Greetings folks! Here are five quick thoughts from around the world of basketball for a Wednesday.
1. TORONTO RAPTORS (12 GAMES IN 21 DAYS): Season # 18 in the history of the franchise will come to an end in three weeks on April 17th. 5th straight season without a playoff bid and as many questions as there are answers. Not a comfortable time right now for Raptors fans. Needless to say, the expectation for next season will be for a significant turnaround and a playoff appearance. Considering they've lost 16 games this season that they led going into the 4th Quarter you can point to those games as a sign that they've been competitive and getting closer. On the other hand, you're judged on the ability to close the deal and get W's.
With MLSE partner, Toronto Maple Leafs getting closer and closer to an NHL Playoff bid, the pressure will be on big time for Bryan Colangelo, Dwane Casey, staff and players to get over the hump next season. Can they do it? Yes they can close the gap, though it won't be easy. The talent level is better--next year that talent has to gel and produce results. The player decisions that begin to take place after the close of business on April 17th will define whether they'll be able to get this thing turned. The Leafs are doing it and the same will be expected. Very interesting off-season to come.
In my 15 Years as a Raptors Broadcaster, I must say this is the quietest it's ever been as far as fans venting their frustrations and media uproar. Not sure how to read that. I just hope they aren't becoming irrelevant and folks have just accepted that it is what it is and thrown up their hands. Hopefully, it's more a sign that folks are patient and hopeful that they're getting closer to turning it around. Not sure how to read it. It promises to be a fascinating off-season to watch. Fingers crossed it starts to turn. Winning is a whole lot more fun than this.
2. VINNY DEL NEGRO (Clippers): Has continued to grow and mature as an NBA Head Coach. Has developed nicely from his time with the Chicago Bulls to now. Obviously, it's nice to have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but any coach will tell you--you've got to have the players to look smart. His team has made great strides yet he doesn't have a contract beyond this season. With Hall of Fame Coaches Phil Jackson & Jerry Sloan as well as Jeff Van Gundy, Nate McMillan, Stan Van Gundy & Flip Saunders out of coaching, this job is ideal for one of them to step into if the Clippers falter in the playoffs. Smart coaches take good jobs with good players, not bad ones with suspect players. This has become a good job--as long as Paul re-signs this summer. The pressure will be immense on Del Negro to get his team to the Western Conference Finals. Anything less and you'll hear all the rumors.
3. SACRAMENTO: Huge few weeks coming up for the future of NBA Hoops there. New arena plans were approved by Sacramento City Council and now over the next few weeks Mayor Kevin Johnson and the prospective owners will have to sell the NBA and its Board of Governors to stick with Sac-Town and find another solution to put a team in Seattle. If Sacramento wins here I still see Seattle getting a team at some point. If there is even the slightest bit of discussion about expansion, then I hope it's not only Seattle but Vancouver as well. Cut roster size limit from 15 per team to 14 thus eliminating 30 player jobs and turn those jobs right back into two teams and the numbers stay relatively the same. Would it water down/stretch out the talent pool a bit more? Sure. Teams would have to do a terrific job of convincing top-level European pros to make the step to the NBA to bolster the Talent level--can it be done? Sure. Lots of creativity in this area can help provide a solution and get two great markets a team again.
4. REGGIE JOHNSON (University of Miami): The power forward will likely miss the Marquette game tomorrow night in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Johnson is a bruiser averaging 6.7 ppg and 4.8 rpg--not huge numbers but in a game like this with a physical/blue collar opponent, he'll be missed. This game will be a grind it out affair in the high 50's/low 60's. Every possession will count. Nice test for the Hurricanes.
5. NCAA COACHING JOBS: At this point 30 openings this season to be filled over the next few weeks. The musical chairs and bidding wars for coaches' services are crazier than ever. With Big TV money and conference realignment, the pressure on coaches is the worst I've ever seen. The monetary rewards are huge, yet you better win and win fast or else.