Once upon a time the Toronto Raptors had a superstar. A franchise player that captivated, not just this country and its basketball fans, but the entire world. Toronto was one of the focal points of the NBA and fans from every city made a matchup against Toronto a must-see event.
Of course, those were the Vince Carter days and, whether we like it or not, they have long since passed.
Last season, however, former GM Bryan Colangelo attempted to turn back the clock by acquiring Rudy Gay. He was a well-known, flashy player with a skill set similar to the famous former Raptor and he came with much fanfare.
The move, by Colangelo (likely a failed attempt to save his job) was one that may have a continued effect on this Raptor franchise going forward.
Rudy is a legit superstar and much of the success or failure of this team will rest on his shoulders. He will be the first option on offense and will be asked to guard difficult players on the other side of the floor. The offense will almost certainly run through him.
Gay is the Raptors best player and will be relied on heavily.
The fact that he will now be with the team for a full season will give Dwane Casey and his staff a chance to see what the team really looks like in Rudy’s capable hands.
Gay also gives Casey some flexibility as he can slide over to the four or even take control of running the offense. Gay gives Casey a lot of different options and his athleticism is something the Raptors have not had in a while. He can cut to the basket, hit mid range jumpers with a solid efficiency and is comfortable taking the three. He is also a admirable defender, something the defense-oriented Casey is sure to enjoy this season.
Rudy’s most valued attribute is that he seems to shine brightest at the end of close games. He thrives when the game is on the line and for a team that has lost many close games over the years it doesn’t hurt to have an ace up their sleeve. The Raptors have been without a true “closer” for many years and his ability to find ways to win at the end of games should help improve the Raptors record.
Rudy’s season, however, will likely not be without controversy. His large contract ($17 million this season and $19 million next) could become a valuable trading chip should the Raptors fall out of playoff contention. A short contract for a player of Gay’s calibre could net the Raptors valuable young assets or draft picks this year or next. It is possible, if the Raptors struggle, that Gay will become the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. Hopefully it will not cause distractions in the locker room.
It is also possible the Raptors would like to lock up their franchise player. One who excites the home crowd with late game jumpers and highlight reel dunks. Masai Ujiri is going to have to make a decision at some point this season. How much success the team has this year will have much to do with that eventual decision.
Whether he ends up staying for the long-term or moving on in a deal it is clear that this Raptors team is going to revolve around Rudy and his game.
This team is going to live and die by way of Rudy Gay and his shot.
When Rudy isn’t in the game, Dwane Casey has more options than he did a year ago. Steve Novak, acquired in the Bargnani trade, offers the Raptors a legitimate three-point threat. He is one of the most reliable in the league in this category. The last two seasons in New York he averaged 47% and 43% respectively.
Novak, and his size, can really help spread the floor and is very likely to be on the court at the end of games, when the Raptors need that three-point shot. There is no question that he has been brought in to improve on Toronto’s dreadful three-point shooting and to help spread the floor so players like Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan can find lanes to the rim.
He will get his share of minutes and will be a tough matchup for other 3′s in the league as Novak is a very tall 6″10′ and will be tough to guard.
Filling out the small forward spot is Landry Fields who seemed to be a bit of a bust last year considering the amount of money he is paid. Make no mistake about it though, Fields is a tough player. He is an above average defender and a very good playmaker. If he can hit open shots more consistently, and stay healthy Fields will be an admirable sub for Gay and will likely see increased minutes.
Austin Daye, a veteran acquired this summer by Ujiri, is a great leader and locker room presence for this young squad and will definitely push the others to be better. If they don’t, Daye will have no problem taking minutes from them. He’s a savvy vet and is out to help the team in any way he can, but will certainly be happy to scoop up whatever minutes he can get if others around him drop the ball.
The Raptors had high expectations when Rudy Gay was acquired and this is the year those expectations need to become reality. The team has a lot more depth at the forward position and that depth just might be enough to get the Raptors into playoff territory this year.
Zan Tabak Herald