Pieces are in place for Raps

FRANK ZICARELLI

, Last Updated: 5:17 AM ET

An air of curiosity is palpable in Raptorland as the club embarks on its 15th season in the NBA.

It'll be curious to see how Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu play together.

It'll be curious to see how the Raptors defend, especially in low-scoring games when one has to simply grind out every possession.

It'll be curious to see how nine new faces mesh.

It'll be curious to see how many Bosh rumours surface as next summer's deadline draws nearer, a time when the team's franchise player has the right to exercise his negotiated right to become a free agent.

Curiously, the Raptors appear to have all the necessary pieces to not only nail down one of the eight playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference, but also contend for home court in the playoffs.

On paper, there is versatility, athleticism, toughness and veteran leadership.

The Raptors have options to go big or small, depending on matchups, to extend defences and spread the floor.

There is a lot to be optimistic about, but at the same time there is plenty to be concerned on too.

When the Raptors gathered for training camp, Bosh reported with a bum hamstring, while Turkoglu arrived fatigued in the wake of a gruelling post-season run with the Orlando Magic and playing for his native Turkey in the European Championship.

Jose Calderon hadn't played in a five-on-five setting since the team's season-ending tip in Chicago on April 15.

Antoine Wright bumped knees with Andrea Bargnani, forcing the tough-as-nails swingman to miss most of the pre-season.

Reggie Evans, who is the toughest player the Raptors have had since the days of Charles Oakley, hurt his foot in an exhibition loss to Boston and spent most of his time walking with the aid of crutches.

Still, the Raptors are excited at the start of the season, a time many believe is the start of something very special.

"We just have so many options,'' Calderon began, looking ahead to the beginning of the regular season. "That is why I am convinced we have a very, very good team that could go a long way."

Just how far the Raptors end up depends on a lot of factors.

The biggest over-riding theme with the team is chemistry.

A confluence of events during the pre-season conspired to rob the Raptors of developing a more cohesive feeling.

Players still look lost on the court, at both ends, which is understandable given the newness of the situation and system.

Players still don't know which teammate prefers to have the ball on what exact spot on the floor.

Rookie DeMar DeRozan, who was taken ninth overall in the June draft, has shown flashes, but he's also shown that he can be exposed.

Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli, who figure to be very prominent in head coach Jay Triano's rotation, never did find any rhythm during the pre-season, or at least neither excelled in an extended stretch.

Once all the pieces come together, the Raptors have the potential to give any foe matchup problems on offence.

Defensively, the Raptors aren't going to be good, but their uptempo style means they must somehow come up with a key stop in crunch time.

With so few players being able to defend their position, team defence will be a key.

NBA teams that play consistent defence have been together for years and always find a way to protect the paint and the glass.

The Raptors, given their deficiencies, want to force opponents into heaving perimeter jumpers.

Closing out on shooters, running shooters off the three-point line, getting back in transition and rotating on defence are essential.

How this all plays out will be curious to see.

"You could see the potential,'' Turkoglu said. "But until you tip it off for real, you just don't know."

No one knows with any degree of certainty what awaits the Raptors.

Because the team is deep and versatile, the Raptors should be good.

It's just a matter of time, which is the great unknown.

We know that the ball will be in Turkoglu's hands in late-game situations and when the shot clock is about to expire.

At no time in the history of the franchise have the Raptors had a point-forward such as Turkoglu, who can create off the dribble, create for his teammates, score on the perimeter, post-up defenders, pass, shoot and handle the ball.

In today's NBA, every good team needs a player who can create and be unafraid to shoot a game-winning shot.

"Hedo will make plays for everybody, and not just for me,'' Calderon said.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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