Joseph Casciaro

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As some of you may be aware, I recently started a new gig here at theScore that sees me write/talk about the NBA as a whole on a full-time basis, so while I won’t be able to provide RaptorBlog posts and general Raptors commentary with nearly the same regularity, I hope you’ll continue to read/listen along with me this season (You can read my season preview here and my predictions here).

As for the Raptors, what I’m going to try to do is take some time every weekend to post my wide ranging thoughts on the week that was in Raps Land, in a similar fashion to how I usually wrote my “Thoughts On the Game” posts. Again, I’m hoping you’ll stop by on weekends to get the little bit of Raptors ranting I’m still able to do on a regular basis.

Other than, most of my Raptors thoughts and observations can be found through twitter, where I’m prone to my fair share of passionate Raps-related tirades.

As for the coming season, I’m predicting a 40-42 season for Toronto that results in a No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, though if Cathal Kelly’s Toronto Star report proves correct, Masai Ujiri and MLSE may blow things up before such a mediocre finish is allowed to fully take rot.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s source indicates a 45-day deadline for the Raptors, which would take us to December 13. The Raps play Philadelphia in the 21st game of the season that night, and I’ve got them as a 10-11 (7-14 worst case scenario, 12-9 best case scenario) team at that point, so the question is really what will Ujiri find acceptable to continue with, and what’s his line in the sand of ‘we can’t go on like this’?

I also feel like with the Honeymoon period that exists between Raptors fans and Ujiri, he wouldn’t have lost any support had he decided to blow things up as soon as he got here to put this team in a better position to properly take a strategic step backwards this season, so I don’t quite understand the point of now reportedly setting a hard deadline on whether to tank or not if that’s they’ve wanted all along.

In any event, a Raptors season opener wouldn’t feel quite right without at least a little drama (last year it was DeRozan’s extension), so let’s get this intriguing season of questions under way, shall we?

I know Stripes and Drake are ready…are you?

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With the pre-season finale (thank God) set for Friday in Milwaukee, the Raptors received some good news on Thursday, as Kyle Lowry will be able to practice and play while recovering from a left ring finger tendon injury (though he’ll be out vs. the Bucks).

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DeMar DeRozan found himself in the news yesterday when Grantland’s Zach Lowe (the best basketball writer right now, bar none) predicted that the Raptors will shop (and possibly trade) DeMar DeRozan this season. While it’s important to note that Lowe is making a prediction here and not reporting a rumour, it’s also important to remember that DeRozan (and really anybody not named Valanciunas) being shopped wouldn’t be and shouldn’t be a surprise to fans this year.

Where the talk of tanking dominated discussion among Raptors fans when Masai Ujiri first took over earlier this year, the chase for the Eastern Conference’s low playoff seeds is all the rage now, and while I firmly believe this roster is capable of landing in the 6-8 range, we shouldn’t forget that the whole point of this season for Ujiri and the Raptors is figuring out what they have right now, but more importantly what they have to do to reach a championship destination in the future.

So while DeRozan has looked like a much improved player through six pre-season games and Rudy Gay has looked like a more efficient scorer, the fact still remains that it’s tough to see a basketball executive with Ujiri’s diligence stomaching a roughly $28 million bill for the services of that wing combination.

And if an opportunity arises this season, whether a week from now, a month from now, or four months from now at the trade deadline, for Ujiri to unload one of those players for legitimate assets (not just a tank-a-thon), you best believe he’s going to pull the trigger. Remember, Masai has proclaimed that he’s not just going to give talent away in an effort to tank, and that’s absolutely the right approach to take, but at the same time, if the right package comes along that sets the franchise along a better path, I also don’t think he’ll let the standings dissuade him from such a deal.

All of which is to say, just because the team isn’t tanking, it doesn’t mean they’ll ignore good future-minded deals all in an effort to snag a playoff spot.

For what it’s worth, Fox Sports’ Sam Amico wrote on Monday that a General Manager said there is “strong league-wide interest in” DeRozan, ”but seemingly nothing that would entice DeRozan’s current employer to take the plunge.

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Another point I wanted to touch on quickly revolves around Vince Carter.

On Tuesday, Steve Nash wrote an awesome piece for ESPN.com about the rise of Canadian basketball, and he went out of his way to mention the impact that Vince Carter and the phenomenon of ‘Vinsanity’ had on said rise:

For six and a half years, much of Canada’s young talent watched and fell in love with a flamboyant, human highlight film named Vince Carter. He inspired them nightly while playing for the home team Raptors. I think Vince’s presence in our country shouldn’t be underestimated. His charisma was incredibly powerful in attracting a Canadian audience to the game of basketball for a memorable period of time.

In addition on Tuesday, some excerpts emerged from Richard Peddie’s memoir, in which he states that Vince Carter “a mama’s boy” whose mom “was a force,” and that “We tried the appeasement, sucking-up mode with him, with cars and his own security guard,” but that it “didn’t work out so well.”

From what I could see on twitter and fan forums, there seemed to be a divide among fans, some of whom backed the Nash theory that Carter should be praised for his impact on basketball in Canada, and others who brushed off any notion of Carter’s influence while agreeing with Peddie’s take on Vince.

My take is that both sides can be right and probably are right, and that one side being right in this case doesn’t exclude the other from being right. In fact it’s very possible and even very likely that Carter had a significant impact on growing the game of basketball north of the border and also acted immaturely while handling his departure from Toronto poorly.

It’s okay to acknowledge both of these truths, and yet when the topic of Carter comes up in Raptors circles, it seems too often fans firmly entrench themselves on one side – a side that says Vince was a Canadian sports hero who could do no wrong, or a side which claims his wrongs diminished any impact he had off of the court.

It’s not always that black and white, and in this case, it certainly isn’t.

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On an average night, Terrence Ross hitting a buzzer-beating three against the Knicks to push the game into double-overtime would have sent me into an euphoric frenzy, but when we’re talking about Game No. 6 of the pre-season, it’s hard to be emotionally invested.

Having said that, a 58-minute NBA game (Three-plus hours of real time) did take place at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night, and while it may not have counted for anything, I still have plenty of thoughts…

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With five of eight pre-season games in the books, here are a few thoughts and observations on the Raptors…

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