Who's New?: F DeMarre Carroll (free agent), G Cory Joseph (free agent), C Bismack Biyombo (free agent), F Luis Scola (free agent), G Delon Wright (draft), F Anthony Bennett (free agent)
Who's Gone?: F Amir Johnson (free agent), G Lou Williams (free agent), G Greivis Vasquez (trade), F Tyler Hansbrough (free agent), F Chuck Hayes (free agent), C Greg Stiemsma (free agent)
Off-season Grade: C+. Carroll is a better player than anyone they lost, but Johnson was their most consistent big and their bench guards were one of their biggest strengths. I'm not sure the Joseph signing makes much sense given that they already drafted another point guard in Wright.
2015-16 Slogan: "At least it isn't Justin Bieber"
What Else Is New?: Kyle Lowry is all sexy now. He lost a bunch of weight --no doubt intimidated by Cory signing there-- so maybe he'll be quicker this year. He was kind of terrible the second half of last season.
Your Likely Starters:
C Jonas Valanciunas
PF Patrick Patterson
SF DeMarre Carroll
SG DeMar DeRozan
PG Kyle Lowry
Lowry has run roughshod over the Eastern Conference for a couple of years now, but he wasn't the same guy after New Year's. Injuries to his back, hamstring and hand made his playoffs a disaster. When he's right, he excels at finding angles to the basket and subtly changes gears on his drives, like a more muscular Tony Parker. He's always been a streaky three-point shooter though, and it hurts him that defenses can jam the paint since Toronto lacks guys who can hurt you from outside.
DeRozan certainly fits that bill. He pretty much abandoned his three-point shot completely last season and had a down year overall. By now management must surely realize he is what is. DeRozan gets to the cup, draws a ton of fouls... and that's about it. He's an anemic defender, a mediocre play-maker, and just death to your half-court offense. He's got a movable contract though, so don't be surprised if GM Masai Ujiri flips him at some point.
Valanciunas is one of the best post-up threats in the league and steadily improving, but Dwane Casey stubbornly refuses to give him more minutes. It's kind of crazy this guy doesn't get 20 shots a night, especially given the so-so options around him. The Lithuanian big-man hurts himself by not being one of the worst passers out of double teams in the league and he's also rather stationary as a rim protector. It will be interesting to see how he does on both ends with more room in the lane now that Amir Johnson has moved on.
Carroll is the new addition who's supposed to bring toughness, shooting and some defensive bite, and Ujiri believed in him to the tune of a 4-year, $60 million contract. That's a lot of scratch for a guy who scored 12.3 points a game last year, and that was a career-high. Carroll did rip it up from outside, but he got those shots as a fifth option on a team with superlative ball movement. He'll be higher in the pecking order in T-Dot, and no one here besides Lowry can pass. Carroll will help on defense, sure, but he'll have to be the second coming of Scottie Pippen in his own end to make this work.
The question mark here is Patterson. The Raptors are going to try the stretch-four thing now with Johnson gone and Patterson shot it acceptably well from outside, and he can scrap some defensively and on the boards. If he falters though the bigger, springier and far more caffeinated James Johnson will get a chance. They could also move Terrence Ross to the starting lineup and try Carroll at the four, but that would really compromise their perimeter defense.
Your Likely Bench:
Let's see what the crew will look like without 6th Man of the Year winner Lou Williams.
Hmm, I see.
G Terrence Ross
F James Johnson
G Cory Joseph
F Luis Scola
C Bismack Biyombo
G Delon Wright
F Anthony Bennett
C Lucas Nogueria
Ross is a more slender version of Gerald Green. He dunks from the half-court line (kinda!) and shoots threes and it all ll looks pretty on the highlights and then you look up and he's -12. Johnson's a bit of a bulky tweener, but he attacks the basket hard. He's kind of bounced around and wears out his welcome quickly, so we'll see how he reacts to competition for playing time. That's relevant, you see, because the Raptors signed Scola. "Luifa" had a nice bounce-back season for the Pacers and he's by far the best mid-range shooter of all their bigs. He's less excitable than Johnson but a far more reliable pro, and he was oddly competent as a defender last season as well. Biyombo is pretty much Valanciunas' polar opposite. He is a monster in his own end but can't do anything but dunk on offense. I'll be interested to see if Casey gives him crunch-time run over his starter. Wright was someone the Spurs were rumored to like during the draft and will be groomed to be Lowry's long-term successor, but he probably has a lot of the D-League in his future. They took a flyer on Bennett once the T-Pups bought him out, and it makes sense. The kid is Canadian and does have *some* talent. There's nothing to lose there.
Then there's Cory, sweet Cory, signed to ridiculous money for a team that didn't really need him, perhaps due to his nationality. Perhaps only in his absence will Spurs fans truly learn to appreciate CoryJo, who improved each year to the point where he's now one of the better mid-range shooters in the league. He's a dogged defender and can get to the rim, but he's got big shoes to fill replacing Vasquez at the backup point. Vasquez could not only shoot from deep, but he was also more of a natural playmaker. A Joseph-Wright backcourt pairing would be intriguing.
Your Coach: Dwane Casey
I get the sense he's not a big fan of Valanciunas, but we'll know for sure one way or the other this season, with Johnson gone. Casey's work behind the bench has never impressed me, especially in the playoffs, but to be fair there's only so much you can do when nobody can shoot. The distressing thing is he hasn't been able to change momentum the past two years when things stings started falling apart. If the Raps start poorly I wouldn't be surprised to see a change here.
Bottom Line: Toronto has just enough talent --barely-- to be the class of the division, but the Atlantic is a joke. It's gonna be neck-and-neck between them and the Celtics and the winner will have something like a 44-38 record and the sixth seed. They badly need to upgrade at shooting guard and power forward, but it's hard to do that without getting in the lottery. The purgatory of Eastern Conference mediocrity in action.
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