The Toronto Raptors have begun the NBA season with a very familiar 4-14 start, and it is time to start the blame game. The Raptors at the start of this season were talking about contending for a playoff spot. They look more like a contender to win the NBA lottery at this point.
In order to have a draft pick at all, that is what they will have to do because if they do not land in the top three, their pick now belongs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is a result of the Kyle Lowry trade and Houston using that pick as part of the package to acquire James Harden.
The Raptors could also make the playoffs and retain their first-round pick, but that is rapidly looking like an unrealistic goal.
Fans face another season where while not mathematically eliminated, Toronto seems destined to be virtually eliminated by the end of the calendar year. This is when the idea of who to blame becomes the focus. So why wait? Let’s get a jump on things and break down who is most to blame for the Raptors’ woes.
Some obvious candidates are Bryan Colangelo, Andrea Bargnani and maybe even Dwane Casey. We will try to make the case for reasons to blame them and maybe a few others along the way.
Who we won’t blame is the Raptors fans, who once again have been promised more than they are getting from their basketball team. On some level, long-time fans of this franchise have become far too accustomed to these broken promises over the years.
Our first suspect in this game of assigning blame is the Raptors president and general manager, Bryan Colangelo. Once considered a hero that was going to finally save this franchise and set it on the right path, those days are long gone for Bryan Colangelo as far as Toronto fans are concerned.
It was once thought of as unthinkable to question this man that was considered something between an NBA genius and a franchise saviour. He took home the award for top executive in the league in his first full season in Toronto.
He has gone from that to having almost every transaction he makes put under the microscope. This is far from unreasonable, though, when you consider his failures since winning that award back in 2007. Since producing the Raptors' only division title in franchise history, it has been a series of blunders that have led to this point.
Questionable signings of guys like Jason Kapono and Hedo Turkoglu in free agency are on his resume in addition to some big-money re-signings for current players on the roster like Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani and most recently, DeMar DeRozan. And don't forget about trades that ultimately failed for guys like Jermaine O’Neal and many others.
Perhaps what was worst of all, getting made to look silly by Chris Bosh's departure to Miami, leaving the Raptors with little to show for it.
In the more recent history in terms of this season, he had a pursuit of Steve Nash that ultimately ended in failure. Along the road in that pursuit, he signed Landry Fields to a contract that almost all would conclude was above his market value.
As part of a plan to stop the Knicks from landing Nash, it was ultimately successful as he didn’t sign with the Knicks. Colangelo just never counted on the L.A Lakers coming late to the party and stealing him away.
He would come back fighting, making a deal with the Houston Rockets to acquire Kyle Lowry, a move that many still feel was a positive one. They may not feel that way at the time of the NBA draft when the Oklahoma City Thunder could select as high as fourth with the pick from that trade.
There also is the possibility the Raptors are unable to re-sign Lowry, who has just one season remaining on his contract after this one.
In addition, he took heat for signing DeMar DeRozan to an extension for some big money. DeRozan’s play this season has quieted that down to some degree.
However, perhaps what the biggest problem Raptors fans have with Colangelo is his never-ending love affair with his first overall pick in 2006, Andrea Bargnani. It becomes a legitimate question of if Colangelo would ever consider trading him. He has always been accused, with no evidence to back it up, that he influences Bargnani’s role on the team.
Raptors fans' view of Andrea Bargnani is, safe to say, vastly different from the opinion of Colangelo. It has been as big of a factor as any in some people calling for Colangelo to be fired at times through the last few seasons.
Much like Colangelo, Dwane Casey won over the fans and media for the most part in his first season in Toronto. He was able to do this by taking a team that was noted for its horrible defense and making them into a respectable one. He brought in this “pound the rock” mantra and philosophy to the team.
He did all of this in a lockout-shortened season that offered very little time in terms of a training camp or practices through the NBA season. What he accomplished with the roster he had was nothing short of miraculous.
It also set the bar high for what he could accomplish with more time and an improved roster in terms of talent. This is where things have gone off course for Casey. It has to be said though that injuries have played their role in this as well. Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields and Alan Anderson all going down have left Casey in scramble mode at times.
The Raptors have not shown any real kind of consistent rotation through the first month of the NBA season. The much-improved defense of last year has regressed back to a level not as bad as when Casey first arrived, but he has failed to maintain what he established.
This may be due to Andrea Bargaini's lack of presence. Last season, he played in just 31 games in this defensive resurgence for the Raptors under Casey. Bargnani also had shown signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ball, only to see them fade away after his injury and into this season.
Add in a rookie at starting center in Jonas Valanciunas, who is still trying to learn to apply his defensive skill to the NBA game, and this has led to a far-from-dynamic defensive duo.
This is in addition to the injury issues at small forward that forced the Raptors into signing Mickael Pietrus as some kind of Band-Aid solution until Anderson and Fields return.
Lowry has also been banged up, and since returning to the lineup, he has had some issues defensively at times. Nothing like that of Jose Calderon at the position, but not to the level we expect for Kyle Lowry, either.
While the defense has regressed, the offense has not increased to any significant degree. The added production from DeMar DeRozan has been negated by the lack of production from Andrea Bargnani.
While the Raptors do seem to have more weapons than last season when fully healthy, they lack a true go-to guy to close games, which has caused them to drop a lot of close contests.
Dwane Casey does not even come close to the Raptors’ biggest concern at the moment. Still, given the record they have produced, any coach is always going to be called into question. It is just human nature to do so.
This one seems like a complete cop out to blame the NBA referees for the Raptors' struggles. Still, if you ask anyone that watches this team on a regular basis, they are going to mention the lack of calls that go the Raptors' way. The NBA, in a rare move, even admitted they blew a call at the end of the Raptors' loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Is it true the Raptors may not get their fair share of calls in games? It likely is, but could we not say that for every struggling franchise in this league?
When you consider the Raptors' not-so-glorious history and the fact that for large stretches in their existence they have been labelled as a “soft” team, it makes sense. Is it fair and is it right? No it isn’t, but it never has been in this league. Does LeBron James get more foul calls than DeMar DeRozan on a given night in the NBA?
You bet he does. However, back in the '80s the same could be said for guys like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson or in the '90s for a guy named Michael Jordan.
While some Raptors fans would like to say this is some grand conspiracy to screw over Canada’s only NBA team, it really isn’t the case. Vince Carter, who was considered a star in this league in Toronto, got his fair share of calls when he wore Raptor purple.
Is it something this team has to deal with and overcome on a nightly basis? It is, but a lot of the games in which they have had to do so were games the Raptors still could have won. If you are counting on the refs to help you win games when you are a below-.500 team in this league, don’t hold your breath.
That is the same no matter if your franchise is in Toronto or not. I had an in-depth conversation on this topic with Raptors’ broadcaster Jack Armstrong, and he expresses many of these same opinions on this topic.
Why blame Bryan Colangelo when you can blame the people that employ him?
We are all now aware of the new ownership structure of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The Teachers’ Pension Fund is no longer taking your basketball hate mail.
The new owners are primarily the core broadcasters of the Raptors (TSN/Sportsnet), with Rogers Communications now part of the MLSE brain trust. They join Bell Media and Larry Tanenbaum as the group that makes up this sports empire.
While Rogers Communications also owns the Toronto Blue Jays on their own, they have taken an aggressive move with that sports franchise in the last few months. They added a ton of payroll to the Blue Jays roster in a trade with the Miami Marlins. They enter a different world for them in the NBA with a cap system in place that restricts spending to some degree.
What is also different is that they alone cannot make a decision in terms of the Raptors. They need the support of Bell Media, their rivals in other business ventures such as sports broadcasting and telecommunications, or Larry Tanenbaum, both of whom were a party to things prior to the arrival of Rogers when the Teachers’ Pension Fund sold their controlling interest.
While the Toronto Maple Leafs sit on the sidelines waiting for the NHL to come to a labor agreement, the Raptors are left as the major focus of the moment for fans.
Just like this company did in the last NHL labor stoppage, they have failed to produce a winner. The Raptors in that season of 2004-05, with no NHL competition in the marketplace, had a 33-49 season and missed the postseason.
This is a failure not just for the current season so far, but on the chance to grow this fanbase for future seasons.
Obviously, it's early for this new corporate structure, but everything sure seems the same as it always has been. What is not the same is the Raptors' fanbase and their growing displeasure with this team. Some of those same fans are supporters of the Maple Leafs and the TFC, the MLS franchise also owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Jokes about the Canadian Football League champions, the Toronto Argos, going to teach the folks at MLSE something about winning were commonplace on Twitter. That doesn’t really make any logical sense, as winning in the CFL, a league of eight teams, is a bit easier than success in the NHL, NBA or even the MLS.
Still, the heat is on ownership even if the gate receipts have yet to reflect it. Raptors' attendance is slightly up from the past season. The NHL lockout likely explains the bump.
Will this new era of MLSE have any answers for the growing discontent from Raptor fans? Guess we'll find out eventually.
What seems to be fairly universal is the blame for Andrea Bargnani. It is not a complete 100 percent majority, but if you asked a collection of media and fans about the Raptors' problems, it is safe to say around 70 percent would mention him. This is not scientific, just my personal educated guess.
This is a subject that has been covered a lot in Bleacher Report, especially by me. It is basically all of the same things that have been said in past articles: questioning his effort, especially on defense. Fans want something that proves he is capable of playing defense like he did going down the stretch against the Suns to close out November.
What he has yet to prove, and most would say never will, is that he can do this consistently. He makes himself a fairly easy target with his blunt responses to questions about his performance. He is by far his own worst defense attorney. After now going into the seventh year of the Bargnani era, Raptor fans are sick of the excuses or attempts to defend him.
On top of everything else, the major thing he does well in terms of scoring has been hit or miss this season. We go into greater detail on this in my last article, but the short answer is that his scoring average is trending down.
He still seldom rebounds, and his pairing with Raptors’ rookie Jonas Valanciunas has been a defensive nightmare.
On top of all of that, Canadian fans are subjected to his Primo Pasta commercial on the various networks covering the Raptors. It is like the needle that keeps jabbing you to remind you how frustrated you are with him.
The Raptors could move him to the bench, but after six years of being treated like a franchise player, it would be unlikely this would have a positive outcome. Dwane Casey keeps professing the company line that Andrea is his guy and, more realistically, their guy. This is doing him little good in terms of positives with fans.
Trading Andrea Bargnani does not solve all of the Raptors’ problems, but it does take the heat off somewhat by making a move that many feel is long overdue. That said, if the Raptors made a lousy deal for him, it would not take long for people to be angry about that.
Regardless of whom people ultimately blame, or who is due most of that blame, it is clear people are upset. Given what they were told by the organization heading into the season, this is more than understandable. This team that they claimed back on Media Day, the one that would compete for the playoffs, is far from that at the moment.
Having been in attendance for that and this entire Raptors season, be it from my couch or covering games, it has not looked anything like that. My personal expectations were lower, even given that I could not have foreseen a complete collapse the likes of which we saw in November.
You would think after five years of covering this team and 13 years prior as a fan that I should have seen this coming. I can take some comfort in the fact that I was far from alone.