April 16, 2012
Time to put these Raptors to rest
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI AGENCY
Who stays, who goes, which piece can fetch an asset to address a need, which draft pick best suits Toronto’s need, what direction does the franchise ultimately take.
With so many questions and so few answers, time is running out on the Raptors, at least when it comes to fielding as healthy a team as possible to be competitive in games and once in a while pull off a win.
Following Monday night’s visit by the Hawks, the Raptors’ season has now been reduced to four games, not exactly akin to the final four when no stud is expected to surface before next week’s curtain falls on Toronto’s season.
When you look at the roster, it’s easy to see wholesale changes being initiated this off-season, either through trades, releases or termination.
For the sheer purpose of fielding a team, the Raptors extended deals for Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh prior to Monday’s tip — a 109-87 loss to Atlanta — while parting ways with Justin Denton, whose 10-day deal was not extended.
With Jose Calderon unavailable (eye) and Linas Kleiza a late scratch (knee), 10 players were basically at the disposal of Dwane Casey, in reality nine when one considers how few minutes Jamaal Magloire gets.
Of the nine, DeMar DeRozan is about as close as it gets to a slam dunk in terms of being back next season.
Ed Davis, despite his flashes of good play, needs to get stronger and is expected to take part in the team’s summer league in Las Vegas.
Amir Johnson, when he’s playing with a motor, emerges as a presence, but his effort hasn’t been consistent and his future in Toronto no longer is a certainty.
Gary Forbes, no matter how often he has the ball in his hands and is asked to run an offence, is not a point guard, each turnover he created against the Hawks revealing the obvious.
What Forbes can be is an effective shooting guard in certain matchups, showing an ability to score, but not enough evidence to provide any hints as to his long-term future as a Raptor.
With four games left, the Raptors will at least have four more opportunities to evaluate their roster, but by now it should be obvious for everyone to know what the Raptors have and what work needs to be done.
Anderson has been a nice story for the Raptors, stepping up recently as the Raptors hurt their lottery chances by winning games no one thought they had any business winning.
Anderson hasn’t earned himself any long-term deals, but he at least has given the Raptors an option they once never had.
Solomon Alabi was getting minutes against the Hawks in a showcase moment the second-year centre tried to embrace.
He would dunk the ball, produce a block, control the boards and looked a lot more comfortable, but Alabi remains a project, his future in Toronto in doubt.
James Johnson has been very aggressive on the offensive end, but in Casey’s world it’s about defence first, defence second and defence third.
Nothing will get done until first the season is over and Casey and GM Bryan Colangelo go over the roster and plot a plan for the summer.
What must happen this off-season is for Colangelo to listen to Casey and ask his coach what players he wants, the style of play Casey requires, the mental makeup that will allow players to succeed in Casey’s demanding approach.
The culture change that Casey produced by insisting on defensive accountability must now be applied to the culture of player procurement and the draft.
Under no circumstance should a team such as Boston and Atlanta lose to the Raptors when so much was on the line for both the Celtics and Hawks.
But the Raptors have been able to manufacture upsets and play well in April because of Casey and his ability to extract so much from a roster that’s so limited.
Eventually, it can’t last and talent, when it’s applied for a consistent period, prevails, which is exactly what unfolded Monday night on an evening when the Raptors fell 109-87 to the Hawks, the same team that laid an egg at home Sunday in an ugly 16-point loss.
With games in Miami, Detroit and Milwaukee looming, only a sublime night of effort, shot making and ball protection will allow the Raptors to escape with a win.
By the time next Thursday’s season finale arrives in Toronto, when the New Jersey Nets come to town, the Raptors’ lottery chances will be made much clearer.
What isn’t clear is the kind of team Casey will have to work with next fall when camp opens.
Changes loom in Raptorland, but no one knows what those changes will involve.