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October | November

  Wrapping Up 2010...

Dec. 30, 2010, 3:25 PM

For an 11-20 team, the Toronto Raptors will ring out 2010 in an upbeat frame of mind.

December brought two of the team’s most memorable victories, a stirring 84-76 win over Dallas accomplished despite a hobbled lineup and the team’s best ever comeback, a 25-point rebound struck during a 120-116 win over Detroit.

The month also brought a 111-99 victory over formidable Oklahoma City.

Bolstered by a trade that brought guard Jerryd Bayless in a deal that sent Jarrett Jack to New Orleans, the Raptors have several pillars in place.

They are:

Andrea Bargnani, 25 : In his fifth season, Bargnani has hit new a new high with 21.2 points per game. The departure of Chris Bosh to Miami has had a double-edged impact on Bargnani. More plays are now run through him but without another accomplished attacker, the responsibility can be suffocating. As he matured, Bargnani has cut back on his three-point attempts. Instead, he works for high percentage shots in the key. His shooting percentage of .468 is the second best of his career. Bargnani can be effective on the block but he has a startling first step for a big man and can bring the ball to the basket better than most seven footers. Not yet an elite player, Bargnani is getting closer.

DeMar DeRozan, 21: It seems the only thing DeRozan needs to become an upper echelon scorer is time. While he is working on a mid-range jumper, DeRozan is at his best when he slices into the lane. DeRozan is anxious to work and improve.

Jerryd Bayless, 22:Bayless has started just five of his 16 Raptor games but he has the qualities to someday become a starter. Bayless is a terrific defender of rival point guards, the best the Raptors have had in recent memory. He has shown moments of extraordinary vision but both his passing and his shooting skills (despite a 31-point night) need refinement.

Ed Davis, 21: Knocked out of the lineup by an early-season knee injury, Davis has impressed. Limited to about 20 minutes a night, Davis is nonetheless fourth in rebounding among rookies and third in offensive boards by first-year players.

Amir Johnson, 23: In his fifth pro season, Johnson brought grit, rebounding (5.8 a night) and a powerful presence in the key despite chronic foul trouble.

The best of the rest: Traded to Charlotte in a summertime deal that eventually fell through, Jose Calderon returned to work and took on an increased role when Jack was traded. Linas Kleiza delivered about a dozen points a game. So too did the speedy Leandro Barbosa although wrist woes slowed him. A starter more often than not, Sonny Weems could do no better than 11.5 points and three rebounds a night.

While the record was worse, the season was better for head coach Jay Triano. As evidenced by the comeback in Detroit, the Raptors were more resilient than in past years.

The team managed to climb back after six, four and three-game skids even with a lineup bereft of the kind of big names the NBA is famous for. Spared the distraction of last year’s cat-and-mouse game from Bosh and the disgraceful lack of effort put forth by free agent flop Hedo Turkoglu, Triano did what he does best: teach and work with young players.

The kids in turn made measurable improvement and with a trade exception, the rights to Peja Stojakovic and a valued rebounder in the injured Reggie Evans with which to barter, general manager Bryan Colangelo should be able to capture material to continue his rebuild.

  Handing Out Some Gifts

Dec. 24, 2010, 11:08 AM

It’s Christmas-time for the Toronto Raptors and while Santa can’t do much about the record, he does give points for hustle.

For Andrea Bargnani: More days like December 8, (41 points, seven rebounds, six assists against the Knicks) and fewer like November 16 (12 points, three of 13 from the floor against Washington). Bargnani’s has been a season of peaks and valleys but he has raised his points per game from 15.5 two seasons ago to 17.2 to 21.2 points this season.

For Solomon Alabi: A little playing time. Yes, that will have to come in the late stages of some sort of blowout but Alabi’s extraordinary frame, willingness to learn and obvious joy in life will one day make him an Air Canada Centre favorite. Alabi, a graduate of the NBA D League, has just 10 minutes of NBA floor time.

For Ed Davis: Scoring to match his rebounding. The rookie has been as advertised in his ability to capture the basketball. His 5.4 rebounds a game is fourth among freshmen and averages out to 13.6 rebounds per 40 minutes. Davis’ 5.2 points per game is fine for a rookie playing around 20 minutes a night..

A talking cast for Reggie Evans: Since he broke a bone in his right foot, the Raptors have gone 4-10. Worse, the media have been denied the observations of the kind-hearted Evans whose views on the game and the world always make for engaging conversation.

For DeMar DeRozan: Nothing. He’s doing just fine. Lost in the team’s struggles has been DeRozan’s steady improvement. Overall he has bumped his scoring from 8.6 points a night in his rookie season to 12.7 this year. He has hit double figures in his last six games and 10 of his last 12. Seven times last month, he failed to crack double digits. This month he has fallen short twice.

For Bryan Colangelo and Bargnani: A card from each child they have helped. The two each donated $125,000 to Sick Kids Hospital this week.

For the rest: It’s tougher to win on the road than in any major sport. The Raptors have won only three of 13 games on the road and they come back from the Christmas break with six of seven games on the road. Twelve of the club’s next 16 games will be played on foreign soil. Santa says good luck with that.

  Raptors Give Back To SickKids

Dec. 21, 2010, 5:20 PM

To hear Thomas Wu tell it, it’s not that hard to make adults comfortable.

For the last few weeks Thomas, a 15-year-old who has taken up residence at The Hospital For Sick Children, has sometimes had to deal with adults whose ineptitude in approaching them borders on the laughable.

The Raptors were at SickKids on Monday to meet patients and tour the wards. GM Bryan Colangelo and centre Andrea Bargnani re-affirmed their commitment to the hospital with separate $125,000 donations to the hospital.

But seeing ill and even dying children can turn athletes into the rest of us. Like anyone, they struggle with what they see and they are rendered mute by the might of the little people they stoop to meet.

Which brings us back to Thomas Wu.

“If they are basketball players you have to talk basketball with them,” he said. “That makes it easier. If you are willing to talk about what interests the person, you can talk about anything.”

Wu was gifted with an autographed card from Jose Calderon and as a veteran of these meetings with grownups, he gave Calderon high marks.

“I thought he was pretty cool,” Wu said. “I liked the way he approached me nicely. He asked me my name and I told him how I saw his last game. It was nice.”

Soloman Alabi lived in Nigeria until he came to America at 15. Alabi, folded himself over to greet wheelchair bound children and teens. He flashed a wide grin. “My name is Solomon,” he said to the children who responded instinctively to the big man’s warmth.

“There are no hospitals like this in Nigeria,” he said. “That’s why if I have the chance to help with kids back home or here I will.”

Bargnani, meanwhile, said his contribution was the result of the visits he has made over five years with the team.

“This is my fifth time here. They do a lot of things for children, not just in Toronto or Ontario but all over Canada. Even though the hospital is huge, they need more help every year. I wanted to support them.”

  The Young Get Younger

Dec. 16, 2010, 9:50 AM

It started with the Young Onez: Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems.

But what do you do when the young get younger?

With Andrea Bargnani possibly out with a sore knee and Jose Calderon battling a foot problem, injuries might yet push 21-year-old Ed Davis and 22-year-old Jerryd Bayless onto the floor at tip-off as the Raptors host the New Jersey Nets, Friday.

The Raps could be looking at a starting lineup only a few days older than Wednesday’s collection. That group was youngest starting five in franchise history.

An NBA career lasts, according to figures supplied by the league, an average of 4.82 years.

The average age of the starting lineup the Raptors seem destined to bring to Friday’s home game against New Jersey is 22.2 years.

The Nets' starters, meanwhile, will average 26.2 years. That’s 4.6 years, damn near the length of an average career, per starting position.

The Nets, the bottom feeder of the Eastern Conference haven’t garnered much return with their veterans which amounts to everyone save for Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. Twenty-nine-year-old Quinton Ross, Stephen Graham, 28, and 25-year-old former Raptor Kris Humphries haven’t been able to significantly impede the team’s freefall. The Nets are 1-9 over their last 10 games and 6-19 overall.

Until the club begins to develop a talent base, the losing will be for nothing. No one, other than Lopez, Harris and first-round pick Derrick Favors figures to be wearing the colors in four years.

If you are going to lose, harden your players so they will remember the indignities when their bodies are strong enough to be on the other side of the kind of pounding Carlos Boozer inflicted Wednesday in the Bulls one-sided win over the Raptors.

Fans are smarter than people give them credit for. Most see a retooling team in the Raptors with a talented point guard who is among the best defenders at his position, a developing aerial artist in DeRozan and a player with a solid gold-pedigree carried on a spindly frame in Ed Davis.

They do not necessarily see a playoff team, even though the Raptors are, at this writing, only two games out of eighth.

The veterans will return of course, perhaps as soon as Friday and when they do, the quality of play, especially in the middle, should bob up.

You grow when you win, and maybe just as much when you lose.

There’s an old rubber chicken circuit joke that might apply to the sometimes painful apprenticeship of the greenhorns destined to evolve into the core of the team.

Did you hear the one about the taxidermist/veterinarian?

His card says ‘either way you get your dog back.’

  Ulmer From The Man Cave...

Dec. 13, 2010, 9:50 AM

Mike Ulmer is live blogging from the Real Sports Man's Cave. Enter now and you could win your very own 'Cave'.

  Bargnani Evolving Nicely Into Raptors' Top Option

Dec. 9, 2010, 3:50 PM

I write a lot about Andrea Bargnani.

It's hard to write too much about a seven-foot, first-overall Italian who over the last five years has steadily moved to the forefront of the franchise. No question, there are other burgeoning talents. You can't go wrong with a piece on the grand bit of future stardom that is DeMar DeRozan. Before he injured his foot, Reggie Evans was as unique an athlete as has trolled these waters. Everything he said was interesting and of late, most everything he did was spectacular. It won't be long until Jerryd Bayless is commanding scads of notice and on a daily basis you can do a whole lot worse than a story on Sonny Weems, Jose Calderon or Amir Johnson. But I always return my attention to Andea Bargnani for the same reasons defences do. He is too big to ignore and lately, too hard to defend. Bargnani's 41-point performance in the loss to New York on Wednesday demonstrated a player who, up till now, has been obscured by the process of his evolution.

Let's try doing this by the numbers.

The notion of Bargnani as a constantly evolving three-point shooter is fiction. Bargnani hasn't made more than three three-point shots in any game this season. With only 24 three point shots made in 22 games, he is on pace to turn in the lowest number of successful three-pointers in his career. That's because Bargnani is shooting a lot less from the arc. Crunch and pro-rate the numbers and you find a player whose three-point attempts are on course for a career-low 3.13 attempts a game. You can't blame him. In the five games before the Knicks contest he was one for 17 from three-point land. That element of his game seems to be on the wane.

So how is it that a player recognizable for his three-point shooting has seen that part of his skill set decompose all the while bettering his scoring average? Here's a vote for evolution.

With Chris Bosh gone and with the Raptors relying on the fast-break, it isn't too hard to figure out where the ball is going in a half court offence. Bargnani, blessed with quick feet for such a big man, has become adept at finding his shot at the top of the key and on the periphery. Because of his size and quickness, there is no opposition matchup guaranteed to shut him down. He is also confident charging toward the hoop. And while his signature three-pointer has been denied, Bargnani has proven himself both coachable and resourceful. He has learned to implement the mantra of the coach: take what the defence leaves you. On pace for a career low in three-pointers, Bargnani is attempting a career-high 15.3 shots a night. Over his career, that stat has risen steadily. His sophomore year, he attempted just 9.29 shots. What you are left with is a picture far different scene than the one you thought you were painting.

Leave it an Italian to offer a hidden landscape in what should be a straightforward picture.

  Raptors Finding Their Way At The Quarter-Pole

Dec. 6, 2010, 3:14 PM

Interesting when you find the truth behind the numbers in the columns.

Take your Raptors, on the wrong side of the ledger with eight wins in 20 games, but a club advertised as athletic and eager.

Throw out Sunday’s lethargic loss to the Knicks (every team delivers an occasional stinker) and you see a team delivering on a promise.

With the trade of Jarrett Jack, point guard Jose Calderon has rekindled the elements of his game that seemed to be missing. He is tied for top in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and his assists per game total has climbed to 14th.

In six games, back-up point guard Jerryd Bayless has proven to be comparatively just as safe with the ball (1.3 turnovers per 20 minutes of play a night) with 12.3 points per contest.

The club promised a commitment to hard work. There is no effort that reflects effort more neatly than rebounds. The presence of Reggie Evans boosted the club’s rebounds per game up to 42.1, but since he left the lineup, the Raptors have bettered their record with 45.5 boards per contest.

Amir Johnson inked to a lucrative contract and projected as an increasingly effective big man has stepped in nicely for Evans. In his last game, Johnson turned in 22 points and 16 rebounds, albeit in the desultory Knicks game. The Raptors, who struggled even in the Chris Bosh era to rebound, sit seventh in the NBA.

Meanwhile, the other heralded aspect of the Raptors’ game, a commitment to the fast and athleticism has been on display. The bevy of rebounds and the presence of athletic players such as DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems and Johnson, has given the Raptors the best fast break, statistically speaking, in the NBA with 20.6 points a game.

One other figure stands out. It’s the standings. Despite their dozen losses, the Raptors sit eighth in the conference and in the playoff bracket.

  Durant Eyes Return Against Raptors

Dec. 2, 2010, 4:42 PM

Kevin Durant looks at Toronto and sees a bulls-eye.


“That’s the target,” Durant said when asked whether Friday’s game in Toronto would be the site of his return after a three-game layoff caused by a sore knee.

Durant, you may have heard, is leading the NBA in scoring with 27.3 points per game. Just behind him are someone named Kobe and Derrick Rose.

The Thunder have plenty of boom. Guard Russell Westbrook scored 38 points in a triple overtime win over the Nets Wednesday night and what made the boxscore even more remarkable was the 15 rebounds to go with nine assists.

Westbrook’s rebound total is a triumph of will. Six-foot-three guards who score 38 points aren’t also expected to come up with 15 boards, but it’s nothing new for Westbrook, who sits fourth in the league in rebounds for a guard with 5.6 a game.

Unlike the Washington Wizards who arrived in town and left with no road wins, the Thunder are a terrific 7-2 on enemy courts. They have won eight of their last 10 and there is plenty of secondary scoring from Jeff Green who tallied 37 in the marathon game with the Nets.

Still, the Raptors have some cards to play.

Newly acquired point guard Jerryd Bayless played solid defence against the Wiz’s John Wall and if he can limit Westbrook, the Raptors have a much better chance.

DeMar DeRozan delivered a 20-point game against Washington and he was energized in the win over the Wizards. While Andrea Bargnani is coming off 11 and 14-point nights, he has upped his rebound figures to just fewer than eight a game since the injury to Reggie Evans.

Most eye-catching in the win over Washington was the play of Ed Davis. In his first NBA game, Davis blocked two shots, grabbed six rebounds and pocketed 11 points. Davis has arrived at precisely the moment he is most needed: Evans will be out for about two months and the Raptors definitely needed the length and athleticism provided by the six-foot-10 Davis.

The Thunder’s biggest weakness is a flailing defence. OKC sits 22nd in total defence, one spot worse than Toronto so the Raptors should score. The trick will be in avoiding the kind of offensive show Oklahoma City has rolled out in averaging 103 points a game.

Still, the Thunder broke 100 points in nine of their 15 November games. The Raptors turned the trick in 10. Even if Durant is true to his word, the game should be an arresting one.

  Keeping An Eye On Homecoming In Cleveland...

Dec. 2, 2010, 9:01 AM

LeBron James goes back to Cleveland Thursday night and inquiring minds want to know.

1. Will he do the chalk in the air bit, or…

2. Will the two dozen Cavs 23 jerseys being burnt in the concourses set off the fire alarm?

In the club’s 16 year-history, several ex-Raptors have felt something other than love upon their return. It’s one of the things that distinguishes the franchise although the threat of booing has yet to scare players into staying.

Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Antonio Davis drew healthy catcalls upon their return, but for Davis it was worse. He was actually traded back here for eight games in 2006. It was like moving back into your in-law’s place after you had just divorced their daughter.

It should be noted that Anthony Parker, Morris Peterson and Matt Bonner were warmly received, but they hadn’t griped about the metric system, mused about their future via Twitter or distinguished themselves as remarkably low maintenance. The vast majority fit into the Rafer Alston-T.J. Ford demographic described by the words ‘who were you again?’

Not so all-time Raptors scoring leader Chris Bosh who, will be riding shotgun for LeBron in Cleveland where the locals feel The Decision might have carried self-promotion a tad over the line. In defence of LeBron he did not, like the Bills' Steve Johnson, reproach God via Twitter. (Note to God: forgive him, he knows not what he does)

Bosh returns to these parts Wednesday, Feb. 16. Copies of First Ink should be widely available at a dime on the dollar by then.

The purpose of this piece isn’t to try to delineate between Bosh’s accessibility and candor, qualities that somehow morphed into narcissism.

But if anyone can understand what LeBron is going through it’s Chris Bosh. The booing of Vince Carter was Old Testament. It is, like the guy who shouts ‘Argos!’ at the Blue Jays game, a part of the landscape. McGrady got the same caustic reaction when he returned after leaving Orlando.

The wonder of it is that Toronto sports fans are considered slow to boo and notoriously quick to forgive.

But they are also clannish. When you’re in, you’re in. If the split isn’t amicable, and so few are, don’t look forward to coming back home. Bosh used to be genuinely puzzled at the vitriol thrown toward ex-Raptors. “It’s been four years,” he would say of the catcalls directed at Carter. The next year he would be just as surprised but dutifully change the number of years to five.

Ask any divorced guy: no one hates you more than your ex-wife.

LeBron James had better be prepared for that. Chris Bosh, who saw the phenomenon first hand in Toronto and will witness it again on Thursday, should be ready for the same come February.