Arsenalist

The Toronto Raptors Blog with an Arsenal touch

Posts Tagged ‘Sports’

End this season already

Posted by Arsenalist on April 6, 2008

I miss The Oak.
I miss The Oak.
Big it up for eastcoastrapsfan for stepping up and doing a great job covering what appeared to be two unwatchable games that were the lowest points of the season. I’d like to think it can’t get any worse but Charlie Villanueva has yet to explode against his old team and there couldn’t be a sweeter time to do it than Wednesday. There are two things that make this stretch the Raptors are in even more unbearable 1) These are very important games that shouldn’t be hard to get motivated for and instead of stepping up and playing at a higher level, the team has malfunctioned and has once again shown how flawed it is at its core and 2) The opposition isn’t exactly great.

Barring something unforeseen and entirely out-of-the-blue, this Raptors team is headed for a one and done in the post-season. If that is to be the case, I’m hoping it’s a very humiliating series where this team is ripped apart in every game starting from tipoff to final buzzer. There shouldn’t be any doubts or questions about what the flaws of this team are, what the talent level on it is, how hard working the players are, how bad the coaching is, how suspect the preparation is and how watered down the on-court product is. The last thing I want is a first-round exit where we win two or three games and give false hope to the fans and management that this group might be more than a .500 team in a weak East. That’s one school of thought. The other is that we somehow win a playoff round (facing Orlando or whoever) and build on it in the off-season replacing key components instead of blowing the whole thing up. Fine, this might be a legitimate roadmap and something that I still subscribe to but what the previous fortnight has shown me is that instead of requiring maybe a legit 3 and a rebounder, we need a legit 3, a real rebounder, a better shooting guard, a better coach, another decent 3 and maybe something else.

We’re a jump shooting team and Dave Feschuk correctly summarized the reason for the NJ loss in a single sentence:

“..their jump-shot-heavy offense couldn’t produce the preferable haul of long-range swishes”

We can talk about our defense for eons at a time but the heavy reliance of our offense on outside jumpers is too much. The always crucial Points in the Paint stat has always been against us and over the last three years there’s been nothing done to remedy that. Yeah we average 100.24 which is good for 13th in the league but what gets masqueraded is that we get into long stretches where we’re comfortable trading baskets with teams that know very well that when it comes down to it in the fourth quarter, they’ll be able to get a stop and we won’t. We lack a clutch performer, Chris Bosh is a power forward and that’s probably the last position player you want originating your offense in the clutch, it’s not a shock that the fourth quarter is usually his worst. I respect Chris Bosh for playing hard on both ends but his clutch game focuses on trying to get fouled rather than trying to score – not a good #1 strategy. In another Feschuk article, he’s absolving Sam Mitchell and blaming the fourth quarter blues on Bosh:

…if your $13 million all-star can’t stick an elbow in a smaller man’s eye and score at a game’s biggest moments, in a league in which the best player on the floor so often prevails, you’ve got bigger problems than the contents of the clipboard.

Harsh but warranted criticism. However, Sam Mitchell gets a big fat F on his coaching this season regardless of how well Bosh has done in the clutch. His failure to establish a consistent rotation, develop Bargnani (yes, he takes some blame for that), handle the TJ Ford situation and tighten up his X’s and O’s have no doubt proven that the Coach of the Year awards don’t mean shit. His post-game analysis of things has become mundane and it always boils down to making shots and just playing “better”. Sure, he doesn’t have much to work with but its not like he’s helped improve one area of this team from opening day. Even Sam Vincent’s ahead of Mitchell at this point.

As I’m typing this Kevin Durant just hit a deeeep bomb to tie the game in overtime at 135.

The question is how do the Raptors salvage the rest of the season and the playoffs. What can they do that might make this campaign a relative success and not a drastic reverse from last season? Winning a playoff round is looking more and more unlikely, the development of Andrea Bargnani (arguably our core piece) has been a huge disappointment, our successful PG combo from last year has been a source of more disruption than production, our bench has declined (especially defensively) and generally speaking there hasn’t been a single area where we’ve improved from last year. The answer of course I don’t have (maybe we need a hero?) But I know that even if we do somehow manage to fluke some playoff success by some sheer stroke of luck, it’s going to be a hollow victory because the knowing supporter is well aware of the problems that this team has.

We have five games left and even if we win all five, it won’t mean a damn thing aside from getting some soon to be squashed momentum on our side. I want Atlanta to catch us so we can drop to 8th and face Boston, at least Bosh will get an up-close look at greatness when he faces Kevin Garnett and take something away from the experience. If we face Detroit they’ll just put on a technical marvel of how to dismantle a team broken at the nucleus – if you think the Raptors have issues shooting the ball right now, wait till Billups, Wallace and Co. get done clamping down on Parker, Bosh and Forderon.

Let’s look past the technical issues, the thing to be most questioned about this team is its mental toughness and willingness to fight. There have been very few occasions where this team has played playoff intensity basketball or shown a determined grit and desire to make a consistent defensive stand. Never have we stood up for a teammate after a hard foul, rarely have we shown a willingness to win a game in the paint and play tenacious physical basketball in the trenches, almost never to be found is that deep confidence that even the hated Vince Carter displayed late in the fourth quarter. The swagger and killer instinct hasn’t been there all year and it’s left up to the smallest guys on the court to rev up a team whose heart seems to be missing.

There are times when one thinks back to Charles Oakley and even Antonio Davis (like him or hate him) and realizes that those types of players bought intangibles to a team that are almost a necessity to any rebuilding project. It’s that touch that we miss right now. Say what you will about Glen Grunwald but when he saw a problem, he tried to fix it. It may have gotten him in trouble once in a while but at least he acted and built a pretty damn good team at one point – it was Lenny that couldn’t figure his end out.

This summer is looming large for the Raptors, we need to take a long hard look at Andrea Bargnani and see what we have in him, if it’s just a continuation of status quo, we need to dump him right after bumping up his trade value. The TJ/Jose thing is a mess and someone needs to go (TJ has some great value, I sincerely believe that), summer signings and trades (note the plural) are almost a must if we plan on finishing anything above than 4th in the Atlantic. Our scouts (taking Final Four off) need to look at the draft and see if there are any sleepers that can help this team right now, we don’t need any more Joey Grahams or Jamario Moons, we need some players that can take the pressure off of Bosh. In other words, we have a lot of work to do and Bryan Colangelo and Maurizio Gherardini better not have any vacations planned.

One might even say that the summer has already started.

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