Having gone a full year without longtime superstar icon Vince Carter, the Toronto Raptors officially entered the franchise’s next generation. Led by all-star power forward Chris Bosh, the Raptors are looking to once again enter the playoff picture. Management has been very active in the offseason looking for proper pieces to fit around their growing all-star. Careful decision planning must be made as they wish to avoid a Kevin Garnett situation, the player who in my opinion is very similar to Bosh in that both men are dominant forwards yet have skinny slender frames. Without a deep team, Bosh could spend the majority of his career producing excellent numbers, rarely seeing postseason glory, and being blamed for it.
After another mediocre season, the Raptors’ only silver lining was Mike James’ breakout season in which he doubled his scoring and assists average. However, even James recognized his growth and was very adamant about his search for a big contract and his willingness to leave Toronto should that wish be unfulfilled. The main concern this offseason was addressing their point guard situation.NBA Draft: Andrea Bargnani
With the #1 pick, the Raptors selected Andrea Bargnani, a big man from Italy who has drawn many comparisons to Dirk Nowitzski. He appears to have a decent shot and can shoot the three meaning he will most likely play from the outside. Being a foreign player, I have not seen him play, but I expect his style of play to be a mix of Vladimir Radmanovich and Dirk Nowitzski. He will not be completely dependent on the guards to set his shot up (Radmanovich) but will take the ball in himself for a jumper or layup (Nowitzski).
Free Agents: Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa
These signed players have not made much buzz, but Parker will be the Raptors’ starting small forward next season. He will replace Villanueva. Garbajosa will come off the bench if he plays at all.
Walk The Line: Mike James
Mike James was a nobody when he played with the Pistons. He filled in admirably as the backup point guard to Chauncey Billups. A season later, he became the backup to Bob Sura and ultimately became the starting point guard when he came down with a leg injury. Though he voiced how he felt Houston had a chance to win the championship this season, James was traded to the Raptors for Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston. The Raptors got the better of the trade as Rafer had a few injuries to tend to and James doubled his points and assists average to 19 and 7.
After his outburst, he now felt in a position to demand more money and voiced he would leave the Raptors if he did not get a big contract. Well, the Raptors heard him and slammed the door after acquiring T.J. Ford. Mike James has reportedly signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Trades: T.J. Ford for Charlie Villanueva
No one knew what the Raptors were doing when they drafted Villanueva. Having acquired a power forward in Chris Bosh, the team had that position filled. In his first year, Villanueva disproved his doubters, showing that both he and Bosh could coexist. Villanueva’s 13 points and 6 rebounds season was more than enough to be a top ten rookie of the season.
Only a year removed from rookie status, T.J. Ford has actually only played two of his three seasons in the league. A chronic spinal cord injury has restricted his play on the court, but it appears to be behind him. He has come off his best season averaging 12 points and nearly 7 assists a game. He jumped out of the gate quickly dropping at least 10 dimes a game at the beginning of the season before coming back down to earth for the remainder.
Last month, these two exchanged places which is a good move for the Raptors who apparently were not willing to give Mike James a hefty contract*. Ford may not produce James’ offensive numbers, but he is a pass first point guard. The team needs that as Bosh is the team’s primary option on offense. For Villanueva, expect him to play admirably alongside the Bucks’ frontcourt of Jamaal Magloire and Andrew Bogut. Not sure who the Bucks’ point guard will be but Maurice Williams was en route to a no contest 6th Man of the Year Award before becoming injured. He has more offensive power than Ford and similar assists. He is a perfect replacement if the Bucks are not looking for another guard.
Rasho Nesterovic for Eric Williams, Matt Bonner
I first heard of Nesterovic during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves were a pretty successful franchise, always making the playoffs usually as the fourth or fifth seed. The team rode the backs of Nesterovic and Kevin Garnett. At the time, Nesterovic was a decent double-digit scorer (11.2) and average rebounder (6.5) for a center.
After the Wolves’ glory run, Rasho Nesterovic became a Spurs and was one of the three big men who played in the shadow of Tim Duncan and did not score much. It was the trio of Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry, and Nazr Mohammed who never found the playing time. I do not blame them; Tim Duncan is perhaps one of the top three big men in the league. As a result of Duncan’s dominance in the paint, Nesterovich’s numbers were cut in half.
Now a Raptor, Nesterovic is assured of the starting center spot. If he plays with some passion, I expect his numbers to revert to his Timberwolves days. The added scoring will take some pressure off Bosh and will replace the scoring and rebounding lost by Villanueva.
NBA Draft: C
Reviews on Bargnani are very polarized. Half tote him as the next Nowitzski and half tote him as the next Rafael Araujo (WHO?). I am not convinced about Bargnani and feel he will have a mediocre rookie season akin to Andrew Bogut. This draft was best forgotten.
Free Agent: C-
These two guys are unproven, so I really have nothing positive to say about them.
Walk the Line: B
The Raptors have a better team image now that the money grubbing point guard is gone, but you have to admit that a backcourt duo of Ford and James is lethal.
Villanueva showed plenty of potential, but I would personally choose T.J. Ford because Mike James clearly cared more about himself than the team. In addition, a special player like Villanueva could not continue to play in Bosh’s shadow. Though he probably is now relegated to third string behind Magloire and Bogut, he could probably play well enough to split minutes with Bogut.
Nesterovic’s numbers have been consistently on the decline, but the reason is that he never got the minutes in San Antonio. As the starting center, his numbers can only go up but please remember he is still just Rasho Nesterovic.
The Raptors are clearly moving in the right direction, but they still need to address their shooting guard position. Morris Peterson is definitely somebody they will need to upgrade, but unfortunately, Peja Stojakovich is already taken.