With the 2008-2009 NBA season well under way, it's easy to see which teams are dominating and which are disappointing. The Toronto Raptors, who were expected to be a serious threat to teams like the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, have so far fallen under those who have disappointed.
A 12-20 record is nothing most Raptor fans expected when the team made the blockbuster move of trading TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and Roy Hibbert to Indiana in exchange for Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal was believed to be a major piece to the puzzle and would allow Chris Bosh to thrive, much like another O'Neal, Shaquille, was expected to do for Amare Stoudemire.
So far, however, it's not working. In the beginning of the season, Bosh was finally starting to look like the dominant player he could be, even leading the league in scoring at one point of time. No longer forced to bang with the big boys, Bosh was able to play his customary finesse style and let O'Neal take care of the dirty work down low.
Recently, though, Bosh is looking much less like the player he was in the beginning of the season. It seems as though he has temporarily decided to defer to O'Neal, because his numbers have gone way down. Monday night's game against the Warriors was a step in the right direction, as Bosh had 30 points and 14 rebounds, but O'Neal left the game early due to flu like symptoms.
Hopefully, Bosh can use this as an opportunity to continue his torrid ways and develop as rapidly as he was at the start of the season. Bosh will be forced to contribute more to the cause and he may be able to get things going again.
Jermaine O'Neal has not been playing as he was supposed to. Once again, he is injured, but it's more than that. He has not been able to adequately benefit Bosh by relieving him of responsibilities in the paint. O'Neal is not nearly the defensive force he once was, but he needs to turn it on as well for Toronto to have a chance. Otherwise, Bosh will have to rebound and defend and neither big will score.
Despite the problems, the Raptors do have a bright spot in Jose Calderon. He has been playing extremely well, running the show and satisfying everybody without having a proper backup. Calderon was given a lot of trust by management when Ford was dealt, but Calderon has rewarded their trust.
The amount of strength he uses to burst by a pick is just unbelievable. Calderon is a fantastic pick and roll player, and with Bosh and O'Neal as his bigs, running the play should be no problem. Calderon is not a strong defender, but does a decent job. Though he doesn't shoot much, he makes shots when he shoots. His 13 points and nine assists have been very important to the team so far.
One of the main problems I've seen is the bench and role players. It seems like Andrea Bargnani is still struggling despite the firing of Sam Mitchell. Now, though, it doesn't look like he can be depended on too much. Toronto needs to relieve some of the pressure they put on the guy.
Jason Kapono is purely a shooter; he can not do anything else. He is a weak defender and is only shooting 43% from the field this season. Jamario Moon has been quieter than last season, and doesn't seem to be putting in too much effort. I was hoping for more than seven points a game from him. Anthony Parker is solid, but his shooting has been less than stellar as well.
When these guys aren't making their shots, teams are free to load up on Bosh and O'Neal. The other problem is a lack of big men to support the starters. This team cannot afford to rely on Kris Humphries and Will Solomon as their backups if they expect to actually pose a challenge for the elite teams.
Now that Sam Mitchell is gone, Toronto is looking for a new head coach. Personally, I feel that the best candidate out there is Avery Johnson. A lot of teams could use him for one reason: defense. Johnson took a horrible Dallas defense and transformed it into one of the best in the league. Now, the Raptors defense isn't nearly as porous, so imagine what Johnson could accomplish.
With a front court of O'Neal, Bosh, and Bargnani, their is clearly potential. Johnson could let Bosh and O'Neal stay down low and let the other three players press up on the offense. This eliminates three pointers and most penetration. If a player does get into the paint, the bigs should be able to stop them and let the team regroup.
The weakness is the post, where there will be many holes, but Bosh and O'Neal are excellent defenders and can easily hold the fort down low. They will also snatch any rebounds coming their way, and having three players by the three point line will encourage fast breaking and easy points.
If nothing happens, Toronto can always put O'Neal down low and seal his defender and let Bosh roam around the free throw line. If the perimeter players start knocking down open jumpers, the Raptors can have one of the most efficient offenses in the league.
It's clear that Toronto has serious problems and needs to address them now. The best way is to appoint Avery Johnson as head coach, but Eddie Jordan and Mo Cheeks are also good options. If Toronto wants to make a serious push, now is the time to do it. Otherwise, they will far too far behind. I'd love to hear what you guys think, let me know what you think the Raptors should do.