BEER said:Just watched them come from behind against Orlando.
7-1 makes you feel good Funky & Music
This is the greatest Raptors team ever. Most of the credit should go to GM Masai Ujiri and coach Dwane Casey, and to a lesser extent, to ownership for finally allowing basketball men to run the basketball team, unhindered by hockey bagmen, who think they know something about sports.
There are different strategies to building a winning program in professional team sports. I say program rather than team, because the focus should be on creating an organization that can contend year after year, while staying within a reasonable salary budget.
In baseball, you build for a 1-2 year period, hoping that a whole lot of guys will have career years at the same time. In NFL football, you do it incestuously, through the draft, and by acquiring free agents who will buy in to the coach's philosophy. In hockey, you need to tank a few years in a row, or tank in a year when a Sidney Crosby is available. In basketball, you need a core group of talent who are all about the same age, who get to play with each other for a few years, and you supplement them with older men who will show them how to win together.
It's a lot easier to do that, if your franchise is in a city where players want to be. The Miami Heat of recent years benefited tremendously from being in Miami, sort of Hollywood south-east. They also had the luxury of having an ownership group that didn't give a shit about paying luxury tax.
The Heat approach was to spend most of their cap money on a small number of big name players, who then attracted talented older players who had made a ton of money elsewhere, but didn't have championship rings. These guys saw the incentive of playing for much less than their market salaries, to be part of a team with a chance to win multiple playoff rounds.
Until recently, Toronto was not an enviable place for an NBA player to ply his trade, mainly because of climate, and because it's a hockey town, year round. The ownership has long had a primary goal of earning income for the Teacher's pension plan above all else, just like with the hockey team, so the goal is to keep expenses down, attempt to squeak into the playoffs, and extend the first round to seven games, to create three home playoff dates. They want the games in the last month of the season to all be 'must win' games, in order to try to overtake two or three teams for the last playoff spot. The Leafs tend to spend most of their cap money on older, injury prone players who are paid according to their past reputations, and then fill in the remaining 2/3 of their lineup with a revolving cast of over hyped poor draft choices and other organizations' guys who did not live up to potential.
NBA players used to be sentenced to Toronto. The only way to get a second tier free agent to come here was to pay him more than he was worth, thus ensuring mediocrity for consecutive years, because his cap hit would exceed his on court contribution.
The turning point for the Raptors franchise was the Rudy Gay trade with Sacramento. Rudy Gay is a decent player on a fantasy league team. He lights up the box score, putting up big numbers and low percentages, while his teammates watch him play one-on-five, as if he were Bruce Lee in shorts and a 'wife beater'. He is marketable to an audience that is conditioned to hope their team will win, through good luck.
So, on December 9 of last year, Ujiri pawns Gay off on the Sac Kings, along with Quincy Acy, a decent fellow who can contribute about five minutes a night for a winning team, and Aaron Gray, a prototypical white 7 footer who moves too slowly for the pro game, but can dish out hard fouls in the defensive paint, set screens on offense, and rebound missed free throws.
What they get in return is John Salmons, a defensive specialist who didn't want to be here, but had sufficient value as an asset to pry Lou Williams away from the Atlanta Hawks, Greivis Vásquez, an undervalued point guard who was a veteran of many ACC wars, and Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, two veterans of the Kentucky program. What all four of these guys have in common is that they can play D. Rudy Gay can score 25 a night, but he'll let my kid sister score 20 on the other end.
Very importantly, Vásquez and Patterson were re-signed, (something the Kings wouldn't have been able to do), so after a year the deal wasn't Gay for Hayes, which still would have been a good move, cap-wise, like Bargnani for a year of Steve Novak; addition by subtraction.
Thank heaven for the Knicks, who can generally be counted on to take stiffs off your hands. The second best GM in Raptors history was Wayne Embry, who, in his two weeks on the job, got Isiah Thomas in NYC to take Jalen Rose at $20 Mil a year and a 1st round draft choice, in exchange for a 2nd round draft choice.
Most NBA teams have, effectively, a four to six man roster of stars, and eight guys named Raoul playing for scale, that they hope won't fuck things up too much, while the talent is taking a 'blow' in the second quarter, and near the end of the third Q, early 4th. The Raptors now have about ten guys who could play ten minutes plus a night on a Phil Jackson team.
At a position like Power Forward, they have no all-star candidates, but they have so much depth that if they have injury troubles, it just means that some of the other guys get to sweat a bit more than they otherwise would, but the sail doesn't fall off the boat for a several week stretch. Let's look at the options:
Amir Johnson: He gives all he has, all the time. He would be more effective, if he was 100% healthy all the time, but his 80% is better than most guys who have six cylinders working. He's foul prone, but that's OK, now that he has the depth to cover for him when he's forced to sit. Let him do his thing as often as possible, for as long as possible, while the others learn from his example.
Tyler Hansbrough: He looks like an overgrown Michael Cera, and he has little natural athleticism. What he has is hunger. He pushes other players to work hard, because he will gladly take any of their playing time that they demonstrate that they don't want. He's the only 4 time 1st team All-American in NCAA hoops history, but not really one of the all time greats of college ball, because freshman couldn't play on the Varsity team until the early 70's, and few greats ever play NCAA as seniors; the last was probably Tim Duncan, and that was only because he made a promise to his dying mother that he would complete his education.
Hansbrough would be happy to watch an entire game from the bench when healthy, because to him, that's just incentive to make all of the guys ahead of him have to work harder tomorrow, when they're tired, and he's fresh.
Ideally, you don't want to have the same guys doing it, night after night, during the regular season. You want those guys to have something left in the tank, when the real season starts in mid April.
Chuck Hayes: People who judge the quality of a basketball player by the numbers in a newspaper box score think Chuck Hayes is a garbage time player, and that's because newspaper box scores don't contain the most important stat: Plus/Minus. Hayes excels at one thing: Plus/ Minus. Wherever he goes, no matter how often he is on the court, his team does better in point differential when he's on the floor, than when he's not. The guy is six foot six, but played Center for the Rockets, when Yao Ming had the foot problems. The people in China appreciated Chuck Hayes, which is why his 2006 shoe endorsement deal with Li Ning brand paid him about ten times as much as his NBA contract.
Lou Williams: Williams serves a few functions. Primarily, he forces Terrance Ross to play hard at both ends, or watch someone else do it. If Ross doesn't get the message, he'll be the first one sent packing, while his market value is high. There are always NBA GMs looking to trade talent for Slam Dunk Champions.
Williams is a natural '2', (shooting guard), but can and has played a lot of point guard. Let's hope we never see him there, because that would mean that Lowry or Vásquez is hurt.
The kid Bruno Caboclo is being handled really well. He finally saw some PT against the Bucks last Friday, when the entire second half was garbage time. He saw 12 minutes of action in a no pressure situation, where they could have pulled him, if he was fucking up. What his teammates did was make him a part of the team as quickly as possible, by giving him a few open looks from the perimeter, against a team that was phoning it in. That's how winning teams used to ease the new guy into the fold, by letting him build confidence when it doesn't matter, so he'll already have it, when it does.
Most basketball teams have at least two cancers, guys who are poison in the locker room, but you can't get rid of them, because you can't pawn their contracts off on someone else; there's only one Knicks. We've had our share of guys like that on past Raptor teams. We don't seem to have any of them, anymore. That's good GMing.
Players are starting to realize that Toronto is a great city, to be a basketball player. The fan base is big, and young. I wouldn't want to be playing to a lot of empty seats in Atlanta, (where only Georgia Tech basketball matters), or in MSG, where every GM sends their problem children. The future looks bright, if they can keep the ownership and senior management away from the on court aspect of the business.
Charles Barkley believes in the 2014-15 Raptors, and so do I.
. Hope Derozan's injury is not a long one.