Toronto Raptors 2008 Season Preview

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Toronto Raptors 2008 Season Preview

With the Raptors back in town preparing for what looks to be a season of high expectations, one might take the cautionary route by first asking if what needed to be done was in fact done.

Is it reasonable to expect this team, as it is, to give Boston and Detroit something to worry about?

Bryan Colangelo has a reputation for keeping his affairs in-house and his cards close to his chest. After all, this is the man who labeled a blossoming Charlie Vallanueva one of the key pieces of the franchise two days before shipping him off to Milwaukee.

Having seen him rise into one of the better general managers in the NBA, it's getting quite obvious that this isn't a man who has any tolerance for losing. The Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs in 2007 due to the fact that Bosh couldn't move against the Nets' traps, and because when he found shooters, they weren't consistent enough to make defenses pay. Enter Kapono.

As Colangelo saw Dwight Howard tear up the Raptors interior—as the whole league had done last season—one couldn't help but wonder who Colangelo was going to bring into town to help Chris Bosh.

The thought of Jermaine O' Neal was automatically followed by laughter at a dinner conversation, and the realistic option seemed to be a move for players like Ben Wallace, AK47, or perhaps Corey Maggette.

It certainly seemed odd at the time that MLSE would agree to tie in nearly 40 percent of the cap on one player. What seemed even harder to comprehend was the fact that the Lakers attempted to get O'Neal a year earlier, but talks were halted because Bird wanted too much for his oft-injured star.

What could the Raptors offer that would beat a package like Lamar Odom and young prospects? Apparently, a PG to replace Tinsley, an $8 million expiring contract, and a draft pick was enough. Lamar Odom sure looks good now, doesn't he?

If Jermaine O'Neal is as healthy as he claims and seems to be, this trade redeems this organization of the Vince Carter blunder on some levels. Raptor fans know that they probably gave up more on paper for O'Neal than the Nets did for Carter at the time—but in a way, even the loss of TJ Ford can be seen as a positive for this team as it solves a chemistry issue, and rids the team of an injury hazard who had a lot of time left on his contract.

With Jose Calderon, Chris Bosh, and Jermaine O'Neal, the Raptors are ready to take the next step and become an elite team in this league.

 

Depth Chart

PG- Jose Calderon - Roko Leni Ukic - Will Solomon

SG- Anthony Parker - Will Solomon - Hasaan Adams

SF-Jamario Moon - Jason Kapono - Andrea Bargnani - Joey Graham

PF- Chris Bosh- Andrea Bargnani - Kris Humphries

C- Jermaine O'Neal - Andrea Bargnani - Nathan Jawai

 

Point Guard

The point-guard tandem of Ford and Calderon was destined to fail due to media intervention and the age difference being so small between the two players.

With TJ gone, Jose will have a chance to build on the impressive numbers he put up last year and certainly look to elevate himself to All-Star status in the East. With Kidd and Arenas out of the picture, it certainly isn't hard to imagine him being the second best Point guard in the Eastern Conference.

Behind Calderon is a pure point guard who played his 2007-08 season in Italy. Roko Ukic finally has a chance to show the NBA what he's about—and I can say without a doubt that he's been waiting for this opportunity since he put on a pair of Nikes. He brings creativeness and vision to the lead guard spot and if need be, he can also slide over to the off-guard position.

In case of an emergency situation, the Raptors also added Will Solomon, who also spent the last season playing overseas. He's a solid passer, scorer, and shooter. While he's not expected to contribute much, he could very well see fifteen minutes a night if Adams and Graham fail to make a statement in training camp.

There isn't a better point guard to pair Solomon with than Ukic—and defensively, Ukic can guard the twos while Solomon would be under sized. We may not exactly be talking about Magic Johnson or Ben Gordon, but the point is made.

 

Shooting Guard

The Raptors have little choice but to stay with Parker at this point. He's not ideal, but with the touches Calderon, O'Neal, and Bosh are going to need to be effective, a greater talent may be wasted.

What is needed is defense, and in this aspect Parker is really slowing down. He may retire from the NBA following this season, and I expect he'll leave on a high note.

Behind Parker are many questions. While Joey Graham is not quite a guard, Hassan Adams has proved nothing on the NBA stage. Solomon is undersized and streaky, but that is partially negated by the fact that Ukic is a very big and long point guard.

This will be the thorn in the Raptors side, and following this season, Colangelo should really look to add a stopper at the two. Raja Bell would look sensational in Toronto.

 

Small Forward

Surely Mitchell has an idea about who he wants to start in the front court with Bosh and O'Neal. Common sense suggests that trying to use common sense to figure out who's going to start at the three spot would be pointless. Each player brings something different.

If you were to start Bargnani, Moon could be a small-ball three-four hybrid off the bench, and Bargnani could step over to the four or five when O'Neal or Bosh had to rest. Certainly, Bryan Colangelo seemed convinced that Bargnani could do it in certain situations with O'Neal behind him.

It would be a strange situation with a lineup that size, but if they could iron out the problems defensively, and Bargnani can iron out his personal problems offensively, this lineup might be the most difficult lineup across the front-court in the NBA.

Starting Kapono gives the Raptors a weapon who would likely enhance the performance of O'Neal and Bosh, and at the same time allow Kapono to get corner shots from Jermaine as he got from the other O'Neal in Miami.

Starting Moon, however, would ensure that Bargnani and Kapono will be a spark off the bench and play huge minutes as they may on some nights be the only two front court players to get off the bench. They would benefit from Roko Ukic's selflessness and penetration skills.

To find twelve shots a game for either of those guys in the starting lineup would be problematic, considering O'Neal and Bosh would be expecting fifteen to sixteen each, and Jose will likely take eleven to twelve himself. Unless Parker is supposed to stop shooting, this line up doesn't work—unless you put in Jamario Moon and limit his touches to dunks and open layups.

 

Power Forward

An All-Star forward with world-class talent and quickness at the four spot, the pressure is is on "CB4" to make a statement this year. The talent is there, and this season is one Bosh is going to spend under the microscope.  Some people are interested in if there will be a carryover from the Olympics, and others are just interested to see how Toronto's Bosh-O'Neal duo will pan out.

Certainly, on offense this is the most skilled four-five combination the NBA has seen since Duncan and Robinson. Behind Bosh is likely sixth man Andrea Bargnani and banger Kris Humphries. And among the three of them, not one is yet twenty-five.

 

Center

If he can find himself again, in the long term this is Andrea Bargnani's position. For now, however, it belongs to a six-time All-Star—and a superstar who's going to be looking to prove a lot of people wrong this season.

Word in Eric Smith's FAN590 Blog was that there were on-lookers who said that O'Neal blocked at least 20 shots in one scrimmage game. He must love blocking the Raptors, because he did it ten times in one game a few years back against Carter's Raptors.

Andrea Bargnani figures to get a fair share of minutes at the front court positions and most of them will come behind O'Neal.  Andrea Bargnani, according to many sources, looks to have gained anywhere from eight to fifteen pounds of muscle this offseason. He's going to need it if he's guarding O'Neal in practices.

With the potential to put three near-seven footers on the floor who can all shoot, and can all go off for thirty points on any given night, it's no wonder O'Neal starts getting skittish every time the question of other teams guarding Bosh, Bargnani, and himself comes up.

 

Top Players

Chris Bosh: 21 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.6 bpg

Jose Calderon: 14 ppg, 10.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, 1.3 spg

Jermaine O'Neal: 16.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 2.4 apg

Andrea Bargnani: 13.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 27.5 mpg

Anthony Parker: 10.5 ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.9 rpg

Jason Kapono: 9.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.4 apg

Jamario Moon: 6.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 1.2 spg

Roko Leni Ukic: 5.7 ppg, 4.9 apg, 17.5 mpg

 

Projected Record: 51-31

Atlantic: Second

Playoffs: Eliminated in Second Round (six games)

Match-up problems to avoid: Cleveland, Miami, Boston, Atlanta

 

Hardware

All-Stars: Chris Bosh, Jermaine O'Neal

Second team All-NBA: Chris Bosh

First team All-Defense: Jermaine O'Neal

Rookie/Sophomore Challenge: Roko Leni Ukic

 

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