COACH: Sam Mitchell | 2007-08: 41-41
Toronto Raptors

O'Neal will have a lot to prove in Toronto.
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images
The word "if" is an important tool for sportswriters. It allows us to make predictions that won't come back and bite us too hard when they fail to come to fruition.

For example, I give you the following prognostication: The Toronto Raptors will be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09 IF Jermaine O'Neal stays healthy, IF O'Neal's left knee is back at full strength, and IF Andrea Bargnani starts playing like a No. 1 pick.

See? Now tell me how that prediction could turn out to be inaccurate.

After reaching the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2007, the Raptors, young and on the rise, were expected to take a step forward last season. But they fell six games in the standings and didn't put up much of a fight in the First Round of the postseason, losing in five games to the Orlando Magic.

"We felt last year that we had improved our team," Toronto President Bryan Colangelo told NBA.com before training camp opened, "felt that perhaps the depth of the team was better. But we seemed, for whatever reason, to lack the chemistry that we had in my first year here."

The overachievers of '06-07 were the underachievers of '07-08.

Part of the problem was a point guard controversy. T.J. Ford was the incumbent starter, but Jose Calderon was more deserving of being the primary floor general. And even though Calderon played his best basketball while Ford was out for 24 games in the middle of the season, Ford was back in the starting lineup down the stretch and in the postseason.

And as a result, the issue continued to linger. Ultimately, the Raptors limped into the playoffs and were eliminated quickly.

Clearly disappointed with how his team took a step back, Colangelo didn't hesitate to shake things up, reaching a deal with the Pacers on draft day to send Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and the No. 17 pick to Indiana in exchange for O'Neal and the 41st pick.

"There was value in T.J. in the trade market," Colangelo said. "And we ended up making a deal for Jermaine, of about four or five deals that were out there, that we feel was the best deal to propel us forward."

On paper, O'Neal has what the Raptors need.

"Overall, we were not a very good rebounding team last year," Colangelo admitted. "By bringing in someone who's historically averaged double-digit rebounds and put him alongside Chris Bosh, who does the same, we've already dramatically improved our rebounding capabilities."

And this isn't a Randolph-Curry situation, where two bigs have overlapping skills and little ability to adapt to a frontcourt partner. Bosh does his best work in the high post, O'Neal does his thing down low and neither is a black hole. Further, O'Neal's ability to score inside gives the Raptors, who finished 27th in the league in points in the paint last season, more offensive balance.

In turn, O'Neal's new teammates' ability to shoot from the perimeter (they were second in the league in three point percentage last season) should give him room to operate.

It's a great fit... on paper.

But Colangelo realizes that games are won on the court. And in addition to his team staying healthy, they also need to develop chemistry in order for this move to pay off.

"It's going to be up to our coaching staff to figure out how to best utilize the two individuals," he said, "and incorporate everybody else into the picture offensively."

Add that to the list of ifs.
-- John Schuhmann

Choose from the East Pack, the West Pack and the Weekend Pack and we'll see you at the Air Canada Centre.

Bargnani
Andrea Bargnani was in this (and on the) spot last year too, but minimal improvement on his rookie season has the 2006 No. 1 pick right back where he belongs.

"If you look at last year's scenario," Bryan Colangelo told us, "the lack of forward progress with Andrea was clearly one of the disappointments."

To be fair, it must be mentioned that Bargnani was dealing with both a deviated septum and an enlarged adenoid last season, and had surgery to fix both issues in May.

Still, the transition from rookie to second-year player is generally a player's best opportunity to learn from experience and show improvement in his game. And Colangelo did invest the top pick of the 2006 Draft in Bargnani, instead of LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay, none of whom have the combination of size and skills that Bargnani has.

But brief flashes of brilliance are no longer acceptable. The Raptors are ready to win now, and they need Bargnani to be consistent in order for them to realize their full potential. His development is the X-factor in Toronto.

With Jermaine O'Neal, the pressure on Bargnani of being a starter on a playoff team has been removed. This year, he knows his role from Day 1. And having seen a refreshed and motivated Bargnani in informal, pre-camp workouts, Colangelo is optimistic.

"You're going to see a bigger, stronger, more confident Andrea Bargnani," Colangelo told us. "[He] showed up in terrific shape and put a very solid summer in of strengthening and conditioning and rehabilitation."

That could bode well for the Raptors.
-- John Schuhmann

THE STAT
5.38 Jose Calderon led the NBA with a 5.38 assist-turnover ratio in 2007-08. He dished out 8.3 dimes per game will only turning the ball over 1.5 times per contest.
Toronto had probably the third-best overall talent in the East last season.
The addition of Jermaine OíNeal should help take some of the offensive burden off of Chris Bosh. The key will be to keep both of these players healthy. Both have missed numerous games the last two seasons with nagging injuries.
The Raps relied too heavily on Jamario Moon last season and paid the price because they often were playing 4-on-5 on the offensive end.
Jose Calderon is ready to take over as the starting point guard and if he can keep his assist-to-turnover ratio in the same neighborhood he did last year he will be looked on as the next Stockton/Nash point guard.
Jason Kapono is still a tremendous threat to bring off the bench and isnít quite the defensive liability some would have you believe.
Andrea Bargnani still has the potential to be one of the better Euro players in the league but only if Sam Mitchell backs off his "tough love" philosophy and bashing the kid every chance he gets.
The Raptors still have a wealth of talent but until they come with a consistent defensive philosophy and effort they will underachieve.
-- NBA Scout
Jermaine O'Neal enters this season presumably healthier and a lot happier now that heís been traded to Toronto to play next to Chris Bosh. The OíNeal/Bosh twin towers should help take the pressure off of each other, which could lead to better health and less wearing down.

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Record: 40-42, 7th in Eastern Conf.
Playoffs: Lost in First Round to Detroit, 4-2
Scoring Leader: C. Bosh, 22.8 PPG
Rebounding Leader: C. Bosh, 9.2 RPG
Assist Leader: J. Calderon, 8.6 APG

Simulated Season Details
PLAYER/2007-08 STATS PPG RPG APG
PG Jose Calderon 11.2 2.9 8.3
SG Anthony Parker 12.5 4.1 2.2
SF Jamario Moon 8.5 6.2 1.2
PF Chris Bosh 22.3 8.7 2.6
C Jermaine O'Neal 13.6 6.7 2.2

C-F Andrea Bargnani 10.2 3.7 1.1
F Joey Graham 3.6 1.8 0.4
F Kris Humphries 5.7 3.7 0.4
F Jason Kapono 7.2 1.5 0.8
G Roko Ukic -- -- --
F Hassan Adams Free agent
F Nathan Jawai Trade
F-C Jermaine O'Neal Trade
G Willie Solomon Free agent
G Roko Ukic Draft
F Maceo Baston Trade
C Primoz Brezec Free agent
G Carlos Delfino Free agent
G T.J. Ford Trade
PPG Chris Bosh 22.3
RPG Chris Bosh 8.7
APG Jose Calderon 8.3
SPG Jose Calderon 1.06
BPG Jamario Moon 1.38
Points Scored 100.2 (13th)
Points Allowed 97.3 (10th)
Field-Goal Percentage .468 (7th)
Opponents' FG% .458 (15th)
Rebounding Diff. -1.54 (22nd)
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