting on the glass and diving for loose balls and attacking all over the floor is how they built a 14 point lead on the Celtics. Then they stood around watching Paul Pierce light them up!

We can learn that every body has a role to play and if anyone fails, this team will not succeed. The Celtics show everyone that basketball is a team sport! You win as a team and you lose as a team! Last night, the Raptors were beaten as a team in every position on the floor.

We can learn that potential does not translate well to playing at a high level! Andrea Bargnani and Jamario Moon are very talented players with enormous skill sets that COULD contribute to any team in this league! Right now, neither seems willing to pay the price to play at the level expected night after night! Teams have players to fill roles. All teams are not made up of SuperStar players alone! Right now, Chris Bosh is the Stud of this team! When he has a bad game or gets shut down like last night, then the rest of the team needs to find a way to win! That is usually by playing tough defense! That is why the Celtics are the Champs!

The guys can learn that Sam does actually know how to coach defense and do what he is asking them!

They can learn that it is possible for them to play at whatever level they choose on any night!

This picture should be put up in every locker these guys dress at this season!

Do i still love this team? YES I do! They need to regroup quickly or the playoffs will be out of reach!

Posted on: November 10, 2008 11:03 am

Raptors - Celtics game Preview


What can you say about the Celtics that has not been mentioned yet? The Reigning World Champions are 6 - 1 having W's against the Rockets, the Cavaliers and the Pistons who started Allen Iverson last night. Their loss to the Pacers was their banner night and they shot 34%.

Tonight the Raptors visit after a solid road win in Charlotte over the Bobcats on a night when Chris Bosh had 30/15 and Andrea Bargnani had 18/5 with a 3 block night!

Tonight will be the first of 2 divisional games as they play the 76ers on Wednesday back home. The Celtics have a front court that is probably the most consistant in the league night in and night out which is why they are the champs!

 Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett provide a very tough front court to play man to man and both can beat you from mid range so we will have to see Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani as well as Jermaine O'Neal be ready for a tough struggle to contain these guys who are averaging 10 and 9 rebounds a game! KG is struggling on offense this season with only 14 ppg, but his presense alone gives defenses fits as he can attack from any where and always seems to be around the ball! Paul Pierce is averaging 16 and 7, Ray Allen is 15/4, Tony Allen is 11+ and Rajon Rondo is around 10 points and 7 assists per game.

Coming in to tonights game, the Raptors are lead by Chris Bosh with almost 27 points and 11 rebounds per game! What a season he is having! Jose Calderon brings his 16 points and 9.3 rebounds per game to a team with much quicker guards which seems to be a theme so far! Between Jose and Anthony Parker, we need to see the guards step up and play some much better perimeter defense! It has been painful to watch as we give up open look after open look! AP has had tough assignments nightly yet is still giving us 10.5 points and 2.5 rebounds a game!

Tonight, the Key for me will be the play of Jermaine O'Neal! If he can provide a 12 point 10 rebound game, this team will have a shot at knocking off the champs. The front court, whether it be CB4 and JO or CB4 and Andrea Bargnani, who has shown flashes of the talent he can offer with 3 games of 18, 19 and 12 against the Warriors, Bobcats and Pistons, brings a 9.7 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game. If these two can combine for a 20/15 game, we should be able to control the front court. As i see it, our team rebounding has been awful and unless we can become a 44 or 45 rebounds a game team, we are not consistant enough to be always -9 or -10 on the glass, especially giving up Offensive boards! This is an area that Jamario Moon MUST contribute!

Category: NBA
Posted on: November 3, 2008 11:00 am

3 games, 3 wins - a good start for the Raptors

So, after the first 3 games of the 2008-09 season, we find the Raptors at 3-0 tied with the Lakers and the Rockets and the Hornets with the same record. I know it is early and that we beat “weaker” teams in the 76ers and the Warriors and the Bucks, but it is still a good start to a year that was to see them fall down the Eastern Conference standings with the rise of the Hawks and the 76ers and the recovery of the Bulls. This was the season that the Cavaliers were to dominate the East with LeBron James over-powering every team he played. So far, we see in the East that the Raptors are 3 – 0 and the Hawks are 2 – 0 as are the Pistons, who were supposed to be too old to compete!

I think one thing we are seeing this year is a general upgrade in the over-all play of all the teams! I have seen a trend toward tough interior defense and forcing teams to shoot outside. That has been the formula the Raptors have used so far this year. The game against the Warriors showed us that this team can run with teams and wear them down even with an 8 man rotation, this team does not lose a lot with the “second unit” on the floor. Well, the second unit has at times shown us Andrea Bargnani, who is scored 19 against the Warriors, but is averaging 5 rebounds a game and a little better than 2 blocks a game off the bench! It was his play in the 4th quarter of the Warriors game that helped tie the game with a couple key blocks. He did the same in the Bucks game! Should he continue to score and get closer to 10 or 11 points per game off the bench, this team will be very hard to match up with. Sam Mitchell has become fond of sticking either Jermaine 0’Neal or Chris Bosh in with the rest of the second wave with Joey Graham or Jason Kapono and Roko Ukic who has quickly become a solid presence on the floor. These minutes he can play and develop his calm steady play will only help this team in the spring as Jose Calderon can keep his legs fresh! The play of Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker has been welcomed to say the least. It is good to see Jamario not drift when he is not scoring and has been rewarded with 10 points, 2 assists, 2 blocks and about 2 steals a game. Anthony Parker has been playing some of the best ball he has played in a Raptors uniform dropping 14 points per game and averaging 2 rebounds, 2 assists and nearly 4 steals a game. Against the tough inside game of the Bucks on a night when Jermaine could not get moving, Calderon and Parker combined for 36 points and 12 assists. The margin of victory was 4 points and the Jose and Anthony out scored Michael Redd and Ramon Sessions by 5!!!

This team so far this season has focused on team defense! Sam and Chris Bosh have committed themselves to this style and we saw in the overtime win against the very short benched and very tired Warriors that this style can and will wear opponents down! A 6 – 0 run to start the OT with 3 steals by the Raptors sealed the win!

This week, we face the 2 – 0 Detroit Pistons who are coming off a 117 – 100 win over the Wizards and the not too surprising Atlanta Hawks who are 2 – 0 after beating the Magic in Orlando and the 76ers at home. The Hawks play the Hornets on Wednesday night and that should be a fun game to watch with Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and David West hosting them. The Hawks offer Joe Johnson averaging 30 points a game, Mike Bibby and Josh Smith averaging 15 each. Al Horford is young and should be a very active presence underneath giving our front court all they can handle!

The Pistons bring their starting 5 of the past 4 or 5 seasons I think of Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups and Antonio MacDyess or Jason Maxiell. Walter Hermann I think is playing good right now, but I think they will present Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Kwame Browne and suddenly, the team that is too old is 10 or 11 deep! I would love to see the Raptors win both of these games and they could, but they will have to play spectacular team defense and NOT turn the ball over 19 times!

So far this year, the Raptors have played steady ball control ball. That has proven very successful. This week we shall see how committed this team is to the team game at both ends of the floor! After the Hawks, we will see the Bobcats, the Celtics and the 76ers again, this time at home. This young season starts with some critical divisional games and so far they are on top with the Hawks. This next week will be very much a litmus test for the conference.

Here are my thoughts on the play of the team so far!

Chris Bosh – averaging 42 minutes, 26 points, 10 rebounds and almost 4 assists per game! I am beginning to agree with the MVP threads I have seen on these boards! He has played unselfish ball leading the team in all aspects of the game. He has made some tough plays on defense, has distributed to the open man after he gets the ball where he wanted it keeping his team mates playing at both ends, he has played well when on the floor with the so-called second line which is a term I am beginning to look to replace! His intensity at both ends has allowed Jermaine O’Neal room to move again. Over all, Bosh’s play should be considered among the elite in the league.

Jermaine O’Neal – averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds as well as 3 assists a game. He has brought a breath of life to this front court by creating 2 double team options low. He is struggling a bit on offense, but he has averaged 2 blocks a game and is a defensive force to be sought when entering the key. He has provided the presence we were looking for to off-set Chris Bosh in the front court and he has given us a very tough interior defense that has allowed the team to tighten up outside which killed them last year!

Jose Calderon – Jose has become a solid point guard in this league! I would consider him a top 10 guard at this point as he does not focus on his own scoring, but as we saw against the Bucks, can step up as he needs to! I believe that we shall see this team rewarded by making him the starting PG! His steady demeanor on the floor has a calming effect on everyone out there. He leads with his heart and his team responds very well to his leadership! With Roko Ukic off the bench giving him some solid minutes of play while he rests, this team looks very good at the #1 spot! Averaging 19 points and 9.7 assists, he is off to a flying start. As he continues to score, teams will not be able to collapse or they will pay the price!

Anthony Parker – Jose’s back-court mate is off to a great start averaging 14 points and 2 assists and 2.3 rebounds and 3.33 steals. A very solid option off the wing as he is often guarding the other teams top scorer, he has acquitted himself well not letting anyone out play him so far this season! Whether he is on the starting rotation or the other rotation, he continues to play consistent intense defense and has been a pest to the 3 back-courts we have faced this season.

Jamario Moon – I feel he still can be a major contribution to this team, but he will have to figure out how to offer at least 15 points a game to stay in this lineup with Jason Kapono on the bench waiting! He is exciting to watch, but seems unable to consistently finish but when he does just let the ball fly, he can score in this league! He is still young mentally though at 28, the experiment has shown flashes of brilliance and some signs of concern. When he is firing from outside, this team can go on deep runs as he has stepped up his defense this year but needs to become way more active on the glass!

Andrea Bargnani – Is this the same kid who wore #7 last season? Where did he get the tough from? What a joy to watch him score 19 against a quick strong Warriors team, only to see him vanish against the Bucks! If he can continue to play solid defense, then the Raptors can find scoring, but if he can find a way to drop 10 a night, this team would be very hard to match to 8 or 9 players. I would love to see him grab 5 or 6 boards a night and keep his head in the game in the paint. That would allow that step out game he has to flourish.

This week should show us a bit more of the heart of this team! the games will be against 3 teams expected to be at or near the top of the Eastern Conference! Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will give this team all they can handle! enjoy the games!

Posted on: October 29, 2008 5:28 pm

Raptors 2008-09 Preview

Welcome to the 2008 - 09 NBA season! I trust the summer was too long and the Olympics a good preview to the upcoming season!

The Toronto Raptors head into the new season with hope and a belief that they can challenge in the Atlantic Conference. I will lay out what i believe are some of the good things they are anticipating, and a few apprehensions I feel at this point.

Here is the opening night roster:

7 Andrea Bargnani - PF
Chris Bosh - PF
43 Kris Humphries - PF 
21 Nathan Jawai - PF 
6 Jermaine O'Neal - PF
3 Hassan Adams - SF
14 Joey Graham - SF
24 Jason Kapono - SF
Jose Calderon - PG
5 Will Solomon - PG
33 Jamario Moon - SG
18 Anthony Parker - SG
1 Roko Ukic - SG

The first thing that strikes me is that they offer no true Center! i think that losing Rasho Nesterovic could be something that will haunt them down the road as they are left with a lot of PF's and no one who can bang underneath night after night! Jermaine O'Neal has the POTENTIAL to be the inside help that Chis Bosh has been waiting for, but we won't know that until we see how much and how intense he plays. He has battled the "great potential" tag his whole life and with the Pacers, he was stagnating! i hope that he can play to that potential we all saw his 2001-02 Most Improved Player year! At 30, life for a big man can become a series of aches and pains which we have seen. As much as i like the deal, i am a bit hesitant to say it was a great improvement over what we had! if he can play to his averages of 14.3 ppg and 7.7 rpg, he could fill the void in this talented Raptors front court!

Chris Bosh will mature even more this season and become a greater force as he edges his scoring and boards up, his team will rise the standings with him!

The tandem of Joey Graham and Jason Kapono have the potential to score from almost any part of the floor. The problem we ran into last year was a lack of commitment to outside defense! I am not sure that letting Carlos Delfino walk and bringing in Hassan Adams will help in either aspect, but we can only move on and see which of the 3 will step up and play some defense! I believe that the issue last season was a lack of intensity on defense from the front court including Chris Bosh, but for sure the perimeter defense let too many games slip by them and in the Atlantic Division this season, that won't be acceptable at all!

I would love to see Andrea Bargnani and Jamario Moon emerge as top level players and become 15 point 7 or 8 rebound a game guys which would see a huge increase in bench scoring or a more balanced starting 5 if Jamario and Anthony Parker platoon as they did last season. If Andrea struggles, i suspect he will become a failed experiment and i am sure there are teams that would love to have him wandering around the perimeter! With the wealth of PF's we have, he could be used to find another SF to shore up the perimeter.

With the offense now in the more than capable hands of Jose Calderon, the addition of Will Solomon could be a huge factor. He looks more than able to step in and run the show and should allow the Raptors an interesting up-tempo option off the bench with Moon, Joey Graham or Jason Kapono with Andrea cutting.

As i see this team at this point, there are many questions i find unanswered! I am not sure that they are a lot better than they were when the season ended in the spring, but the POTENTIAL to be better is left in the hands and hearts of this group of men. I think if Jermaine can play 70+ games, this team will win around 45 which is about what they won last year! The lack of true Center will hurt them in the Atlantic Division as they play teams like the Celtics with Kendrick Perkins and Glenn Davis - though both are undersized, they are very adequate playing and banging it out down low. the 76ers will offer Samuel Dalembert and the Nets will present the rookie Brook Lopez as well as Josh Boone. As the season plays out, I can see this team making a move for either a true post or a larger PF who can help O'Neal contend underneath. I think the SG position is very solid, and i think that the PG position could use another body.

SO, over all, i see the Raptors as a team that is unknown in a lot of areas with the loss of T.J. Ford and Carlos Delfino leaving holes that will be tough to fill. I also see potential as this team can now present a very solid front line of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O'Neal and Joey Graham or Jason Kapono. With Jose Calderon in the PG and either Moon or Parker, this team will be fun to watch! I see them ending up 2nd in this division with 47 wins. I see them 5th or 6th in the conference behind the Celtics, the Pistons, the Magic, and the Cavaliers. Tonight we shall see if Sam Mitchell is up to the task of guiding this team to play with their hearts.

Bring on the games!

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com