A hefty mailbag to end the off-season
All kinds of good stuff here, about the process and the people and the game. Have at it, folks, and then get some rest because tomorrow’s the big day.
Q: So, the players are all back in town and the serious workouts, drills, training begins. But I wonder, is there an equally arduous program of pre-season preparation for beat grunts? How do you know when you, too, are "season-ready"?
Lorie P, London
A: Like most finely-tuned, mentally-sharp professional athletes, we never really get out of shape. But we do spend part of the summer taking care of the aches and pains that built up over the last season, hangnails and headaches and the like.
Now, though, with camp approaching (and I think I speak for many of my colleagues) I find myself spending more time working on my skills and getting my mind in the right spot to face a long season.
I get in an individual workout once a day to stay sharp and I’m studying the playbook for the coming season, going over such things as new flight paths, hotel renovations and the latest in fermented energy drinks.
Q: Hey Doug, the blog is fantastic, I read it religiously. Just looking for a little insight into the mind of a basketball reporter. What makes a player great as they interact with the members of the media scrum? Who were/are the all-time Raptor greats with the media?
Andy F, Toronto
A: The three things I look for, personally, are honesty, insight and a willingness to answer questions win or lose.
Some of the greats? This list has been out there but it’d include Oak, probably Mo Pete, TJ used to stand and talk right away regardless of the outcome of the game or his role in it and Alvin Williams, when you got him to open up, was excellent.
Under-rated? Antonio Davis, who seldom blew us off and while he didn’t always say truly insightful things, Vince Carter talked every shootaround, post-game and off-day that we asked him to.
Q: Doug_Re: your comment about female role models in basketball. Absolutely in agreement here! I would like to add that women's basketball could provide a good role model for the boys and men, too. They play a sound fundamental game which can be very rewarding to do and to watch. I appreciate your coverage of it - do you think that the women's game can ever come to be fully appreciated?
Alfred D, St. John’s
A: No, I don’t think it can. There are pockets of fans but most basketball fans don’t appreciate a game played more slowly and below the rim. Too bad.
It’s not inferior, it’s just different and it can be embraced without having the spectacular athleticism we sometimes see in the men’s game.
Q: Hey Doug- here's one for the mailbag, more on the sports journalism side of things than the basketball.
Although I know there's not much hard news to report these days, I'm sometimes shocked at how rare a Raptors article is. Don't you get the freedom to try to go out and 'get' a story? Talk to a player, find an angle, say an update about a player's lifestyle at home in the off-season, etc? Is it your editors or you that gets to decide when a story like that should be in the paper? Do you often go to your editors with story ideas that they shoot down, or would they support whatever you proposed? Have you ever been encouraged to play up an angle that you didn't feel entirely comfortable writing about? Or chased a story despite being warned off it? Thanks for your insight!
Stephen M, Toronto
A: It's rare in the summer, which is actually a bit of August and September, because players are off and don't want to be bothered, a lot of us are off or doing something else to satisfy the bosses. That's why you don't see a lot of basketball -- anywhere -- for large chunks of the summer.
In my case, story ideas are often collaborative, I'll suggest a few, the bosses might suggest one but, often, they give me great latitude to come up with the right story each day. And that's the hardest part of the job sometimes, trying to find interesting pieces to tell well over the long haul of a season.
Encouraged to play up an angle? Not sure what that means but, yeah, over the course of a career I've had my share of chats with editors about substance and style and always work it out.
No sure what you mean by being "warned off" a story. Yeah, there have been people ticked about what I've written or questions I've asked or angles I've pursued but that doesn't mean you don't keep going.
Q: Thanks for the update on Joey. Seems like a nice guy.
ESPN has been giving Jose some fantasy love. Nice.
I read your benchmarks for success, what would you consider a failure (first month, must trade, season?) Not being a downer here, just curious for your view.
Bruce M, Winnipeg
A: This team will be measured by where it finishes at the end of the season and what it does in the playoffs.
Yes, there will be blips along the way, losing streaks and, I presume, streaks of poor play. But those will be meaningless until the entire season’s body of work is considered.
Q: Hi Doug, With all this pre-season talk, and the Raps hitting up Ottawa shortly, I was wondering if you've heard talk of the Raps coming to Montreal for a pre-season game. Yes, yes, I know that on a pucks level, Montreal is the enemy, but for Montrealers like me, the Raps are our team. I can only imagine that a pre-season game played here would help more to build the fan base.
Any chance the team could be up here for a visit in the next few years, or is the idea just too heretic?
Charlie D, Montreal
A: I would guess Montreal is on the list of cities in Canada they’d like to visit but I also imagine it’s quite far down the list. I’d say it’s behind Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa, probably Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton so I wouldn’t be waiting for a pre-season game in the near future.
Oh, and they need to go back to St. John’s first, too.
Q: Hey Doug, I read that Joey Graham signed a non-guaranteed contract. What does that actually mean "non-guaranteed"?
Keep up the good work and thanks!
Ryan M, Burlington
A: It means he has to make the team to get a contract; they tell him they’ll pay him “X” dollars if he makes it but if they cut him, there’s no financial obligation.
Q: With more all-star calibre talents on the starting 5, do you see Jay Triano trying to keep at least one of Jose, Hedo, Andrea or Chris always on the floor, especially with the second unit? Or is the second unit strong enough that would allow Jay Triano to rest all four at the same time?
Manny T, Toronto
A: I think he’d probably like to structure his usual rotation to have one of them on the floor but there will be nights with foul trouble and injuries where that’s not possible.
And given the second unit seems to be Jack, Belinelli, Wright, Evans and Nesterovic or perhaps Johnson depending on the opponent, I think they’d be okay going with that five for short stretches.
Q: With Raja Bell on the trading block in Charlotte, would it not make sense for the Raptors to make a play for Bell? A veteran player who is solid on both ends of the court. He would be a great addition to the Raps starting 5 and it seems these days Charlotte is only interested in dumping salary.
Sean L, Brampton
A: No. They don’t need an aging Raja Bell, in my opinion. He’s okay but he’s certainly not good enough to make a trade for and break up a team they put together before it’s even had a chance to play together.
Q: Hey Doug, cant wait for the season starts, even there were some bad news. All right Bosh is hurt and it hurts the team somehow. But do you think this will be something positive to Raptors in some way?
And let's say Bosh or maybe Bargnani, one of the two is sidelined. Who is the big should fill in the spot? I will say Reggie Evans, because he provides better defence. But if Rasho starts it can put Bargnani to PF, which is a better position for him.
What to you think?
Leroy C, Hong Kong
A: I would think it would depend on the opponent. If it’s a big centre, it’s likely to be Rasho, if it’s a smaller guy it might be Evans. But don’t sleep on Johnson, either.
So, the answer is there’s no answer.
Q: Hey Doug, I know you hate it when people over react to the Raptors playing one bad game. How horrible would it be if you had to cover some Toronto NFL team is the distant future, where 1 game is 1/16th of the season and everybody draws a seasons worth of conclusions based on each one? That'd make for fun Mondays, I'd assume.
Also, quick question. How many more assists before Calderon take Alvin's (I believe) franchise record?
Phillip F, Markham
A: Jose, who has 1,960 career assists, passed Alvin (1,791) last season. What’s left are most assist in a season (Damon Stoudamire, 709 in 1996-97) and Stoudamire’s single-game season average of 9.3, set in 1995-96.
Q: You said that you didn't like the idea of Bargnani coming off the bench because your logic was "you play your best players the most". But what about guys like Manu and Ben Gordon? They come off the bench and still play the most minutes the majority of the time. Wouldn't it be beneficial for Andrea to come off the bench, start against back-up centers, have a good start to the game, then continue to play 30-40 minutes a game? Last year's Andrea may have struggled coming off the bench, but this year is different. No Smitch, no J.O. and he'll be playing with Belinelli to start the game.
Mike U, Winnipeg
A: No, it wouldn’t be beneficial at all. Bargnani is never been comfortable coming off the bench and having an immediate impact on the game, he’s far more comfortable, and far more capable, as a starter.
It’s not something even being contemplated in the darkest recesses of Jay’s mind (I’ve asked) so I think the (non) issue can be put to bed.
Q: I read a recent espn.com preview of the Cavs and something tremendously irked me. The author suggested that the Cavs addressed "size and defensive depth on the wing" (their apparent downfall vs. Orlando last year), by signing Jamario Moon and AP. Can you explain why an aged, small shooting guard (AP) and an athletic but unfocussed and inconsistent SF (Moon), are purported to be capable of guarding the Rashard Lewis' of the NBA? When AP and Moon were Raptors I can tell you two definite things - no one outside of Toronto paid them much lip service and we sure as heck could not guard big (or small, or medium sized) wings. Have I lost my mind or is this just the typical media bias afforded contending American teams?
David W, Toronto
A: Well, primarily because of the fact that most NBA people I’ve spoken to – and with whom I agree – feel Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker, for all their flaws, are far better overall than Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak.
Now, are they all-stars? No. Will they be pretty good complementary pieces and upgrades to a very good team? I think so.
Q: Love your work. Do you think the other owners are "scared" about the new Russian owner of the Nets?
I honestly see him making a run for LeBron, Bosh and D-wade, no matter what the luxury tax implications may be. Dream Team Three. Agree or Disagree?
Michael L, St. Catharines
A: Sure, he might, but everyone’s been talking about LeBron and the Nets and JayZ and Brooklyn for years, no change there. And I presume you understand the cap implications and rules and I feel safe that the Nets won’t have enough room under the cap or assets to do sign-and-trades to get three maximum value contracts.
So, scared? Not in the least.
Q: I was just wondering your thoughts on the conferences. Everyone still looks at the West at the premier conferences, but couldn't an argument be made that the East is actually tougher? The top 8 teams in the West all had better records than the top 8 in the East last year, but couldn't that just be because they had more games to beat up on Golden State, Sacramento, Minnesota, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and the Clippers? Even with as bad as the Raps were, their record would have put them 10th in the West.
Sean G, Ottawa
A: No idea what you’re talking about concerning last year’s records, Cleveland had the best record in the league, Boston was three and Orlando four. So that kind of throws that argument out the window.
I think there’s probably more parity in the East than there is in the west; I fully expect Sacramento, the Clips and Warriors to battle for the worst record. And I don’t think they’ll be too far separated from Memphis, either.
I don’t know if you can make the argument the East is tougher, but it’s pretty good.
Q: Hi Doug, haven't written in a while.
I was just wondering what your predictions were as to the best ex-Raptor this season.
Kapono in Philadelphia? Delfino with the Bucks? Ukic with the Bucks? Parker in Lebron-land? Marion in Dallas? Moon? Humphries
There are soooo many of them, and I think at least some have to do well, or at least I hope some do.
Tobias R, Thornhill
A: Best? A rather difficult thing to quantify. If you ask which ex-Raptor is likely to have the biggest impact on his new team, I’d say it’s like to be a close race between Marion and Parker. And I think Parker might win.
Q: Hi Doug, How long does Bryan Colangelo have left on his contract with the Raptors? Do you think he's happy in Toronto? I hope he doesn't move South on us.
Tyler T, Calgary
A: I’m not entirely sure about the terms of his contract but I can assure you he likes it here and likes his job. Are there bigger and better things in his future? I’d presume so, he’s still a young man with a bright future but I wouldn’t sweat his departure.
Oh, but if and when he does leave? He most likely has to go south, there are no teams or leagues north.
Q: Hey Doug, love the blog. O.K. 2 quick ones for ya:
Does Joey have a home yet? If not is he gonna find one...or at least get a training camp invite somewhere? He's still a serviecable player in the league, albeit on the end of a bench but this guy should have a job somewhere.
I'm heading to the preseason game in London, do you go to these? If so any chance I can tag along with you for the day for a behind the scenes look.
Ryan M, St. Thomas
A: As we now know, Joey’s got an invite in Denver, hope he makes it.
And, yes, I’ll be doing the game in London and the one in Minneapolis, and the one in Hartford and the one in Sioux Falls and the four in Toronto. Trust me, they are boring days, you’ll be sure to find something more interesting to do.
Q: Hi Doug. Just came back from visiting Istanbul and I was very surprised Basketball is obviously a very big sport in Turkey. Hedo is everywhere, billboards, commercials, and advertisements. He is a very popular athlete in Turkey. So I see an NBA store and wander in. There is no representation of Hedo anywhere, let alone anything Raptor related. I would think that the NBA would be promoting their big name international players in their home countries. My question is this: Is it the responsibility of the NBA or the teams to promote their international players, especially ones who are already big stars on their own?_
Zack B, Kuwait City
A: I’m a little surprised about that, too. All I can think of is the stuff is still being manufactured because the NBA’s pretty good about getting its stuff on international players into their home countries.
Q: Hi Doug,_I remember seeing an interview with Robert Parrish (I think) where he said that with the Celtics coaches would basically just let the players just play. They counted on their years of experience and team play to get it done. The teams seemed micro managed these days. Does any NBA coach more or less just let his guys play?
Bernard S, Toronto
A: Coaches are, by dint of their DNA I believe, micromanagers in this day and age and they shouldn’t be. I would suggest that, for the most part, Phil Jackson might be known as one who “lets his guys play” but that might have to do with the fact he’s got some good guys.
Other than that? Far too many plays called, far too much emphasis on structure rather than just letting guys figure it out and play to suit my tastes.
Q: Hi Doug,_I really appreciate the work you have done not only over the summer to keep a rather dull three months interesting basketball wise but over all those years for keeping the blog going, yours is the best out there.
My question is regarding Jay's interview skills. I listened to him on some radio show twice in the last month, he seems extremely insightful, he doesn't just throw around clichés, he keeps it respectful (hello Smitch), he kinda reminds of Bryan Colangelo when he speaks.
But he has taken shots at the referees every time he got a chance. Is that something that most of the coaches do? Is that a wise strategy?
I ask because if Jay starts alienating the refs so early in his career he will lose those 50/50 calls 90% of the time (we all know there is a degree of biasness in the refs decisions).
Rob H, Victoria
A: I’m pretty sure the last thing NBA refs care about are radio interviews in Toronto. Or know about. I think Jay’s had time to develop a rapport with most refs and I’m sure there’s a mutual respect there.
Q: The Raptors have gone from having practically no one of consequence (other than AP) at the 2 & 3 to now having 5 real players at those positions (Turkoglu, DeRozan, Belinelli, Wright, & even Jack at the 2). How do you see this all playing out? If you were Triano, how would you balance the minutes at the 2 & 3?
Ken M, London
A: I won’t – and can’t – get into numbers but I think you’ll see Jack primarily as the backup point guard, Wright is the backup three and Belinelli will end up playing more than DeRozan, who I think will start out getting six or seven minutes each night at the start of the first quarter and six or seven more at the start of the third.
I don’t think it’s an issue, I think they’ll play 10 guys most nights and there’s room for two at both the 2 and 3 spots.
Q: Doug: Whatever happened to all those new style basketballs that didn't pan out in the NBA.? Are they in some mysterious warehouse somewhere? (2) Does Joey's twin have a contract? If so, does he have a split personality like Joey?
Ken B, Matheson
A: I think most of ‘em are back in some corner closet in the league office, gathering dust.
Stephen Graham? I don’t think he’s got a guarantee, or even a job yet.
Q: How do teams maintain competitive for such a long time? Of course, teams are cyclical in terms of their performance over the years. However, a team like the Spurs have been competitive for a very long time (just to name one) whereas the Clippers are perennial losers. Does it come down to scouting and management and a bit of luck?
Jamil B, Sydney
A: I’d say the main thing is management. Hiring good people, finding good players, managing financial assets and being smart enough to make subtle tweaks to a roster before they become major flaws.
Oh, and some luck and good health don’t hurt, either.
Q: Hi Doug, I was wondering why a team cannot trade its first round pick in consecutive seasons? Is it simply a rule that was created in order to protect GMs from themselves or is there more to it?
Serge P, Ottawa
A: The rule was originally put in to stop then-Cleveland owner Ted Steptien from ruining his team but mortgaging its long-term future for bad, short-term deals.
But the rule is also constructed in such a way that teams can, in fact, move draft picks in consecutive years. It might mean taking a guy for another team, like Toronto did with Roy Hibbert, for instance, but it can be done.
Q: Hi Doug. As a big Sam Mitchell fan I was disappointed that he didn't get a head coaching gig this past season. Any idea what he will be doing this upcoming season? I suspect some media work.
Mike D, Cambridge
A: I haven’t talked to Sam in a month or so, last I did, he was involved in some business ventures in the Atlanta area and his home town. I’m pretty sure once the season gets going, either TNT or NBA-TV will find a way to use him every now and then.
Q: Great blog Doug, a “must read” among basketball beat grunts I know back in Macedonia. Now, a couple of Raptors related questions:
I know DeRozan is expected to be starting SG, but in rotation that includes Jose, Hedo and Andrea wouldn’t you say that Belinelli is better fit?
Considering that we are a metric country, shouldn’t starting lineup intro be something like 208/104kg, instead of 6-10/230lbs?
Goran P, Oakville
A: I think Belinelli’s better as a scorer and facilitator off the bench, but I also think he’ll get more than a fair share of minutes.
Metric? Every time I mention kilometers or centimeters to my friends south of the border, I see eyes glaze over. And that’s before I even get to loonies and toonies.