A tragic loss to the Nuggets leaves much to be answered for Colangelo, Bosh, and Triano. Even with a double-digit lead, you couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy about the Raptors' odds in this one. The difference in rosters was simply this: the Nuggets had the two best players on the floor, and when it comes down to it, they delivered.
When someone called me after the Andrea Bargnani three-point play to celebrate the Raptors win, I smirked while cautioning them about speaking too soon.
This Raptors season has been akin to a bad, low-budget porno, with cheap thrills and an all too predictable ending.
Let's break this game down and figure out where a seemingly perfect effort went oh-so very wrong.
The Denver Nuggets are more talented, but this one was lost through poor execution. With the Raptors in complete control—control they gained by hustling and sharing the ball—Triano's squad decided to piss away the lead through a series of poor isolation opportunities for their marquee player.
However, for those who've watched Bosh closely and can actually look past his impressive numbers, it's a well-known fact that Bosh has a history of wilting under the pressure of having the ball run through him against elite teams.
It's hard to blame Bosh for not being a better player, so we'll have to put this one on his teammates and coaches for giving him the ball and clearing out with the hope that he would suddenly become a player who could actually excel in such situations.
What we can blame Bosh for is his complete lack of mental toughness.
This one goes back to 2003. Reports surfaced that Bosh was flagged for his horrid caliper test scores and the Raptors were advised to avoid picking the Texan. They picked him anyway, and few have bothered to criticize the six-time All-Star.
However, when one considers that in Bosh's seven years the Raptors have routinely missed the playoffs and managed to win an underwhelming total of three playoff games, it does beg for some very serious questions.
Is Bosh overrated? The Raptors gained the lead against Denver by going away from Bosh, relying on reserves Marco Belinelli, Demar DeRozan, and Sonny Weems in the third quarter, as Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson rebounded the ball well enough to keep them in the game.
All the while, Bosh managed to turn the ball over a whopping six times, and due to poor decision-making and what can only be called butter-fingers, the Raptors handed this game back to the Denver Nuggets on a platter.
Bosh headlined this loss with four crucial losses of focus.
First, he missed a free throw when the Raptors were deperately trying to put some distance between themselves and the visitors. Off of Carmelo Anthony's second missed free-throw, Bosh grabbed the rebound only to lose control of the ball, allowing Chauncey Billups to hit a three that tied the game at 95-95 off of an inbound play moments later.
Then came a possession where he was isolated against Nene, lost and regained the ball, only to head back to the line and miss yet another free throw.
Finally, as the only big man on the floor for the Raptors on the final possession, Bosh failed to secure the ball as Nene grabbed the rebound and swung it to Billups, who then dished it to Anthony for the buzzer-beater.
Jay Triano also deserves a lot of heat for this game, and even more so for this unbearable season.
Going back to Bosh was bad enough after he was clearly unable to score against Nene and the Nuggets defense. What was worse was the five-man unit Triano sent out for the final possession.
The Raptors' only objective was to play defense and secure a rebound in the event of a Nuggets miss. However, Triano sent out four perimeter players and a big man who is quite frankly a below-average traffic rebounder and defender.
Would it not have made some sense to replace Bosh and DeRozan with Bargnani and Johnson, a big body who can box out and a terrific traffic rebounder with a nose for the ball?
No. Apparently Bosh is Dennis Rodman in the eyes of Jay Triano and the Raptors' brass.
It's hard to understand why Bosh is never subbed out on offense-defense like Bargnani is. By all accounts, especially tonight, Bargnani was a superior defender and rebounder.
The Raptors are a mess. Few teams have a less certain future. They have few pieces to trade this summer, and they'll lose their first rounder in this June's draft only to be swept by the Cavaliers in four games.
They have an aging Hedo Turkoglu, who is under-performing after the Raptors broke the bank to bring him in this past summer, and Jose Calderon, a player they're desperately trying to showcase after they signed him to a bloated long-term deal.
To make matters worse, three of their most significant contributors this past season—Antoine Wright, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson—are all up for contract renewals after this season.
At this point, the Raptors have done whatever they could to surround Bosh with talented players. They've given him a deep bench, and three different coaches. The only thing they havn't given him is what he needs: a player who's better than him.
Bosh is determined to be a franchise player in this league, and quite frankly, one has to admire how far he's come individually and statistically.
However, Bosh has been given the pass too many times. People point to Bargnani as an inadequate second option, Turkoglu as an inadequate defender and DeRozan as unproven.
It's time to start asking the right questions.
Is Bosh the type of player you can build a winner around? Is he a leader, a closer, a defender? If all he does is score and rebound, why not get David Lee at half the price?
What was the difference between the Orlando team that went to the Finals last season and this year's Raptors club which is barely holding on to a playoff spot? In short, it's the difference between Van Gundy and Triano, and the difference between Bosh and Howard.
The only statistics that count are wins and losses. The losses are mounting, and one can only pray that Bosh's next 10,000 points are scored in another uniform. These have been the seven most painful seasons in Raptors history, partially because the team has underperformed, and partially because their star player has left a lot to be desired.
The Raptors' fortunes are very much linked to the 2010 offseason. Unlike Cleveland and Miami, though, the Raptors should not be trying to convince their star to stay. Instead, they should try to extract as much as possible for their disgruntled star in the form of future considerations and prospects.
If they can rid themselves of the contracts of Evans, Calderon, Turkoglu or Banks in the process, it would go a long way to rebuilding this team properly.
Far too many teams have become consumed with having franchise players, and in the case of teams like Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia and Detroit among others, they've made kings of bishops and such a strategy is always a recipe for failure.
If the Raptors will rebound from the terrible habits and fortunes which have plagued their season next year, it will start with the continued development of Andrea Bargnani and Demar DeRozan, and whatever they're able to squeeze for Bosh in a sign-and-trade or through free agency if he walks.
If the NBA is a game of chess, it's time to turn the TV off for Raptors fans. The king hasn't left the building. As Bosh has shown for seven disappointing seasons, there hasn't been a king among this bunch for quite some time.
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