When a team has been residing at the top of their Conference for nearly the entire season, there shouldn’t be too many hopes and wishes for the New Year. However, things could always get better if President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri could apply his magic touch to this roster one more time or maybe a little more good luck was to appear in Toronto.
There are hopes and wishes to be fulfilled at nearly every position on the Raptors.
Ujiri has made it perfectly clear and just in case someone wasn’t listening, get busy and vote Kyle Lowry to start for the NBA’s Eastern Conference All-Star team. Lowry has carried this team on his shoulders since DeMar DeRozan was injured and can lay claim to being the best point guard in franchise history. He’s earned the fans’ support and having a player voted to the All-Star team is one of this franchise’s biggest wishes.
During the NBA Draft process, Ujiri never hid his interest in acquiring Canadian prospect Tyler Ennis, but for some unknown reason, the point guard heavy Suns took him just two spots ahead of Toronto to bury him four players back at the point guard spot on their roster. Ennis has played all of 51 minutes in Phoenix. Maybe Ujiri could dangle rookie center Lucas Nogueira to acquire Ennis as the Raptors third string point guard?
When DeMar DeRozan injured his Adductor tendon (groin strain), everyone knew this could take a while, but it’s been over a month and the organization, teammates and fans have been left hoping for his quick return. DeRozan has looked good working out on the sidelines lately, so his indeterminate return date is starting to look closer. The wish in Toronto now is for DeRozan to become the missing piece to an NBA Finals run.
Ujiri scored big when he picked up James Johnson as a free agent this summer, but this year’s hopes and wishes are still tied to the development of the enigmatic Terrence Ross.
Ross can shoot the long ball, he is high-flyer who can finish spectacularly around the rim and he teases everyone with signs of becoming a dramatic lockdown defender. The wish is for consistency. Ross still disappears during games, forgets to drive into open lanes to take unnecessary long jump shots and often plays like the young inexperienced player that he is at both ends of the court. The hope is he can start putting it all together more frequently in time for the playoffs.
The Raptors are hoping Amir Johnson’s ankles hold up in a big way. The team has depth at power forward, but Johnson is the Raptors defensive anchor and primary backup to Jonas Valanciunas at center, they don’t really have a replacement for what he brings to the table.
There are those who are wishing for an upgrade or even just a more reliable replacement for Johnson, but he and DeRozan are the longest tenured players in Toronto and Amir Johnson provides a big part of the glue that makes up the Raptors chemistry. It would be very risky to take the fan and team-favorite Johnson out of the Raptors rotation during the season. Toronto is hoping he stays healthy.
The Raptors best rebounder by a wide margin has been Valanciunas and on a team that can only barely hold their own on the boards, this young center has been taking an increasingly pivotal role. The hope is he keeps improving at the same pace witnessed going back to last season. He is the Raptors present and future under the rim.
The wish is for some rebounding help. While Head Coach Dwane Casey has been doing a good job of managing Johnson’s minutes, Toronto has been playing their starting power forward too many minutes at center and they need to take the pressure off his ankles if they want him fresh for the playoffs.
Chuck Hayes has been great in specialty situations and has even been the difference in several Raptors wins, but at 6’6, they can’t count on him to grab boards over 7-footers. Tyler Hansbrough steps in nearly every night to soak up a few minutes at center and brings his hard hat, but he is 6’9, primarily a below the rim player and better at battling with power forwards.
While this backup center by committee approach has proven to be more than adequate in most games, a veteran athletic big man that can grab boards and block shots is high on Ujiri’s wish list – unfortunately that kind of player is also high on a lot of other teams’ wish lists as well.
A GM’s job is never done and the Raptors have hopes and wishes for the New Year. Fortunately, outside of a couple of possible roster tweaks, the Raptors best chance at a dramatic improvement is already in their own locker room. It isn’t often a team can hold onto first place in the conference while their only All-Star is out of action for over a month. This team’s best hope for taking another step comes when DeRozan returns, but their biggest wish while they wait is for their fans to vote Lowry onto the All-Star team.
After 30 games, 17 of them at home, the Toronto Raptors lead the NBA in attendance at 334,624, but their fans just aren’t getting the job done in the All-Star voting. In the early All-Star ballot returns, Toronto doesn’t have any players even close to being voted into the big game.
Fields has the highest salary of any player on the Raptors who isn’t part of the regular rotation and that big expiring contract could make him a key piece in any trade President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri might make in an attempt to upgrade the team’s roster for the postseason and beyond.