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NBA AM: Are You Overlooking The Raptors?
Posted By Lang Greene On September 4, 2013 @ 8:54 am In NBA | No Comments
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On paper the top five teams at the head of the Eastern Conference hierarchy reads, in no particular order, Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York. But one of the more popular topics of note among fans this summer has centered around predicting which of the remaining teams can lock down the final three playoff spots in the conference.
One team being consistently overlooked in the entire process has been the Toronto Raptors. Admittedly, the team has had a relatively quiet summer compared to some of the other suitors seeking playoff berths but the team has the talent to remain relevant in the chase.
The Raptors have a solid mixture of guys with something to prove in contract years and young guys seeking to fully breakthrough.
The question is can the unit gel and make a run.
At the top of the rotation is forward Rudy Gay who is set to earn $17.9 million this season. The forward has an early termination option ($19.3m) for next season and depending on his play can opt test the free agency waters next summer.
Next, in terms of motivation, is point guard Kyle Lowry. The veteran floor general is set to earn $6.2 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Lowry has something to prove after starting slow and enduring an injury plagued 2013 campaign.
Toronto also features two players looking to capitalize on their forward momentum in DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas.
DeRozan’s play noticeably picked up after the arrival of Gay last season and the guard finished the campaign by averaging 22.9 points on 54 percent shooting in April.
Valanciunas showed flashes of becoming a solid big man, especially after the All-Star break, where the center increased his point, rebound and shooting percentages. Valanciunas was also named Most Valuable Player during Las Vegas Summer League play in July and was recently crowned FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is also entering the final year of his deal and is attempting to impress Toronto’s new-look front office led by veteran league executive Masai Ujiri.
It will be an uphill battle for a team which finished 34-48 in 2013 to reach the playoffs, but the team should be in the discussion.
Let’s take a look at the other contenders for the final three playoff spots in the East:
Pressure On Derrick Williams To Perform In Minnesota: Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft class. By most accounts he has failed to live up to the expectations of where he was drafted despite averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in his first two seasons as a pro.
Count T’Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders as one the many expecting much more productivity from Williams this season.
“Derrick hasn’t lived up to that second pick in the draft,” Saunders said according to Phil Ervin of Fox Sports North. “Now, part of it’s his fault; you always have to take responsibility for yourself as a player. The biggest thing he has to do as an inside player: he misses a lot of easy shots. He plays small at the rim, and part of that is he doesn’t locate the rim. It’s almost like he shies away from some contact.”
There will be an extra incentive for Williams to silence some of his doubters. The T’Wolves has until the end of October to decide whether to exercise the fourth year option ($6.3 million) on Williams’ rookie deal.
Despite the frustration in Williams’ slower development, Saunders has faith the third year forward can put it all together.
“I do believe that Derrick has an opportunity,” Saunders said. “He’s lost weight. He wants to come in a lot lighter to be able to play some small forward, also play some power forward as a stretch four.”
The T’Wolves haven’t reached the playoffs since the 2004 campaign, but will enter next season as one of the favorites to earn one of the Western Conference’s eight spots.
The team was busy this summer adding high scoring guard Kevin Martin and defensive forward Corey Brewer in free agency, while also re-signing emerging center Nikola Pekovic to a lucrative five-year deal.
Pacers Get Even Deeper: The Indiana Pacers will enter next season with legitimate championship aspirations. The team features an emerging All-Star in Paul George and three former All-Stars in Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and David West who are all expected to play prominent roles.
The Pacers are close to breaking through having pushed the two-time defending champion Miami HEAT to the brink of elimination in the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. In an effort to get over the hump, Indiana has spent the majority of the summer strengthening its bench unit by adding established veteran talent.
The team’s latest signing is veteran forward Rasual Butler.
According to Real GM, Butler agreed to a non-guaranteed deal with the franchise and will head into training camp looking to make the opening night roster.
Butler, 34, last played in the NBA back in 2012 and logged time with Indiana during Summer League play. He will join a talented assortment of wings already on the roster which includes George, Granger, Chris Copeland and rookie Solomon Hill.
The Pacers also added backup point guard C.J. Watson and veteran power forward Luis Scola in free agency this summer. Not including Butler’s deal, the Pacers have just over $69 million in salary commitments for the 2013-14 campaign. It has long been the organization’s goal to remain under the luxury tax threshold ($71.7 million).
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