Raps' blueprint: Build around Bosh
The Raptors were expected to be in a position to make a strong playoff run
But Toronto has many new faces, has had multiple injuries and struggles on D
Currently in a free-fall, Toronto is focused on building around Chris Bosh
Let's say you are building a house. A really expensive house. A $70 million McMansion. You pick the property. You have the foundation in place. And you start to piece together all the different amenities, which are considerable since you have $70 million to spend.
And then the county inspector takes a look around and says there may be some issues with the foundation. Technically, you could get away with moving forward, he tells you. But it could very well have a negative long-term impact.
What do you do? Tear everything apart and start over? Or plow ahead and hope for the best?
That's what the Toronto Raptors are facing right now.
At a time when many thought Toronto would be positioning itself to make a run at Cleveland, Orlando and Boston in the playoffs, the Raptors instead discover themselves in a free-fall, having lost five in a row and nine of 10 before Wednesday's game against Atlanta -- including bad defeats to Philadelphia, Sacramento and Golden State -- and suddenly clinging to the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
Last Saturday, All-Star power forward Chris Bosh vented his frustration over the team's inability to play with heart, desire and consistency. First-year Raptor Hedo Turkoglu, who signed a five-year, $53 million deal last offseason, has expressed his frustration with the way he is being used in the offense. And the once-promising season has begun to slip away, raising questions about the future of the organization.
Namely this: If the team, as currently constructed, is having such a difficult time competing in the weak East, is it wise to actually lock it further into place by committing $100 million or more to Bosh?
One rival general manager said Toronto does not have a choice. Bosh, who is averaging 24.1 points and 11.2 rebounds a game, is too much of a talent to let walk for nothing.
The general manager who matters, Bryan Colangelo, agrees with that assessment.
"When you look at our pieces and say Chris Bosh is a major unknown as far as the future, certainly we'd love to lock him in -- and that is our intention," Colangelo said. "That is our Option A. With respect to building around Chris Bosh, that is the plan. We are going to build around Chris Bosh."
That, of course, is assuming Bosh wants to come back. Clearly he is not happy with the state of the team. And that is not just from the disappointment that came to the fore following Saturday's game.
When Bosh was asked recently if he thought the team could win consistently in its current form, and whether that would affect his decision this summer, he refused to answer the question. Twice. "Whatever my decision is, it is going to be a winning decision," he said. "Anywhere I am. That is just how I feel."
But can the team win with the roster the way it is?
"The GM is always going to make moves," Bosh said. "But I am not a GM. I don't paint the picture. I just play my role."
He did say, however, that if he stays with Toronto, he plans to have a voice in the direction of the team. "If you are able to be in that position, you should use it," Bosh said. "Anytime you are in the certain position as a player, you want to be able to have some kind of say-so about where the organization is going because you are committed to them and they should be committed to you. [Dwyane] Wade is Miami's best player. They should take care of him. That is how it is supposed to be."
Bosh did not want to get into the specifics of the changes that need to be made, but there are obvious issues. Starting with defense, where the Raptors rank 27th in scoring defense (105.9 points) and last in defensive efficiency. The problem is that two of three teams below them in points allowed -- Golden State and Phoenix -- don't profess to play much defense. The Raptors do, which is alarming.
Several NBA scouts speculated that the Raptors have too many European players, many of whom aren't known for their defensive prowess. Colangelo denounces that theory -- though he does say that working Turkoglu, a 10-year veteran from Turkey, into the rotation has been a challenge.
Turkoglu rose to prominence during the playoffs last year, when he ran the point-forward position for Orlando and his size and ability to handle the ball helped carry the Magic past Cleveland and into the NBA Finals. Orlando was unwilling to pay Turkoglu, so he joined Toronto after a serious flirtation with Portland -- something Blazers fans vehemently reminded him of during his visit there last Sunday.
The problem, however, is that Toronto is running a more traditional offense, with point guards Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon handling the ball most of the time, and Turkoglu initiating the offense only occasionally.
"Of course you want to do something different," Turkoglu said. "But you do what is asked. You can't be complaining. I just try to do what is given to me and do what is best."
When Turkoglu does have the ball, his impact is different. In Orlando, he was running a lot of pick-and-rolls with Dwight Howard, meaning Turkoglu could pull up for a mid-range jumper if the defense stayed with the center, or feed Howard in the post after a switch. With Bosh, a large part of his game is the mid-range jumper in isolation. He is not really a pick-and-pop player. It has hampered Turkoglu's influence and he is averaging 12.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists -- his worst production since 2003-04 with San Antonio.
"People ask me all the time, 'Has he been a disappointment, has he lived up to expectations?' " Colangelo said. "He came out of the gate tired. He had a long summer playing until June [in the Finals], then went to the European championships, so he was not comfortable from the beginning.
"Then when he finally got comfortable, he was injured. He has been a little less than what we expected in terms of rebounds and point production. But if I was going to tell you we expected 16 points and six rebounds and five assists, he is not that far off those numbers. He still does those things when he has the ball; he makes plays for other people. It just hasn't been consistent enough.
"We still have [close to] a quarter of the season left. And I have every belief he is going to show up. These games mean more now, and playoff basketball is a whole new brand of basketball. So there is still time to work itself out."
According to coach Jay Triano, the Turkoglu conundrum is a microcosm of a larger issue with the Raptors. They added so many new faces this season -- including Turkoglu, Jack, rookie DeMar DeRozan, guard Marco Belinelli and forward Amir Johnson -- that they had difficulty getting to know one another -- the reason for their 7-13 start. When they finally started to play well, they either sustained injuries or struggled to work injured players back into the mix.
Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard recently said he would always take the option of having too much talent over not enough. But the Raptors seem to believe they are suffering the ill effects of that first dynamic: They have not been able to play everybody deserving of time enough minutes, and thus the overall product has lagged.
But it goes back to the original question: As they embark on the process of trying to persuade Bosh to stay, is this the right collection of players for the long term?
"In my opinion, we have a good mix," Colangelo said. "I don't care what other people's take is. I care what our own internal take is. And we are going to build a basketball team as we see fit. Not what other people see. Yeah, I think we do have the pieces."
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