Recently, a loyal reader and commenter, Tim W, posted a comment after one of our “Six Personal Thoughts on the Game” posts.

Tim basically asked why, given the Raptors’ history, fans get so excited any time this franchise shows a positive sign or two.

Tim has a point, and speaking to Raptors fans or reading twitter timelines, you can quickly see that he is by no means alone in his thoughts and was voicing an opinion that a number of Raptors fans have.

We all know the history: 16 seasons, only five playoff trips, only one series victory and 11 total playoff wins, just four winning seasons. Not to mention, a list of stars who have fled for greener pastures the minute things went south in Toronto. Quite frankly, you could make the case the Raptors are on a crash-course with a “Clippers North” label, if they haven’t already attained that moniker.

A high school history teacher often reminded me that the best eye into the future is a look into the past, and if that is indeed the case, basketball fans in the Big Smoke, and in Canada in general, are in for a long and cruel existence.

My problem with this way of thinking though, is that it doesn’t allow for the basic premise of what sports is about: hope and promise.

I don’t believe in blind optimism and homerism, but I’m just as opposed to blind pessimism. What I’m into is realism, and this is the realistic picture facing the Raptors right now:

- They have a potential franchise centre, who’s just 19-years-old, playing overseas. There is no way to judge Jonas Valanciunas on an NBA level until he plays a game in the Association, but what annoys me are pessimists who cast off his domination as bogus, simply because he isn’t playing in North America. Fans get giddy and throw out ridiculous comparisons to all time greats for teenagers who put up slanted numbers against fellow teenagers in the NCAA, but when a teenager dominates grown men the way Valanciunas does, we’re supposed to ignore it because he did it on another continent? Sorry, I’m not buying that. No one can guarantee Valanciunas will succeed in the NBA, but if there is stock in NCAA performances, then there is stock in JV’s professional performance. And that performance indicates the Raptors drafted a stud at a position that is in major demand in an NBA devoid of many truly dominating fives.

- They should have a top-ten pick in one of the best draft classes in years. Even if you want this year’s edition of the Raptors to over-achieve, you have to admit, things are bad right now record-wise (4-10), and are about to get a whole lot worse. Of the Raptors next nine games, only one (a road game against the Nets) can be counted as “winnable,” and that’s against a team that has already beaten the Raptors in Toronto this season. The other eight games are against the Celtics (twice), Blazers, Clippers, Suns, Jazz, Nuggets and Hawks. There is a good chance that in a couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about a team that has just four-to-six wins in 23 games. With how young the team’s core is and how demoralizing a start like that would be, not even a late improvement and surge would be able to save the Raptors from great lottery position. Is it a little messed up that I’m talking about a stretch of one or two wins in a three-week span as a positive? Yes. Welcome to Toronto. I can hear those ping pong balls already.

- They may actually have a young-ish All Star on their roster. For years I wrote about Andrea Bargnani’s potential, and how incredibly infuriating it was to watch him waste it. Call it a coming-of-age, call it the “Casey Effect,” call it whatever the hell you want. But what we saw from Andrea Bargnani through the first few weeks of the season was All Star caliber play. Does an impressive 11-game stretch undo a frustrating five years? Of course not, but Bargnani has finally proven what a lot of us already knew. There is All Star potential in that seven-foot frame. He’ll make an average of $11 million over the next three seasons after this one. That’s nothing if Andrea can play the way we now know he can. And he’s still just 26. There is no reason (aside from unexpected injuries) that he can’t stay around this level of play, or even elevate it, for the next five years. Now only if the Raptors had a good rebounding, defence-first centre on the way…oh, wait.

- Trade-able assets and salary cap space. Regardless of what you think about Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa, and regardless of how bad the former’s contract looked just a year ago, both Calderon and Barbosa can be solid trade chips for the Raptors over the next year or so. With the way Calderon has been playing lately, who knows, maybe management thinks he can still be the starting point guard when this team’s ready to compete, but I don’t think so. I say sell high on an above average point guard that currently contending teams would love to have. Same goes for Barbosa, whose frustrating out of control play shouldn’t take away from the fact that the man has proven for years that he can score off of the bench, and I’ve never seen a contender that isn’t looking for a guy like that. Barbosa is nearly an $8 million expiring contract this season. Calderon is a $10.5 million expiring contract next season. Whether Barbosa and Calderon are traded for younger pieces or draft picks or whether their expiring contracts simply become part of the $10-20 million in cap space the Raptors should have over the next couple of off-seasons, I look at those two guys as indirect positives for the future.

- The Raptors have a real NBA coach…no, seriously. With all due respect to Jay Triano’s significance for Canadian basketball and his good nature, the guy looked out of his league as an NBA head coach, and that was with a young team expected to lose a lot of games, let alone with a talented team expected to make the playoffs. Sam Mitchell was a great motivator, but didn’t seem to have a great grasp of X’s and O’s. Realistically, the Raptors haven’t had a really good head coach (Lenny Wilkens’ stroll into retirement doesn’t count) in over a decade. Dwane Casey seems to be the rare breed of coach who can both motivate (without scolding a player) and teach from an X’s and O’s standpoint. The Raptors may have taken a short-term step back on offence, but what Casey has done with Bargnani and the team’s defence can’t be praised enough. Imagine what he can do if the Raps do assemble a talented team in the near future…

- The Raptors have a plethora of young players we still don’t know enough about. This is the point that raises the most questions and the point that might be the deciding factor in what the future holds for the Raptors. Between DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson, Toronto has five players between the ages of 22 and 24 that we still aren’t sure about. Can James Johnson be a legitimate defensive stopper on a contending team, or will he flame out as a careless turnover machine? Can Jerryd Bayless become a legitimate point guard or impactful combo guard, or will he forever be lost in the middle? Can Amir Johnson become a consistent first big off of the bench, or will his propensity to get into foul trouble and inconsistency always leave us wondering about what could be? Can Ed Davis evolve into a legitimate starting big man, or will his limited offensive game hold him back his entire career? Lastly, can DeMar DeRozan capitalize on his All Star potential and athleticism on both ends of the floor, or is he simply going to be a poor ball-handler who won’t play defence but can give you 15-20 points on any given night? These five questions are key in determining both what the Raptors can be as early as next season and what they can be years down the road.

As currently constructed, the Raptors are a very poor basketball team stocked with a ton of untapped young talent that could either come together to form something special or could evolve into nothing more than a perennially under-achieving team (see Chris Bosh-led Raptors teams).

You could look at the above points, not like what you see, and decide this team isn’t worth your time. That’s an honest opinion and your right as a fan. Just as looking at the above points and thinking, “hey, this team might have something here,” is just as worthy an opinion.

But not even giving this team a chance based on the failures of previous players and teams who have come through Toronto over the last 16 years isn’t fair and doesn’t make much sense to me.

Management finally seems to have realized that the old way wasn’t working, and they have at least tried to do something about it. This is a new team with a new philosophy, a new coach and a new vibe. At least give them a chance to prove that before dismissing them in Year One.

Comments (16)

  1. I think Amir has answered your question.

  2. Well, I’m glad I could inspire an article, even if it wasn’t my own.

    Let me just quickly clarify my position. I believe I’m also a realist and did not mean to say that we should expect more of the same with the Raptors. Just that, after the last 16 years, the franchise has to be careful not to get ahead of itself and be in a rush to compete when there is a glimmer of success. There is certainly reason to be optimistic with this team (and I am), but this team currently does not have the foundation to be anything more than a mediocre team with the talent they currently have.

    The people that hope for the Raptors to vie for a playoff position this year have basically ignored the last 16 years of Raptor history.

    • I agree with that position Tim. While I want to see development from certain players and promise for the future, I still want this year’s team to lose enough games to get a great pick in the loaded 2012 Draft.

      As for your comment inspiring the post, I genuinely found your comment interesting because I’ve heard many Raptors fans make similar comments. A lot of disgruntled fans, who have rightfully become disheartened after 16 years of mediocrity and under-achieving, seem to be thinking that based on what’s gone on here in the past, the future will somehow be doomed. It’s obviously more of a knock on previous teams and decisions than it is on this team.

  3. Wow – you kinda summarized my response to Tim’s posted comment.

    Except, why trade Jose? Good point guards are hard to find and we have got one. Seems to be adapting well to Casey’s technique. We have no-one to replace him. Allow him to finish out his two years and then resign him at an appropriate salary. Even with him on board next year our cap situation is enviable to most teams

    Tim has been beating this dead horse for a while, and comes across very arrogant. He states the obvious and then makes it sound like he’s making a revalation to us all.
    Nobody above the age of 15 thinks Raptors can compete for playoffs. Tim should limit his condescending attitude to the comment section in RR, maybe he can enlighten some of the kids.

    • I don’t think you have to trade Jose. It’s just that with his injury history and age compared to the rest of the “core,” I find it hard to believe he will be here when this team is ready to truly compete. I’m worried that if the Raptors hold on to him, we’ll all be saying “they should have traded him in 2012″ two years from now.

      As for Tim’s comment. I didn’t write the post to single him out. It’s just that I had seen/heard comments like this around twitter and even in the upper bowl at the ACC, and Tim was the first one to really bring it to a head on Raptor Blog.

    • Tinman,

      I’m not sure where you’re coming from here. I actually pretty much agree with everything Joseph wrote, so I’m not sure where your pushback is coming from.

      As for my “arrogant and condescending attitude”, well, sorry you feel that way. That’s not the intention. At least I’m not coming out and insulting people directly. And, just for future reference, saying that no one over the age of 15 thinks the Raptors can compete for the playoffs actually is pretty condescending and arrogant considering I have conversed with a number of adults who think that. People who live in glass houses…

  4. And Tim has been silent on the improvement of one of his biggest targets.

    • I’ve been completely silent because I simply haven’t had enough time to post anything. Plus, unlike a lot of fans, I don’t judge anyone on such a small sample size. I’ll be back to posting soon.

      It’s weird, I’m getting criticized now for NOT saying anything.

  5. “Management finally seems to have realized that the old way wasn’t working, and they have at least tried to do something about it.”

    I disagree. For the hundredth time, they were forced into this rebuild by Bosh rebuffing their offer of a max extension in 2010. I’m not going to stand by and watch you repeatedly give credit for something management never fully intended on doing so give it a rest.

    Also, even if you throw the factors for what led to this rebuild aside, it’s still tough to refer to anyone or any collection of players on this team as the “core” that will be a big part of the next Raptors playoff team.

    A rebuild/period of annual tanking is the right way to go but the cupboard is completely bare right now with Val and the 2012 draft pick set to be the first true pieces of the core. It’s pretty ridiculous to say this team has a core when their best players are a 30-year old point guard and a forward who will be pushing 30 when this team is competitive again. If you’re going to advocate a rebuild, at least take an honest look at the current make-up of the roster and the respective upsides of each of these players.

    • Nothing wrong with a forward pushing 30 as part of a core. It’s good to have veteran leadership rounding out the guys who are 25 and under.

      As for the article above, do we have evidence that Jonas is “dominating” big men? From what I’ve read and from the #’s I’ve seen, he’s merely holding his own.

    • Tim, where is your analysis of Demar? He is playing worse than KING BARGS has every played. I think you have donated an entire library of hate to Bargs when he was dropping 20 ppg and 5 rpg last year.

  6. You seem to be creating an imagination boogeyman with your description of the Jonas doubters, maybe to seem smart/unique by saying he looks good/great. Who is doubting the guy?? I haven’t seen a single person doubting him.

  7. liked the article good read.

  8. Just to remind u nowitzki led his team to a champion ship at the age of over 30
    So I don’t see why Andrea wouldn’t be good enough. And also I think Amir Johnson Is a waste of time. I don’t see a big potential in him. I think Ed davis is a better of the bench big man then him. Ge has the ability to grad reabounds play defense and will find a way to work the offense.

  9. Way to give Tim W airtime. He is pretty much almost banned from most Raptors fansites for being a perennial pessimist and anti-Bargs advocate (borderline racist at times).

    This guys like Hitler, the more attention you give him the more power he gains. Stop the madness!!

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