Fresh faces abound for Raptors in ’09

Turkish free agent acquisition Hedo Turkoglu headlines a cast of new names on a Toronto Raptors’ roster as the club heads into the 2009-2010 season.

Turkoglu brings both experience and savvy to the Raptors after helping lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA Final last year, averaging nearly 17 points and five assists per game in 2008-09.

Continuing an ongoing trend, Turkoglu will play with the likes of guard Marco Belinelli, point guard Jose Calderon, and centre Andrea Bargnani to form another strong international lineup.

Those four, along with Chris Bosh, are expected to complete Toronto’s starting lineup.

While much of the focus among the newcomers will be on Turkoglu, Belinelli is an interesting storyline himself.

The 23-year-old, acquired over the summer from the Golden State Warriors, will get a starting opportunity after mostly riding in the bench his first two seasons.

Belinelli envisions himself as a pacesetter for the offence after not being able to establish a defined role in Golden State.

“I’m a guard who can shoot, but at the same time I can create for my teammates,” Belinelli told the Toronto Star.

“I practise every day for myself to be the best. It is my job and I can help this team, I think.”

Another challenge facing the Raptors this season will be elevating their game to the next level. They play in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, one that features arguably the conference’s top team in the Boston Celtics.

Those Celtics are just two years removed from winning the NBA title, and will be aided by the return to health of Kevin Garnett and the addition of Rasheed Wallace this off-season.

Nevertheless, the East figures to be relatively wide-open in 2009-10.

Factor in that the Raptors took Turkoglu, a key component of Orlando’s team, and Toronto figures to have at least shortened the gap between themselves and the defending conference champs.

Continuity will be something to keep an eye on this season — last year, the Raptors’ roster was in constant motion between trades and injuries. The latter, however, may ultimately determine the team’s fate this season.

Bosh is expected to miss the start of training camp after sustaining a hamstring injury, while Calderon (finger) and Marcus Banks (foot) underwent surgeries this off-season, but are expected to be ready when camp opens in Ottawa.