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Oklahoma in five

The Dallas Mavericks Oklahoma City Thunder series tips off tonight and everyone saying this is Dallas year to get back to the finals are going to be looking very foolish very soon. You have to like how the Thunder matchup against the Mavericks since Kendrick Perkins’ arrival. The Mavericks edged the Thunder 2-1 in the regular season series but the last game was played on January 6th and Perkins was not around till’ February 24th. Here are four quick reasons why the Thunder will takeout the Mavericks in five:

The Russel Westbrook Conundrum – Russel Westbrook is liable to go coast to coast with the ball at any moment in the game. Jason Kidd will not be able to keep up with him this series, does anyone honestly believe 38 year old knees can stay ahead of Westbrook? So who is going to guard him? Jason Terry? Deshawn Stevenson? No thanks.

The Mavs Bench – Yes the Mavs have a very good bench but since that one big game in which they couldn’t miss a 3-pointer everyone has been hyping them up a little too much. The Mevericks have been on an 9 day vacation and while some say that it’s good to rest the aging squad I say it cools down the hot hands they have on their bench. Not to mention J.J Barea is going to have a harder time driving past Westbrook and Maynor than Fisher and Blake.

James Harden – Jameshas been quietly putting together a amazing post season right in front of us and no one wants to mention it? For the playoffs Harden is averaging a very impressive by any standards line of 12.4/5.1/3.7/1.3/1 PTS/REBS/AST/STL/BLK. When you see OKC make their scoring runs these playoffs Hardens face is always around, he has been OKC’s perfect glue guy this playoff run.

Dirk getting roughed up – Dirk is a great great player, surefire Hall-of-famer, and nearly impossible to guard. The only way to get at Dirk is to rought him up a little, get him out of his comfort zone. I see a very physical front court in Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka waiting to take on Dirk and Chandler. Lets not forget Collison and Mohammed coming off the bench too for OKC either. Now there is no way of guarding Dirk’s fade away but I would want a leaper on him, Ibaka, in combination with his physical play, has a 42-46 inch vertical which he will use well against that fade away. So with Dirk, Ibaka, Perkins, Chandler, Haywood, Collison, Mohammed we got ourselves a physical series

So Thunder in 5, come back tomorrow too see my  “told ya so”

Derrick Rose just became the youngest NBA MVP ever and now everyone is writing off the 1st place Bulls. Which is fine, talk all you want about how bad you think the Bulls team is playing but ask yourself this too, how bad is Derrick Rose playing?

Before we write off the Bulls shouldn’t we see a team stop Derrick Rose? Why don’t we see a team stop Derrick Rose? Why don’t they stop him? Why not? What’s wrong?  This is how the Bulls were built, AROUND DERRICK ROSE. He was there only viable option all season; Boozer and Noah could never create their own shots.T he Bulls were made to win on the defensive end, they finished 20th in the league in points per game and 2nd in the league in opponents points per game. They play hard D and look to Rose to create on the offense end, they have been doing it all season. This playoffs they are 6-2 and they only allowed more then 90 points twice. D Rose is humming along at 30 ppg and coming through when he needs to, from taking over the 4th quarter in game 1 of the Indiana series to dropping 44 last night. They also get better defensively as the series goes on,a trait of good coaching, so they have the leg up in longer series. As for Rose his bad three point shooting is what is hurting his FG%; watch him when he decides to drive the lane, unstoppable. A standard Rose layup now consists of the following : driving immediately past whoever is guarding him, bouncing off of 1 or 2 of the opposing team’s big men, and rotating 180 degrees to lay it in with either hand. I just want to see one team stop him when he decides to drive the lane then I will say the Bulls have problems. You can say “Derrick Rose is too young” or  “you can’t trust a 22 year old in the playoffs” but he is the MVP! Rose has proved he is no regular 22 year old as evidenced by the previously mentioned MVP. Derrick rose has been coming through all season and your just bored of it now, he’s been coming through with Noah, he’s been coming through with Boozer, he’s been coming through with them both, he’s been coming through with neither.

(I didn’t want to bring up the preseason Slam Magazine issue that read “Derrick Rose wants to be MVP” on the front cover either….not saying…just saying)

Devil’s Advocate

I am a big supporter of the Raptors developing as a team, somewhat tanking and getting high draft picks for the next two or three years so we can actually have a team that stays competitive for more then one or two years. But I am looking at the Raptors current roster and one move keeps on popping into my head, what if Colangelo trades for Steve Nash.

Current Steve Nash-Raptors ties:

1- He’s Canadian (ok thats a gimme)
2- Colangelo brought him into Phoenix with great success
3- Colangelo and Gherardini prefer a up tempo style of basketball
4- Certain players don’t want to come to Canada while Nash has expressed a desire to finish up here
5- Phoenix is looking ot get rid of him so it can start rebuilding faster
6-One of his best friends (Barbosa) is suiting up for the Raptors looking for another payday

So I’m purposing this trade

Raptors trade: Amir Johnson and Jose Calderon
Suns trade: Steve Nash

Reasons for the Suns: The fanbase has admitted that they want to move Nash so he is not wasting away and becoming unhappy for a cheap team that traded away all his close friends. The Suns get a pass first PG who fits in their system and a young PF who can start right away and is a upgrade over Hakim Warrick with a decent upside. Think that trade is lopsided for the raptors? you forget Suns GM Lon Babby freed the Raptors of Hedo Turkoglu’s contract last season so he has a track record of doing Raptors fans a few solids.  Also with the uncertainty surrounding the lockout Nash will be one or two years older depending on the lockout situation…they must be thinking he can’t last forever ( I think he has two or three above average years in his body)

Reasons for the Raptors: Other then we get our nations best player ever?  Nash is an elite player who can turn a franchise around very easily, and although it is weird to trade for a 37 year old right in the middle of a rebuilding process every team needs a veteran presence. The Raptors wouldn’t be giving up too much and it would free up long term money. Moreover with Nash running the point it’ll help the development of Davis, Johnson, and Derozans offensive ability in spades.

Suddenly the Raptors startng five doesn’t look too bad: Nash, Derozan, J.Johnson, Davis, and Bargnani. Nash did more with less last season in a tougher conference. If Colangelo is given one more year to prove he can make this style work why wouldn’t he look at this possibility. Bargs would be Channing Frye on steriods with Nash in Raptors red, Davis and Johnson can provide serviceable  D. If we don’t land Kyrie Irving this draft Bayless is our PG of the future (which isn’t a bad position to be in anyways) but Bayless does not have a complete PG skillset yet so who better to teach him then a happy motivated Steve Nash.

Or maybe my thinking is just to wishful….

The Raps have the 3rd best chance to land the number one pick in this upcoming draft, overall they could pick anywhere from 1st to 6th. Now experts project this draft class as weak but I am a big believer in not judging a draft class before they enter they league. Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are projected to go 1-2 in any order and should the Raps land a top 2 pick one of those two names should definitely be called by the Raps. But lets look at some other intriguing prospects in this year’s draft, should the Raps not land a top 2 pick:

Enes Kanter – Of all the players in this questionable draft Kanter is the biggest enigma. He was ineligible to play NCAA this past season, for Kentucky, due to receiving money to play in Europe the season before he committed thus foregoing his amateur status. But this guy is a LOAD, 6’11 and 260lbs as a 19 year old; with a bit more conditioning he will have an NBA Center body at a very young age. The guy averaged 18 PPG and 16RPG to claim the MVP in the U18 European championships. The conerns are that he has been off a year due to ineligibility and we haven’t seen him play too much US competition, he played one year of High School and was deemed “inconsistent” by scouts in his time there. At the end of the day this man is the biggest question mark in this draft, he could project anywhere from franchise center to….uh-oh….Rafael Araujo.
Sidenote: the Raptors drafted a player in the 1999 draft who was in a similar situation. Aleksander Radojevic ever heard of him……exactly  so my guts says maybe the Raptors should stay away form these unique cases.

Jan Vesely –  I am a big Vesely backer, especially since he has been playing for Partizan Belgrade and averaging about 10/3 PTS/REBS along with a block and a steal, playing against the best competition Europe has to offer. He is listed as a 6’11  SF which is something any GM would be interested in. If you watch his highlights it is easy to see the big guy has alot of skills to bring to the table and develop. He has an endless motor on both ends of the floor as well, if the Raps fall out of the top 2 in the lottery I will be lobbying for Vasely hard.
Highights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zlB5w08_Es 

Brandon Knight – For as much hype that Kyrie Irving has gotten (and deservingly so) Knight has put up just as good of numbers for an entire season, compared to Irving’s 11 game audition for the NBA. As a frosh under Coach Cal, Knight shook off a slow start to average 17/4/4 for the season and continued to play strong into the NCAA tournament. At 6’3 he has good size and plays excellent D, although he is more of a scoring point he could make an immediate impact if he dons the Raptors red next season due to his ability to D-up the perimeter and score (can even play SG a 6’3). Let’s also look at some of the former starting  PG’s for Coach Cal who are now in the league…Derrrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall….thats some good company.

I will get into some more prospects later but for now I just wanna throw some hypotheticals atcha….

Ok it was a rebuilding season in Raptorland but, and excuse my optimism, but there are a lot of  bright spots that happened as a result of his past season that makes our tourtured fanbase’s future less bleak.

1) Jerryd Bayless – 18/7/3 46% Those are Bayless’ PTS/AST/REBS and FG% averages as the Raptor’s starting   point guard over 14 games. Sure a small sample size but all that means is that Bayless is one of many NBA players that just need a couple of minutes to get going in the game. As his confidence grew his FG% grew, next season he will come in with a lot more confidence and hopefully ready to put together a full season (he was hurt for random spurts throughout the season). He should be the starting PG in next season’s opener, Calderon is atrocious on the D end and needs to be dealt, with that being said…….

2) Jose Calderon’s PG play – Jose averaged  10/9/3 in a good season proving that he is not completely useless on the offensive end. On the defensive end he is incapable of guarding anybody capable of movement but his impressive offensive numbers could mask that and hopefully his unpleasant contract as well. NBA general managers are always looking for pure points and the Raptors could fleece a naive GM (David Kahn anyone?).

3)One less year on the Calderon/Barbosa contracts – This past season those contracts ate a combined 16.1 million dollars of the Raptors cap space, oh they’re both due for a raise next season too (CBA pending). Barbosa has a player option to renew this off-season which means next season is a contract year, so I’d expect a bit more production next season from Dro’. Jose will have two year’s remaining, at 9 Million per, on his deal if he survives another offseason in Raptorland. Maybe with only 18 million remaining on Jose’s deal his contract will only  be semi- nauseating to any Raptor fan and NBA GMs.

4) Eddie Davis – Davis deserves to make an appearance on at least one of the All-Rookie teams this off-season. Davis started the regular season miles behind the rest of the class due a knee injury which cost him the Raptors’ first 17 games. He debuted with a great game though (11/6/2 PTS/REB/BLK) and kept growing as a player throughout the season. He went on to average 10/8/1 PTS/REB/BLK post all-star break, AS A ROOKIE WHO STARTED THE SEASON LATE. He is long and has a great basketball IQ on both ends of the floor, his play in the post is smooth to suggest great coordination and good potential to develop a post game.

5) Colangelo drafting in a high spot - Say what you will about some of the contracts this man has handed out but don’t tell me that man cannot evaluate prospective NBA talent. Colangelo brings this impressive draft history to the table, and this is only a few, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire  drafted at the 9th spot, and snatchin’ Stephen Jackson and Leandro Barbosa from the second round. If I am a GM I want this man beside me on any draft day, the Raptors are projected to pick 3rd in this coming draft, but never trust anything until the lottery happens, Colangelo has a chance to show us how big his basketball cajones really are come June.

Everyone in the Pure raptors wheelhouse is smiling on this faithful Wednesday and the reason is a Mr. Bryan Colangelo. Although it ain’t news anymore the Raptors traded Marcus Banks, David Anderson, and Jarrett Jack to Nawlins for Jerryd Bayless and Predraig Stojakovic and his 15 smillion dollar expiring contract. How is everyone not psyched about this trade! It is time we look at this trade from all angles.

J. Jack was a solid player, true professional and truly, truly a backup PG (no offense JJ), but he was 27 and he was not fitting into the youth movement that is the Young Gu…err….Onez (thanks for burning that bridge Mr. Arenas). I think he should fit well backing up CP3 or maybe starting along side him a few times. Toronto got David Anderson for nothing, the second round draft pick we shipped for him is more conditional then OJ’s prison release (too soon?). Anderson proved he could play given the minutes though. He can hit the outside shot and grab a few boards and he is a serviceable backup big who could play either PF , or C. Marcus Banks equals trade filler simple as that, but New Orleans made this trade thinking of their bench and they got two fantastic players coming from Toronto.

Enter Jerryd Bayless a 6-3, 22 year old athletic combo guard. I swear this kid has got a sweet stroke despite the FG %, he just really has not gotten a chance since entering the league, first he was backing up Andre Miller, then CP3, but now he is going to have a clean slate and an opportunity to prove himself in Toronto. People forget Bayless averaged 19.7 and 4 at Arizona as a FRESHMEN, don’t care who you are those are impressive stats at age 19. Also it is nice to get more athletic at the PG position, so much focus is made about our missing inside presence, but when you have opposing PG’s blowing by Jose and Jarrett it’s hard to fault our big men completely (I’ll touch more on our perimeter guys on a later date I promise). Now onto Peja, I’m guessing he was brought in for his shooting touch, Toronto ranks dead last in the league in three point percentage (.296%) and it helps having one of the most devastating three point shooters of the last decade on our team, even if it’s in the twilight of his career. But even at 33, if your 6-10 and can stroke it from outside you can find your way onto the court, shooters age well (see: Allen, Ray). Peja also brings a 15 million dollar expiring contract with him, a very big asset in today’s NBA especially with the CBA expiring. I see all this talk about how it’s a great trade asset and it’s part of a bigger deal BC has in the works (which can never be ruled out with BC) but it’s all about flexibility. We can keep Peja and take the bump in 3pt %, trade him for a better player, we can let him walk or sign a valuable three point shooter to a more reasonable contract. As a young franchise now it is all about flexibility, and with the expiring contracts, young talent, large TPE and city-wide optimism things are looking flexible in Raptorland.

Boo-hoo! No Matt Barnes, why doesn’t anyone think this is a good thing? Now Matt Barnes is a servicable NBA player, he can hit the open shot, play solid defence, and grab boards. Raptors could have used his toughness since we are..WERE the RuPauls last season. What didn’t make him a good fit? He’s 30 and unless Colangelo has a Chris Paul trade in mind Barnes just takes playing time away form our young players that could use time to develop.

This signing falling through for the Raptors is not good though, it’s bad publicity since it is the second move that has fallen through for us this summer (DAMN YOU MJ!). It gives the impression that our front office is in a panic and that they are just scrambling to get players here. The front office took a hit for signing a player who isn’t really a household name either. Casual fans don’t know who Matt Barnes is, they wouldn’t have cared if we signed him. The casual fan can now care that we didn’t sign him though, and blame the front office. It is pretty shocking that two of the better GM’s in the league, Bryan Colangelo and Otis Smith, mistake their Cap room and the cap rules so badly.

Until tomorrow basketball fans…..

Out tomorrow: The CURRENT Raptors by the numbers

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