Raptors 2008/09: Three Reasons for Optimism

The swagger of Jermaine O’Neal

Up until this aquisition, the Raps were often written off as a good jump shooting team with little to no toughness. Pundits were constantly (perhaps with good reason) labeling them as “soft”. Defensive toughness is the kind of thing that allows teams to leave the realm of pretenders and to enter the world of contenders. During the off season, they finally aquired it. Once a truly elite power forward, he has regressed in the past few years while undergoing surgery on his leg. Armed with a fresh start as well as a healthy leg, O’Neal has something to prove to his detractors who mostly see this when they think of him. The “Malice at the Palace” was clearly an unnecessary and scary incident, one that will always be a black eye for NBA league marketers and gave Mr. Stern fits. Yet after the brawl, nobody would dare label the Pacers a “soft” team. O’Neal acted with brashness, to be sure, but he did stand up for his teammates. We have never had a figure like O’Neal in the low block as well as in the locker room, and – if he stays healthy- will give this team a defensive presence unprecedented in Raptors history, as well as some much-needed toughness and swagger. And you can be sure that, if confronted by the same situation in Toronto that happened in Detroit, he will show a tad more self-control. Check out this vid for a more mature, yet no less motivated Mr. O’Neal:

Expect him to be a defensive anchor, a big rebounder, a solid shot blocker, a scoring threat, and perhaps most importantly, an enforcer.

A Recently Turned Bonafide Superstar in Chris Bosh

For the past 2-3 years, Chris Bosh has been an elite power forward in this league. He has always had the conditioning, the quick first step, a reliable jump shot, the leadership qualities, and a work ethic to be envied. But something seems a little different this time around and we have his integral play in this summers US Olympic teams gold medal campaign to thank. Not only was Bosh an important piece of this summers “Redeem Team”, but he started every game, was integral as a communicator on defence, as a consistent threat on offence, and was rewarded with high praise from the Kobes and Lebrons of this world. This experience (and plays like this) have done wonders for the confidence of Bosh. He seems to have more of a bounce to his step, is vastly improved in terms of self-confidence, is displaying more vocal and effective leadership, and has clearly become far more relevant defensively. Basically, he and the rest of the world finally realize just how good he really is. Now we can all add the words “bonafide” to precede Chris Bosh the superstar.

Expect him to play like one this year.

Just for fun, here’s a taste of Chris Bosh the comedian:

Lack of Tension and Ego at the Point Guard Spot

Nothing undoes a team quite like infighting and conflict between teamates and/or coaches. TJ Ford, notwithstanding his impressive skills and quickness, was a piece that needed to be moved. The “PG 1A and 1B experiment” (i.e. minute-sharing between Ford and Calderon), while effective for so long, finally lost its legs when Ford publicly sulked about being replaced as the starter. Coming in off the bench and doing his best impression of He Who Shall Not Be Named was too much of a chemistry killer to be worth keeping around. One of them had to be moved. The decision was made easier by Calderon’s apparent team-first attitude, his wildly efficient statistics, and his on-court chemistry with Mr. Bosh. Fast forward to the present, we now have Jose Calderon as the face of the position, readying himself to show his teammates, coaching staff, and fans around the world what he can do with the added responsibility. Numero Ocho has suddenly become Numero Uno.

Expect him to average a near double double in points and assists and make a serious run for his first ever All-Star spot. Oh, and hopefully, we’ll see a bit more of this:

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