Toronto Raptors' Options: They Can Be a Playoff Team Again Next Season

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IJune 9, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20:  David Lee #42 of the New York Knicks dunks the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2010 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Many fans and GMs are willing to sacrifice it all for a slim chance to be an NBA Finals team. 

But the reality is, unless you are willing to spend will over $10 million in luxury tax dollars, it is not going to happen under this CBA.  And there is a good chance it won’t happen under the next CBA either.

Even if your team’s owners are willing to deep into their pockets in an attempt to buy their city a championship, the odds are still against them.

One only has to look at the New York Knicks organization to see how big spending doesn’t guarantee playoffs, let alone championships.  Then there is the Mavericks, Cavaliers, and Magic who found out big spending doesn’t necessarily get it done either.

Five NBA teams had payrolls over $80 million this season.  One might have noticed, there is just one trophy.

So some teams decimated this year’s roster and forfeited a season or more for the slim chance of landing a couple of premier free agents and a chance to join the elite. 

One should question if it was worth it.

There is another strategy.  One that involves team building, playoff certainty, and big profits for teams outside of the LA and NY metropolitan areas.

And it is a strategy teams like the Toronto Raptors should be pursuing.  Not that they should be turning down opportunities to sign a Dwyane Wade or LeBron James.  It is just those opportunities are not very likely to happen.

The obvious strategy for teams like the Raptors is to avoid the mega-stars of the league and build a team around the many secondary good players available. 

Sorry, Chris Bosh may not fit this model.

Like the Detroit Pistons eight year playoff run, it is possible to have playoff success without a mega-star. 

Although, it would take a lot of luck to recreate six seasons in the Conference Finals.  At the end of the season, just being in the playoffs is what generates fan support and dollars for an NBA team.

There are two heavily reported trade possibilities that would enable the Raptors to keep their young base of players and make additions that should put them back into next season’s playoff picture.

Sign and trade Bosh for Lee

With Chris Bosh holding his cards close to his vest and nearly everyone expecting that New York is an acceptable destination, the “sure thing” for Bryan Colangelo to do is pull the sign and trade for the Knicks’ free agent, David Lee.

David Lee fits with the Toronto Raptors and in some ways better than Bosh.

Where Bosh is close to 6′11″ and Lee is closer to 6′9″, both are considered soft defenders. 

For the same money, everyone should want Bosh on their team.  But it will not be for the same money.  Bosh will sign a max six-year deal starting at $16.5 million,  the most David Lee could sign for starts at $13.5 million.  That’s at least a $25 million difference.

Bosh’s early career defensive stat advantage of 1.4 blocks per game has dropped off as knee issues have somewhat limited his mobility. 

Where Lee’s size has limited him to a half a block per game, that stat has actually improved since he was drafted and Lee makes up for it with a full steal per game compared to Bosh’s 0.6 steals.

Neither player has been at much risk of being considered a defensive stopper.

The Raptors would miss Chris Bosh’s five seasons of 22-plus points per game.  But Lee has developed a nice offensive repertoire of his own and cracked the 20 point per game himself last season.  Both players will give you 10-plus boards a game.

Where Lee has the advantage over Bosh from a Raptors perspective is in his willingness to share the ball.

One knock on Bosh is his lack of assists and his inability to effectively pass out of double teams.  Although there were signs of this improving during last season.

David Lee has no such issues.  Lee led all NBA centers with 3.6 assists per game and that was on a team in the bottom third of the league in shooting percentage.  Bosh had his typical 2.4 assists.

No one is going to suggest that David Lee is as good as Chris Bosh.  But replacing Bosh with Lee should not significantly reduce the Raptors effectiveness at either end of the court.

And this trade could be trigger for bringing Andrea Bargnani’s game to the fore.

Mo Williams for Jose Calderon

Maybe this is just shuffling the deck chairs on the titanic for the Cavaliers and the Raptors.  But both teams need a change at the point guard spot, the salaries are similar, and both players could benefit from a change in scenery.

Mo Williams brings a scorer’s mentality to the point guard spot.  A good three-point threat who can and does drop over 20 points on any given night.  The type of guard who would mesh well with the Raptors Hedo Turkoglu.

Jose Calderon is the prototypical pass first point guard.  A guard who has worked well running the pick and roll and feeding the ball to his team’s All-Star for easy shots. 

Someone who should be able to step in and make LeBron James life easier from day one and stop the Cavaliers offense from vanishing when James leaves the floor.

This reason this potential deal has got so much play in the media is that it makes sense.  A low risk, potentially high reward transaction that should get either team’s GM in any trouble (assuming the Cavs have a GM).

And moving Jose Calderon could be the tonic for resolving the Raptors issues with Hedo Turkoglu.

Why should the Raptors be pursuing these transactions?

For over 40 games last season, the Toronto Raptors were a playoff bound team.  After wasting the first 20 games, the team’s new coaches and players finally got their act together and won 25 of the next 40. 

One could easily hang the Raptors end of season drop off on Chris Bosh’s two injuries and Hedo Turkoglu breaking his face for the second time. 

See Raptors Wrap-up for a summary of the Toronto Raptors season.

Shredding that roster and starting over is likely to mean missing the playoffs for the next couple of seasons.  That is not something the fans or ownership will be very excited to hear.

These two transactions should go a long way towards keeping the bulk of the 2009-10 team together.  Minimizing the time it will take to “gel” this fall and keeping the Raptors talent level comparable to last year when the team was winning.

Who knows:

1. with a decent draft pick(s)

2. a trade for the Raptors two expiring contracts

3. picking up a free agent with the MLE.

The 2010-11 Raptors could even be significantly improved.


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