Here is the Simmons piece. It's a revolution.
Ultimately, if you don't love the Phoenix Suns maybe you don't really like basketball.
That all said, here's some well deserved love for the Raptors, who have gone from misbegotten horrendous afterthought of a franchise to a team that is becoming a must watch.
Why? Let us count down 10 of the reasons;
10. All but driven into the ground (but still showing signs of life) the Raptors were in need of being 'blowed up real good'. Enter Brian Colangelo. No fewer than nine new faces on the team, including 4 of 5 starting players. This is the direct result of new management at the top - as the Raptors miraculously managed the hiring of Brian Colangelo from the aforementioned Phoenix Suns brain-trust. Colangelo's fingerprints are already on virtually every component of the team (making many wonder how long hold-over Sam Mitchell will stay as coach). How these new pieces have started to come together to form the basis of a compelling team is the major plot-line of the Raptors, but make no mistake, this is not Ford's team or Chris Bosh's team, or even Sam Mitchell's team. It's Brian Colangelo's, and we can all thank goodness for that.
9. BC's BIG trade. One of the moves that had everyone in the Raptor blogosphere apoplectic was the trade of fan favourite 6'10 power-forward Charlie Villaneueva for the 6' point guard T.J. Ford. As a rule in the NBA, you don't trade talented big-men to get smaller players, and the decision by BC to send CV-Smooth elsewhere made the fan base as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Well the fan-base can relax. Ford is not the injury risk spastic shooter we were lead to believe. He's a warp speed, pass-first point guard who can penetrate defenses almost at will, and his injury is a thing of the past. He's wicked smart, and has a developing chemistry with Bosh (as well as a shared Texan background). Ford is clearly in the picture for most improved player in the NBA, having gone from zero to hero by landing with the Raptors. And CV-Smooth? He showed signs of forming a formidable big-man tandem with 7'0" centre Andrew Bogut, but a knee injury has side-lined him for a lengthy stretch. Meanwhile, Ford is breaking ankles and breaking hearts. BC knew he needed to rebuild his team from the PG out, and Ford has all the ingredients; killer speed, smarts, and above all, play-making ability, to be the foundation. Charlie who?
8. Rasho Nesterovich and Cash from the Spurs for Matt Bonner, Alvin Williams and a 2nd rnd pick. Rasho gives the Raptors a legit centreman allowing the team to refocus Bosh as the teams go-to power-forward. Rasho gives them solid defensive play, rebounding, and a handful of points. Most of all though, he gives the team an important anchor to the defense, so that Bosh doesn't have to match-up against every other teams big-man and wear himself out. He may not play a key role in every game (especially when the Raptors go small), but when you need to guard one of the All-star big men (his blanket job on Kevin Garnett was picture perfect for three quarters), Rasho is the guy. Bonner and Williams? Both are riding pine in San Antonio.
7 and 6. Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker. Two moves BC made in the off-season were to sign Garbo (the MVP of the Spanish league), and Parker (MVP of Tel Aviv Maccabi) to add depth to the squad, and each has come close to permanently seizing a starting job. Both bring years of experience in the international league to the table, and both have the kind of all-round game that can plug holes on any squad. Garbo is an excellent rebounder, defender, and passer, with a range on his shot consistent to just inside three point range. Capable of guarding the bigs, and banging in the post when necessary, Garbo is the teams 'glue guy', and along with Rasho gives the team a defensive presence it has lacked as a franchise since Oakley departed )he also has the best nickname in basketball - apparently his Spanish team-mates referred to him as 'the Porn Player' because of his seedy appearance. Awesome). Parker is a responsible Mr. Everything. He can shoot the three, effectively guard even the fastest of the other teams guards, and can drive and kick when necessary. He's not a true rookie (like Garbo), having played a season or two previously before his extended stay in Europe, but Parker has clearly developed his game to provide reliable minutes at the 2 Guard or small forward for the Raptors. Typical BC moves - identifying overseas players who have something that can contribute to the Raptors and getting them into the organization. Why trade for a great player when you can just sign one as a free agent?
5. Jose Calderone. How important is this guy to the Raptors? He's becoming the Leandro Barbosa of Toronto. Last years bench warmer is now good enough to start as a PG for almost half the league (can you imagine what the Lakers would look like with him?) and he continuously pushes Ford for the top PG spot on his team. Ironically, he may also be the better overall floor general at this stage as Ford still has the habit of going faster than his own brain or ball-handling skills can sometimes deal with, creating turnovers out of scoring chances. When Ford and Bosh came out and crapped the bed in a dismal first quarter against Wince Carter and the Nets, it was Calderone who lead the bench guns to a 50+ pt night and kept the team competitive. He never complains, always gives a solid effort, and he doesn't mind that Ford gets the headlines. He's money.
4. Sam Mitchell. Sure there have been some substitution issues in a lot of games (mostly early on when you know he is being unusual in handing out the minutes because he wants to see certain players perform in different situations), but he hasn't made a glaring mistake late in games with defensive assignments like he used to, and showed against Dallas that he is capable of getting his team ready to play even the best of the league. Mitchell knows he is not the GM's golden boy. He knows that Colangelo probably has all of the assistant coaches in Phoenix on speed-dial just waiting for their contracts to expire so he can legally poach them. He knows he is on everybody's 'The next coach to be fired' list. He knows. He just doesn't care. With all of the distractions that could be derailing the team (injuries to Bosh and Ford during a crucial road-trip, etc.), Mitchell has somehow navigated them through the worst and towards a possible playoff berth.
3. Chris Bosh. Is getting everything he ever asked for;
- A partner in crime committed to getting him the ball in scoring position - Check (TJ Ford)
- A true centre to take the hardest defensive assignments off his plate - Check (Rasho)
- Depth players to help the team stay in games when he isn't on the floor - Check (Calderone, Garbo, Parker, Bargnani, etc.)
In return, he's delivering All-Star quality numbers at around 25pts and 12 rebounds a game. He's becoming ever more assertive in the post, is developing an understanding of when and where to push at a defense, and he is even adding the long bomb three to his arsenal. In short, he's holding up his end of the bargain. If he can keep his snarl going for longer portions of the game, he'll be almost unstoppable.
2. Andrea Bargnani
The rookie was a controversy as the number one overall pick in what was considered to be a weak NBA draft (because it is the first draft impacted by the ban on drafting under 19's) but he has proven that he has the goods to be better than anyone expected (except the Raptors scouts). Espn and others had him pegged as a soft 6'10" (probably because they weren't that interested in scouting him), but he is in fact a legit 7 footer, and his skill set is way better than originally thought. Why so exciting? He has the speed of someone several inches shorter, he can move and dribble with either hand, he has lightning fast passing abilities, his BB IQ is off the charts, and oh yeah, did I mention he's built like a close-in finisher, but has range on his shooting to way past the three point line. All in all, he only needs to add a little mass to his frame so he can bang with the other bigs, and a little experience. Once he adds those, he'll be even more unstoppable than Bosh.
1. Bryan Colangelo has a vision. What is his vision exactly? Well, we are fortunate enough to be able to see what a BC built team looks like - and they are 26 and 2 in their last 28 games.