Raptors future looks bright

UMAR ALI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:43 PM ET

TORONTO -- For more than two months, Raptor fans have been lamenting the fact their franchise player is no longer going to suit up for the club.

Not only was losing Chris Bosh a dent in the talent pool for the team, but the trade of disgruntled forward Hedo Turkoglu in exchange for oft-injured guard Leandro Barbosa further drained the already ailing Raptors of some much needed leadership.

With a year of uncertainty ahead, most experts predict the Raps will finish at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, even below the lowly New Jersey Nets who managed a measly 12 wins last season.

Yet, this new era ushers in an opportunity for some of the younger players on the roster to flourish, mainly two athletic slashers -- DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems.

Since the departure of Vince Carter, Toronto has been searching for a flashy youngster who plays above the rim and, more importantly, plays with some heart. In both of these youngsters, they might have found those qualities.

In the latter half of the 2010 campaign, Weems began to show off his assets, becoming a reliable mid-range jump shooter and a valiant defender. The sophomore second-round draft pick worked his way up from a reserve role to starter.

After an up-and-down rookie season for the Arkansas native in Denver, it appears Weems has found a home in Toronto.

Possibly the struggles he faced while with the Nuggets made his relationship with DeRozan all the more influential on the rookie's progress.

Being a top-ranked recruit coming out of USC, expectations were high for the man nicknamed 'Double D.' His athletic gifts and knack for the spectacular made him one of the most highly-coveted picks in the 2009 NBA Draft.

However, the southern California native found life in the NBA was an entirely different beast than it was in college. His weaknesses examined and exploited, DeRozan had a difficult time adjusting to the pro game.

The issues appear only to have only made the rookie work harder to achieve his goal of becoming a perennial All-Star. A clear indication of that effort is the tireless work ethic the 21-year-olde has shown over the course of the summer.

The USC product hasn't been alone at the gym as he's been virtually joined at the hip with Weems throughout the offseason.

Finding the two late at night at the ACC practice gym has become a common site. They push each other in an effort to improve, and at the 2010 NBA Summer league in Las Vegas, it appeared they had done just that.

Boasting the highest-scoring offence of any team at the annual Vegas league, the dynamic duo impressed with not only their expected high-wire act but with a chemistry that seemed to appear out of thin air.

Leading the Raptors to a perfect 5-0 record, the two were both in the top 10 in scoring and looked to be an impressive combination.

Both Weems and DeRozan have the potential to become exceptional wing players and their improvement is something the Raptors are counting on.

"Not only do they have to be impactful from an offensive perspective but they have to be that much better defensively this year," said Raptors TV analyst Jack Armstrong.

Despite their fondness for one another, which includes appearing inseparable at times, perhaps the most intriguing element of the relationship between Weems and DeRozan is they're in direct competition with one another for a starting role.

It hasn't caused either of them to stray from the friendship to this point, and may have brought the two even closer together.

If these young players continue to develop and strive to push one another to the next level, all will not be bleak in Raptor land.


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