DeMar DeRozan and the rest of the Toronto Raptors are looking forward to the upcoming season, one filled with high expectations.
DeRozan didn’t mince words when he was asked during Monday’s media day which player he would most like to dunk on.
“Dwight Howard,” said the 6’7 high flyer at the Air Canada Centre. “You can’t go wrong with that. I’ve just got to go for the biggest dude in the paint.”
With the team assembled and ready to travel to Halifax for training camp, things are looking up in Raptorland.
The core of the team from last year remains intact, with six key new additions that will help speed up the game and play with more of an offensive focus while maintaining the defensive intensity preached by head coach Dwane Casey.
“We’ve got to get better offensively,” said Casey.
“We did what we did defensively [last season]. We’ve got too many good athletes not to get out and run. This season will be about how good we do offensively while maintaining that defensive intensity.”
Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo took it a step further.
“The numbers are staggering what happened last year, but with respect to the pace, the offence, offensive efficiency, offensive production, we talked a lot this off-season about how we’re going to improve that.
“We’ve become a group that can shoot the ball much better from the three-point arc, we’ve gotten now a couple of guys that understand the importance of attacking the rim, getting to the free throw line.”
While the Raptors keep pounding the rock, 2012-13 brings an optimism not seen since the team was in playoff contention – a status they seem poised to regain this season.
“This team seems to have a lot of those same characteristics,” Colangelo said when he compared the current squad to the 2006-07 team that won the Atlantic Division.
“It just seems to me, with the newness of the group and the chemistry we’ve seen, the commitment of the players all coming together, spending a lot of time in Toronto… there’s that feeling there could be something special abut this group but time will tell.”
At the start of last season there was a feeling of waiting, knowing that the team wouldn’t amount to much, but that there was a promising future.
That future starts now with several new players including Jonas Valanciunas, finally in the mix after he was drafted fifth overall in 2011 and stashed overseas for a year to develop.
“Since I was a kid I liked to play hard,” Valanciunas said. “I like to compete, I like to win. I think that’s helping me. I like the taste of victory.”
The 20-year old Lithuanian seems hungry to play and improve while he adjusts to the NBA style. Another new addition, point guard Kyle Lowry, who spent last season in Houston, has only one goal: the post-season.
“I think were going to be good,” said Lowry. “We’ve got a talented team, our expectations are high, and all that really matters now is that we push it to the limit.
“To make the playoffs: that’s our expectation, that’s what we’re going to push all the time.”
The Raptors will play seven pre-season games, five more than they did in the shortened format from last year. They’ll open at the ACC against Real Madrid on Oct. 8.
Toronto then tips off the regular season hosting the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 31.