July 3, 2009, Adrian Wojnarowski:
“Turkoglu had agreed on a five-year, $50 million deal with the Blazers, but changed his mind and is headed for a five-year, $53 million deal with the Raptors. Toronto would have to renounce three free agents – Shawn Marion, Carlos Delfino and Anthony Parker – to create the cap space for Turkoglu.”
This is a surprise, and I’m not happy. It’s not that Turkoglu is a bad player; it’s that I think this is a bad signing. He’s 30 already, was never really worth $10 million a year, and the thought of renouncing all the free agents and losing the right to use the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions makes me sick. Assuming everything goes forward as I expect it to, my home team will look like this:
PG: Jose Calderon, Roko Ukic, Marcus Banks
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Hedo Turkoglu
PF: Chris Bosh, Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries
C: Andrea Bargnani, Patrick O’Bryant
Of course, that’s only 10 guys. 11 if you count guard Quincy Douby, who is on the team but has a contract is not guaranteed. The remainder of the roster must be filled with minimum salary players. And while it is certainly possible to Morey it, finding a rotation player with only a minimum deal at your disposal is a difficult thing to do.
The roster has gaping holes. Point guard depth, wing play, rebounding, and athleticism were lacking in 2008-2009. The only player I’d be comfortable calling a “good defender” here is the third-string point guard. As much as I love the DeMar DeRozan pick, I am terrified of counting on just him and minimum salary guys to fix all of this. Turkoglu represents an offensive upgrade over Shawn Marion, but downgrading in rebounding and defense makes little sense for this squad.
I don’t see this team making the playoffs and, if I’m right, I don’t see Chris Bosh wanting to stay in Toronto. And if I’m right about that, well… fuck. I don’t want to be right about that. He might be the best player this franchise has ever had and I can’t bear to see him leave as he approaches his prime. Blah.
July 9, 2009, Chad Ford & Marc Stein:
The Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors, living up to the wild tenor of the past few weeks in the NBA, have hatched a complicated sign-and-trade arrangement that went through numerous constructions Wednesday before resulting in an agreement in principle that will send Shawn Marion to Dallas and absorb the Raptors’ much-anticipated signing of Hedo Turkoglu.
This is a surprise, and… wow. Memphis facilitated another big deal? Didn’t Otis Smith say he wouldn’t do a sign-and-trade? Antoine Wright’s coming, too? Devean George’s agent can’t nix this, right?
The deal means that the Raptors don’t have to renounce their free agents and they get to keep their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions. Bryan Colangelo was prepared to fill the roster out with minimum salary guys, but now he doesn’t have to. Suddenly, the future isn’t quite so bleak. I still don’t like Turkoglu’s contract, but he can play. Anthony Parker’s rumoured to be headed to Cleveland, but he loves Toronto and maybe he’ll spurn them like Turk spurned Portland. Delfino’s a decent wing guy and it seems like he wants to come back. I’ve heard Rasho Nesterovic would probably take the bi-annual exception and this team could use his post defense. And there are a handful of players I’d love to sign with the mid-level.
I wonder if Colangelo had been trying to do this all along. It seems crazy that Orlando would help out an Eastern Conference rival like this for a trade exception they might not use. The Raptors have a chance to have a pretty good off-season now. Thank you to whoever gave BC this idea.
July 10, 2009, Dave Feschuk:
“After (the league) said yes … I said, `I’m stunned. This is the first time any of my crazy ideas have ever passed muster with you guys.’ I’ve had a lot of them over the years, `Can we possibly do this, this and this?’ And (the lawyers will) eventually find something to stop it. When they actually said yes, I was very surprised.” – Steve Fruitman
Here’s the guy I have to thank. Of course, it took number-crunching from four teams (five if you include the Chicago Bulls, the team that didn’t end up in the final version of the trade) and the man himself says that Bryan Colangelo “worked his tail off” to get it done, but it seems as if these talks would not have happened without a chartered accountant named Steve Fruitman.
It’s up to Colangelo now to use his newfound flexibility to fix some of the flaws I talked about. I’m very impressed that he got this done while dealing from a position of weakness after committing to Turkoglu, but this means nothing if the rest of the summer is, um, fruitless.
So, what happened between then and training camp?
The biannual exception, as expected, went to Rasho Nesterovic. The mid-level exception was used to sign his teammate from Indiana, Jarrett Jack. Bryan Colangelo was given the go-ahead to essentially buy Marco Belinelli from Golden State, sending Devean George and cash to the Bay Area. The Raptors couldn’t retain Anthony Parker, but they were able to sign Carlos Delfino and trade him and Roko Ukic to Milwaukee, in exchange for Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems. Here’s the Raptors’ roster heading into the season, again excluding Douby and his unguaranteed contract:
PG: Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Marcus Banks
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli
SF: Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright, Sonny Weems
PF: Chris Bosh, Amir Johnson, Reggie Evans
C: Andrea Bargnani, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant
Oct. 16, 2009, Kelly Dwyer:
“They can play. They can play solid ball on both ends, help teams, and most of all? They sop up minutes. And what most teams and fans fail to understand when a squad supposedly underachieves is that minutes don’t actually end with the two best players. They trickle all the way down.”
This quote isn’t actually about the 2009-2010 Raptors’ bench, but it may as well be. Not only are two of the players in question from Indiana’s 2008-2009 squad playing for the other side this evening at the Air Canada Centre and Tuesday at Conseco Fieldhouse, I see some parallels between these two clubs.
Last year’s Pacers were one of the league’s most fun teams to watch, even as a non-playoff team. They had the 3rd-fastest pace in the league and played in an abnormal number of close games. They were able to beat teams they probably shouldn’t, securing wins over the Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Cavaliers, and Nuggets. Obviously, it was great to see the continued ascendance of Danny Granger, who made his first All-Star team and won the Most Improved Player award. But even in losses, I always enjoyed the team as a whole, including the reserves. With injuries and role changes, I saw Jarrett Jack, T.J. Ford, Brandon Rush, Roy Hibbert, Jeff Foster, Rasho Nesterovic, and Marquis Daniels both start and come off the bench. No matter the combination, the Pacers were worth my time.
Jan. 30, 2010, Holly MacKenzie:
Jay Triano on the difference between the first few months of the season and now: “We’ve gotten used to each other, where to play guys, what their strengths are. I also think our depth has been a major factor. If we’ve struggled with starts, our second unit has come in and played very well.”
Read that whole thing. Triano mentions Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, Antoine Wright, Rasho Nesterovic, Marco Belinelli, and Jarrett Jack. None of these guys would be here without that Fruitman-inspired four-way trade. All of them have contributed to the Raptors’ recent surge, which has led to people writing pieces like these.
I named Amir Johnson to my All-OTN Team because of his effort early in the season. If you catch a Raptors home game, pay attention to the crowd noise when he checks in and out of the game and you’ll see that the city has fallen in love with him, too. I don’t have much to add to what I wrote about him months ago – aside from Chris Bosh, you could make the case that he’s been the most consistent Raptor this season.
Sonny Weems has been a pleasant surprise. His effort and athleticism on the wing is similar to Johnson’s in the frontcourt. Can’t say he’s been an efficient scorer but he’s fantastic on the break and he’s an active defender. He’s found a role on this club and that’s not bad for a dude who only played 55 minutes all of last season. It’s worth noting that he and my rook DeMar DeRozan are best friends off the court and that he has a highly amusing pre-game dance routine. Seriously, it’s awesome. From the start of the pre-game introductions until the ball is tipped, he does his thing, with just a brief pause for a team huddle. I’ve been to a fair amount of games at the ACC this year and I have yet to get sick of this.
Antoine Wright had a horrific start to the year on the offensive end and I’d still advise you to stay away from his basketball-reference page. Still, he brought toughness and a commitment to defense and was a valuable guy to have in the locker room. Lately, he’s knocking down his open shots and not trying to do too much. I’m not quite ready to say he’s turned the corner, but his play has been encouraging. The Raps probably don’t get that win against Miami the other day if they don’t have Wright guarding Dwyane Wade in the fourth quarter.
You can check Rasho Nesterovic’s basketball-reference page because he has a hilariously awesome PER of 18.9. Unfortunately for Rasho, though, this is mostly a function of small sample size – he’s racked up 22 DNP-CD’s and his 8.9 minutes per game is by far the lowest of his career. As a fan of his heady, underrated game and the way he’s improved throughout his career, it disappoints me to see him riding the pine. I understand it, though – with the way Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and Amir Johnson have been playing, it’s hard for Jay Triano to find minutes for Nesterovic. Still, the coach raves about him and you have to love his professionalism. He sits for a few games in a row and, when a matchup or foul trouble dictates that he gets some minutes, he produces. At 33 years of age, but he still has that soft touch, basketball IQ, and post defense. Let’s NBA… occasionally.
Marco Belinelli totally drives me crazy with the shots he takes. Lots of leaners, lots of fadeaways. Often contested, and often from behind the three point line. I’m not sure I’ll ever get completely comfortable with this, but I can’t deny he’s entertaining. Also, about half the times that I yell at him as he shoots, the ball goes in. I haven’t done a study on this, but I’m quite convinced that the difficulty of his shot attempts has no correlation at all with his success rate. He can be a terrific passer, too, which kind of makes up for the fact he’s a liability on D. Oh, and this probably could be a separate post, but there’s kind of a dearth of quality shooting guards in the NBA so having a bad defender at that spot on your bench isn’t that big of a deal.
Jarrett Jack has had the biggest impact of the Raptors’ off-season acquisitions and this is particularly satisfying to me because of the way the season started. For the first three weeks, he struggled to find his place as the team struggled to develop chemistry. His shot was not falling, his assist totals were inconsistent, and he didn’t provide the defensive upgrade Raptors fans were looking forward to. I absolutely loved the signing in the summer and now had to grit my teeth as the Raptors lost games and fans ripped him to shreds online. I still believed in him, but I was worried. He didn’t seem like the same player I had been watching for years. Now, though, all of that is a distant memory. Jarrett supplanted Jose Calderon as the starting point guard when he went down with an injury and even I, a long-time Calderon supporter, can’t argue for changing the rotation now that he’s back. The Raptors’ tear has coincided with Jack getting more minutes and becoming more comfortable with his teammates on the court. He has been doing a great job running the offense (he scripts plays!), getting to the basket, and being a leader. He’s playing his heart out, as he always has, and he’s developed a bond with Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, and DeMar DeRozan that has led Raptors Security Consultant Willis Richardson to dub them the Young Guns. Raptors fans love him now and I start twitching when I think about where the team would be without him.
And where is this team now? 25-22 heading into this Indiana game, good enough for 5th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re on a 4-game winning streak and they have the league’s 2nd-best record since December 18th. The offense? Elite. The defense? Much improved, even though the early-season incompetence still leaves them dead-last in defensive efficiency on the season. And the bench is producing. They’ve beaten the Cavaliers, Spurs, Magic, Mavericks, and Lakers, with all but that first one (opening night) coming in 2010. With a soft February schedule, the Raptors have a good chance of keeping this momentum going. People are legitimately excited about this team now and I love it. We have an honest-to-goodness entertaining team in this city, with guys who will hustle and can jump out of the gym. Raptors fans, enjoy this. While you’re at it, be very appreciative of Steve Fruitman.