What the Toronto Raptors can do to improve this off-season


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Year two of the Toronto Raptors’ post-Chris Bosh re-building effort yielded a similar result as year one.  The Raps once again finished well out of the playoff picture and now enter the off-season in need of an influx in talent.  They will Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, their 2011 first round pick, but what else can Toronto do to improve their roster and get themselves back as a relevant Eastern Conference team?

Toronto Raptors (23-43 last year)

2011-12 Season Summary:
Our friends north of the border weren’t expected to do much and they met the expectations.  Their struggles were magnified as Andrea Bargnani struggled to stay on the court due to injury.  Prior to going down, the former number one overall pick was playing at an All-Star level and actually gave some effort on the defensive end.  That left Toronto with a very thin, underwhelming collection of frontcourt players and forced head coach Dwayne Casey to start Aaron Gray for 40 games. (Yuck.)

The backcourt took a hit as well as Jerryd Bayless missed half of the season due to injury and bench scorer Leandro Barbosa was sent to Indiana at the trade deadline.  That put a lot of pressure on DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon.  DeRozan took a step back after a breakout sophomore campaign while Calderon was effective though continues to play below the lofty salary he is receiving.

There is a mixed bag reaction regarding the rest of the Raptor roster.  James Johnson’s athleticism and versatility make him a valuable contributor and somebody who should continue to develop.  On the other hand, Ed Davis suffered though a bit of a sophomore slump when the team needed him to emerge with Bargnani out of the line-up.  The overpaid Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza serve their respective roles but really shouldn’t be relied upon as valuable pieces for the future.

With last year’s first round pick, Jonas Valanciunas, another lottery selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, and a good amount of cap space to be active in free agency; the Raptors are in a position to add some talented pieces to become a more competitive team next season.

2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Jonas Valanciunas/*Solomon Alabi
PF: Andrea Bargnani/Amir Johnson/Ed Davis
SF: James Johnson/Linas Kleiza/Gary Forbes/*Alan Anderson
SG:DeMar DeRozan
PG: Jose Calderon/*Jerryd Bayless

NBA Free Agents:
*PG-Jarryd Bayless (RFA)
*C-Solomon Alabi (RFA)
*SF-Alan Anderson (RFA)
*G-Ben Uzoh (RFA)
C-Aaron Gray (UFA)
C-Jamaal Magloire (UFA)

2012-13 Team Salary: approximately $41 million

Team Needs:
1. Perimeter Compliment for DeRozan:
DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson bring plenty of length and athleticism to Toronto’s wing but neither guy shoots it well from downtown.  The other options are okay but I certainly think finding an up-grade at small forward is a necessity.  They should target a couple players with their lottery pick (Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb) who would fill this need.

2. Valanciunas Time:
The arrival of Jonas Valanciunas is already incredibly hyped among the Raptor fan base.  The entire basketball world will get a chance to see what the buzz is all about this summer when he plays for Lithuania in the Olympics.  Due to his size, agility, and experience playing at a high level overseas, Valanciunas is expected to make an immediate impact providing Toronto with a true banger to complement the more skilled, perimeter oriented Andrea Bargnani.  There will likely be a transition period for Valanciunas as he acclimates himself to the NBA game but his addition will be highly anticipated.

3. Point Guard:
If the team re-signs Jerryd Bayless, this does not become a pressing need.  However, if Bayless is not brought back, the Raps will be searching for a point guard especially since Jose Calderon will be entering the final year of his contract.

4. Be Frugal:
Despite what GM Bryan Colangelo might think, Toronto is not a hot spot destination for marquee NBA free agents.  Depending on what happens with Bayless, the Raptors could have around $10 million in cap space to spend in free agency.  Colangelo has overpaid to be bring in mediocre talent in the past and I think it’s crucial for him to spend wisely this summer as to not jeopardize the team’s future cap space.  Toronto also has a valuable $7.6 million trade exception from the Leandro Barbosa deal that the team can use if their cap number exceeds the league limit.

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CLICK HERE FOR THE SPORTS BANK’S 2012 NBA MOCK DRAFT

David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu.  He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.

You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.

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