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2013-14 Toronto Raptors Preview
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - After years of mediocrity, the Bryan Colangelo era ended in Toronto.
The Raptors replaced him with Masai Ujiri, the reigning Executive of the Year, after a banner season in 2012-13 with the Denver Nuggets.
The first order of business for Uijiri was to move former overall No. 1 pick, Andrea Bargnani. The Italian forward with an injury history was dealt to the New York Knicks for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a first- round pick and two second-round picks.
Camby and Richardson were released, but the very fact that Uijiri received a first-rounder for Bargnani was good work. The Raptors moved under the luxury tax line with the trade and didn't significantly cost the team any possible success.
Bargnani is a great shooter for a 7-footer, but his time in Toronto was over.
Colangelo's big move before leaving was last season's acquisition of Rudy Gay. The Connecticut product can score, but he's not a multi-talented guy, so the Raptors have holes.
The starting five is above-average with Gay, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, who will replace Bargnani, and Jonas Valanciunas. The bench is thin, but in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Raptors might have legitimate playoff hopes.
"I really can't say this team is going to be fourth or seventh or 12th," Ujiri told Eric Koreen of the National Post. "I can't do that. I want us to have growth, big-time growth, and improvement so that we can actually know what we have on this team. And then we can move from there."
The Raptors didn't make a big splash in the summer. It appeared Ujiri's main mission was to shed Bargnani's contract to get under the luxury tax. The success with which he did it made the offseason a mild success.
That makes Ujiri's plan for improvement a little short-sighted. How can the team realistically expect to improve if the only big move was bringing in Tyler Hansbrough?
Toronto finished four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot. That's not a ton of ground to make up, but the point of this season seems to be more about adapting to a Bargnani-less existence.
2012-13 Results: 34-48, 4th in Atlantic; Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: GM Masai Uijiri, F Tyler Hansbrough, F Steve Novak, G D.J. Augustin, F Austin Daye
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Kyle Lowry SG- DeMar DeRozan SF- Rudy Gay PF- Amir Johnson C - Jonas Valanciunas
KEY RESERVES: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Steve Novak, G D.J. Augustin, F Austin Daye, G Landry Fields, G Terrence Ross, F Quincy Acy, G Dwight Buycks
FRONTCOURT: Gay played 33 games with the Raptors last season and averaged 19.5 ppg, which was up from his scoring numbers with the Memphis Grizzlies. He shot the three better with the Raps and even improved his field-goal percentage. Gay is what he is - a gifted scorer.
Johnson had a big season for the Raptors. He averaged 10.0 ppg and started 38 games. He posted a career-high 7.5 rpg and left Bargnani very expendable.
Valanciunas is emerging as a Most Improved Player candidate. After his rookie season, which saw him miss 20 games due to injury, Valanciunas won the MVP award at the Las Vegas Summer League.
BACKCOURT: Lowry had a decent first season with Toronto, averaging 11.6 ppg, 6.4 apg and 4.7 rpg. He shot a respectable 36 percent from beyond the arc, but the Raptors expected a little more. Lowry could be in for a big year as he is a free agent after the season.
DeRozan improved in almost every statistical category imaginable last season. His scoring, assists, rebounding, steals, field-goal and three-point shooting all went up and his turnovers went down. His 18.1 ppg average is no joke, but the more well-rounded DeRozan's game gets is crucial for Toronto. Remember, he's only 24 years old and has three more years left on his contract after this season.
BENCH: The Raptors bench was in the middle of the pack in scoring last season. The second unit is almost completely revamped with Fields the only real contributor back in a Toronto uniform.
Hansbrough's numbers have declined over the last two seasons and he played only 16.9 mpg with the Indiana Pacers in 2012-13. Part of the reason for the dip in time might have to do with how impressive the Pacers front line was. He's a banger and worker. He'll fit in with a team in need of size and effort.
Novak is an elite three-point shooter. There's not much else to his game.
Augustin also came over from the Pacers after a disappointing season. He averaged 4.7 ppg after three seasons in double figures with the Charlotte Bobcats. He's a good bench hand.
Fields has never posted the same numbers as his rookie season with the New York Knicks. He signed a preposterous contract with the Raptors last season and has one more year left after this one. All in all, Fields isn't a terrible guy to have on your bench. He's a decent scorer and defender.
COACHING: Casey begins his third season in the great north and his two-year tally is a meager 57-91. He hasn't made the playoffs ever as a head coach, including a stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Casey survived the offseason, but the clock is ticking loudly. The Raptors haven't made the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. Plus, Casey is not an Ujiri hire, so perhaps, if the Raptors start slowly (4-13 last season), it could be curtains for Canada's coach.
OUTLOOK: There are five sure-fire playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. A quick bit of math says there are three spots left and Toronto could easily earn one of those,
However, it might be naive to think that the Raptors have improved by four wins to reach that eighth seed from a season ago. The teams the Raps will be battling with have either stayed close to their form (Milwaukee, Atlanta) or improved some (Washington, Detroit).
If everything breaks perfectly for Toronto, the Raptors could see the postseason. Since that almost never happens, the lottery seems like the destination for the Raptors.
Even though the postseason looks slightly out of reach, Ujiri is a good man for this job. He built the Nuggets with athletes and no true superstars. Sounds familiar and Denver won a franchise-best 57 games.
Now, if Ujiri can coax George Karl to coach the Raptors...
10/14 13:04:43 ET