Backdoor Cut: 2010 Toronto Raptors Preview

Music to listen to: Subdivision by Rush

I really, really wanted to go with some Drake since he is also from Toronto but shoot, since the NBA has only one Canadian team, I can pick anyone from the country and I’m taking Rush. Sorry Brian Adams.

Last season: The Raptors finished the year 40-42 despite being as high as the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference during the season, particularly in the second-half of the year. This also connected with the injury of former star player Chris Bosh so you can start the conspiracy theories here and you may not be far off.

In the offseason, Bosh left for the Miami Heat and now the team is in rebuilding mode especially if you include the departure of Hedo Turkoglu to Phoenix.

Strength: Its tough finding the strengths of a team that may finish with one of the two or three worst records in the East. One thing that you can see is the potential of former first-overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani. He has shown moments of looking like an All-Star player but has also disappointed during his time in Toronto. However, he is their best player and that counts for something.

The Raptors also feature a solid point guard in Jose Calderon but also have a reliable backup in Jarrett Jack.

Weakness: With the departure of Bosh, the already below-average post defense for the Raptors just got worse.

The overall power forward/center unit is weak on the squad. The Raptors will probably come into the regular season with Linas Kleiza and Bargnani as the two starters in those positions and neither one is known as a physical player.

Best player: Bargnani teases you with his height, ability to shoot from the perimeter and even drive to the basket. All of those things look good during an open run in your local gym but doesn’t translate to a consistently good NBA career. However, the physical talents are there. There aren’t too many players in the entire league that are 7’0’’ tall and have the attributes he has.

Most important player: If the Raptors expect to have a respectable season, guard/forward DeMar DeRozan has to become an elite player for Toronto. He has the potential and the skills to do it but that may be too much to ask of a player entering only his second year.

Celebrity crush from the city: I’m going to pick Melyssa Ford and for her fans out there that read this, I know that there are better pictures of her but this is a family Blog and I can’t have the pics of her in darn near no clothing. Besides, you can google her and that should take care of that.

Coaching: I don’t know much about Jay Triano and I’m not sure that the Raptors do as well. He took over as head coach during the 2008-09 season and has been the main man ever since. We have to see what he can do now that the Bosh distraction is finally over.

This section must also include general manager Bryan Colangelo, who is in the last year of his deal and is under pressure to win as well. He has had an OK track record but has also struck out with some long-term deals, especially the Turkoglu situation.

First memory of team: I can go as far back as Damon Stoudamire but the Raptors really entered the basketball mainstream with Vince Carter.

I can’t deny to you that I thought he was going to be a bust in the NBA and you can argue that he still hasn’t filled his potential in the league. Many were expected him to be a superstar in his prime and he just didn’t get there.

However, we can always remember the All-Star dunk contest in 2000 in Oakland.

Best case: The young players like DeRozen, Ed Davis and even Bargnani mature and the team reaches 35 wins.

Worst case: Worst record in the East and that’s actually possible. Ok, Indiana and New Jersey have the potential to be terrible but still.

Overall outlook: Its going to be a long season for the Raptors but this year will be all about the developing the young talent.

2010 Backdoor Cut Previews:

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics

Backdoor Cut: 2010 Boston Celtics Preview

Music to listen to: If It Isn’t Love by New Edition

The NBA season kicks off less than a month from now so its time to start with the Sport Inquirer’s season previews starting with the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Boston Celtics.

Last season: The Celtics finished one game from winning their second NBA championship in three years but ended up losing last season’s NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. The loss was especially painful considering that Boston lost its starting center, Kendrick Perkins, to a season-ending knee injury in game six of the series and the lack of inside presence arguably cost the Celtics game seven because of the Lakers ability to gain rebounds in the contest.

The Celtics still did win the Conference despite finishing the regular season with 50 wins. The expectations were low considering that they went down the stretch 17-17. In the playoffs, Boston was able to use its experience to get past Chicago, Cleveland and Orlando to get to the NBA Finals.

Strength: The Celtics may arguably have the top back court in the NBA. Point guard Rajon Rondo’s ability to drive to the basket and finish allows the rest of the perimeter players to hit open shots. Furthermore, his on-the-ball defense triggers an entire unit that has been the best in the NBA for the past three seasons. Shooting guard Ray Allen continues to be one of the top shooters in the NBA and even showed an ability to drive as well last season that added to his versatility.

Weakness: There will not be another top-level team in the NBA that will rely on older players than Boston. Unfortunately, small forward Paul Pierce, power forward Kevin Garnett, centers Shaquille O’Neil and Jermaine O’Neal have injury histories that will show that neither one will make it through the entire season healthy.

Best player: While Rondo has made tremendous strides in the past few years, accept for improving his jump shot, the top player on the Celtics continues to be Pierce. He continues to be an undervalued top-15 player in the NBA. While it is true that he gets protected on both ends of the court, especially on defense, with the schemes that Boston play with, but when the Celtics need a basket at the end of the game, the ball will always be in Pierce’s hands. The Celtics had the chance to let Pierce leave this past offseason but resigned him immediately.

Most important player: If Boston is going to achieve any of its top goals this season, it will need a healthy season from Garnett. While he will never reach his peak again, which was probably around the 2008 season, the Celtics still need him to rebound and be the defensive captain. This task will be tougher with the injury to Perkins which will keep him out until the later part of the season. Garnett looked like he was recovering from the knee injuries that hurt his 2009 year in that year’s playoffs and the Celtics are hoping that a quiet offseason will only improve this.

Celebrity crush from the city: On my other Blog, I usually do a top-five list of women that I would like to “take out to dinner” (yes, those are quotation marks, you know what I mean) every few months. Been doing it about three years. Maria Menounos has been on the list every time. She’s the captain of the squad and my Crush from Boston.

Coaching: When Doc Rivers was retained prior to the 2008 season, many observers wondered if he would be able to handle the addition of Garnett and Allen, two top players on other teams, to a squad that had underachieved the previous few years. Three years later, Rivers looks like the perfect coach to handle a changed roster.

The biggest change that he will have to deal with is making the players transition from a squad led by the “Big Three” to one led by Rondo. I know that I named Pierce the best player on the team earlier in this post and Garnett the most valuable but last year’s playoffs showed that Rondo has elevated his game to be in the other top players level, maybe even surpassing it. Pierce and Garnett are proud players who will now have to defer to Rondo throughout the season and Rivers has to massage this move.

Furthermore, the stories of this being River’s last season in Boston can’t become a distraction, even though with this veteran group, I don’t think that it will be a major issue.

First memory of team: Growing up in New York as a Knicks fan, the Celtics were always a big rival, especially for the older fans. While the Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan and the Indiana Pacers with Reggie Miller got the most publicity, I still had memories of the Celtics led by Larry Bird beating down on the Knicks during the 1980’s and not liking that.

Robert Parrish always bothered me for some reason. Maybe it was the “00” jersey number. When Charlotte beat the Celts in the 1993 playoffs on Alonzo Mourning’s game-winning basket over Parrish, I was a happy man

Best case: NBA Championship

Worst case: Injuries catch up to the squad and the Celtics limp into the playoffs, finishing with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Miami, Chicago and Orlando. To make matters worse, Boston loses in the first-round to Atlanta or some other upstart squad like Milwaukee. Rivers leaves and the rebuilding process starts on a bitter note.

Overall outlook: The Celtics have a top-six or seven when Perkins returns that can win a NBA Championship. They play defense, know each others roles and have been battle tested. However, the potential for injuries and age make it difficult to expect high hopes for this squad overall. Expect the Celtics to coast in the regular season once again, resting the top players whenever possible, and than making a run in the playoffs similar to last season. I just don’t think that another conference title is in the books for the squad.

Those are my thoughts, what about yours?

Gridiron Blitz: Week Three Review

Music to listen to: L’Via L’Viaquez by The Mars Volta

I’m going to try something different for my review of week 3 of the NFL season. Instead of reviewing every single contest (what, you want my intense analysis of Oakland and Arizona?), I’m going to make some observations and see where it goes.

-The theme of this season seems to be redemption. All three of the undefeated teams left in the league and arguably the player who has performed the best the first three weeks of the year. Let’s get to them.

Kansas City: The Chiefs have a full cast of guys who are seeking second chances. You have Matt Cassel trying to prove that his first year in Kansas City was not his best. The top coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel had unsuccessful turns as head coaches and are back in the familiar confines of being an assistant coach in the NFL. Team leader and linebacker Matt Vrabel was traded by New England and thought to be at the end of his career. Defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson were considered first-round busts but are on a now competent defensive unit. Even running back Thomas Jones was not asked to come back to the Jets despite having an excellent season last year. Now after beating San Diego, Cleveland and San Francisco, the Chiefs already hold a two-game lead in the AFC West.

Chicago: Jay Cutler had arguably the worst season for a “top” quarterback last year. Head coach Lovie Smith almost lost his job in the offseason. Devin Hester had to answer questions about his abilities as a receiver and return man. Brian Urlacher was coming off his worst season as a pro and a season-ending injury last year. Running back Matt Forte was below-average last season. Now, with wins over Dallas, Green Bay and Detroit, the Bears are the top team in the NFC.

Pittsburgh: You do realize that Charlie Batch is the Steelers’ fourth-string quarterback? Many thought that after losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games f this season, the Steelers would be lucky to be 2-1 at this stage, maybe even 1-2. Now, they are 3-0 and ready to face Baltimore. You also have arguably the best defensive player in football, safety Troy Polamalu, back after his own injury-filled last season to return to his dominant play.

Michael Vick: We all know the story by now. I’m on record for saying that the Eagles should have gone back to starting Kevin Kolb after week two and going into this past week’s contest against Jacksonville. I was proven wrong this week because Vick looked outstanding. I’m still not sure about the long-term hopes for Vick because he can revert back to his average play at any moment but you have to appreciate his comeback from where he came from. He did the crime, served his time and is now the MVP of the league through three games.

-I’ve always thought that if you fired a coordinator during the regular season or changed starting quarterbacks earlier than week five of any year, your team is probably not going to have a good year.

Philly decided to start Vick and its gone well. The Raiders decided to bench Jason Campbell and nothing has changed. Carolina is starting the Jimmy Clausen era about one year too early. Arizona didn’t even wait until the regular season began to cut Matt Leinart.

The Bills even did an unusual move by their standards. They started the season with Trent Edwards, benched him and cut him, all in a three-week span. I can’t think of another scenario of that happening in the NFL in my 20+ years of viewing the sport.

The most telling early-season change however has been the firing of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye by San Francisco. This was a desperate move by a desperate franchise and head coach. Everyone including myself picked the 49ers to win the NFC West but didn’t expect the 0-3 start, particularly looked bad in both road contests at Seattle and Kansas City. This is the last move that head coach Mike Singletary could make to take the heat off himself. If the offense doesn’t improve in the next few contests, the 49ers may be the first team to fire its head coach this season.

-I may have to rethink my thoughts that Baltimore doesn’t have the offense to win a Super Bowl. Anquan Boldin’s three touchdown performance against Cleveland shows that the Ravens can pass the ball. All of this has happened while the rushing attack has been below-average by Baltimore standards.

-I can’t read the Redskins. How did they not show up at St. Louis? This came after blowing a 17-point, second half lead at home to Houston last week. Now they have to travel to a hot Philadelphia team along with the melodrama of their starting quarterback Donovan McNabb returning to face his old team.

-Kicking is a dicey proposition. New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley can go from last season’s hero to cut by week four of this year. He has missed several easy field goals, including the potential game-winner against Atlanta in overtime this week, but the Saints need to be careful of cutting a kicker who has been successful for them in many pressure situations.

Sabastian Janikowski of the Raiders on the other hand should be ashamed of himself as well for missing that 32-yard field goal to potentially give the Raiders a win over Arizona this week.

-I have to give Mark Sanchez credit for playing well the past two weeks. I still don’t think he’s at the stage to get the Jets to a Super Bowl, but the key has been the Jets opening up the playbook. Let the man make some mistakes and you will reap the benefits.

-Dallas and Minnesota won must-win contests but I wouldn’t expect much from either squad.

For Dallas, it was nice for Roy Williams to show up for a contest. Good job, Roy. They are still a dysfunctional unit that will finish below expectations. Houston is a good team so the win was solid but with Philadelphia playing so well, the Cowboys still has concerns.

For Minnesota, the Vikings just decided to give the ball to Adrian Peterson and see what happens. He’s a top player and that strategy worked for one week but ultimately, the passing game needs to come together and between Farve’s regressed skills and injured receivers, that may not happen. At least the defense is playing at a high level.

-When does Tom Coughlin clean out his office from the Giants’ offices? Some may say week 10 or something along those lines but I’m not buying that. He did win the team a Super Bowl and a mid-season change isn’t going to help the Giants this year. Besides, they will have their choice of John Fox or Bill Cowher this offseason.

-Along those same lines, I think Norv Turner should edit his resume, if you catch my drift.

Those are my thoughts. Did I miss anything? Think I’m a fool? Agree? Disagree? Just want to yell at me? What are your thoughts?