2008 NBA Preview: #15 Toronto Raptors

Offseason Movement: The Raptors turned their depth at point guard (T.J. Ford) into a former All-Star big man (Jermaine O’Neal) in a nice trade that could really pan out if O’Neal can stay healthy. He has two years and $44 million remaining on his contract, so it’s a risky move, but if he can play 70 or 80 games, he’ll really give a big boost to the Toronto frontline.
Keep Your Eye On: Jose Calderon, PG
It was Calderon’s fine play (PER: 20.51, #5 amongst point guards) that made Ford expendable. He played 30 minutes a game last season, and will be asked to increase that to 35-38 minutes. That extra PT will give Calderon the opportunity to become a star. Last season, he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 assists, while shooting 52% from the field and 43% from long range. In short, he’s the quintessential point guard that is flying way under the radar.
The Big Question: Are the Raptors tough enough to take that next step?
With a projected starting lineup of Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh and O’Neal, there’s no doubt that there is plenty of talent in Toronto, but do they have the mental toughness to win a series or two in the playoffs? That’s the next step that this team has to prove it can make.
Outlook: If O’Neal, Calderon and Bosh can stay healthy, the Raptors are a pretty much a shoe-in for the playoffs. However, with Boston and Philly, the Atlantic is looking like the toughest division in the East, so if they falter or suffer a bad injury or two, it’s not inconceivable that Toronto could be fighting for a postseason berth in April.

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2008 NBA Preview: #23 Indiana Pacers

Offseason Movement: The team traded Jermaine O’Neal to the Raptors for T.J. Ford (pictured). The team (supposedly) wants to run, and Ford is a lightning quick floor general who can make it happen. I thought the Knicks missed out on an opportunity to acquire Ford, but the Raptors probably weren’t interested in anything the Knicks had to offer. The team also unloaded Shawne Williams, who had taken up residence in Larry Bird’s doghouse after being arrested for possession of marijuana.
Keep Your Eye On: Brandon Rush, GF
The Pacers acquired Rush by sending draft pick Jerryd Bayless to Portland. He is a silky smooth wing who can shoot the ball and take it to the rack. He’s seasoned and is ready to contribute immediately. The Pacers are lacking athleticism, so he gives them some punch off the bench.
The Big Question: Is this a case of addition by subtraction?
On the surface, an O’Neal for Ford deal seems like a win for the Raptors, but the Pacers were able to rid themselves of O’Neal’s salary and at the same time replace Jamaal Tinsley, who has fallen out of favor with GM Larry Bird. The team’s talent level may have taken a hit, but its chemistry should be better.
Outlook: With Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster slated to start, the Pacers might have one of the most unathletic lineups in the league. Dunleavy is all right, but Murphy and Foster? Luckly, Ford and up-and-coming swingman Danny Granger give the starting lineup some punch, while Rush provides some juice off the bench. Drafting Roy Hibbert conflicts with the Pacers stated “run first” mentality. The ship is starting to turn around, but it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, unless the chemistry is immediate and substantial.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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