With the NBA season a mere two months away, speculation regarding teams' upcoming seasons has been rampant and welcomed by NBA fans. In this article, I'm going to present five bold predictions about the Raptors organization. Some of them might be far fetched, some might be pessimistic and some might be overly optimistic. But these are things that I can see happening, and feel comfortable committing to. Let's get to it.
1) Jose Calderon will finish the NBA season as a Toronto Raptor.
Rumours of Calderon's departure have been commonplace since 2009, when a botched trade with Charlotte would have awarded the Raptors Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw. While the aforementioned trade was nixed by none other than Michael Jordan, Calderon trade rumours frequently surface. Many fans believe that the addition of Kyle Lowry signifies the end of the Calderon era, and it does. However, I believe that Calderon's value as the best off-the-bench point guard in the East, and arguably the entire NBA, is far too tempting for Bryan Colangelo to ship away without great returning value.
Calderon has long been the bane of many Raptors fans, which is odd considering his steadiness and offensive efficiency. His defense is atrocious, there's no way around that. But coming off of the bench, Calderon is allowed to play to his strengths without Dwane Casey worrying about his defensive inability for extended minutes.
I appreciate what Calderon has done for the organization, and fully acknowledge that he will not be a Raptor in the 2014 season. But he'll be around this season. Probably all of it.
2) DeMar DeRozan will not be offered an extension.
I love DeRozan. His ability and potential have fascinated me since his days at USC, and while I didn't think Colangelo would draft him, I was glad when he did. DeRozan's days in Toronto have been bittersweet. He's often touted as the future of the franchise, and while he frequently shows flashes and brilliance and dominance, he's rarely able to sustain an elite level of play. DeRozan took a small step forward last year, while also taking a small step back. His defense improved, his 3 point shot was better (and elite from the corner), and he showed floor awareness and some shot creating ability. At the same time, DeRozan took more long jumpers than ever before, and his efficiency suffered as a result.
DeRozan is undoubtedly one of the better young wings in the league, and one of the few players at his position that has legitimate star potential. He hasn't reached it to this point, despite management hyping him as the next big thing. He's improved, but not to the point that he needs to.
While I don't believe the Raptors will offer DeRozan an extension, I do believe they'll retain him through free agency. DeRozan himself is aware of his potential, and will probably ask for more money than he's worth. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, is not known for bizarre contract demands. He's more of a go-with-the-flow guy. DeRozan will be offered more than he's worth in free agency, and the Raptors will probably match whatever offer he gets. Thankfully, it will also be less money than he's asking for.
3) Kyle Lowry will average career lows in nearly all categories.
Let me be frank: Kyle Lowry has never played meaningful minutes on a well constructed team, nor has he played for a coach as strict as Dwane Casey. The Raptors look to be a balanced team on offense, and the idea of Lowry putting up any career highs is unlikely. That isn't to say his presence won't be felt: it will.
Lowry's ability on both offense and defense cannot be understated. Nor can his toughness, which should be contagious and spread throughout the team. With that in mind, his greatest contributions to the team can't be measured through conventional statistics. He'll have some huge games, but expect his numbers to be around what they've been his last couple of years in Houston.
Don't fret, though. With exception to Damon Stoudamire, Lowry is the Raptors' best point guard in franchise history.
4) Jonas Valanciunas will be very underwhelming.
Valanciunas, like DeRozan, has been marketed as the future of the franchise. The hype surrounding him since his drafting has been like no Raptor before him, and for good reason: he may end up being a top 5 Raptor of all time in the future.
Valanciunas is a big man. Big men rarely show any real consistency before they're 24, and to think that he'll progress any faster than normal is foolish. Especially because he's coming from the Euroleague, which is more physical than the NBA and has several different rules that appeal to his style (namely goaltending). It will take him a few years to adjust before he blossoms into one of the better young centers in the league.
Many fans expect Valanciunas to average a double double with a few blocks as a rookie, as well as be a contender for Rookie of the Year. No. Expect half a double double, a block, and more fouls per game than points. Averaging a double double isn't out of the question for him. In fact, it's expected and very likely. But it will take a few years before he's able to stay on the floor for extended minutes and contribute consistent play.
5) The Raptors will be the 6th seed in the East.
Before his first injury last season, Bargnani looked like an entirely new player, and the Dirk Nowitzki comparisons fans prayed for but never saw began to sound sweeter than ever before. The team played defense. Then he went down. Calderon went down. James Johnson had a "run-in" with Dwane Casey. Rasual Butler got way more minutes than he should have. The team effectively tanked the rest of the season, preparing for a more readied and prepared 2013 season.
Now, with two solid draft picks, a recovered Bargnani and more depth, the Raptors are ready to compete. One thing that's often overlooked is that Dwane Casey essentially played the same terrible starting lineup that Jay Triano did in 2011, and enjoyed considerably more success on the defensive end. Now, with personnel that fit his system, the Raptors might become a top 10 team on that end.
This team is better than any team in roughly the last decade, both on paper and on the floor. They're young and will only get better. The Raptors may not have a traditional star, but they have a collection of very good players with chemistry and a very solid head coach.
Casey stated that making the playoffs was the Raptors' goal last year. This year, I'd be surprised if they aren't aiming much, much higher. And their success should trend upward as well.
While I don't expect all of these predictions to happen, and realize that there's a chance none of them do, I'm comfortable with them. This season is very difficult to project, with no lineups cemented and the possibility of injuries and trades to relieve a loaded front court.
What do you think? Any bold predictions? Leave some comments!