Remember all that hype surrounding the Raptors prior to the '07-08 season?
Raps fans were buzzing about the '06-07 Atlantic Division champs. The season looked promising.
A two-headed monster at PG (Ford and Calderon), a maturing Andrea Bargnani, and a more confident Chris Bosh were supposed to give the Celtics a run for their money as the leaders of the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, the season turned into one of turmoil and disappointment—to say the least. Colangelo and Co. had to come up with a new plan for '08-09—and although there are many skeptics, there is reason to hype up this season again.
The acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal is an interesting one. When he says he's here to support the team and help them win, I hope he means it. When I heard Ray Allen and KG say the same things last year, I heard voices in my head saying "BS, BS, BS". Those voices were wrong.
As the leader of the once-elite Indiana Pacers over the last few years, Jermaine is now coming to a team that is organized in a non-patriarchal fashion. Sure, Chris Bosh is the bonafide leader of this team. However, although his talent and play is superior to others, he is not one of those players that can take over a game a la King James, Kobe or Dirk.
This is a team that will have to run on all cylinders, on the offensive and defensive (primarily) side. Bosh will benefit from J.O.'s presence. One only has to remember the days of Oakley-Davis-Willis—a trio of big, hard bodies that all benefited from each others presence.
If you look at CB4 and J.O.'s game, they certainly have an edge over Oak-Antonio-Willis. Throw a resurgent/confident Bargnani (everyone cross your fingers) into the mix—and man, now we're talking.
Calderon will be the Calderon of the '07-'08 season. The reason why he faded somewhat through the second half was because he was playing 42-46 minutes a game when TJ went down.
If Ukic can back him up with 15-20 minutes of average (hopefully above-average) play, then the PG position that was somewhat of a problem last year is solved.
Newly-acquired Solomon brings experience, and can step up in case of any injury. No offense to Darrick Martin, but these back-ups can play.
It's looking like the starting lineup will be:
C - O'Neal , PF - Bosh, SF - Kapono/Moon, SG - Parker, PG - Calderon
Parker is at a crossroads in his career. He'll have to shine this season—he's a free agent in 2009—to get the money he wants in the NBA. He is certainly one of those players who may take the ever powerful Euro over Uncle Sam's paper.
If Sir Kapono plays like he did against the Magic in the playoffs, Jamario Moon may be out of the starting lineup. On the flipside, if Jamario bulks up and shows an effort to start driving a little more, there could be some healthy competition at the SF position.
Now, to coaching. Love him or hate him, Sam's the man next year. I still think the jury's out on him.
This will be a defining year for Sam. One year his team was the Atlantic Division Champs, the next year they had to fight their way to the .500 mark. It's Sam's time to bring this team to another level.
As a devout Raps fan, I try to stay away from "he's not an X's and O's guy," or "Sam doesn't play this player enough," or "Sam plays this crappy player too often". The fact is, he has brought us an Atlantic Division banner in the past.
But the Raps must get out of the first round of the playoffs to ensure Sam still has a job at the end of the season. This was the goal last year, and will most certainly be this year's realistic goal as well.
In a perfect world, the Raps would win a championship within three years. Bosh is entering his prime. If the Raps continue with their teasing mediocrity in the playoffs, I don't expect CB4 to re-sign after his contract expires.
So my friends, that is why this year is a hell of an important year for the Raps. I would hate to see the dark years creep up on Raptor land again.
In the words of Chuck, "Always a pleasure!"