Posted Sep 20 2010 10:18AM - Updated Oct 1 2010 2:34PM
Chris Bosh is gone. And so are the playoff expectations and the pressure of trying to keep the franchise player from skipping town.
Hedo Turkoglu is gone too, leaving the Toronto Raptors without anyone who's ever been the focal point of an NBA offense.
The roster he'll take into the 2010-11 season certainly provides Raptors coach Jay Triano with a challenge. But Triano also sees the absence of a star as an opportunity.
"We don't have anybody we have to cater to offensively," Triano said. "We're going to be a very balanced team and we're going to have different guys that are going to have to step up. And because of that, there are more things that we can do offensively."
The playbook is being re-written in Toronto, and Triano is borrowing a page or two from some of the national teams he saw over the past month at the FIBA World Championship. As an assistant coach for the U.S. team, Triano watched film and prepared reports on the Americans' opponents. And he often liked what he saw.
"I like the international ball movement," Triano said. "I thought that the way that they move the basketball and the way that they make cuts, they have to do that sometimes to overcome the athleticism that some of the other teams have. So they're very precise with their offense."
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Yes, the Raptors are taking the European thing a step further. Triano will have at least four international players in his rotation this season, with his two best scorers, Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza, both hailing from Europe. But the move to a European offensive style is more about his players' collective skills than their nationalities.
Toronto had the sixth-ranked offense last season, scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions. But even though his team had much bigger problems defensively, Triano wasn't always satisfied with how well his team moved the ball.
"Offensively, I thought the ball got stuck a lot last year," he said. "Different guys needed to have the ball in their hands. That's why I like some of the stuff that the European teams did as far as ball movement."
Of course, if Triano wants his team to be at all competitive this season, improvement defensively must be priority No. 1. The Raptors' defense was simply atrocious last season, ranking dead last in allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions. They gave up 108 points or more 35 times and won just four of those games.
The Raptors' defensive issues were about more than just personnel.
"Defensively, last year, we had a very difficult time," Triano admitted. "We sat back and we had a hard time containing."
To turn that around, Triano isn't borrowing a page from the U.S. team's opponents, but from the U.S. team itself.
Kevin Durant was the offensive star at the World Championship, but it was the Americans' aggressive defense that was most responsible for bringing home gold from Istanbul. Triano doesn't have athletic defenders like Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook in Toronto, but his team will be faster and more athletic that it was last season.
DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson, three returnees with young legs, will have larger roles. Leandro Barbosa brings speed to the backcourt, while Kleiza brings versatility up front.
"We're going to be a lot more aggressive," Triano said. "With that athleticism, we're going to be able to keep guys in front of us a lot better. And if we can apply some pressure to turn teams over, it's going to create some offense."
With how bad the Raptors were defensively last season, they can do nothing but improve. Just how much they improve will be the biggest determining factor in how competitive they are this season.
Triano didn't bring Xs and Os home from Istanbul. Heading into just his second full season as an NBA coach, he absorbed any and every lesson he could from veteran coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Nate McMillan.
Krzyzewski, of course, impressed him the most. Triano is quick to laud the way the Duke coach "balances the things that he does regarding the technical and tactical part of it, the psychological part of it, the being a leader part.
"Anytime you work with somebody like that, you learn."
Now he returns to the Raptors and what is sure to be another learning experience. From the sound of it, those six weeks with USA Basketball will have a big influence on the next seven months in Toronto.
"It was an incredible experience for me," Triano said, "and very, very valuable to my development as a coach."
Under Contract: G Marcus Banks, C Andrea Bargnani, G Jose Calderon, G DeMar DeRozan, F Reggie Evans, G Jarrett Jack, G Sonny Weems, F Amir Johnson (re-signed), F-C Dwayne Jones
Free Agents: C Rasho Nesterovic (Unrestricted), C Patrick O'Bryant (Unrestricted)
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