Toronto is a beautiful city that lives on the frontier, or rather fringes, of the NBA world. The team features a relatively forgotten number 1 overall pick in Andrea Bargnani, who's come out relatively unscathed by critics perhaps because their team is on the outskirts of the NBA civilization. Perhaps it was their former star in Chris Bosh, who kept people wondering for the last 2 years when he was going to bolt for the US of A. Or maybe it was Hedo Turkoglu's stomach flu shenanigans, possibly attributed to eating fast food before games.
All this is to say that all was not well up in Canada. If this wasn't enough, the on-going rumors of Raptors' team drama between international and state-side players over the international players' style of defense (also known as liabilities) hardly portrayed the institutionalized multicultural wonderland that Canada has prided itself on, at least in it's center cities of global commerce.
Whatever the case may be, the Toronto Raptors may fade into obscurity completely now as they've rebooted their roster, among other things, with more (and less exciting) international players, such as Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, and David Andersen. It's been a busy off-season of re-inking current players while bringing in a mish-mash of talent through the draft and free-agency. But will these additions help solve some of the rumors circulating over Toronto's defensive issues? While a mid-season defensive improvement was there, is it time for Toronto to play more "American"?The Raptors are clearly starting over. And they're clearly thrusting the team's immediate future in the large hands of Bargnani and little used Amir Johnson, who was re-signed for what many critics and sports fans considered one, if not THE, worst contract signing during this off-season. Johnson was so bad that the Warriors even locked him up this past season when they faced each other. There's something to be said about your skills as a player when you're that bad offensively against the Warriors defense schemes.
Aside from Johnson, the Raptors are looking incredible thin -- literally and figuratively -- in the front court with David Andersen, who's preference is apparently shooting jumpshots and to not rebound. Ed Davis, an intriguing and seemingly efficient talent in summer league (12 pts, 6 rbs, and 2 blks), looks like he's ready to step in and play some meaningful minutes. But this three-headed monster which I call "inexperienced" won't help Toronto fans forget about Bosh's productivity (and good looks), at least not right away.
At the wings, DeMar DeRozan seems like a younger version of Julian Wright, which could be both good and bad. By this, I mean both players are oozing with potential and a potential which has drawn comparisons between them and current NBA stars. They're both teammates now, so this could be bad if DeRozan doesn't develop and begins to see his future down the end of the bench. But DeRozan doesn't seem as boneheaded as Julian Wright, as he hasn't quite quieted rumors about his ability to understand offensive systems swirled a few seasons ago if his stats are any indication. But one of Wright's strong suits has been his length and defense, which I guess better be if he can't grasp an offense, let alone hit breakaway dunks. But DeRozan shows a nice jumper, but his handles have severely limited what he can necessarily do offensively. Maybe he should first work on fixing his hairline. There no good barbers in Toronto that taper this dudes' do?
This rag-tag team of role players looks a lot like last seasons, sans Bosh and Turkoglu's "potential" as a leader and a play-maker. To me this spells trouble for all the reasons mentioned above. The pick of Kleiza was nice and I'm a huge Linas Kleiza fan given how much of a Warrior killer he was. Plus he has a decent stroke from beyond the arc that will definitely help given some of the offensive struggles this team may face without Bosh.
But these new additions don't give any indication that their past defensive woes will disappear. A Youtube clip of a European unknown demolishing Bargnani inside started quite a conversation among Raptor's fans about Bargnani's troubles playing at center. Still, Bargnani improved the amount of wins he generated and Jose Calderon had the skills of an emerging elite point guard until his injuries seem to derail some of his incredible efficiency.
Who knows, though? Maybe this team of role players can play well together without the distractions of Bosh and Turkoglu and maybe they'll figure out how to play defense together and consistently. But based off some of these off-season moves, it seems that Toronto will continue to have it's international flair as a "European-styled city" when it needs to play the rough and tough game of the USA.*
*I'm just joking folks about Toronto and Canada, broadly speaking. I'm not a crazy patriot of the USA but merely highlighting the brewing cultural tension between US and international players in the liminal space of Canada. I love Toronto and if given the chance, wouldn't mind living there for a bit. The Chinese food is tremendous and my girlfriend can say confidently that the shopping is some of the best you will find in North America. And to squash any people who think I'm saying Toronto is a 'European city,' I'm not. But French and British colonialisms have clearly framed the style and flaire of the city and region as "European."