TORONTO - No longer does Jay Triano have to worry about coddling a star, drawing up a play in a late-game sequence to appease someone and nor does he have to fret about some back-door agenda being played out.
There’s a lot to be worried about these Raptors as the Wednesday’s regular-season opener looms, but the petty politics that seemed to hover over the team in previous incarnations aren’t as obvious to the naked eye.
Only the naive would suggest there’s no agenda because there always is, regardless of talent level, expectations or projected win totals.
Whatever happens this season, the Raptors are going to have to find a way to extract more out of Andrea Bargnani, especially on defence, re-ignite Jose Calderon’s game, somehow try to parlay a trade exception into something tangible and dangle the expiring contracts in Reggie Evans and Marcus Banks.
But whatever does happen on the hardwood, Triano knows he can coach each game without fear of looking over his shoulder and being subject to the second-guessing game of why this player only played this amount of minutes and why that player didn’t have the ball in his hands when a game needed to be won.
“Last year, if I didn’t run a certain play late in the game it was like: ‘Wow! Why would you pay this guy this much money and you’re not giving him the basketball,’” Triano began on Monday.
“Now, it’s an opportunity where we can disguise a lot of things, can change up things in terms of who we go to when the game is on the line.”
In the absence of a star player in Chris Bosh and in the absence of a me-first player who pouted when the ball wasn’t in his hands, in other words Hedo Turkoglu, Triano can’t rely on one or two players.
Last year, when a play was drawn up during a timeout, it was either an isolation for Bosh, who would either attempt a shot or be asked to find a teammate when teams came with an extra defender.
There were times when the Raptors would run a two-man game featuring Bosh and Turkoglu.
Not this year, not when a team is devoid of a star, a guy who will force a foe to come with a double team.
Everyone is predicting doom and gloom for this team, but the reality is that no one knows in a climate of so many unknowns.
Defensively, it’s no secret the Raptors will apply a lot of ball pressure, will get out and defend the three-point line and demand that players rotate.
Defensively, at least on the surface, this year’s team will have a difficult time defending the paint because the Raptors’ two bigs, Bargnani and David Andersen, aren’t really bigs.
It’s offence where one finds the greatest mystery, an issue that excites Triano.
“We’ll be more creative and less predictable,’’ he said.
Triano’s best break-down players are Leandro Barbosa and Jarrett Jack, two guys who will find a way to attack the rim.
What plays get drawn up, how many touches a certain player gets on any given night, who will be asked to win a game, it’ll all depend on who is riding the hottest hand, which is a far cry from the last two years when Triano’s hands were basically tied.
“We’re going to find out all year that it’s a team thing,’’ Triano added. “We’ll manage everyone’s touches, but guys will have to accept the fact that one night it could be one guy, on another night it could be somebody else.
“It’s going to mean a huge repertoire of plays we’re going to need to have for each guy and not just one or two like we did (in past years).”
Toronto’s best post scorer is Linas Kleiza.
A lot has been said about Bargnani’s post play during this summer’s stint with the Italian national team, but very little evidence was gleaned during the pre-season.
DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems will be coming off screens, which puts a larger onus on movement away from the ball.
At the end of the day, the best offence is often the byproduct of good defence when turnovers get forced and teams are able to get out in transition.
At the same time, it’ll be interesting to see what plays are designed for what players when a basket is needed.
We’ll soon find out.