With the annual Leafs goring already underway, thoughts in this tiny corner inevitably turn to ... basketball.
Marc Stein, one of my faves, gives his rundown on NBA off-season activity, and skipping down to the Stein line on for the Raptors, it's almost as if he's reading my mind: "I definitely wouldn't expect a playoff berth in Year 1, after so many changes and given the inevitable struggles awaiting the NBA newcomers, but the plan already has won Chris Bosh over."
|Headed back to the lottery?|
A couple of weeks back I was out for a jar or two with Skeets and Tas, The Basketball Jones twins, and the subject got around to the Raptors -- hell of a surprise, that -- and how many games they might win this season.
I said 27, same as last year. As they picked their eyeballs out of the witbier and wondered if my glass was spiked with something, I went on to say I wouldn't be surprised if they won fewer than that (They won't, but I just wanted to see those eyeballs drop out again. I tried it again here in the office today, with boy wonder editor Spencer, and he had the same reaction. Honest, try it yourself with your friends if you don't believe me. It's great fun.).
To explain: As Stein says, there are too many changes here to expect a big jump in W's -- not just newcomers to each other, but newcomers to the league, its lifestyle and the sheer length of the season.
A new point guard, only two returning starters, a No. 1 overall pick who will need some time, a forward in Garbajosa who will need more than some time to adjust to playing faster players man-to-man (forget the world championships -- it's a different game over there, and to expect an instant fit here in the NBA's different environment requires a huge leap of faith equivalent to expecting USA coaches to actually, you know, scout their opponents), a coach who goes into the season with one year left on his contract and no groundswell building anywhere to give him an extension . . . There's more, but training camp is nearly three weeks away, and no use throwing all the caveats out there at once. My No. 1 player to watch is Joey Graham - the lower he ends up on the depth chart, the farther ahead this team is on its growth curve.
Despite that seeming gloomy assessment, this season should be nothing but very interesting, even watchable -- certainly more watchable than the dreck and turnover from the past three seasons or so. Colangelo's experiment, going heavily Euro including the hiring of an assistant GM will make this team one of the most scrutinized in the NBA. And the world. If it pays off, how long will it be before a Euro-raised head coach -- a Pesic, say, or David Blatt, to just throw out two names purely off the top of the head -- gets an NBA gig? Not long at all.
So bring it on, I say, 28 wins or no, because for the first time in a long time, there appears to be a Toronto GM in charge who actually has a plan, and it's actually quite different and worth paying attention to. It may even work -- but not just yet.