Toronto’s Offseason Starting To Take Shape

It has been an intriguing offseason thus far for the Toronto Raptors, that is to be sure. They haven’t even done anything yet and there has already been plenty of chatter surrounding the team and potential free agent signings since the day the season ended. Whether these rumours are based in truth or conjecture remains to be seen. Regardless of the eventual results, people are talking about the Raptors and fans are getting excited.

I’m not one to get caught up in rumours, but these rumours seem to have some weight to them and all of them could change the course of the Raptors hopes for next season as well as the long-term status of GM Bryan Colangelo, who has one year remaining on his contract.

First came the Steve Nash rumours. Now Steve Nash rumours are nothing new around these parts. He’s Canada’s greatest basketball talent ever and would look fantastic playing for Canada’s only basketball team. Over the years Toronto has heard lots about Nash coming to town, but there wasn’t really any way to get a deal like that done. But now the “Nash to Toronto” rumours have a certain weight to them.

He’s long been rumoured to be leaving the Phoenix Suns after this year and his recent appointment as President and General Manager of Canada’s Mens National Team would seem to indicate he wouldn’t mind spending more time closer to his homeland.

A Steve Nash arrival in Toronto would mean improved play on the offensive end and a whole lot of jerseys being sold at the ACC.

Nash would fit in swimmingly here in Toronto, despite the fact Jose Calderon already occupies the starting point guard spot. Calderon has been quite willing and ready to share time whenever necessary and the depth at point guard could give the Raptors a leg up on competition in the Atlantic division. Calderon seems better suited to the backup role anyway and could become valuable trade bait down the road with a large expiring contract.

The Nash rumours also have weight as his former Canadian National team coach, Jay Triano, is employed by the Raptors and Bryan Colangelo, the GM that drafted and then re-acquired Nash in Phoenix is currently the Raptors President and GM.

Nash has a knack for bringing the very best out of his teammates. Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudamire, Channing Frye, Jason Richardson all owe much of their success (and large pay cheques) to the point guard that gave them the ball.

Nash has always put himself second and his team first. His teammates were the beneficiaries on and off the court. How much could a point guard like Nash improve Andrea Bargnani’s game? or DeMar DeRozan’s? Makes you wonder.

Nash makes good players great. He brings the best out of his teammates and could certainly benefit some of the underachieving Raptor players.

Nash would therefore seem to be a perfect fit in Toronto. Unless, of course Jeremy Lin is. Lin is a restricted free agent and there are now reports from a host of sources claiming the Raptors will be very much in the mix for his services, should the Knicks decide to let him go.

Lin is much younger than Nash, could be cheaper and may fit better into the core that is developing in Toronto.

Jeremy Lin is a rumoured Raptor target this offseason. His acquisition could be the spark this young Raptor team needs.

He is a restricted free agent, so how much stalk can we put into these Lin to Toronto rumours? It is very possible that the Knicks get out-priced for his services. Lin is not a player that has been around long and therefore may not have earned the lucrative deal he seeks in the eyes of NBA GM’s. His stats are good, but the sample size is small, and he was never really able to mesh with franchise player Carmelo Anthony suggesting he may need to be a number one option.

Lin, who missed the Knicks’ run to the playoffs, could be the odd man out in New York, making him very much available to Toronto. A move for Lin would be very reminiscent of Colangelo’s other signing of a young point guard that changed his Phoenix Suns back in 2004. That, of course being, Steve Nash.

Lin has shown he can be a game changer, a superstar, a go-to guy. At the point guard position that is simply something the Raptors have never had.

It is clear that Lin’s stats are a small sample size and his median numbers are not nearly as good as his 2011/12 stats, but he could be worth the risk.

He is explosive and can certainly shoot the ball with confidence. He can drive the net and get his teammates involved in the offense. His defensive ability is weak but his deficiencies could be fit into Dwane Casey’s system. If Calderon worked out, Lin likely could too.

He would also become a big fan favourite here in Toronto, a city with a large Asian fan base. It could be a big marketing opportunity that the new owners at Rogers and Bell, simply cannot pass up.

Still, the odds of landing Lin rest in the hands of Glen Grunwald and the New York Knicks and what they are attempting to do this offseason. The Knicks maintain the right to match any offers the young point guard gets, meaning the Raptors will likely have to overpay to get him.

Lin presents an interesting option for the Raptors, but one that they ultimately don’t have complete control over.

Then there are the murmurs about Nicolas Batum. Now, none of these rumours are anything but pure and utter speculation, but he would fit very nicely into the Raptors lineup. A small forward with that kind of ability has alluded the Raptors since the days of Tracy McGrady. Batum would instantly become one of the best small forwards the franchise has ever seen. A great fit for the short and long-term. Plus his European background would be a plus in the locker room. He certainly won’t be cheap and the Blazers are very unlikely to let him go for nothing. Expect the Blazers to match everything and anything for Batum and then work out a trade with a team if they have to.

If the Raptors are serious about acquiring Batum, which they should be in my opinion, then they are going to have to put together a trade package that will make it happen. That is much more difficult than just signing a player, but if anyone knows how to work out a complicated off-season trade it’s Colangelo.

So despite the fact the Playoffs are going on without the Raptors, there is plenty for a fan to sit and ponder. This summer will be another chapter in the remaking of this Raptors team and it is exciting to imagine the possibilities. So far three of the most solid offseason rumours would offer the Raptors definite upgrades in talent at two key positions. All three rumoured acquisitions are big name players that would raise the talent level and profile of basketball in Toronto.

Like most Raptor fans, I can’t wait to see what happens on July first. Judging from the early offseason rumours, it is likely to be one of the more exciting ones yet.

Injuries Continue To Take Their Toll

This NBA playoffs have been littered with injuries, and they’re not just minor ones. These injuries are, or could be, career ending injuries that top players have endured.

Last year’s playoffs did not see the amount of injuries, severe or not, that we are seeing this year. Some analysts are questioning the shortened season that combated the late start to the season, in December, due to the lock out. The back-to-back games with little time to rest could be the reason why we are seeing players suffering from major injuries, not only in the playoffs, but throughout the rest of the season as well.

During the playoffs alone we’ve seen Derrick Rose go out with a torn ACL, which means last years MVP will be out for up to 10 months. During the same day we saw Iman Shumpert go out for an ACL injury as well, so the struggling Knicks lost a second guard for the remainder of the season.

The Knicks are hoping that Jeremy Lin will be ready to play in Game 5, but they risk him injuring himself even further with the increased intensity that these games are bringing.

Later in the first round, we have now seen Joakim Noah sprain his ankle, and insists he’s day-to-day, but when you watch the replays, Noah is likely to be out for at least a few more games. If he does attempt to play, his minutes should be very limited to prevent further aggravation to the ankle.

Then in Game 4 as the Miami Heat were expecting to sweep away the New York Knicks, the Knicks lose their third point guard, Baron Davis, as he’s stretchered off the court with a dislocated right patella, and will be out for at least a couple of months.

The 2011-2012 season was already shortened to 66 games from its normal 82 to help with the limited time in the rest of the season. However, without having a proper off season for teams to practice, the back to back-to-back games, and increased travel, in some cases, has proven to be a strain on the players bodies. Without the proper rest that explosive players need, many of the top flight players within the league have been out, at some point or another, this year.

Rose, a player who missed only about five games in his career prior to this season, has been out 27 games in the regular season due to injury, and is now out for almost a whole season with a torn ACL. Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, commented on Rose’s injury in an interview, stating “that thing [a torn ACL], took my career.”

Collins was injured during the 1978-79 season with the 76ers, and then missed a year recovering from his knee injury. He only played 12 games the next season before deciding to end his career. It was Collins who was the first on the court after Rose planted his feet from a jump and fell to the ground with no contact. Collins knew immediately what had happened and said in an interview that he “felt sick.”

It seems like our stars of the game need an extended off season to be able to recuperate from the strenuous season they just played. Hopefully with all the advancements in medicine, players like Rose, will be able to make a full recovery and have many years ahead of them in their NBA careers.