Raptors lackluster season leads to uncertain future

It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons.

Actually, scratch that; it was really quite in the middle.

The 2009-10 NBA season was nothing short of a roller-coaster ride for the Toronto Raptors, where highs were coupled with lows, and the end result was missing the playoffs by one measly game.

After hitting a season-high six games above .500 at the mid-February All-Star break, the beginning of the end presented itself shortly thereafter. Raptor captain Chris Bosh went down with an ankle sprain in a Feb. 17 overtime loss to Memphis, and the squad would go on a 6-14 run, putting them in a battle for their playoff lives.

Raptors head coach Jay Triano points to the break as being a key turning point in the season and his team’s untimely collapse.

“We had the best record in the history of this franchise going into the All-Star break, but things kind of fell apart after that,” said Triano.

“Post-All-Star break, because of the injury to Chris Bosh, we kind of struggled a bit [] It just proved to be too much when you don’t have your star player; it becomes a little bit more difficult to try to find ways to score.”

That being the case, it certainly didn’t help Toronto’s cause when they would again lose Bosh, their franchise power forward, with five games to play in the regular season due to a fractured nose. The loss of CB4, combined with an ill-timed five-game losing streak in April, left the Raps needing to win their final two games of the season as well as receive some help from their Eastern rival Chicago Bulls.

The former, they could handle; the latter, however, was not to be.

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“It was disappointing,” said Triano of missing the playoffs in his first full season as head coach. “We had put ourselves in a position where we needed help. I give Chicago credit; they got on a great run at the end of the year and won 10 of their last 14 games. They got hot at the right time.

“It’s disappointing anytime you miss something, especially by the slimmest of margins like we did. You reflect on all the games throughout the year that slipped out of your hands, as any one of those wins would have been the difference between making the playoffs and not making it.”

Indeed, with a final record of 40-42, any one of those 42 losses could be examined as the elusive ‘one that got away’. However, one could also point to the team’s slow start, where they went 7-13 to open the season. At that point, Toronto owned the worst defensive rating in the league, forcing the coaching staff to call a team meeting in mid-December as a means of regaining focus and getting the Raps on track.

“Nothing happened in that meeting that was extraordinary other than the fact that I think these guys got to understand and got to know each other a little bit better,” said Triano. “When that happens, you start to play better as a team, and I think that’s what the meeting did more than anything.”

With a roster of mainly fresh faces, Triano believes that his team required some time to gel before finding their identity.

“The biggest difference we had this year was that we had nine new players,” he said. “They had to learn about each other, they had to learn about me and I had to learn about them.”

The team’s inability to work as a unit was painfully evident at times, and hindered their presence defensively.

“As a team, we had to be better defensively,” said Triano. “We were fifth in the NBA in scoring, we were the number one scoring team in the Eastern Conference, we were fifth in the NBA in field-goal percentage and sixth in three-point shooting. So, we didn’t have problems scoring – our biggest obstacle was trying to stop the opponent.”

Whether the Raptors finished last in the league or fell short by just one game, the fact of the matter is that they failed to find the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

The season did bring its positives, though, one of which being the play of their young talent.

“We were very pleased with the development of some of our younger guys – DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems had very, very good years,” said Triano. “We’re watching them get better and trying to find pieces in and around them.”

As the 2010 NBA Draft approaches, Toronto will be looking to acquire some of those pieces in their quest to complete the puzzle.

“Depending on what happens in free agency and with the draft, we’re going to be a very, very different team,” said Triano.

New faces have already started to appear, as earlier this month, Toronto’s coaching staff was given a jolt with the addition of veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo.

“He’s seen everything at every different level, and we just think that that was one thing that we didn’t have on our staff – we didn’t have the veteran ‘wise-guy’ who has seen and experienced everything,” said Triano. “We think that he’s got the right frame of mind to come in here and help us get better as a staff.”

With both the staff and roster looking to improve in the off-season, certainly all eyes and ears are on Bosh, as his decision to stay or go will be a major factor in determining where the Raptors go from here.

Many uncertainties lie ahead for Canada’s NBA contingent, and the current off-season will be crucial in shaping the appearance of this Toronto team when they take to the court in October.

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