So the end of the season has mercifully arrived for the Raps, and after seeing the season go down in flames, but watching them play quite well at the end of the season, I have come to few conclusions about our intrepid Dinos.
Thoughts on the Starting Lineup:
1) Chris Bosh is a really great player that lacks the ability to carry a team into the playoffs. The argument is pretty clear when you watch D Wade single handedly drag the Heat into the playoffs with minimal help around him. This doesn't mean that Bosh isn't going to be good for 20 and 10 most nights (he is), but it does mean that him alone isn't enough for the Raptors to be a contender.
2) Jose Calderon is the most important player on the Raptors. He may not be the best player on the squad, but he definitely is the guy that makes this team go. When he is healthy (see last 10 games), he is easily a top 10 PG in the NBA, and a pretty deadly weapon in the pick and roll situation. When he is not right, he is a pylon on defense that has trouble turning the corner on offense. For all the haters out there that said Jose "can't" play in an open offense, I would like to point out the production we've seen over the past 10 games. He is almost averaging 15 pts and 10 assists a game. Jose is even starting to throw up more alley-oops in transition. Anyway, the idea of trading Jose is ridiculous, no PG you can bring in (who is available) would adequately replace Jose given his salary, age, and attitude (do we really want to see Baron Davis in a Raps uni for the next SIX YEARS!!!!!!). However, Colangelo has to forbid Jose from playing in Euro2009 bball, so he can rest his gimpy leg this summer, which should mean that he can actually plan to play 82 games next year.
3) Andrea Bargnani is a real NBA player. I didn't hate him as much as Chu and Richie did at the beginning of this season, but I was still a big time hater. Since he took over the starting C, and Smitch got fired, Andrea has looked like he could actually be a real player. His offense has taken off, and he is a legit threat to score 20 a night, and if his 3 is going, 30 is a realistic number. He's really improved on his ability to read the defense and he has developed into quite the triple threat on offense (drive/pull up, shoot, look to pass). His defense has really picked up, and I think he is the leading shot blocker on the team to date with 92 blocks this year. Would I like to see him grab more boards? Of course (the 24-4 lines can get tiring), but at least he isn't the bust we thought he turned into. Howver, the biggest improvement in his game that I have seen in him is his on court demeanor. When he gets called for a foul now, he starts to complain, when he thinks he got hacked he gets in the refs' ear, and this is a remarkable change to when he would just roll over when the refs called something on him. In fact, he got T'd up against ATL last night, and I couldn't be happier. The complaining definitely shows a jump in his confidence (if you don't believe that complaining has an effect, please see Duncan, Tim).
4) Shawn Marion has great bball IQ, and he has proven that the missing piece of the Raps is a dynamic wing player. However, Shawn Marion himself is not the answer. Personally, I think Marion is one of the highest bball IQ players to ever play for the Raps, but given his age (31 turning 32), and his expected salary (at least 8 million to stay in TO) the Raptors can do better (more on this below).
5) AP is the worst starting SG in the NBA. That is not to say that he is a terrible bball player, in fact, his sense of the game, and shooting ability makes him an ideal 3rd/4th guard on a contending team. However, his lack of athleticism at this point in his career, and his inabilty to get to the rim (even on fastbreaks!!!!!) means that the Raptors really need to find a solution at the SG spot if they are serious about being contenders.
Thoughts on the Raptors strategy this summer. I want to point out that I am not a big "Trade Bosh" guy. Now, that is not saying that I am completely against trading him. If G State calls and offers, Andris Biednris and Anthony Randolph for Bosh and Banks, I would be estatic, and I would totally understand if Colangelo pulls the trigger. However, I would like to see him take the following path:
1) Offer Marvin Williams a MAX contract to be the starting SF. This means that Marvin should get a Josh Smith contract which is about $58 million for 5 years. This means that the Raps will pay Marvin $10 million in the first year, the exact amount of cap space they will be under if they renounce Marion, AP, and Joey. Personally, I think Marvin is on the brink of breaking out, this season he averaged 14 pts, 6 boards, 1 assist, and 1 block per game. To keep expectations realistic, let's say he improves to 17 and 8, I would be very happy with that kind of production. As an added bonus, Marvin gives the Raps a form of Bosh insurance. With Marvin, the threat of Bosh leaving is somewhat mitigated because of Marvin's ability to shift over to the 4 in the event that Bosh decides to bolt in 2010. If Bosh is serious about winning, this move should convince him to take a little less than the max to stay in TO. As an added bonus, the Hawks are fairly broke, and giving $20 million to extremely similar players in Josh Smith and Marvin WIlliams probably isn't in the budget (given the downturn in the economy).
2) Draft a SG. I don't care if its Demar Derozan, Tyreke Evans, Gerald Henderson, or Willie Warren. Just draft ONE of them. Personally, I think Demar Derozan is going to be a lights out superstar in the NBA, but Richie is probably right as he predicts that Derozan will elevate his stock into the top 5. I would be happy with either Evans or Henderson as the backup picks.
3) Split the mid level exception ($6 million per season) between Pops and Delfino, and give the bi-annual exception ($2 million) to AP. Delfino gives the Raps a legit option as the starting SG (the backup/alternative to Delfino would be to give Von Wafer $3 million per, but not sure if that's enough to get him away from Houston). Pops is a great energy player, but he has clear flaws. I really hope they hold on to him because he is an excellent energy big to bring off the bench and compete for mins with Hump.
So this is what I would project the Raptors lineup to be:
7. Pops/Hump (one or the other, the lazier guy gets no mins!)
One cavat: if Roko comes back with a jumper next season, I could be okay with him and AP in a time share where Roko is the main back up to Jose, and AP exclusively backs up the 2 spot. I have my reservations about Roko though, so we shall see what he does this summer.