Thursday, January 28, 2016

We the North

The Toronto Raptors have been the model of inconsistency throughout their entire franchise's tenure. From the failures of one of basketball's most losing coaches(and winningest, but when you coach for a million years you're bound to rank high on both ledgers) in Lenny Wilkens to the second most successful sibling in his family pertaining to Butch Carter, but his legacy was marred by a lack of playoff success when expectations were high(er) but at least, unlike a lot of past Raptor coaches he had a taste of the playoffs to Sam Mitchell, who received a coaching of the year honor while in Toronto, but he'll be best known, from my perspective anyway for feuding with Vince Carter's mother and celebrating childishly when his alumni Mercer won their first round matchup at the NCAA tournament while doing freelance with TSN. His on court tribulations with the Raps are far less memorable on the court which when solely examining the basketball aspect he gets a failing grade in my books. Too many non chalant years in Raptor land and with the team fielded in 2015-2016, results must improve, the team is in must win mode!

Dwayne Casey, who transplanted from a winning program in Dallas a few years ago has had mixed results thusfar. Innovative General Manager Maisi Ujiri has continued to stock the cupboards full by making moves that have raised a few eyebrows amongst basketball experts North American wide, but have paid wide spread dividends. The one acquisition that will stand out for a lot of Raptor enthusiasts was the Rudy Gay to Sacramento transaction. When the trade first happened, I had initial skepticism like most but one name brought back in return is now a cornerstone and a perfect compliment to a Dwayne Casey led attack in Patrick Patterson. I'm a hardcore college basketball fan, and of course I harken back to Patterson's exploits with the University of Kentucky Wildcats when he along with John Wall tore apart the SEC and coming into the NBA I suspect a lack of a comfortable role in Sacramento was applicable when describing his minimal results while a member of the Kings but a chord was struck when he came north of the border. A match made in heaven if you will, as the Casey-Patterson relationship is comparable to when Darryl Sutter hooked up with the rough and tumble Los Angeles Kings. It just worked. Patterson's defense first mindset does wonders for creating open space for talented scorers and All-stars Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Particularly with DeRozan, who's been longer tenured here than Lowry has a renewed sense of confidence in the offensive end because he's more aware now knowing that any slip up and the defensively reliable Patterson will come to the rescue.

When the year begun, a lot of the Toronto media painted the portrait of a team that was in flux, had major defencicies coming off their disastrous second half last year eventually succumbing to the Washington Wizards in last year's first round. This last off-season saw Ujiri once again dip into the free agency pool by securing former Atlanta Hawk DeMarre Carrol. I like Carrol as a general rule but I questioned the fit in this structure. One thought that crossed my mind was...."Did they sign Carrol as a precursor in order to move the enigma that is Terrance Ross?" This would've made some sense as Carrol could've shifted to the three position but sadly my hopes were dashed due to as of this writing, Ross is still firing threes and playing no D with the Raptors. Aside from the awkward fit that is Ross, a few things have happened this season that have got me dreaming championship thoughts for the G.T.A.  To begin with, the swagger that point guard Lowry conducts himself with has been seen in very few athletes that have graced the professional Toronto sports scene. It's refreshing, the personality shown allows us fans to get behind Kyle as he leads this second half playoff charge. You would expect for a twenty nine year old point guard to exude leadership, and he's done with this with flying spades. DeMar may be the more talented player, perhaps describing him as more versatile is more apt but this is truly Kyle's ship to steer.  So yes, Lowry and Derozan have carried the Raptors to the second best record in the Eastern conference and now is the time I'm going to draw it all back to the performance of Dwayne Casey. This group lost a heartbreaker two years ago to the Brooklyn Nets and like mentioned earlier got walloped last spring at the hands of the Washington Wizards. Let me be frank.....anything less then a third round performance will be viewed as a disappointment, and I'll be so bold to suggest anything less and Casey's job should be on the line, This is a same National Basketball Association that just saw Eastern Conference powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers fire Head Coach David Blatt in favor of promoting assistant Tyrone Lue(I could go on a tangent into the ridiculousness of him being allowed to coach the All-Star game). The nature of a professional athlete, particularly with professional basketball players is that rebuilding, or being content with being middle of the pack doesn't exist. Should David Blatt have lost his job? No, but it just goes to show their's no such thing as being malcontent in the Association. The Raptors have a grand opportunity barring any major injuries, and a trip to Ohio in the third round will be required in order to render the 2015-2016 campaign a successful one.

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