Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Battling back from Extinction

Battling back from Extinction
by Rick Olivares

Toronto Raptors 2007-08
2006 record: 47-35

Not since Vinsanity and T-Mac gave Canada a fearsome air force has there been much excitement bubbling over basketball in Toronto. The Raptors hope to build on last year’s gains and play-off run now that they added some talented free agents to their team.

It was a moment in time for this franchise when Chris Bosh despite his young years decided to accept the mantle of leadership. It served them well in their charge to the post-season and it gave coach Sam Mitchell an opening to reach through his squad that could have very well tuned him out. The result was a 20-game improvement from the 27 of the 2006-07 season and their first ever division title.

GM Bryan Colangelo must also be credited with bringing back Mitchell who received offers from other teams. The last thing a young team needs is to learn a new system while adjusting to a new coach. And Colangelo also brought in sharpshooting Jason Kapono from the Miami Heat and Carlos Delfino from the Detroit Pistons. Delfino could actually help this club with more minutes.

What makes this team also intriguing is its increasing international flavor. Andrea Bargnani from Italy could have been Rookie of the Year last season had he played in more games. Jose Calderon from Spain ably backed up TJ Ford in the play-offs where he truly came alive. Delfino is a mainstay of Argentina’s national team. Jorge Garbajosa also from Spain provides some punch from the forward position. And there are Slovenians Rasho Nesterovic and Uros Slokar and Giorgos Printezis from Greece and Roko Ukic from Croatia who are both trying to land spots on the team.

The Euro players’ sound fundamentals and court intelligence really opened up the game for the Raptors and for Bosh to dominate in the paint. And with the team having tasted success despite last year’s problems, imagine what their better team chemistry will bring.

Chris Bosh was fantastic in the play-offs as he really stuck it to the New Jersey Nets. The Raptors’ franchise player who elected to stay in Toronto rather than move out, missed out on the recent FIBA Americas after suffering a foot injury that sent chills down the spines of the entire Toronto organization. The team has been so snakebit in recent years with injuries to key personnel that they cannot afford another letdown of a season. More so now that they have the right mix of players who can challenge for an NBA title. Bosh is said to be convalescing well and ready for the new season.

Just as Bosh is important to the fortunes of the Raptors, former number one pick Andrea Bargnani, now that he’s healthy, will make this team harder to beat. Bargnani brings a versatility to this team with his all-around savvy. Not only does the Italian national see the floor well but he also makes good decisions with the ball. He can stroke it from three-point territory and can finish the break. It’s like playing with another point guard on the floor. He gave a glimpse of what he can do with three strong games towards the end of the play-offs when he scored 17, 18, and 16 points in a series loss to the Nets.

Jorge Garbajosa who has recovered from the leg and ankle injuries that derailed him last season could inherit the departed Morris Peterson’s 3-spot. Garbajosa did not play for his native Spain in the recent FIBA tournament for precautionary reasons and should be up to full strength by tip off time.

With TJ Ford and Jose Calderon alternating at the point position, there will be no let up as both can get inside the lane and make some nifty zips to the bigs lying in wait. If the defense tries to slam the door shut, Kapono will be waiting in the wings to bury them. The Raptors should have a good account of themselves as they’re a balanced team that can hurt opponents inside and outside. Juan Dixon will probably see fewer minutes so it’s important for him to stroke it well if he wants to find a place in the backcourt rotation.

Maceo Baston, Anthony Parker, Luke Jackson, and Rasho Nesterovic should provide some good minutes for the starters. Parker provided the Raptors with some solid play in a bench role last season. If Garbajosa can’t hold up, pencil him in to start.

The defending Atlantic champs didn't need to make major changes. But adding Kapono and Delfino was a good move as any by Colangelo. Expect the Raptors – barring any injuries to its starters – to make a serious run for the Eastern crown.

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