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HtOST: McNeill On CB4 and the Class of '03

A Daily Babble Production: How the Other Side Thinks

With the Celtics playing a home-and-home set with the Raptors between yesterday and tonight, it seemed only fair to hit you with a double dose of insights from our favorite Raptors experts.  On Saturday, Jeff checked in with Tas Melas of The Basketball Jones.  This time around, we send our customary barrage of questions at Ryan McNeill, Raptors devotee and editor of Hoops Addict.  Ryan is one of my favorite folks around the blogosphere, and he and I have been exchanging emails regularly about the Celtics' Atlantic Division foe since Sam Mitchell's firing a month into the season.  Today, Ryan chats with us about Jose Calderon, Jermaine O'Neal and the new coaching situation in Toronto, and he makes a bold assertion about where Chris Bosh will rank in his draft class before all is said and done...

SW: You and I chatted back when Sam Mitchell was fired in the first week of December, and you indicated that though Mitchell probably wasn't deserving of the axe, he was the predictable choice as a fall guy in Toronto.  A month (and a 8-13 start under Jay Triano) later, how have your feelings changed about Sam, if at all?  What has changed around the team with Jay Triano at the helm?

RM: It's not that I felt Mitchell deserved to keep his job, it's that the timing of the firing was horrible.  It's been since Bryan Colangelo took over that he's wanted to change coaches, he just had his hands tied because Mitchell lucked into his Coach of the Year award a couple of seasons back.  After he won the award, Mitchell's contract expired, and it would have looked bad for the franchise to part ways with him.  Then, last season the team tanked, but you can't fire a coach less than a year after winning that award and one year into a new deal. I think BC should have bitten the bullet last summer or stuck it out with Mitchell this season. Throwing Triano into the fire without having a training camp combined with minimal practice time is the reason for the 8-13 record.

However, with that all being said, I think Triano is the breath of fresh air this franchise desperately needed. His offensive schemes are what Colangelo likes, and the players are really responding to his coaching style. I wouldn't be surprised to see Toronto enjoy one of the best second halves in the NBA and surge into the playoffs as the sixth seed.

SW: Despite the slow start record-wise, is Triano positioning himself to have any chance to retain the job on a permanent basis?  If not, who would you like to see get the nod next season, and what do you think the team will do?

RM: I think Triano has earned the respect of the front office and players despite the team's 7-12 record.  While the record looks bad, the team has surged out to huge first quarter leads in most of those losses and has wilted in the fourth quarter.  That's a problem the coaching staff should be able to easily address as the season goes on.

The other reason for the slow start is that Toronto's barely had any practice time since the coaching change. NBA teams rarely practice during the season due to travel schedules, and I believe one of the few times the team had a block of days where they could practice and start implementing Triano's schemes was over the Christmas break. Not to be a Triano apologist, but he needs some more time to implement his schemes before we can judge him.

If anything, the way he's revived Andrea Bargnani might just allow him to keep his job. If Toronto can play some impressive ball in the second half of the season and lock up the sixth or seventh seed, that may just be enough to remove the interim title.

SW: Jose Calderon's production looks great statistically - better than 13 points and nearly 9 assists per game plus a 63 percent true shooting mark.  But are his defensive liabilities as bad as they are rumored to be?

RM: I think Calderon's hamstring issues have really hurt him this season, especially on the defensive end.  Even though he's now healed from the hamstring issue, by playing through this issue he's injured his leg.  While he will never make first team defensive honours, he's not as bad of a defender as some people are making him out to be.

SW: What is the ceiling for a team whose best player is Chris Bosh?

RM;  Really?  Are you kidding me?  I think you'll find in the summer of 2010 that Bosh is the second most coveted free agent behind LeBron James.  Every basketball fan south of the border knows Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, but within the next few seasons, he will be known as the second best player in that draft.

SW: The JO experiment: How would you evaluate it at this point?

RM: Evaluating this deal is tricky if you just look at stats.  Is O'Neal earning his pay cheque if you look at the 14.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks?  No way!  But if you take a step back and look at the toughness he's brought to this team, the pressure he's taken off Bosh and the defensive prowess he brings, then yes, he's worth his pay cheque.

The other aspect you need to look at is what we gave up.  By giving up a back-up point guard (T.J. Ford), back-up centre (Rasho Nesterovic), 14th man (Maceo Baston) and a draft pick that would have been buried on our bench (Roy Hibbert) I don't really see any problems with this deal.  O'Neal is someone who has started a ton of games for us while anchoring our defense and helping out on the boards.  I think big men are at a premium, and considering what we gave up, this deal is still a gem for us.

I think the biggest part of this deal is O'Neal's contract expires in time for the free agency bonanza of 2010.  With his $24 million to spend, that means we can lock in another premium addition to play alongside Bosh.  Ford's deal was worth nearly $10 million and keeping him to be our sixth man would have prevented that from happening.

SW: What is the most intriguing facet about this team that fans around the league don't know?

RM: Jay Triano is the first Canadian to become a head coach in the NBA.  While some may see this as a novelty act to sell tickets, he has the coaching resume to back this accomplishment up.  He's been on the Raptors coaching staff for eight seasons, he coached the Canadian National team for seven seasons (during which time Steve Nash became one of his biggest fans) and the past few summers he's coached the United States select team.  Triano may not be a household name south of the border, but he's one of the more respected coaches in North America.

SW: Time for a Daily Babble staple: word association.  Just the first word, phrase or thought that comes to mind, please:

Andrea Bargnani: He is making Bryan Colangelo look like a genius for not giving up on him despite Raptors fans begging him to.

Kevin Garnett: defensive intensity                   

Air Canada Centre: a first rate hockey facility that is "borrowed" by the Raptors for games

Raptors fans: I think Toronto might be one of the few cities to boo the home team when they are down two points to New Orleans in the fourth quarter. Yes, this actually happened last month, and I'm incredibly embarrassed about it.

Will Solomon: Holly MacKenzie's favourite player.

Jamario Moon: This is the kind of glue guy teams need to win games. It's a shame fans here in Toronto don't know enough to appreciate what he brings to the table each night.

Much thanks to Ryan for taking the time to come aboard today, and good luck to the Raptors tonight.  But in the meantime, label me intrigued intrigued by the comment that graced the title of today's piece.  How do you feel Chris Bosh compares to the other members of the 2003 draft class?