Raps launch new season with promise

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

Another season of expectations, perhaps the biggest season of expectations, began last night for the Toronto Raptors.

It was an exhibition game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the John Labatt Centre.

The National Basketball Association team holds a special spot in the structure of Toronto sport.

Outside of the NHL Maple Leafs, the Raptors are the professional team the city would love to see win.

Like the Maple Leafs, it hasn't.

Their love affair with the Raptors continues even though this will be their 15th year in existence.

The relationship has had its share of broken hearts. Every year, the season begins with great hope and expectations. It ends in disappointment and promises of rebuilding with better things to come.

This rebuild has come in a big way.

Most of last year's Raptors are extinct.

Only three players -- Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon -- are back from a disastrous season.

Bosh and Turkogu have nagging injuries and didn't play last night.

The Raptors brought in Hedo Turkoglu from Orlando and added a slew of new faces that include Reggie Evans, Jarret Jack, Marco Belinelli and Rasho Nesterovic.

Jay Triano is new to his position as well. He will be the head man from the start of the season, taking over last year from fired head coach Sam Mitchell.

Triano is a decent guy put in a difficult situation.

And there is no truth to the rumour that the Raptors when they saw London on the schedule, thought they were opening the NBA preseason in London, England. That privilege went to the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls.

TRIANO AND THE RAPTOR

They have gotten bigger and hope to have added some toughness, a missing component that made life miserable to everyone last year, particularly Bosh.

The need to keep Bosh happy and they need to win. Bosh becomes a free agent after this season and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James has already let it be known how nice it would be to have Bosh playing next to him.

Through all these changes, Bosh's impending free agency and increased expectations, the Raptors are going into no-man's land.

Yes, they are expected to be better. Yes, they are expected to be tougher. Yes, they are expected to be more competitive.

"We think we will be better and more physical, but how do you know? I hope so," Bargnani said. "We still have to start a game. We have to figure all this stuff out. What we're going to do on the court."

Bargnani is the reason for a lot of this expectation. The former first pick in the NBA draft, it took him a couple of years to acclimatize himself to the NBA style basketball. Last year he had his best year, averaging 15 points a game and playing more than 31 minutes.

He has to provide Bosh scoring support and he has to play a more physical NBA-style game, otherwise the Raptors will struggle.

"Its tough coming from Europe becoming an NBA player," Bargnani said. "Last year was the first year I got a chance to play a lot of minutes. "

Talk about walking into a situation where time is of the essence. A poor start will lead to the here-we-go-again syndrome. Yet Triano and many of the Raptors are going to need time to get to know each other.

"It's tough," Triano admitted. "It's meant a lot of instruction, introducing philosophy. Not only is it my first training camp but there's so many new players, it's not like we have to re-teach something, I've done in the past but it's all new. It's been a little time consuming but at the same time, to our advantage, it's a clean slate for everybody which is why we are doing it this way."

Triano has the pulse of Raptor fans. He feels the expectations.

"It's not something we think about," he said. "We have to focus on the process and everything will take care of itself . . . There are a lot of things that happen in this league that you can't control. We can control our effort and the intensity that we practice and play with every night. And hopefully that process takes care of the outcome."

And if it doesn't, there's going to be a lot more broken hearts by season's end.


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