North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Archive for December 12th, 2012

Is this the bottom for the Raptors?

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Maybe you stayed up late on Monday to see the Raptors western road trip end in a disastrous 92-74 loss to Portland. Maybe you gave up halfway through. I wouldn’t blame you. Bargnani seemed to check out sometime last week.

The Raptors are coming off their worst road trip I can remember. They lost every game on the trip, have lost five in a row and 10 of their last 11. Kyle Lowry, arguably their best player this year, is hurt for the second time this season. So is Bargnani, which just might send his trade stock into the sub-basement. In so many words, things are not good. And everyone’s feeling the pressure.

Hours before gametime on Monday, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo hit the airwaves for some damage control. He appeared on Sportsnet 590’s Prime Time Sports and later on TSN Radio 1050. Both times he talked about how the season is salvable. He insisted coach Dwane Casey is not on the hot seat. Never mind how he said the same about Sam Mitchell once upon a time, when the team was playing a lot better.

But the thing is, Casey should not be on the hotseat. Colangelo should be. He’s been with the Raptors since 2006, had three coaches and drafted at the top of the lottery. Under him, Toronto made the playoffs twice and lost in the first round twice. In one of those series Toronto even had home-court advantage. They have a young core in DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas but he refuses to build around them: hence big contracts for Bargnani and the luring of Lowry.

I’ve written before about Toronto’s cult of the now: go big, swing for the fences and win now! It’s the rationale behind the Kessel trade, behind the Jays bringing in Roger Clemens. And it never works, either. None of the moves Colangelo has tried since 2006 has worked, really. It’s always a huge cut of a swing and it always whiffs. Just look at one such chain: at the 2008 draft, Toronto drafted, then flipped Roy Hibbert to Indiana as part of the trade bringing Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto. It didn’t work. O’Neal was later flipped for Shaun Marion, who was actually kind of a decent Raptor. But his expiring contract helped give Toronto room to trade for Hedo Turkoglu. Not only did this move fail to accomplish the noted goal of improving the team, but it helped force Bosh out the door. Eventually, Toronto somehow turned Turkoglu over to Phoenix for Leandro Barbosa. Still, look at this chain: the drafting of a young center – the kind of player they hoped Bargnani would become – into a revolving door of parts that didn’t fit.

And that’s what Toronto looks like now: a bag of ill-fitting parts. According to a recent Bruce Arthur column, tempers flared at a team meeting after an ugly loss at Utah. Sure, Bargnani got some blame, but anger was directed Lowry’s way too. Tempers continued to boil on Monday when Amir Johnson threw his mouthguard at a ref. Now he’ll miss the next game, too. The Raptors aren’t fitting together on the court: Ed Davis has been one of their best players – but he’s stuck in a  rotation behind Johnson, Bargnani and Valanciunas. All people he’s outplaying.

Things are bad here. I’m not too sure how they can get worse, but I’m sure they’ll find a way. I’m not sure Bargnani will last the season here, but I don’t even know if that’s the right move: he’s going to be hard to deal away after all this and you’d have to really sweeten the pot to get a team to bite. Sure, Toronto should try and play great this season since they’re not likely to have a pick this year – their pick is protected only if it’s between 1 and 3 – but is making another big splash going to improve this team? And given Colangelo’s track record with big splashy moves, is it worth the risk?

Written by M.

December 12, 2012 at 12:17 am