1. RUDY GAY: Needless to say, he's the most talented player that the Toronto Raptors currently have. How he handles the pressure of being the number one option on this team will be critical to his success. He's always been a guy you think you should be getting more from. I call guys like this 'permanent potential guys' that always leave you thinking that there is more you should be getting in terms of production. Don't get me wrong, I like his game and he's a legit three-man that the Raps have desired for a long time. He will have the opportunity of playing time/touches and being a centerpiece player to take his game to the next level that he's capable of being. Will he get there? No Idea, but he's a major upgrade on what we've seen in these parts for quite a while. He's on the books for a lot of money at $37 million for the next two seasons after this one - a big chunk of change that he'll feel the pressure to live up to. The expectations/demands on him in Toronto will be much greater than in a small market like Memphis. A risk the Raptors had to take considering they're 16-30 and with all due respect to Ed Davis and Jose Calderon, when you're 14 games under .500 you need to swing for the fences and try to change the dynamics.
2. ANDREA BARGNANI: I don't see how this works. I think if the Raps can find a trade partner for him, he's on his way out the door. I can't possibly see him co-existing with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Gay in whatever offensive scheme you utilize. He wants his touches and his shots. The other four guys? Will, think about them after he gets his. He's a wonderfully talented player who quite frankly needs a change of scenery and a new challenge. There is no doubt in my mind that he can be a significant contributor for a team but he needs to be in an environment (a new one with different demands/expectations and no coddling) that he's not the guy that you're counting on to win games for you yet able to compliment an elite player or two. I supported him and his talent for a long time but he's disappointed me with his lack of improvement and true passion for embracing what it means to be a team player/leader. Numbers are nice but the thrill of winning and truly being engaged in the love of the sport and your teammates is most important. Time for a fresh start and hopefully for him he finds success. Nice guy, it just didn't work here. I wish it would have worked because you don't find guys often that can do what he can offensively. A shame because he's really gifted. Talent is nice but the other intangibles are an even bigger factor for a player. If he ever finds them, watch out.
3. DEMAR DEROZAN: Curious to see how he and Gay mesh together. Neither guy is an especially gifted three-point shooter nor defender and it's a challenge playing guys on the wings who are more drive oriented. He's made nice improvements in his game this season but it will be especially telling to see how he adjusts and meshes with a new style of play. New contract kicks in next season and his level of play will have to continue to improve where he consistently gets to the free throw line and doesn't disappear at times when folks are physical/intense with him. Another gear needs to be gotten to. In this league, you gotta be able to bring it every night and adjust to what opponents are throwing at you. He's figuring it out more and more. Defenses will gang up a little more now on Gay and that could open more positive scoring chances for him. How he handles it will be critical.
4. KYLE LOWRY: It's time. No more internal competition issues that he faced in Memphis, Houston and Toronto with Calderon gone. It's now both his bat and his ball. Can't blame the coach, style of play or talent around you. Spotlight is now truly shining brightly to make it happen. Terrific opportunity for him to begin to define in his career what type of point guard he'll be over the next 5-7 years. Contract year next season with an organization that made a significant investment in a high draft pick to acquire him after the Steve Nash sweepstakes (Landry Fields benefited from this at three years, $19 million - but it will be interesting to see his role now with Gay in the mix) fell through. He's gotta stay healthy and prove that he's durable. Leadership in every respect is needed. Has to be a fundamentally sound defender and gamble a bit less and pick his spots better. Wonderful at getting in lane and putting pressure on the defence. Excellent in screen and roll, and he shoots it well. Can he bring the best out in his teammates? That will be the true test. He's a talented guy that has been itching for the chance to prove he's the 'guy' for a team. Raps are now 'all In' on him. They've laid a lot of trust/responsibility on his shoulders, which is what any top-notch player wants now the onus is on him to take the bull by the horns and make this his team. He's got the ability to do it. No doubt.
5. RUNNING STYLE: I keep hearing that with Gay, the Raps are going to run even more. That's all fine and well but the defense has to significantly improve. Currently, the Raptors are 28th in the NBA in field goal percentage. Totally unacceptable considering the wonderful improvements from last year in that area. If guys think they're going to run up and down and try to outscore folks, good luck with that. Better teams will carve up your D if the attention to detail doesn't exist and those same better teams get back in transition and don't let you run. It's about a 'winning Style' and that starts with defence, And then look more often for your chances in the running game. It still comes down to sharing the ball and getting high percentage shots and taking care of the ball. The assist number was low and the turnover number was high at Atlanta on Wed night.That won't do it. It will be a fun transition to a new style of play but you can't forget the basic of what truly matters.