It's finally beginning to happen.
It may be just a trickle at the moment, but the U.S. basketball press is finally starting to acknowledge the idea that Chris Bosh won't be headed south next month, and a renegade few are even taking in the notion of him sticking in Canada for the next six years.
While some of the bigger outfits (*cough*ESPN*cough*) have thrown too much reputational weight behind their insistence that Bosh is desperate to leave one of North America's most cosmopolitan cities to simply give up the goat now, more and more basketball blogs are turning the other way. It couldn't have come at a better time, either, because the Raptors are playing some of the best basketball they've ever played – like, seriously ever.
One of the rarest sights for Raptors' observers over the last fifteen years has been a cohesive team. For brief moments this club has managed to string together streaks of inspired play, but rarely do those streaks extend much more than a few weeks. This iteration of the Raptors, though, has been playing impressively together for almost two months straight, and they seem to only be getting stronger as a result. On the whole, Raptors fans seem unsure of how to take the unexpected fortunes that have befallen them.
First of all, it's so uncommon for this team to play this well that many fans urge the team to simply squeeze out wins now because at some point the good times will end. They've come to resemble a nation escaping a depression, so filled with pessimism and cynicism that they simply cannot bring themselves to believe that good things can actually last. Despite wins against San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas and LA (the good one), fans still cannot muster up the confidence in their club that they can actually beat good clubs with anything less than a huge lump of luck.
In fairness, there really isn't any precedent for Raptors fans to cling to as proof of the opposite. This organization has been defined by an inability to sustain success as much as it is for any other trait. Twice the team has looked like they may finally have the foundations of a winner only to destroy that foundation with clumsy roster management and injuries. Nine years ago the club came off of a game seven heartbreaker in the East semi-finals only to cripple their salary cap flexibility for the better part of the next half-decade. Three years ago management overvalued certain traits (shooting) and ignored dire needs (defense and rebounding) and saw a hasty reclamation project demolished as quickly as it was assembled. So, it isn't as though Raptors fans don't have a reason to be skeptical.
However, there is a different air about this club. The talent that they are fielding doesn't seem rooted in fakery. Chris Bosh is playing as well as any Raptors has ever played, including Vince Carter in 2000-01, he has become one of the most reliable options in the entire league (ranking fourth overall in PER at 26.01, by far the highest efficiency of his career) and his team is benefitting greatly from his efforts. Alongside him has been Andrea Bargnani, who is providing Toronto with their first legitimate second option who is both young and locked-up contractually for the next five years. Jarrett Jack is an NBA workhorse who provides the kind of leadership and poise at the point guard position that the team hasn't had since Alvin Williams, and he brings the kind of durability to the position that Williams never could. The fact that the team has been without consistent contributions from Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon and yet has still managed to play wining ball is a testament to the strength of the whole over the individual parts.
Still, that has given people reason to worry. While the team has managed to succeed in spite of two of their most talented players underperforming, doesn't that seem like a recipe for disaster? How long can any team sustain success without all parts operating at peak efficiency? Well, the amazing thing about this club of late has been how well they've kept everyone involved despite their apparent woes. Hedo may be missing shots by the handful, but at no point in any game have his teammates looked reluctant to give him the ball to let him shoot it. Some may balk at such a disregard of precedent, but Hedo is not going to pull himself out of his shooting slump without shots, and his 16 FGA en route to 26 points on Thursday are a testament to that notion. It was the most attempts he's had in a game since December 13th and it was the third most shots he's had all season. In contests where he takes 15 or more shots he's scoring 23 points on average, so an aggressive Turk with the ball in his hands is a (sort of) proven commodity. In the same situations last season with Orlando, Turkoglu averaged 19.4 points (as opposed to 16.8 on his season average). It would appear that it would simply behoove the team to find more ways to get him more shots throughout the game.
As for Calderon, he has been inconsistent this season, but as a reserve the penalty is far less severe. Jack has done a credible job putting up consistent numbers as a starter since Jose went down with injury in December (averaging 12.4 points, 5.1 assists and 53% shooting from the floor and 40% shooting from three) and this current arrangement suits the skills/consistency of both players quite well. Calderon has come in a changed the pace of some lethargic starts in recent efforts and that has given him a new value off of the bench that he may not have had when he started for the team.
Still, no issue plagues the back of the minds of Raptor Nation quite like the looming free agency of Chris Bosh. Many fans (too many, it says here) are willing to trade him for pennies on the dollar to avoid what happened with Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter and losing him for nothing in free agency in five months time. Truth be told, there is probably no simple way to eliminate that fear from their minds without Bosh inking a new contract with his name, so in many ways the Raptors viewing public may never allow themselves to relax into this increasingly successful season. In the back of their minds there will always remain the possibility of yet another star bolting town and that fear will sully any achievements that are made on the court this year.
To be fair it's an understandable fear, and in a way it is that common element that binds much of Raptors fandom in its current state. However, I would implore you to do yourselves a favor and take solace in the knowing that if this team can keep winning, if Bargnani can keep developing and if the Raps can at least make a valiant run at home court in the post-season then Bosh will have few reasons to leave. You can enjoy the team's successes, however the develop from here on out, because with each little victory another little reason to leave escapes Bosh's consciousness. The Raptors have never sustained a better than .500 record per-month from December 1st to the end of the season, and while the Raptors have another two-and-a-half months to go to actually make that happen, there is no reason not to get caught up in the pursuit of that goal just because of how often this team has let you down in the past. Sometimes teams can sustain success, and even if the Raptors ultimately cannot, with all of the losing that they've done over their fifteen-year history shouldn't you want to soak in any positive moment the club can offer you while it's happening? Think about it.