Opening Night Realities
If you can judge the Los Angeles Lakers after one game - and wasn't everyone gleefully rushing to judge after that opening night pratfall against Dallas - then it's fair to judge the opener of the Toronto Raptors, as well.
Neither opener, that of the Lakers or the Raps, told you everything you need to know or the complete story.
But both told you something.
The Lakers have to learn to get their stars to work together. The Raps, meanwhile, have to learn to try to win with a roster that some, including GM Bryan Colangelo, see as talented and deep, but still looks barely competitive in The Association.
In other words, it's probably gonna be another long haul.
Optimists are calling for wins this season in the range of 40, some slightly higher, some slightly lower. Many of those projections, to be fair, are largely based on the fact there isn't a whole lot to compete against in the weak Eastern Conference.
Here's what opening night showed.
It showed a team with only two bona fide NBA starters - Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry - neither of whom is in the top 10 in the league at their position. Bargnani looks maddeningly the same, although at least he'll take the ball to the hoop a little more, while Lowry looks energetic and possibly a leader for a team that desperately needs one.
The rookie, Jonas Valanciunas, had a very solid opening night with a tidy double-double, and now we'll see how the long trek through the grind of the season goes. He's an energetic big body, one reason why the Raps looked longer as a group in the opening night loss against a very good Indiana Pacers team than in recent years.
But then we come to almost a full stop.
DeMar Derozan disappointed (again) on the same night he signed a thoroughly baffling $38 million extension. He's not even the future anymore. Valanciunas is. Well, at least the MLSE basketball department has a contract that may be mentionable in the same sentence as the hockey department's agreement with Mike Komisarek.
Landry Fields sure didn't look like a starter with zero points in 24 minutes. Jose Calderon looked like the same all-offence Jose Calderon.
And then it was a bunch of guys, from the tall to the small, none of them particularly noteworthy on this night.
In the final minutes, even without Danny Granger the Pacers looked like a team that knew how to win - that David West is a beast - while the Raptors looked like a team that didn't have the first clue.
Back-to-back possessions in the dying minutes told the story. Calderon wandered down the floor and fired from long distance with no teammate anywhere near the basket. He missed. Then Lowry did the same, leaving one to wonder what the call from the bench was in both circumstances. On both possessions, a time out looked to be the better option.
Both possessions left the normally loquacious Jack Armstrong, the TV analyst on this night, speechless.
Then DeRozan at least took the ball to the hoop. . .and missed, his last gasp on another night when he seemed reluctant to initiate and accept real contact, the kind of contact that gets players to the line on a consistent basis, the kind of contact you need to create when you're not deadly from the wing.
Forty wins, plus or minus two or three, looks like a reach for this group. Getting past 30 seems a more reasonable goal. At least most eastern teams aren't Indiana. The going gets a little easier in that respect. Then again,15 of the next 21 come on the road for the Raps. Coaxing more than seven or eights wins out of that schedule will be asking a lot based on what was delivered opening night.