Another game, and another loss for the Toronto Raptors. Having to play a great team like the Chicago Bulls without your best player (Andrea Bargnani), your starting point guard (Jose Calderon), leading rebounder (Reggie Evans) and best pure shooter (Peja Stojakovic) would seem like a date with the devil.
The Raptors in fact did earn a date with the devil tonight, and the devil ended up making the Raptors pick up the tab.
When the final buzzer sounded, the result was to no one's surprise in favor of the Bulls by a wide margin, having beat the listless Raptors 110-93.
Carlos Boozer manhandled the very young Raptors front court of Amir Johnson, 23, and Ed Davis, 21, going off for 34 points on 13-of-17 shooting along with 8-of-11 at the charity stripe.
But still, some positives came out from the night for some of the Raptors front court players. Both Ed Davis and Joey Dorsey finished with double doubles (10 points, 10 rebounds for Davis, and 12 points, 13 rebounds for Dorsey). Amir Johnson struggled containing Boozer and Joakim Noah without fouling them. He sat for most of the game and was highly ineffective.
Even though the Raptors were out-rebounded by 10 (47-37), I'm not here to put blame on the front-court for a lackluster effort. My blame right now is squarely put on the wing position. After Dorsey and Davis, the leading rebounders for the Toronto Raptors were Leandro Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless, with three rebounds each. These are your point guards who should be facilitating plays, not cleaning up the plays.
The Raptors wing positions, or what I like to call, the two most important positions for creating offence in the NBA, are what is letting this team down, and is the main reason why this team hasn't competed in the playoffs for a long time.
The last time the Raptors even stood a chance in the playoffs, the likes of Anthony Parker, a younger, slimmer Morris Peterson, Carlos Delfino and Jorge Garbajosa manned the wing positions. They weren't outstanding wing players, but each of them brought something to the table each night.
Now we have potential guys in the two or three position for the Raptors with DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Linus Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa claiming their spots in the rotation. Barbosa, who I think is better served as a point guard, with the ball in his hands, seems to be the only win player this year that gets it. Sadly, he's a combo guard and not a combo forward.
Clearly the Linus Kleiza experiment was a mistake on behalf of Bryan Colangelo. Kleiza has had one good game with the Raptors, while the remainder of games have been NBDL quality at best. Kleiza's numbers from tonight were four points, three rebounds, one turnover and all of that while shooting a pathetic 2-of-9 from the field. It's apparent that 8-10 game against the Nuggets was a mirage on the plight of Kleiza's season.
DeMar DeRozan has shown flashes of brilliance, but still is probably the most inconsistent of all three wing players; however, he is the youngest among the three. He shows flashes of brilliance such as the facial he gave Tyrus Thomas on Tuesday night, but then shows flashes of utter disappointment, only shooting 4-for-12 tonight with star player Andrea Bargnani.
Sonny Weems, who in my opinion is shooting himself out of a job in the NBA, scored seven points and added five assists. Not bad you say? However, Weems turned the ball over four times, and only shot 3-of-10. Many instances as well on offense, Weems would grab the ball and dribble like a poor man's Kobe Bryant, but at the end of the day, more often than not, a bad pass or bad shot would result from his tomfoolery.
Weems and Kleiza easily make up the worst small forward rotation in the entire NBA—yes, the entire league. Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers come in a close second. Not one of them you can rely on for one tangible thing, such as rebounding, defense or any consistent offense. Both are mediocre NBA ballers at best.
What I look at is any good team, for the most part, has at least one wing player that is consistent and can be relied upon night in and night out.
If we look at the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference currently (in no particular order):
BOS: Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Marquis Daniels, Delonte West
ORL: Vince Carter, Quentin Richardson, JJ Redick, Mikael Pietrus
MIA: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Mike Miller, James Jones, Eddie House
CHI: Luol Deng, Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer
ATL: Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford, Mo Evans, Joe Johnson
NYK: Landry Fields, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Shawne Williams, Toney Douglas
IND: Danny Granger, Brandon Rush, Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones, Paul George
MIL: Michael Redd, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Chris Douglas Roberts
The one common thing here is there is at least one guy you can count on to bring something to the table night in and night out. We won't look at the Western Conference teams, it's a bit depressing to look at the caliber of players at their disposal.
The common thing said about the Raptors wings is "there is no real thing you can count on with the Raptors wing positions except for pure inconsistency.
Tonight, much like most nights in recent memory, the leading scorers for the Raptors other than center Andrea Bargnani (injured), just happen to be your two points guards, Barbosa (21 points) and Bayless (20 points).
With an army of trade assets at his disposal, the No. 1 priority with the Raptors right now for future success of the franchise is to address this large need.
Without any semblance of consistent productivity from the wing position, the Raptors will continue to miss the playoffs and play rather up and down basketball. What the Raptors have right now on the wing position is too one-dimensional and inter-changeable, and at least two of them need to go— preferably Weems and Kleiza, although Barbosa may be easier to trade.
The expiring contracts of Peja Stojakovic, Reggie Evans, Julian Wright and Sonny Weems gives the Raptors roughly $25 million in cap space. Also, they are still in possession of a $12.2 million trade exemption from the Chris Bosh deal they have yet to use. Add to it, two first round picks and what do you have?
This year may look ugly and be a reason to tank, but if Colangelo can address this need by using what he has at his disposal, the Raptors should return to playoff basketball in the near future.