I will go on record for saying that 2012-13 will be the most important season in Toronto Raptors history.
Being a die-hard Raptors loyalist for as long as I can remember, I realize the importance of what next season is going to bring for this franchise.
The future of many current roster members and upper-management personnel will be riding on the progression of this ball club next year.
The Toronto Raptors need to be successful. They are Canada’s team and represent an entire country. When the Toronto Raptors are winning basketball games, the league is better off because of it.
Unfortunately for fans of the franchise, winning games is something this team is not accustomed to doing in recent memory. The Raptors have only one winning season since 2002-03. In their only 5 playoff appearances in team history, Toronto has only made it out of the first round on one occasion.
The team currently sits at 20-39 and is dead last in the Atlantic division. Demar Derozen’s numbers have dropped across the board, Andrea Bargnani has missed a majority of the season due to injury and former first round draft pick Ed Davis has failed to live up to expectations as well.
Not many experts had Toronto being any sort of threat in the Eastern Conference this season anyways. The team lacks quality skill players in so many areas that its hard to take them seriously with the way this roster is currently formed.
Fortunately for Toronto, 2012-13 will bring them help in the form of 2 quality rookies who look to bring immediate help to a roster who so desperately needs it.
That first piece being the Raptors 2011 first round draft pick Jonas Valanciunas.
After spending this season playing league ball in his home country of Lithuania, Valanciunas will finally be able to head overseas in 2012-13 to join the Raptors roster.
Jonas Valanaciunas was considered to be the best big man prospect in the 2011 NBA Draft. He wasn’t able to join the Raptors right away because the team was unable to reach a buyout with his club Lietuvos Rytas.
Standing at 7 feet tall and weighing in at around 230 pounds, Jonas Valanciunas is the ultimate gamble for a team who lacks a quality starting center. His arrival would certainly lead to current center Andrea Bargnani moving down to power forward, which is a more natural position for him considering his knack to stretch the defense with his long-range shooting.
At just 19 years of age, Valanciunas already has plenty of hardware on his resume. He’s a 2-time gold medalist with Lithuania in the FIBA Under-16 and 18 European Championships, as well as a gold medalist in the World Under-19 Championship. He was named tournament MVP on all three occasions.
What the Raptors have consistently lacked for years is a solid big man down low who can bang, rebound and defend. Jonas has the potential to be that man for the Raptors for the next 4-5 years. He has a lot of work to do as far as putting on some more weight so he can compete against NBA quality bigs, as well as adapting to the American style of basketball, but the skies the limit for this kid.
Rafael Araújo he is not.
The 2nd piece to the puzzle will be the Raptors 2012 first-round pick which is expected to be anywhere from pick 3-7.
In whats predicted by many to be the deepest draft since 2003, the Raptors must do their homework and find themselves the right player for their system. Names such as North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Florida’s Bradley Beal and Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb have been mentioned as potential players the Raptors may be interested in selecting.
The arrival of Jonas Valanciunas will neglect any chance the Raptors have of selecting a big man in this summers draft. Finding a slashing, scoring small forward or shooting guard who can mesh well with a large front-court should be the top priority.
Any of the above mentioned names would certainly fit that criteria.
Regardless of whom they select, the Raptors will need to see results right away from Jonas and their newly selected draft pick. Raptors fans have patiently waited for this team to accumulate young players through the draft and have now reached the point where they finally want to see a winning product on the court.
If the Raptors don’t see a turnaround in the win column next season, I can assure you that heads will start rolling from the ground up.
General Manager Brian Colangelo will find himself on the chopping block if this team doesn’t see a drastic improvement. Starting point guard Jose Calderon may finally be sent on his way. The Andrea Bargnani experiment may be put to rest for good. Guys like Derozen and Davis may become expendable to the team.
The time for talk has ended. Its put up or shut up time for the Toronto Raptors. The pieces will be there.
Now make it work.
Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports