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From the Depths of the Eastern Conference, Will The Toronto Raptors Rise to Glory? (Part 2)

Toronto, Canada - Hot off the Press! It?s time for a wakeup call for the Toronto Raptors General Manager Brian Colangelo, his counter-part at the Toronto Maple Leafs, General Manager Brian Burke has been axed as of today. What does this has to do with the Raptors? The Raptors and The Maple Leafs have the same owners, both teams has not made the playoffs for extended number of years and both GM?s has acquired highly paid players who have underperformed under their reign.

The Raptor's President and General Manager Status
President and GM Brian Colangelo has employed basketball players that has been a flop for the Raptors such as Hedo Turkoglu, Jermaine O?Neal, Jorge Garbosa, and Peja Stojakovic to name a few. Can anyone remember how many times and when the Raptors made the playoffs since Brian Colangelo has been GM? There?s the problem! The filthy rich Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment has fired it?s the infamous outspoken and high profile hockey GM Brian Burke. The Raptors has a payroll in excess of $60 million, Colangelo's salary is estimated at $4.5 million. Will Brian Colangelo see the same fate in the near future? The Toronto Raptors is no different than The Toronto Maple Leafs in terms of wins vs losses, the axe has swung in one direction, and will it swing towards Brian Colangelo? Keep in mind that the soft spoken and candid Raptors GM is also only signed two years in his contract with the Raptors back in May 2011, he may be spared for a graceful exit with no severance needed.

Coach Dwane Casey
The Jay Triano years where he served as the Raptors head coach longer than he should have probably did more harm to the Raptors than good. Where else can you go for an extended losing streak, sound off smelling like a rose in front of media and keep your job as coach during the darkest hours of the Raptors? That can only be done in Toronto, no wonder why ESPN has voted Toronto the worst city for professional sports! Such under achieving situations for major league teams would not be tolerated in cities like Los Angeles, Boston and New York. Toronto is a difficult city to play in due to the media attention, losing streaks and gratification of under achieving teams and its players. Toronto has been described as a tough city to play in; that can only be used as an excuse for so long.

Can Dwane Casey get a fair shake in this city? Sure he can, but many times, Casey has sounded like Triano in the post-game interviews where the Raptors fell short? His team fell apart and lost a winnable games more times than they have won. There are moments where it seems that there is a dark cloud of doubt above the Raptors but the coach brings up positives in consecutive losing streaks. It?s classic case of job saving maneuver in front of the media, to say the right things when facing adversity and come out smelling like a rose. The Raptors coaching has to get a lot tougher and refrain from sugar coating failure and subpar performances, call out your stud players and execute the right plays that will win games late in the fourth quarter where many have been lost. Whatever Dwane Casey saw and did in Dallas as an assistant coach where they won it all, he must bring that experience to Toronto once and for all, his time may also run out if the Raptors keep losing.

Who is the Raptors ?Go to Player?
It would be nice if there was a couple of a dependable clutch players that can score a 40 points and more for most of the games, but does the Raptors even have one ?go to player? at the very least? For the most part, the ?Go to Player? is unpredictable. Bargnani, DeRozan, Lowry, Calderon and a few others has delivered at times, but it has been on an inconsistent basis. There are many point guard, power forward/swingman tandems that are successful in the NBA such as Parker and Duncan, Wade and LeBron, Westbrook and Durant, Paul and Griffin and Anthony and Felton to name a few. It is not unusual for these combinations to score up 50 points or more; these guys earn their keep and pay checks. The starting Raptors line up must step up, get bigger and toughen up, when it gets tough, the tough gets going per say; however that has not been the case for the Raptors. The big names that the Raptors have been trying to build around chokes against stardom, this has to change as the new Raptors mesh together deeper into the season; they must function as a cohesive team where the starting line-up must show up, deliver and score when it is needed most.

Is Andrea Bargnani in Arrested Development Mode?
The soft shooting former number one draft pick Andrea Bargnani must be consistent with his plays and be a presence in the paint more in addition of being a perimeter Euro type player that he is known for. Bargnani must make his hide thicker and get stronger so that he can go up against the best in the NBA. When will Bargnani grow out of his arrested development and be that consistent player that he Raptors need? He is capable of doing more and he has demonstrated in past seasons. Bargnani has not been on consistent level that can be banked on, he is also riddled with injuries which have hindered his potential this season. The fragile Andrea Bargnani maybe a fine candidate for trade bait right now if he doesn?t step it up, his time maybe running out with the Raptors, depending on how the season plays out.

The Benefit of Dual Starting Point Guards Calderon and Lowry, make it work!
Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry should be a dream to work with for Coach Casey, this is money in the bank and extra insurance if the coach knows how to manage the two starting point guards with executing game winning clutch plays late in the game. Both are lighting fast, can dish the ball and are sharp shooters. It has already been proven that when Calderon is the sixth man coming off the bench, he is starving for minutes and desperate to win with urgency. Perhaps starvation for playing time is the key that unlocks both Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry. Having the two point guards on at the same time with their precision shooting and quick ball distribution will steal games in the future. The Raptors must capitalize with the presence and benefit of having two starting point guards in the roster. Furthermore, utilizing Calderon and Lowry late in the game could be the game changer that the Raptors is missing to close out the game as you cannot beat a quality starting point guard?s quick ball distribution complemented with their perimiter sniper shooting, Coach Casey must make this work. Imagine where the Raptors would be in the standings now if the team didn?t collapse late in the fourth quarter.

The Raptor Tall Forwards?.Keep them in competition and make them play a physical game!
The Raptors are a tall and young team up front, those who know the game are familiar that tall men takes longer to develop. The Raptors has been very patient with their tall forwards over the years, however it cannot be overlooked that this team can play above the rim. The mind set of being confident when the ball is in play up high needs to be ingrained with grit and tenacity which is very much lacking on a consistent basis with the tall forwards. You have Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valenciunas, Aaron Gray along with Bargnani. These tall Raptors need to believe in themselves, these guys should be attacking the rim at every opportunity, play in the paint and not be afraid to take risks and use their bodies. Rebounding from both ends is getting better with the addition of the rookie Valenciunas along with Davis and Johnson, expect authoritative rebounds, the big men must capitalize with second chance points as well as defend their end. The tall men must set an example for the other Raptors to follow so that they will not be intimidated by the Duncans, Gasols, Durants, Garnetts to name a few. These tall and skinny Raptors must also build their body mass and be conditioned for the gritty physical play so that they can be durable against the best. The lack of a true center has also hurt the team, hopefully that can be addressed by the development of Valenciunas. The coach must encourage healthy internal competition within the team in search of ?the go to guy? with the big men at the first string positions since there is depth to choose from. It?s time for Coach Casey to start calling the big men out to score points, rip rebounds and defend!

Use Statistics Get Rid of Dead Weight and Make Some Trades!
Player statistics is the nitty gritty of the game, the Raptors must use statistical game metrics that define the science of the game against player performances so that they can work on their gaps and deficiencies. The Raptors needs to look for potential trades. Serviceable but under performing and underutilized players like Bargnani, Davis, Klieza and a guard maybe packaged together to acquire that coveted and proven player that the Raptors is missing at the power forward/swingman positions. Speaking of swingman, the Raptors rookie Terrence Ross should be knocking on DeMar DeRozan?s door in short order. DeRozan also makes a fine trade if the team believes that Ross can develop quickly enough, trading such names would be a mutual benefit and attractive for trading partners seeking quality serviceable players in return.

Win Big Games Against High Profile Teams!
Once in a while the Raptors needs to steal a win as they recently did in Houston. Teams like the Spurs, The Thunder, The Lakers to name a few, seems to have the Raptor?s number each and every time. Winning against the top brass in the NBA is a moral victory and has long term effects on the team?s future. Winning against the top teams speak volumes, it will give the team the much needed moral boost, character building and confidence. Most of all, wins against the top teams will give the Raptors two legs to stand on where they will be taken seriously by other teams as a formidable threat. There is a template and recipe for winning big games, the Raptors must look at what the winning teams are doing and do the same thing with emphasis in player development, case in point, The Spurs and The Thunder.

The Raptors January Schedule
Based on the Raptors last ten games, they may have finally found the way to win, it is quite feasible for the Raptors to win half or more of their games this month against teams that are less than .500. That would be a great start for the year, close the gap and get into the playoff standings. The Raptors must win the winnable games against Philadelphia twice, Charlotte, Lakers, Cavaliers and Orlando in addition to stealing a game or two against better than .500 teams such as Atlanta, Hawks, The Heat, Golden State, Brooklyn, The Bulls and The Bucks. The Raptors must take it one game at a time and get better as the month gets deeper. They must raise the bar and play at a higher level for January in order to survive what is ahead for February. Next month will be a tougher schedule against better teams that has exposed the Raptors vulnerability time and time again. The season is still early enough for The Toronto Raptors to turn it around, or face the consequences as another losing streak maybe the point of no return for some of its key members.

So far, the Raptors are 2-1 in January, but they are still last in their division and in tenth place in their conference. The tide maybe changing for this team with 7 wins out of their last 10 games. They have won tonight 90-72 against a tired Philadelphia Sixers who played the Nets last night. Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan scored 19 points each, Ed Davis delivered 17 points while Jose Calderon had 14 points with 11 assists. Landry Fields who was injured for two months due to elbow surgery had a notable accomplishment tonight with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Amir Johnson ripped 12 rebounds at center while forward Ed Davis added a healthy 9 rebounds. Having Fields and Calderon in double-doubles tonight is another positive to look forward to; this is something the Raptors need to see more often. It?s still early in the month but Coach Casey should be squeezing his players for even more points and rebounds so that his team can find their true potential and make it out of the Eastern Conference basement as there are tougher games ahead of them.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Rob Cruz.

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