Off-Season Changes Bring Renewed Hope for the Raptors

On the eve of their 15th season, there seems to be renewed optimism surrounding the Toronto Raptors. The 2008/09 season, to say the least, was a disappointing one for the organization and their fans. The team was supposed to improve and play deeper into the playoffs but instead the Raptors struggled from the start managing to win only 33 games and missing the playoffs.

General Manager Bryan Colangelo certainly had his work cut out for him this offseason. Colangelo predicted big things from the lineup last year and nobody could have been more disappointed by the outcome than him. As a result, a lot of changes were made during last season and in the offseason – from Sam Mitchell being replaced by Jay Triano to the free-agent signing of Hedo Turkoglu.

When the Raptors tip off against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight you will see a lot of new faces – so here’s the lowdown on the 2009/10 lineup:

The Starting Lineup

Chris Bosh – Forward: No introduction needed here, he’s the heart and soul of the Raptors. Bosh did suffer a pre-season hamstring injury which was a concern considering what transpired with Calderon last season. Needless to say Bosh needs to stay healthy or this could be another long season. Bosh is a free agent after this campaign meaning the Raptors will need a strong year if they hope to have any chance of re-signing Bosh this summer.
Hedo Turkoglu – Forward: GM Colangelo certainly delivered in bringing in a talented and versatile forward who can come through in the clutch. Turkoglu played extremely well in the playoffs for the Orlando Magic this year before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. After the grueling playoffs and representing Turkey this summer, Turkoglu was used sparingly in the pre-season due to fatigue but should be well rested when the season begins.
Andrea Bargnani – Centre/Forward: After struggling last season Bargnani needs to be more consistent and bring his best game, night in and night out.
 
Jose Calderon – Guard: Raptors started to struggle when Calderon went down with a hamstring injury early last season – the Raptors need him to be healthy to have a great year.
 
DeMar DeRozan – Guard/Forward: DeRozan is a 19-year-old freshman from the University of Southern California who was chosen ninth overall in the draft by the Raptors. There is much debate whether DeRozan belongs in the starting five but he has earned it with his pre-season play.
The Supporting Cast

Jarrett Jack – Guard: Jack was signed as a free agent from the Indiana Pacers and is a former teammate of Bosh from their days together at Georgia Tech. He will bring leadership and will play a lot of minutes backing up Calderon.
 
Reggie Evans – Forward: Addressing another team weakness, Colangelo made the Raptors tougher with one trade, acquiring Evans from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jason Kapono.
Antoine Wright – Guard/Forward: Wright came to the Raptors from the Dallas Mavericks in the 4 way deal that also brought Turkoglu to Toronto. Wright will start off the bench but is the likeliest player to step into the starting lineup if DeRozan struggles.
Rasho Nesterovic – Centre: Rasho returns to the Raptors as a free agent signing where he played from 2006-08. He was originally traded away in the deal that sent Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto. The Slovenian centre will play key backup minutes on those nights where Bargnani gets into foul trouble.
Amir Johnson – Forward: Bringing much needed athleticism, Johnson was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks along with Sonny Weems in a trade for Roko Ukic and Carlos Delfino.
Quincy Douby – Guard: Douby returns to the Raptors this season after being signed last season from the NBA Development League. Douby was drafted 19th overall in the first round of the 2006 by the Sacramento Kings.
 
Marco Belinelli – Guard: The Italian swingman was acquired in a trade from the Golden State Warriors for Devean George. Belinelli was the No. 18 pick in the 2007 draft and is only 23 years old.
Marcus Banks – Guard: Banks came to the Raptors with Shawn Marion in the trade that sent Jamario Moon and Jermaine O’Neal to the Miami Heat. His role will be further diminished with Jarrett Jack backing up Calderon.
 
Patrick O’Bryant – Centre: O’Bryant was acquired in a deadline deal last season with the Boston Celtics in exchange for little-used guard Will Solomon. He was a lottery pick in 2006 who has size and the ability to block shots.
Sonny Weems – Guard/Forward: Weems was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks along with Amir Johnson in a trade for Roko Ukic and Carlos Delfino. Weems is young and athletic but will have to fight for minutes to move up on the depth chart.

Like last season the team looks great on paper, but the Raptors will have to prove that they’re a great team and that they belong in the playoffs. Team chemistry and just how fast the players come together will become factors as the season wears on and whether it will be a success or another bust.

Contact Aman Dhanoa at aman@oyetimes.com

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