For most teams it would be hard to draw any optimism following a 22-win season.
The development of youth within the Toronto Raptors however, points towards a bright future.
With several promising young players buying into head coach Jay Triano’s system, and valuable draft picks on the horizon, the Raptors have reason to be excited about next season.
“I’d say they’ve taken some giant strides towards building a team rather than a roster centred on one guy,” said Toronto Raptors beat reporter Doug Smith via email. “There’s still a lot of work to do but the foundation seems to be solid after the seasons kids like DeRozan and Davis had.”
Even Triano has bought into the idea of moving forward with the young squad they have assembled in Toronto.
“I know we lost 60 games this year, but I like the attitude that our players have, the way they approached the game and the fact that all of our young players improved,” Triano said in an interview with the Globe & Mail.
The coach’s optimism may come across as wishful thinking, but Triano and his staff have done a good job considering the situation they found themselves in when they season began.
“When you look at the kind of personnel Triano has been handed, it’s always difficult to assess the coach’s success by looking at the win-loss record, no matter how dismal,” said Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk .
“What can be said is that the club’s young pieces have improved this season, which is a credit to Triano and his coaching staff.”
Although the coach’s future with the team is still up in the air at this point, general manager Bryan Colangelo has a lot of decisions to make regarding some of the teams veteran players.
“Still, there are bigger dominoes to fall before the coaching situation is clarified, so whether or not Triano will be in the job going forward is, at this point, not easy to say with certainty,” Feschuk continued.
Former first-overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani has been with the Raptors for five years, but he has not emerged as the leader needed despite being given more minutes and responsibility following Chris Bosh’s departure.
Bargnani’s contract is reasonable based on his skills. The four-year $42 million US agreement would not be unmanageable for a trade partner looking to pick up a prolific, scoring big man to serve as a secondary option.
“If you think he is worth moving because there are going to be some pretty good teams out there saying, you know, he could be the missing piece, he could be that guy who fits in with our other marquee players,” said Raptors colour commentator Leo Rautins in a phone interview.
“People talk about Brooke Lopez from New Jersey being one of the top centres and his numbers are very similar to Bargnani’s, so I think you will have a lot of people that show an interest in him”
But, trades are easier said than done and lots of sports fans like to assume to role general manager. The reality is that Colangelo will have his hands full trying to obtain some valuable assets in exchange for the Raptors veterans he deems expendable.
Also, young players often take time to develop into legitimate NBA competitors. Players who are NBA ready right out of the draft are hard to come by.
DeRozan, who averaged 17.2 points per game last season, only averaged 8.6 as a rookie. Increased production will be expected of him next season, but player development takes time and hard times can unfold along the way.
The Raptors have experienced some of these growing pains in recent years, noticeable in Triano’s 87-142 coaching record with the team.
Nonetheless, with a young roster in place and an optimistic coach with the players on his side, the Raptors are likely to improve on this season’s dismal performance.
DeRozan, Davis and company are promising building blocks for the Raptors now and for the future.
Add a few new players and allow some time for the youngsters to grow, and the Raptors franchise will be poised to rejoin the NBA playoff picture and be regular competitors in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Observer columnist Janis Bunkis takes a deeper look at the Raptors’ team changes this year and the focus on the youth in Raptors’ youth gains valuable experience after 22-win season
Also, Raptors’ colour commentator Leo Rautins took the time to chat with Bunkis in a one-on-one phone call. We have the Q + A HERE!
Check out Observer analysts George Fadel, Janis Bunkis and Aaron Korolnek, as they weigh in on the Raptors’ year with a special taping of Full Court Press – All Star Edition