The 2008-2009 NBA season officially opens today for the Toronto Raptors.
Together, Chris Bosh [PF/C, current All-Star], Jose Calderon [PG, current 'almost' All-Star] and, new arrival, Jermaine O’Neal [PF/C, former All-Star] form the core of a team with significant ambition this season … which includes a stable starting 5-man group BUT a plethora of question marks elsewhere on the roster.
O’Neal likes Raptors chances of ‘doing great things’ this year
The difference between the Raptors and the other contenders and pretenders is the level of excitement that goes with today’s official opening of the 2008-09 season.
They are talking great, not good, expecting success unrivalled in the franchise’s 14-year-history, the optimism based on the arrival of a new big man and the natural maturation process of a roster now dotted with experience rather than question marks.
“Me, Chris Bosh and Jose (Calderon) sat down after the scrimmage (last week) and it was like, ‘Man, we have a real shot here,’ ” newcomer Jermaine O’Neal said. “We’ve got a real shot.
“Obviously, we have the talent on paper and if we mentally believe that and bring that swagger every day, that we’re the best team on the floor every time we step on the floor, we’ve got a shot at doing some great things this year.”
O’Neal is certainly to be at the centre of any resurgence of the Raptors, who’ve bowed out of the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Turning 30 during training camp, he’s been impressive in informal workouts and scrimmages over the last week, according to teammates and coaches. He brings experience – albeit having missed most of two seasons with knee woes – and a steadying force under the basket.
“Watching the guys work out, it’s just amazing how much more confidence they have, having Jermaine O’Neal back there,” said coach Sam Mitchell. “I’m telling you man, just watching them work out, he was blocking shots and talking.
“The thing I love about him, not one time has he talked about ‘Give me the ball.’ All he’s talked about is playing defence and rebounding.”
Rebounding & Defense are crucial elements for a legitimate contender in the NBA … but so, too, is QUALITY DEPTH throughout a team’s roster.
Putting Anthony Parker [OG, 4th year] and Jamario Moon [SF, 2nd year] into the starting line-up, leaves a supporting cast of:
Key Bench Subs
Andrea Bargnani … C, 2006 NBA Draft No. 1 [overall] Selection, Yr/3
Jason Kapono … G/F, 2003 NBA Draft No. 31 [overall] Selection, Yr/6
Kris Humphries … PF, 2004 NBA Draft No. 14 [overall] Selection, Yr/5
Roko Ukic … PG/OG, 2005 NBA Draft No. 41 [overall] Selection, Yr/1
Will Solomon … PG, Undrafted 2002 Free Agent, Yr/1
Hassan Adams … OG/SF, 2006 NBA Draft No. 54 Selection, Yr/2
Joey Graham … SF/PF, 2005 NBA Draft No. 16 [overall] Selection, Yr/4
Nathan Jawai … PF/C, 2008 NBA Draft No. 41 [overall] Selection, Yr/1
In the view of this corner, whoever sees this group of 8 secondary players for the Raptors as somehow being ‘good enough’ to get the ‘job done right’ in the Eastern Conference this year, Regular Season and Playoffs … is simply NOT being realistic, considering the potency of other teams in this half of the League right now, many of which subtantially upgraded their ‘quality depth’ this off-season.
2007-2008 Finish; TEAM; 2008-2009 Adds; [Number of Quality Depth Adds]
1 BOSTON – Giddens, Walker, Erden **, O’Bryant & Miles 
2 DETROIT – Michael Curry [new coach], Sharpe, Brown-K & Bynum-W 
3 ORLANDO – Battie [returns healthy], Lee, Pietrus, Johnson-A, Jones-Dw, Wilks & Richardson 
4 CLEVELAND – Hickson, Jackson-D **, Williams-M, Kinsey & Wright-L 
5 WASHINGTON – Thomas-E [returns healthy], McGee, Brown-D & Dixon-J 
6 TORONTO – O’Neal, Ukic, Solomon, Adams & Jawai 
7 PHILADELPHIA – Speights, Brand, Ivey, Ratliff, Marshall, Rush-K & Hill-H 
8 ATLANTA – Hunter, Claxton [returns healthy], Evans-M, Murray-R & Morris-R 
9 INDIANA – Rush-B, Hibbert, Ford, Nesterovic, Jack, McRoberts, Baston & Croshere 
10 NEW JERSEY - Lopez-B, Najera, Dooling, Simmons, Jianlian, Hayes, Anderson-R, CDR & Hodge 
11 CHICAGO – Vinnie Del Negro [new coach] & Rose 
12 CHARLOTTE - Larry Brown [new coach], Morrison [returns healthy], May [returns healthy], Augustin, Ajinca & Brown-S 
13 MILWAUKEE – Scott Skiles [new coach], Alexander, Mbah a Moute, Jefferson, Ridnour, Griffin, Jones-Da, Lue, Allen-M & Elson 
14 NEW YORK - Mike D’Antoni [new coach], Gallinari, Duhon, Houston, Ewing-P/Jr & Roberson 
15 MIAMI – Eric Spoelstra [new coach], Wade [returns healthy], Beasley, Chalmers, Diawara, Jones-J & Magloire 
** unsigned 2008 Draft Pick
Instead of talking ‘Loud & Proud‘ at this point in the PRE-SEASON … on the first day of training camp, no less … it might behoove this version of the RapShow to simply try and ‘Walk the Walk’ properly, at first … for one of the few times in the history of this franchise … AND LEAVE THE TALKING OUT OF IT COMPLETELY, considering the fact that this team has advanced to the 2nd Round of the Playoffs only ONE TIME in its 13 year history.
Although it isn’t quite the same as Ubuntu, the 2008-2009 Raptors would do well to embrace the following sentiment first popularized by acclaimed RoughRider, Theodore Roosevelt, over 100 years ago:
“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” – A West African proverb
There is still a long and arduous journey ahead for this team.