In what has become an annual tradition we take a look at five season-ending areas of interest (The Backcourt, The Frontcourt, The Coach, The GM and The Draft) with regards to the Toronto Raptors as they close out their lockout-shortened campaign. With the club looking to ease back into the Playoff picture next season, how this team is reshaped this summer will see a radical shift away from youth acquisition and towards luring veterans to Toronto. For now, though, let's look at who the team already has and how they factor into the club's not-so-distant future.
If head coach Dwane Casey has his way then Jose Calderon will be returning to the Raptors next season as their starting point guard. Casey adores Calderon as a basketball player. He appreciates the diligence he brings to the offensive end, he appreciates the effort he brings to defence even if he doesn't possess enviable defensive tools (he did log his best defensive rating this season, though) and he is always effusive when singing his praises. Calderon, as he says, plays winning basketball. He's the kind of player you can stick on any team and he'll produce, and the better the team the better he'll produce. Want proof? Watch Spain play in the Olympics this summer.
There had been an expectation for a while that the Raptors would amnesty Calderon this summer to free up more free agent dollars, but that doesn't really make a whole lot of sense anymore. Calderon is still very effective (10.5 ppg, 8.8 apg this season) and has only one year remaining on his contract. With the Raptors already possessing plenty of cap space, nixing your starting point guard would only force you to go out and sign another one, somewhat nullifying the savings that should just be rolled over to next summer anyway.
The dream in Raptor-land, though, is the Toronto could replace Calderon with two-time MVP Steve Nash, who is a free agent this summer. While it is unlikely that Nash ultimately leaves Phoenix (especially after their unexpected Playoff push this season) if he were to entertain offers elsewhere Toronto would seem to have a compelling case to make. The man who drafted him and signed him back to Phoenix is the Raptors' GM, the man who coached him with the Canadian national team works in the front office and Toronto's sports science guru has a history of working with Nash and his bothersome back. All that and he'd get to play in his native country for a team that would be motivated to pay above the market rate for the marketing bonanza signing Nash would create. However, short of hitting a home run and inking Nash, Calderon has more than made a case to return as the club's starter next season, especially since no greater option appears to be on the horizon.
Of course, there will be those that say that free-agent-to-be Jerryd Bayless could ably fit the starting bill, and at a far lower salary than Jose Calderon's. For a team looking to set the Playoffs as a goal for next year, though, replacing Calderon with Bayless is an awfully big risk to take. First of all, while Bayless has posted some impressive numbers as a starter in Toronto (18 ppg, 6.1 apg), he's done so in only 24 games and has never been able to replicate Calderon's steadiness or leadership. Secondly, while Bayless has some assets that Calderon does not (he's a stronger defender and can create his own shot) Casey has spoken often of a need for veterans in his rotation to guide the young and developing core of Bargnani, DeRozan, Valanciunas and this year's incoming rookie. While Bayless brings some positives to the table, steady veteran play is not one of them.
One thing seems certain, though; Bayless is either coming back to start or he's not coming back at all. His production as a reserve over the last two years has been middling at best, far removed from his output as a starter (7.9 ppg on 39.2% shooting). If Toronto wants a reserve guard in free agency there are far better options than Bayless on the open market.
Moving on down the line you find shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, Toronto's puzzling third year starter. DeRozan has had quite the roller coaster season. His shooting percentages are way down this year, his true shooting percentage is at a career-low (.503) and despite an uptick in minutes and shot attempts his points per game production remains below the level he established last season (16.9 vs. 17.2). In fairness to DeRozan he performed better as the season wore on and he and Casey seemed to find a playing style that both can live with, but to what degree the team will be able to rely on him going forward remains a major unanswered question.
The fact is that a pure scorer that only shoots .422 from the field and .261 from three is a problem. It's a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that DeRozan doesn't rebound, can't make plays for others and still struggles creating shots off the dribble. Will DeRozan be back with Toronto next season? Almost assuredly. However, as the team looks to upgrade their scoring attack DeRozan may find himself in a vastly different role, perhaps even as an offensive punch off of the bench, unless he can do a lot this summer to round out his game. He's had three years in the NBA with basically unlimited minutes and touches handed to him but with wins starting to matter next season the club may not be able to afford to indulge him without him doing a lot more on the court to justify their indulgences.
Behind Calderon and DeRozan (assuming DeRozan retains his starting spot) is a big, gaping hole. Gary Forbes got a shot this season and was uninspired, so the club needs either two capable backup guards or one very strong combo guard before training camp kicks off. Options exist in free agency like Kirk Hinrich and Lou Williams, but don't rule out a return by Leandro Barbosa, who knows Casey's system and has a fantastic rapport with the team and Bryan Colangelo. Also, look for Ben Uzoh to get a shot to lock up the team's third point guard position in training camp given his steady play at the end of the season.
Outside of Calderon the Raptors are still searching desperately for quality and consistency in their backcourt and their guard rotation next season will probably sport a very different look than it does today, which is a good thing because as we'll see the frontcourt looks more in need of paring down than filling up.
Coming up on Tuesday: The Frontcourt