Raps in search of a few good men

Jonas Valanciunas is still fulfilling his contractual commitments in Lithuania. (REUTERS/Peter...

Jonas Valanciunas is still fulfilling his contractual commitments in Lithuania. (REUTERS/Peter Jones)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

For much of the season, and with good reason, the Raptors have been given an out when they have stumbled.

They’re young, they’re learning a new system under a new head coach in a compressed season that is not conducive to success for a team going through as many fundamental changes as the Raptors.

Then there’s the issue of talent level, an area the Raptors are light on this year with their first-round pick of a year ago Jonas Valanciunas still fulfilling his contractual commitments in Lithuania. Also, the team following a strategy that basically comes down to loading up for next season at the cost of doing little or nothing this year in terms of adding to the roster.

Whether you agree with that strategy or not, it is the stated path Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is headed down and he has so far stuck to it.

But 26 games into a 66-game season, the current Raptors, many of whom will still be with this team a year from now, continue to confound even the man who goes out on a limb for them on a daily basis tempering expectations regarding DeMar DeRozan, who isn’t producing consistently yet.

That man, head coach Dwane Casey, is nothing if not patient.

But even Casey seems to have reached his limits with these inexplicably poor starts that are plaguing the Raptors right now.

On more than one occasion Tuesday night in his post-game breakdown of a 111-108 loss to the hapless Washington Wizards where once again the Raps came out of the locker room looking lifeless and disinterested, Casey made reference to the growing up this group needs to do.

“I was searching. I was just looking for five men to come out and play basketball,” Casey said of his third quarter substitutions that included a rare, and productive appearance by Anthony Carter.

The key word there being “men.”

Casey wasn’t talking about a search for skill level or talent level or anything like that. He was talking about finding five individuals with the professionalism to come out and give him a solid effort, something he couldn’t find in the first half and on too many occasions this season.

Even at their very best this season, and that would likely include wins in Utah and New York, the Raps have not played a full 48 minutes. Utah was marred by another poor start. The win in New York was as much about what the Knicks couldn’t do as what the Raptors did.

Few would be silly enough to even argue the point that this team has shown itself to be very good in spurts. Four quarters of solid basketball is still something they have to achieve.

Casey, at least publicly, will forgive a lot of the shortcomings that come with a young and improving roster, but what he will not tolerate is a bunch of grown men showing up for a job they are well paid for and not being prepared to compete.

James Johnson, the hard-working forward who has slowly but surely carved out a niche for himself on this team with his tireless defence, saw the same thing Casey did Monday night.

“We just felt sorry for ourselves. really,” he said. “We came out thinking they’re Washington D.C. and thinking we were the Miami Heat or something. We came out lackadaisical, everybody was missing bunnies including myself. We came out tired, not ready, not mentally in the game.”

Casey talked about the frustration of having to “go off on them at halftime to get them to play.”

Johnson didn’t deny it.

“It doesn’t happen all the time,” he began, “but it’s something that shouldn’t need to be said. We’re professionals and this is our job. If you can’t come out ready to do your job then we have to find new starters or go find a different day job.”

Twelve times in the past 14 games the Raptors have been outscored in the first quarter. The other two times they managed to open the second tied. That stretch includes two games against Washington, another against New Jersey and one against Phoenix, all competition the Raptors are at least on a talent level par with or better.

A few poor starts can be overlooked. Fourteen in a row is a disturbing pattern.

This team isn’t good enough in relation to the rest of the league to allow it to continue.

They can’t keep digging these early holes and then hoping they can get themselves out of it.

Forgive them for the mistakes borne out of youth but there’s no excuse for flat starts night in and night out.

It’s time to grow up.


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