Raptors feeling confident

, Last Updated: 8:27 PM ET

TORONTO - Five days into training camp and everyone seems to agree the Toronto Raptors are one live crew.

They’re younger, faster, likely more athletic than last season’s somewhat dysfunctional unit.

Talent wise, though, they figure to be one dead team without Chris Bosh or anything close to him.

Landing Charlotte Bobcats’ Boris Diaw or signing free agent forward Erick Dampier — two scenarios which may or may not play out over the next few weeks — would help. But when Las Vegas lists you 120-1 underdogs just to win your conference, who’s kidding who?

Then, nobody’s throwing in the towel either. In fact, while head coach Jay Triano faces some impossible challenges this year, getting his players’ attention does not appear to be one of them.

He’s more vocal this year, they say. More hands on. More forceful — and given how everything unfolded a year ago, especially the disappointment and hard-feelings at the end, more players are open to change.

In fact, Jose Calderon couldn’t wait to get started.

“I think everybody learned from what we did last year,” the veteran point guard said an a hour or so before the Raptors boarded a plane for Vancouver and the second stage of training camp.

“Jay told the players we have to change everything and we’re going to change everything — (including) going out and playing 100% every night. Some nights last year, it looked like we didn’t do that.”

So far so good but until the Raptors actually play someone — the Phoenix Suns are first up next Wednesday — in B.C., “progress,” admits Triano “is tough to gauge.”

“I love the effort. I’m really pleased how hard they’re working and how well they’re picking things up,” he said.

Yet ...

“When we look good offensively (in practice) is that because we’re not good defensively? Or when we look good defensively, is that because we’re stopping ourselves?”

Sonny Weems figures the players and coaching staff at least are on the right track.

“I think everybody’s game has improved,” he said. “Everyone’s taken their game to the next level. They had to, cause we miss Chris Bosh’s 24-10 (points and rebounds). Everybody’s got to step up.”

Triano has upped his game too, Weems thinks.

“Jay’s a lot harder this year, more vocal this year. And we need that. It’s necessary for him, too, because he’s trying to better himself as a head coach.”

Triano, not Bosh, is clearly the leader of this young, but eager group.

“For us to be successful, we have to play a certain way and I’m trying to get our guys to play that way,” said the coach. “And I think that they understand me a lot better — the guys who were here last year — and I understand them a lot better. Maybe I’ve been more strong in forcing what we need to do.”

But he remains a players’ coach. That’s not likely to change, just as Calderon will always be the eternal optimist, even managing to find a possible upside to the loss of Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu.

“Last year we had a couple guys who took control of the ball,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have more freedom to play, now. So everybody’s going to be more comfortable on the court.”


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