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What does a lockout mean for the Raptors?

July 4, 2011 1 comment

Billy Hunter and David Stern have been through this before.

According to most, the NBA’s 2011-2012 season is in real jeopardy. Hockey fans will remember this well – a broken system with the majority of owners losing money and a real change in the way business is done becoming a necessity. The difference is that hockey has experienced (and desperately needed) a sort of revival – commonly referred to as the post-lockout era – whereas the NBA is coming off perhaps its most hyped and entertaining season in decades. Here at Toronto Sports Fanatic all we want to know is: How will this lockout affect the Raptors?

The Raptors organization is one of the few that makes a nice profit despite their perennial bottom-feeder status, so I’m sure the board at MLSE is none too pleased to see an entire season go to waste – especially if the rumours are true for any impending sale of the teams. However, with the continued financial success of the Leafs and the hundreds of other projects undertaken by MLSE, ownership can afford to fight alongside their brethren until a favourable deal is reached with the Player’s Association.

As for the team and players this is pretty much a lose-lose situation. The Player’s Association – like that of the NHL’s – is going to have to give back a lot. Salary rollbacks, a hard or flex cap, player amnesties, and lower max years and money for contracts all seem like an inevitability. Also, with one of the youngest teams in the league and the inability for players and coaches to interact, an entire season of development would be lost for the likes of Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, and Demar Derozan. It is up to the players to stay in shape and find ways to work on their games during the lockout – something I’m sure management discussed thoroughly with the players before the lockout began.

The only positive of losing an entire season may sound a bit pessimistic; it’s one less year of pain – one less year of the stress of having to watch this young team throw away leads or get blown out of the gym on the back end of a back to back during another horrendous west coast trip. The contract of Leandro Barbosa would expire and Jose Calderon would become a more tradeable asset with only one year remaining on his contract. Calderon could still function as a veteran leader in a young locker room while helping to groom any young point guard that may be drafted in the 2012 draft before being jettisoned off to a contender for a draft pick. And, Jonas Valanciunas would make his NBA debut after a developmental year overseas and hopefully quiet the wolves who came out after his name was announced on draft day.

Finally, that brings us to the topic of the 2012 NBA Draft. So, what exactly happens if the entire season is locked out? What would the draft order be? Well, according to Larry Coon of ESPN, a system similar to what the NHL adopted after their lockout could be used. Every team would have a chance at the #1 pick, but a weighted system based on playoff appearances over the last three seasons and #1 picks over the last four would determine the division of ping pong bals. That would seem to immediately give the Minnesota Timberwolves the best chance at winning with the Raptors not far behind. And with a talented crop coming through the results of the 2012 NBA Draft could have far greater consequences on the future of the Raptors than this past one did.

The Raptors have been unwilling to go into luxury tax area in recent years, so a hard cap and salary rollback would appease the owners. League management, including perennial overspenders, would have to scramble to alter their philosophies and adapt to any new system. The NBA would then become something similar to that of the NHL – creative and flexible management would determine success rather than simply money and city status. Raptors fans need to ask themselves: Is Bryan Colangelo the man you want in charge in a new system? Are his talents best suited to an NHL type system or could his impatience and seeming short-sightedness (with everyone besides Andrea Bargnani) hurt this franchise for years to come. Lots of questions to be asked, but few answers until pen is put to paper and the future of the NBA’s financial system becomes more clear.

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More Questions Than Answers

Valanciunas has a buyout issue with his European club and might not be able to play next season.

Bryan Colangelo needed to make the safe play in order to appease his critics. He didn’t. That wouldn’t be his style.

Instead he chose the 6’11, 240 pound Lithuanian center with a name that Jeff Van Gundy didn’t even bother trying to learn – Jonas Valanciunas (pronounced Val-en-choo-niss).

All reports leading up to the draft had the Cavs favouring Valanciunas with the #4 pick. San Antonio made a late push dangling Tony Parker for a chance to get into the lottery to snap up Valanciunas. None of the lottery teams bit and instead the Spurs traded backup guard George Hill to the Pacers for another name tied to the Raptors all draft in Kawhi Leonard.

However, when the Cavs chose Brampton native Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick there was a sense in the air that the Raptors would follow up with a similar surprise. When David Stern stepped to the podium Raptors fans wanted to hear the name Brandon Knight. A lot expected to hear the name Bismack Biyombo. A very select few expected to hear Jonas Valanciunas. The rest of the Raptor faithful scurried to ironically tweet their anger and seemed to collectively shake their heads that Bryan Colangelo had selected another soft euro.

The questions began to rain down:

Is this guy strong enough to play Center? – Valanciunas doesn’t believe so right now.

Will he even be able to play next season?

The Raptors are drafting another big? What happens to Andrea Bargnani – we aren’t going to trade him???

What is this guy’s ceiling? Is he really anything like Big Z?

And unfortunately for Bryan Colangelo the answers won’t come soon enough. Colangelo has two years to get this team on the right track and part of that process came with this selection. By not making the safe pick Colangelo has hammered one nail into his own coffin.

Brandon Knight fell to the Pistons at #8 (and he certainly wasn’t happy about that). Raptors fans saw him as a long-term solution to the point guard problem in Toronto but apparently Colangelo, and quite a few other teams, didn’t. Knight is going to have a good rookie season in Detroit and Raptors fans will curse Colangelo like they did when Brandon Jennings went off for 55 points and completed a rather solid rookie season himself. At that time fans were upset that Colangelo passed on him but how many would now trade Jennings for Derozan?

The point of this exercise is that none of us know how Valanciunas will turn out. He might end up being a better player than Knight or Biyombo or Kemba Walker. If he does, Bryan Colangelo might not even be around to see it. Colangelo needed to make the safe pick to most likely save his job, but he made the choice that he thought would give the Raptors the best chance to win an NBA title in the future. It’s honourable, risky, and probably stupid. More questions than answers – that’s what it’s like being a Raptors fan.

The Dog Days of Summer Must Wait

When the NHL and NBA seasons end many wonder what will keep them going through the notorious dog days of summer. This year will be a little different as the NFL still works through a nasty collective bargaining agreement and north of the border college football is hardly revered or followed.

However, this past weekend provided enough entertainment that we can rest assured the official dog days of summer have not started – those will begin in late July.

In Toronto news, Toronto FC is now winless in their last eight games as they conceded a stunning 90th minute free kick to Freddy Montero and 10-man Seattle to lose 1-0. It’s always the dog days of summer for Toronto FC.

The Blue Jays quieted the bats of Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds for almost the entire series but a 6th inning 2-run home run by Miguel Cairo and a botched safety squeeze combined to help the Reds avoid the sweep in the finale.

Jo-Jo Reyes picked up his third win of the year in the series opener as he continues to impress and cement a position in the rotation for the remainder of the year. Brandon Morrow bounced back from a terrible start against Boston to pitch nearly 7 shutout innings picking up the win in the Blue Jays 4-0 victory in the second game of the set. And Carlos Villanueva had another solid effort giving up only 2 hits in 7 innings in the finale. Unfortunately, one of those was the Miguel Cairo 2-run home run and the Jays couldn’t muster enough off of Bronson Arroyo to finish the sweep.

The Jays now head to Atlanta to start a three game set beginning tonight.

There’s been plenty of chatter ahead of both the NHL and NBA entry drafts that begin later this week. The main question for the Leafs has been: rebuild through the draft or focus on bringing in some legitimate free agent talent to help make the team more competitive right now. Personally, the Leafs have never given a true rebuild a chance and that’s part of the reason they’ve rarely had enough young talent to remain consistently competitive. Stick to the draft and endure a couple of more years out of the race – it’s not like it’s going to add any more embarrassment to the franchise at this point.

Biyombo is very raw but has a lot of upside - a virtual unknown until February.

As for the Raptors, there is a lot of speculation but it is just that. Bryan Colangelo is letting NOTHING leak as he gets set to make the fifth selection in the NBA Draft. Some of the rumours bountied about have the Raptors trading down, but there have been no indications that they would want to trade up. The Raptors want Brandon Knight, but I don’t believe he’ll be available when they make their selection. The speculation of trading down stems from the fact there aren’t any surefire difference-makers in this draft and since the Raptors are a few seasons away from competing they might as well take a chance on a high upside guy and let him develop overseas – like a Bismack Biyombo or Jan Vesely.

On a final note I’d just like to congratulate Rory McIlroy. I haven’t been rooting for anyone at a major since the heyday of Tiger Woods. There is just something very likeable about the kid and hopefully he can stay grounded and entertain us for years to come.

Thursday Wrap-up

Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff know one thing - it's summatime.

For most people June 21st signifies the beginning of summer. For others it’s when they can consistently put the top down on their cars or pull their bikes out of storage. For me? The end of the NBA and NHL seasons is the true indicator that summer has arrived.

And with summer comes an unbearably slow news cycle with the exception of our beloved Blue Jays. However, considering their penchant for summer blues, it might end up being a rather bitter news cycle as the reality of another season without postseason baseball starts to hit home. But, in this space we’ll do our best to keep the news coming to make sure you get your daily fix.

Firstly, congratulations to the Boston Bruins on a much deserved and long-awaited championship. They fought back from a huge series deficit against Montreal, carried that momentum to their series sweep of the defending Eastern Conference Champion Flyers (expelling their demons from last postseason in the process), and then dug deep to win two very long and grueling series against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning and the absurdly talented Canucks. So, hats off to the Bruins and their organization. And oh yah – you’re more than welcome for Tomas Kaberle and Tyler Seguin.

Speaking of the Leafs, they very quietly re-signed two key players from last season in the past week. James Reimer, the rookie sensation affectionately and awesomely known as “Optimus Reim” signed a three-year $5.4 million contract to remain with the Leafs. Reimer will be given the starting job and the expectations that go along with a fantastic rookie campaign and 44 years of futility. However, at a price tag of 1.8 million per season the investment in Reimer is small enough to be a gargantuan steal or at worst a fair price for a steady backup goaltender.

Since the departure of Ed Belfour, Reimer and the Leafs are looking for some goaltending stability that was so abundant and taken advantage of for the better part of 15 years in this city. Here’s hoping Reimer doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Felix Potvin or god forbid Andrew Raycroft.

The Leafs also re-signed young defenceman Carl Gunnarsson to a two-year $2.6 million contract. Gunnarsson will be entering his third season with the Maple Leafs and again showed lots of promise in the second half of the season. With the departure of Tomas Kaberle, Gunnarsson benefited from the extra ice time and responsibility recording 3 goals and 13 assists in 2011. Gunnarsson’s next task (along with the entire team’s) is to turn that half season into a full one.

In perhaps the least televised event in TSN’s history Toronto FC played to another dreadful 0-0 tie against the New England Revolution. Toronto FC now have one win in their last ten including six ties which gave them a league best (?) nine ties. I can’t bring myself to speak about the state of soccer in Toronto, or Canada for that matter, but we’ll take a closer look some time next week.

The Blue Jays, buoyed by the reassuringly consistent Ricky Romero, beat the Orioles 4-1 last night. Romero went 8 strong and struck out 12 while the Jays got solo homers from Yunel Escobar, Juan Rivera and a game-clinching two-run shot by perhaps the AL’s hottest hitter in Adam Lind. To note, Frank Francisco picked up the save by not blowing a 4-run lead in the ninth. Way to go Frank!

If only the Jays could play the Orioles 162 times a year we might be on to a cure for the summertime blues.

The NBA draft is in a week and frankly I’m sick of it already. The Raptors will take one of these players if available: Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Jonas Valanciunas, Enes Kanter, or dark-horse Jimmer Fredette. I have no idea who it will be and neither does anybody else. I’ll see you on June 23rd for the only draft that I can actually sit through.

Enjoy the weekend folks because there ain’t much going on besides a weekend series in Cincinnati for the Blue Jays where Joey Votto is going to look to smash against his hometown team.

The Next Head Coach of the Raptors…Part 1

According to Mr. Smith the candidates for the head coaching position have been narrowed to two:

Boston assistant coach Lawrence Frank and Mavs assistant Dwane Casey.

Today, let’s look at Lawrence Frank.

Frank started his career as a student manager at Indiana University working for Bobby Knight. After his graduation, Frank became an assistant for everyone’s favourite maniacal former Raptors head coach and defensive guru (yet offensive putz) Kevin O’Neill at Marquette and Tennessee. From there Frank joined the staff of the Vancouver Grizzlies before finally joining the Nets in 2000.

It would be in 2004, after the Nets had gone to the NBA finals in two consecutive years under the leadership of one of the most underrated coaches in the league in Byron Scott, that Frank would finally get his chance. The veteran-heavy Nets had simply tuned Scott out (like most teams do to their coach at some point), and sensing a change was needed, then President and GM Rod Thorn made the decision to promote Frank. The decision paid off as the Nets went on a 13-game winning streak to start Frank’s career. After that, Frank would lead the Nets to 4 straight playoff appearances (including a series victory against the Raptors – click if you want the rest of your day to be ruined), but never got past the 2nd round.

Jason Kidd was traded in 2008, then Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson would soon follow. Two seasons had passed and the Nets had finished with identical records of 34-48. What was left was a roster so flawed that Frank and the Nets would open the 2009-2010 season on a 16-game losing streak. Frank was fired and the Nets would only win 12 games that season.

Frank’s career arc is similar of that to many coaches. A successful start with a bit of playoff success followed by a pink slip because of a roster dismantling and rebuild. Frank deserves another shot, and the Raptors probably need a new voice.

Rod Thorn called Frank “a good X’s and O’s guy”, and that he “understands players”. He’s considered a very good player development coach, but struggled to translate that into team success (which is a hard thing to do in the NBA). And at least we know he’ll be entertaining after every Raptors loss because Frank certainly doesn’t mind mincing words, but what the fuck you gonna do about it?

 

Frank is certainly more experienced because of his time with the Nets, but I’m not convinced his story will play out any differently than Triano’s. His personality, demeanour, and approach to the game are admirable but seem better suited to a veteran team. But, if Frank can instill a defensive culture and bring some real accountability to the Raptors then go ahead and hire him. If it doesn’t work out he’ll be out the door along with Bryan Colangelo in two years time.

A Rare Opportunity

A question for Toronto sports fans:

When is the last time this city had a superstar? Not an all-star – a superstar. For argument’s sake let’s define a superstar as so:

“A top 5 player in their sport who generates league-wide admiration not only among the hardcores, but among the casual fans as well. They also have a strong marketing brand that has a global reach.”

Let’s also use an example to draw the line between an all-star and very good player and a superstar.

Lebron James vs Chris Bosh  One is a superstar with a successful brand who also owns part of a storied soccer club and the other is a very good seven-time all-star who is still more well-known for a youtube clip made 4 years ago.

I think you get the idea. Sorry Chris.

So when was the last time this city had a true superstar? Let’s take a look at some candidates.

  • Roy Halladay – The best case could probably be made for Roy who talent-wise was one of the best pitchers in the MLB when he was with the Blue Jays. But, he wasn’t a superstar – something that is difficult for pitchers to be when operating outside one of the traditional baseball markets let alone one that is considered “foreign”. Now that he is in Philadelphia a case could be made to renew his status.
  • Mats Sundin – He was adored in Toronto and often single-handedly carried the offensive load, but for several reasons was never close to superstar status. It was difficult to even put him in the top 10 (mainly because of the lack of talent surrounding him) at any point in his career. A Toronto legend, but a superstar he was not.
  • Vince Carter – This was the first name that came to mind, wasn’t it? This is it. You can’t think of any others. Vince took a Canadian expansion franchise to heights still unknown to it (past the first round) and for a few years was leading the league in all-star voting – an accomplishment that cannot be understated in a global league the likes of the NBA. His dunk over France’s 7’2 Frederic Weis is still perhaps the greatest dunk of all-time and it was done on a stage where the whole world was watching. The excuse that Toronto is foreign and thus cannot get the attention it needs (cough, cough Bosh) was put to rest with Vince Carter’s time in Toronto.

Name another superstar. Really dig deep and try to find one. You’ll probably come up with names like Roberto Alomar (a case could certainly be made for him), Joe Carter, Doug Gilmour, Darryl Sittler (we’re going back more than 30 years for Leafs fans), Carlos Delgado, Curtis Joseph, and I’ll even throw in Roger Clemens because he was pretty spectacular in his short time in Toronto – steroids or not.

It was a big deal when Roger came to Toronto, but his time here will mainly be glossed over. Roberto Alomar is my favourite athlete of all-time and even I’m having a hard time defining him as a superstar. I guess the problem lies in the criteria and the way marketing has become synonymous with the branding of a true superstar in 2011. Baseball players largely get overlooked if they’re not from Boston or New York, and there aren’t enough people that care about hockey to really have more than a couple of superstars.

So, in the past 30 years in Toronto sports history I would argue that this city has seen one true superstar – and he’s mostly despised still. Now, think about Jose Bautista who is arguably the best player in baseball, and who is doing his utmost to connect with fans and show his personality. The problem? He plays for the Jays in the city of Toronto where only winning will garner attention outside of hockey.

We may look back in 5 years and put Bautista in the category of Roy Halladay – the best in the game but will never have a chance to prove it on a critical stage. Perhaps Jose is already defying odds by leading the league in all-star voting, but this city should really wake up and watch Jose and the Jays because having a true superstar is a rare opportunity.