With Bryan Colangelo out of power and reigning NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri now calling the shots, the Toronto Raptors can move forward and start anew with a (hopefully) prosperous and successful 2013-14 campaign.
It would be a nice change of pace, as the team has failed to qualify for the NBA playoffs since the 2007-08 season.
Many fans felt that Colangelo was running this franchise into the ground, so having new management with a strong background and resume take over the reins will instill a sense of confidence and enthusiasm right into the heart of the fanbase.
After a tumultuous 2012-13 season, any good news becomes great news, and any great news becomes extraordinary.
2012-13 Toronto Raptors Season Summary
- 34-48 record (.415)
- Tied for last place with Philadelphia 76ers in Atlantic Division
- 10th place in Eastern Conference
- Four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot
Toronto was never able to truly recover from their wildly awful 4-19 start. Considering the fact that they finished just four games behind the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, even a record of 9-14 would have been acceptable in the grand scheme of things.
Although their win-loss percentage did see some improvement during the second-half of the year, one aspect that didn't change was the team's inability to crash the glass and secure boards. The Raptors ranked 28th in rebounds per game (40.2), 26th in defensive rebounds (29.6) and 24th in offensive rebounds (10.6). Amir Johnson was the only player to average at least 7.0 rebounds a night.
On the bright side, the Raptors managed to hit an efficient 78.8 percent of their free throws, which ranked as the fifth-best mark in the Association. They also showed a knack for hanging on to the basketball, as their 13.2 turnovers had them tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the fourth-fewest overall.
Will Rudy Gay Survive the Season as a Toronto Raptor?
Masai Ujiri isn't one to sit idly, twiddling his thumbs as his team struggles to win games. This roster has too much talent to repeat its 34-48 performance from last season. However, if the Raptors fail to put W's in the win column right off the bat, you can bet your bottom dollar that Ujiri will be picking up the phone and making some calls.
Rudy Gay would appear to be the primary target of potential trade talks. He has two years and $37.2 million remaining on his deal, with a player option for next season worth $19.3 million. Gay would have significant value on the open market as an offensive wing with All-Star potential. Moving his contract would also be a nice salary dump.
Again, his future will depend heavily on the on-court performance of this roster. If the Raptors fall flat through the first 20-25 games of the year, Gay could be the scapegoat, as Ujiri likely won't wait things out.
Can Terrence Ross Rebound from His Lousy Rookie Year?
The Raptors need Terrence Ross to emerge as a more reliable option off the bench. The numbers he put up during his rookie season of 6.4 points, 40.7 percent shooting from the field and 33.2 percent shooting from behind the arc won't cut it.
On Oct. 21, in a preseason game against the New York Knicks, Ross scored 27 points in 25 minutes, including six three-pointers. The problem with Ross is that for every outstanding performance he has, he'll put up two stinkers right after. He needs to string together more games like this one in order to win the trust of his coaching staff and teammates.
Playing time won't be handed to him on a silver platter just because he has a world of potential; it needs to be earned.
Will "Tanking" Ever Become an Option?
No team in the NBA will ever declare outright that they intend to "tank" games on purpose in order to increase their chances of landing a high pick in the draft. It destroys integrity and makes the last few months of the season all but meaningless.
While answering questions from fans at a season-ticket holder gathering at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 18, Masai Ujiri beat around the bush when asked about the idea of tanking, via Eric Koreen of The National Post:
We’ve looked at every single possibility. But we have to respect, also, the players we have on our basketball team and the opportunity they have.
Could it happen? Possibly. If the season is all but lost, perhaps Ujiri will see fit to throw in the towel and focus his attention on further rebuilding this roster during the summer. The 2014 NBA draft class is said to be the deepest in almost 10 years, so if there were ever a time to swallow one's pride, this could be it.
2013-14 Depth Chart and Positional Grades
Key Additions: PF Tyler Hansbrough , SF Steve Novak, PG D.J. Augustin, PG Dwight Buycks, SG Austin Daye
Key Losses: PF Andrea Bargnani (traded to New York Knicks) , SF Linas Kleiza (amnestied), PG John Lucas III (signed with Utah Jazz), PG Sebastian Telfair, SG Alan Anderson (signed with Brooklyn Nets), SG Mickael Pietrus
|2013-14 Toronto Raptors|
|PG||Kyle Lowry||D.J. Augustin||Dwight Buycks|
|SG||DeMar DeRozan||Terrence Ross||Austin Daye|
|SF||Rudy Gay||Steve Novak||Landry Fields|
|PF||Amir Johnson||Tyler Hansbrough||Quincy Acy|
|C||Jonas Valanciunas||Aaron Gray|
The days of having two point guards who could be used as interchangeable starters are officially over. José Calderón provided the Raptors with that luxury for eight seasons. Now, D.J. Augustin and Dwight Buycks will step in and backup Kyle Lowry, but neither guard is worthy of challenging for the starting job anytime soon.
Augustin is coming off the worst season of his young career as a backup with the Indiana Pacers, as he averaged just 4.7 points and 2.2 assists on 35.0 percent shooting. His poor numbers have carried over to the preseason with Toronto this year, as Augustin is hitting even less of his attempts at 26.9 percent.
Dwight Buycks is an unproven commodity with zero regular-season experience in the NBA. With Augustin's early play being subpar, perhaps the 24-year-old rookie can steal some minutes away in the rotation, if only because there are no other options.
Kyle Lowry is likely to see a bulk of the minutes at the point, regardless. And with it being a contract year, he will have that little extra motivation to put up big numbers in order to land some nice pocket change for himself over the offseason.
The instability and skepticism regarding Augustin's and Buycks' ability to run the offense behind Lowry are causes for concern. If Lowry were to ever miss any time due to injury, the Raptors could be in for a world of hurt.
DeMar DeRozan really took it upon himself to work on his physique, his shot and his leadership intangibles during the summer months. As one of the longest-tenured Raptors, many of his teammates are starting to look to him for more direction and control during games, practices and in the locker room.
He's been aggressive in getting to the basket during the preseason, taking advantage of certain matchups against smaller guards who have trouble handling him on the low block. It will be interesting to see if his three-point shooting numbers rise after working so diligently on his form and shot selection over the offseason.
You never know what you're going to get from Terrence Ross on any given night, so it's quite difficult to judge where he's at and where he's headed in terms of his development. It's better to err on the side of caution rather than to thrust faulty expectations upon him that he can't possibly live up to right away.
With so many wings ahead of him at both shooting guard and small forward in the rotation, Austin Daye will rarely be seeing the court, if at all. He can defend multiple positions with his lanky frame and 7'2" wingspan, but I wouldn't count on him getting much playing time ahead of some of the more key contributors.
Grade: B - / C +
The Toronto Raptors went 18-18 after the blockbuster Rudy Gay trade back in February. If that deal had been made earlier in the season or even during the previous summer, we would be talking about a team that just recently ended its postseason drought.
In 33 appearances, Gay averaged 19.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals. His field-goal percentage of 42.5 percent left a lot to be desired, but corrective surgery to cure the astigmatism that was impairing his vision should help in that department.
With the exception of some draft picks, Steve Novak is all that remains from the package of players acquired from the New York Knicks this summer for former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani.
Novak's job will be to stand around the perimeter and knock down three-pointers due to his career 43.3 percent three-point shooting stroke. He's not going to offer much in terms of rebounds or defense, but it's universally understood that his shooting is basically all he brings to the table. For a team that shot just 34.3 percent from behind the arc a year ago, though, no one is going to complain.
The recovering elbow of Landry Fields will need to be closely monitored, as it's still presenting problems for the fourth-year pro in terms of his ability to shoot properly. He can still be a pest on defense, grab rebounds and help score transition baskets on the fast break, but until his elbow is 100 percent, there are going to be some headaches to endure. The sooner that happens, the better.
Grade: B +
An upgrade at power forward would be welcomed with open arms, as both Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are better fits for the second-unit. That's not meant to be insulting, though, because I assure you, both forwards are very much important to the makeup of this roster.
According to 82games.com, the Raptors scored 7.5 more points per 100 possessions with Amir Johnson on the court last season. They also allowed 6.4 fewer points, proving just how beneficial he really is.
Johnson is never going to light up the opposition with big scoring nights, but as the fifth-option in the starting lineup who can defend, rebound and hustle for loose balls, he can quietly do more of the dirty work while his teammates handle the offense.
Hansbrough has made quite the first impression through his first few games as a Raptor, as the reputation he built for himself in Indiana has carried over north of the border. He's played rough, tough and full of spunk. For a city that prides itself on its hockey mentality, you can't help but love a player who puts his body on the line for his team. He's getting to the free-throw line at a high rate, cleaning up the offensive glass and scoring well around the basket.
Backup forward Quincy Acy is going to alternate his time at both small forward and power forward, depending on the matchup. He was cut from the same cloth as Johnson and Hansbrough, playing with the same tenacity and hunger on both ends of the floor. I'm not entirely sure how many minutes will be there, but regardless if it's two minutes or 20, Acy is going to make the most of any opportunity thrown his way.
Jonas Valanciunas is going to play all the minutes he can handle in his second year in the league. With the only other legitimate center on the roster being veteran Aaron Gray, head coach Dwane Casey will ride Valanciunas for as long as he can.
During March of last year, Valanciunas averaged 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks en route to winning NBA Rookie of the Month. The muscle he added this summer will not only help him when his back is to the basket, but it will also be crucial when it comes to defending the post against the likes of Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez in the Eastern Conference. We could very well be looking at the face of the franchise in another season or two. He's the real deal.
As far as Aaron Gray is concerned, you can do a lot worse for a backup at the 5-spot in this league. According to 82games.com, opponents only shot 34.2 percent against Gray in the paint. He's a big body with very little finesse to his game, but that's quite alright. He can put up garbage buckets off missed shots and give you the occasional big game on the glass should Valanciunas ever find himself in early foul trouble. He's not a long-term solution, but he fits well with this roster.
I'm still rather shocked that Masai Ujiri didn't invite any center to compete for a job in training camp, as a third-stringer at the position should take precedent over a fourth-stringer at point guard.
What To Watch For
Breakout Player: Jonas Valanciunas
This one should be a given, as everyone and their mother has Jonas Valanciunas pegged for a breakout season in 2013-14.
He was the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, and he also won the silver medal with Lithuania at EuroBasket 2013 this summer, adding even more fuel to the fire.
As long as he can stay healthy and avoid foul trouble, Valanciunas should prosper in his sophomore year with the Raptors.
Team MVP: DeMar DeRozan
The MVP of the Toronto Raptors doesn't necessarily have to go to the best player. For instance, a case could be made for Amir Johnson being the MVP last season, even though he wasn't the most talented guy on the team.
I'll take the odds on DeMar DeRozan breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling this season and putting forth his finest effort yet. No one on the Raptors wants to make the postseason more than DeRozan, who has experienced enough losing over the years to make anyone's head spin.
He may not lead the team in any statistical category, but from a consistency stanpoint, no one will shine brighter than DeMar DeRozan in 2013-14.
Most Disappointing Player: Terrence Ross
It pains me to say this, but Terrence Ross is the prime candidate for this dubious distinction. Anything remotely close to the performance he had during his rookie year will be considered beyond disappointing for Ross.
It would take a major collapse from someone like DeMar DeRozan or Rudy Gay to enter this category. I sincerely hope that I'm wrong on this; it's just that Ross has given myself and fans all over Canada little reason to think otherwise.
Player Most Likely to be Traded: Rudy Gay
I touched upon this earlier, but if the Raptors don't show the potential for a postseason berth early in the year, Rudy Gay is likely to take a majority of the heat as the team's best player.
He wasn't acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies under this new regime, so Masai Ujiri really has no ties and/or obligation to Gay, and he does not have to build around him over the long-term.
One would assume that Gay's name would be floated around more so than DeRozan, who just signed a four-year deal, or Lowry, who has value as an expiring contract but is needed to run the point.
Biggest Rivalry: Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks
Does the name Andrea Bargnani ring a bell?
The New York Knicks were going to be a heated rival regardless by being in the same division, but with the Raptors former No. 1 overall pick from 2006 now in in their possession, games at the Air Canada Centre are going to be far more interesting.
Fans now have full license and authority to give the former Primo Pasta spokesperson the V.I.P. Vince Carter treatment upon his return during the regular season.
It's going to be fun.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios with Projected Win-Loss Record
- Rudy Gay is named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
- DeMar DeRozan gets his three-point shooting percentage up to a respectable 34-36 percent.
- The Raptors finish ahead of either the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets in the Atlantic Division.
- Not only do the Raptors make the NBA playoffs, but they avoid a first round matchup with the Miami Heat.
- Rudy Gay is dealt before the trade deadline for expiring deals and draft picks, ultimately taking the Raptors out of the playoff picture for good.
- Head coach Dwane Casey is fired before the end of the year.
- The team comes out of the gates slowly, once again, sitting well below .500 after the first month-and-a-half of the season.
- The Raptors barely miss the playoffs, thus (likely) eliminating themselves from a high lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Projected Win-Loss Record: 40-42; Eighth in Eastern Conference.
Follow Toronto Raptors Featured Columnist Christopher Walder on Twitter @WalderSports
* All statistics and salary information courtesy of HoopsHype, Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com
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