Forget hype, Raps too weak to go deep

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

In time, Jermaine O'Neal will prove his worth to the Raptors, once the six-time all-star gets in game shape.

In time, the Raptors will sort out their backup at the point.

And in time, the club will settle on their incumbent at small forward.

But with little time remaining to prepare for Wednesday's season opener in Philadelphia, now is the perfect time to assess a team that completed its pre-season two days ago.

Granted, there isn't much at stake during exhibition play but there were some troublesome signs nonetheless, beginning with a bench that isn't very deep.

Sam Mitchell's coaching skills will be put to the test.

In the giddy aftermath of O'Neal's trade to Toronto, some pundits opined that the Raptors were capable of winning 50 games and being among the top-three seeds in the East.

Based purely on the pre-season, those expectations are completely unfounded.

The Raptors are a playoff team and will appear in their third successive post-season because Chris Bosh is on the cusp of being a superstar and Jose Calderon is an all-star in waiting.

Once O'Neal and Bosh learn how to team up on the defensive end, no frontcourt tandem in the East will be as formidable.

After that, there are questions and concerns that will be addressed when the Raptors reconvene tomorrow.

Mitchell has no choice but to ride Calderon because there's such a drop-off when the Spaniard takes a breather.

Without Calderon on the floor, the Raptors don't have a capable hand to protect the basketball and attack offences. Calderon looms as indispensable as Bosh, perhaps even more, as the meaningful games approach.

Will Solomon's second go-round in the NBA has been a mixed bag of athleticism and indecision.

He is the ultimate tweener.

Roko Ukic needs -- and likely will get -- time at the end of the first and third quarters when Calderon is on the bench.

The Raptors didn't show much of their offence in the pre-season, but every possession should run through Bosh or O'Neal. Under no circumstance should they be on the bench at the same time.

When you watch the Raptors, you see a team that desperately lacks players capable of creating their own shots.

It'll be interesting to see what they do in late-clock situations, outside of their patented high screen and roll.

Players such as Anthony Parker and Jason Kapono will put the ball on the floor, but their strength is spotting up.

Andrea Bargnani, when he isn't falling in love with his jumper, can create off the bounce.

The key for Bargnani is to contribute in other areas, rebounding, getting in passing lanes, taking charges, on nights when his shot isn't dropping.

Defensively, the Raptors are very vulnerable on the perimeter. Toronto will be exposed and exploited, leading many to believe the team has no choice but to use zone defences on occasion to hide players' deficiencies.

The NBA yesterday released its annual GM survey, an extensive poll that ranks teams, players and coaches, among other categories.

When it comes to winning the Atlantic Division, Boston was the overwhelming choice, followed by Philadelphia and Toronto.

The Raptors don't match up well against Detroit and Cleveland and were ousted in five by Orlando last spring.

Which begs the question: Are the Raptors equipped to advance past the first round?

As currently constituted, the answer is no.

Bryant injured

Lakers fans can rest easy. Kobe Bryant's right knee was a bit sore yesterday, but the injury isn't serious and it's possible he won't miss any playing time.

"I'm all right, a little bit better today," Bryant said after sitting out practice due to the hyperextended right knee he suffered Tuesday night in the Lakers' 102-98 pre-season victory over Charlotte in San Diego.


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