TORONTO - Running with the notion that Day 1 is for dreamers, one can’t but help be impressed with the depth head coach Dwane Casey suddenly finds himself surrounded by at the Air Canada Centre practice court.
Obviously, no one is going to confuse this Raptors roster with the ones they can turn out in Miami, Los Angeles or Oklahoma City, but it was only a year ago that Casey’s introduction to Raptors basketball was as much about the three veterans brought in to change the culture and toughen the team up as it was what anyone could actually do on the court.
Those three vets — Jamaal Magloire, Anthony Carter and Rasual Butler — got their point across during a rushed training camp. Carter and Butler didn’t last the season while Magloire, the lone Canadian, finished it out playing sparingly. He was recently re-signed for the upcoming season presumably for his leadership role not to mention what he can do for young centre Jonas Valanciunas and his development.
But it was the arrival of those three a year ago, dwarfed only by the new head coach himself and a few new staff members, that was THE story of the Raptors training camp.
Those growing pains are behind them.
This time around, the story of training camp is going to be about the players who will be on the court when the games become meaningful, the ones who will dictate wins or losses based on what they are able to accomplish in a game rather than any mindset they can affect in the locker room.
So as necessary as the Carter/Butler/Magloire era was a year ago, now it’s about finding the pieces that together give Casey and his staff the best chance to win.
And it is there that we come to some surprising depth, with the Raptors at worst two deep at every position.
At point guard you have newcomer Kyle Lowry joining long-time incumbent Jose Calderon and John Lucas III, brought in to address the need for a little more outside shooting.
At shooting guard it starts with DeMar DeRozan with first-round draft pick Terence Ross behind him.
At small forward the Raptors are strong in numbers if not talent with Linas Kleiza, newcomer Landry Fields, and Alan Anderson all in the mix — and Dominic McGuire trying to work his way into the rotation.
At power forward, minutes may be limited with Andrea Bargnani and Ed Davis sharing the load and newcomer Quincy Acy trying to establish a foothold in Toronto.
That leaves rookie Valanciunas (injury permitting), Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray at centre.
Casey has been an interested onlooker at these informal workouts — no real coaching, just watching — and he likes the spirit and camaraderie he has seen from his team. He likes their togetherness, but he’s going to withhold comment on what kind of a team they can be until they get through training camp.
But there are already a few differences he has noted, first and foremost that added depth.
“We are going to have competition at every position,” Casey said. “There’s not one position where a guy can come in and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got my spot, my minutes are locked down.’
“It’s going to be a very good camp from that standpoint, but at some point you are gong to have a first-team unit and a second unit and at some point I will make that decision. I like the competition though because of what it does for everyone’s intensity level.”
Ed Davis, a third-year returning big man has seen that intensity first hand and personally throughout these informal workouts and he sees a competitive camp stretching long into an equally competitive regular season — even after roles are initially defined.
“It’s going to make practice that much better because everyone is going to be in a fight for playing time — so no one is going to take a day off and that’s going to make us all better,” Davis said.
Casey says he’ll be looking at a balance both offensively and defensively between the first and second units, something he says he definitely did not have last year, although again, that was a product of a lack of depth which shouldn’t be as much of a factor this season.
Complacency is the enemy of any good sports organization and a basketball team is no exception. If you have guys who know regardless how little energy they might bring to practice or a particular game, that their minutes will remain unchanged, you take away from a coaching staff the one true card they hold.
The arrival of a trio of promising rookies in Valanciunas and Ross and Acy not to mention newcomers Lowry, Fields and McGuire has taken that threat of complacency and hopefully made it a non-factor.