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Feb 28, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry (7) posts up Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon (8) during the third quarter at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US Presswire

NBA 2012 Offseason Grades: Toronto Raptors

2011-12 Record: 23-43, fourth in Atlantic Division, 11th in Eastern Conference

2012 NBA Draft: G Terrence Ross (Washington, 8th overall), F Quincy Acy (Baylor, 37th overall)

Offseason Additions: G Kyle Lowry (acquired from Houston Rockets), G Landry Fields (3 years, $20 million), G John Lucas III (2 year deal), F Dominic McGuire (1 year, $854,000), C Jonas Valanciunas (Lietuvos Rytas)

Offseason Losses: G Jerryd Bayless (signed with Memphis Grizzlies), F Gary Forbes (signed with Houston Rockets), F James Johnson (traded to Sacramento Kings),

Re-signed: F Alan Anderson, C Aaron Gray (2 year deal)

Projected Starting Line-up: PG Kyle Lowry, SG Demar DeRozan, SF Landry Fields, PF Andrea Bargnani, C Jonas Valanciunas

OFFSEASON GRADE: B 

The hearts of Toronto Raptors fans all over Canada collectively sank when homegrown hero Steve Nash announced that he would be playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season rather than end his career as a national hero.

It was a tough pill to swallow. The Raptors have been swimming in mediocrity for the past few years and fans were looking for something big to get excited about for the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, the Steve Nash train is long gone. He will never play for the Toronto Raptors. Those dreams will never come intro fruition.

Give credit where credit is due though to General Manager Brian Colangelo. Losing out on the Nash sweepstakes was a bullet to the  heart of the franchise that many thought they wouldn’t recover from. Instead of sulking and standing still, Colangelo went on to make some very exciting and enticing moves that should bring fans back on board with what this team is doing.

In the biggest deal of the summer for Toronto, the Raptors sent forward Gary Forbes and a lightly protected first-round pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry is just what the doctor ordered. In 47 games last season for Houston, Lowry averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals. His tenacity on the defensive end at the point guard position is something this team hasn’t had in years. He will immediately become a favourite of coach Dwayne Casey, who is known for his vast knowledge and creativity on that side of the ball. With all due respect to guys like T.J Ford, Rafer Alston, Mike James, Jarrett Jack and even last years starter Jose Calderon (who is more than likely on his way out of town), Kyle Lowry is the best and most talented point guard this franchise has had since the days of Damon Stoudamire.

With the 8th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors took a gamble and selected guard Terrence Ross out of the University of Washington.

In many Mock Drafts leading up to the big night, Ross was predicted to fall somewhere in the mid-to-late teens. Even on draft night, the analysts covering the event were surprised with the selection.

In his last season at Washington, Ross averaged 16.4 points on 45.4% shooting, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He also shot 37.1% from long-range and 76.6% from the free-throw line.

Ross can certainly shoot the basketball, and has the size and length to be as effective as he was in college at the pro-level as well, but was he the right guy at pick #8? Austin Rivers was the “star” pick and Jeremy Lamb was probably a better fit at small forward for this roster. Terrence Ross is a pure shooter and scorer and will certainly help the Raptors improve on their 90.7 points per game average (third from the bottom) in 2011-12, but if Colangelo was so smitten with Ross, then I’m more than positive they could have traded down and still acquired him. With a top-10 pick, it’s all about getting the best value. I’m not so sure Ross was worth it.

Speaking of draft picks, Toronto’s fifth overall selection in 2011 Jonas Valanciunas will be returning from his club stint in Lithuania to join the Raptors next season.

This is the player that has the mouths of Raptors fans watering. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Toronto has a true blue center with a huge upside. At jus 20 years of age, his accomplishments are already jaw-dropping. Valanciunas was the MVP of the Under-16, 18 and 19 FIBA Europe and World Championships, as well as the Lithuanian Player of the Year for 2011. His Olympic experience in London this summer left little to be desired (4.2 points, 4.0 rebounds), but that shouldn’t halt the Jonas bandwagon in the slightest. Even at his young age, his mind for the game of basketball is vast and quite impressive. Lithuania takes its basketball very seriously. Staying with Lietuvos Rytas for an extra year, improving on his conditioning, his body, his overall skill set and his development as a whole will only benefit Jonas as he enters the NBA in 2012-13. This kid is the real deal and he could very well find himself as the future face of this franchise.

In a move made to take the New York Knicks out of the running for Steve Nash, the Raptors signed small forward Landry Fields to a 3 year, $20 million deal, with the hopes that perhaps if New York matched, they wouldn’t have the money to make a deal for the former 2x MVP. In the end, New York let Fields walk. Landry is now a full-time member of the Toronto Raptors.

I’m not entirely sure what the plan was with this move. Was the offer sheet made to lure Fields away, screw up the plans of the Knicks or did Toronto truly love Fields as a player?

It could be a little bit of both. Fields is a terrific talent, but he isn’t worth $20 million over 3 years, at least now. He saw his numbers drop across the board after an excellent rookie year, but with the Raptors, Landry will find himself in more of an equal opportunity environment, rather than playing fourth or fifth fiddle to guys like Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. He doesn’t really excel at one area of his game, so Fields is more of a jack-of-all-trades type of player. He can shoot the basketball, defend the perimeter and rebound effectively even at his size. Whether he starts or comes off the bench remains to be seen, but whatever role Fields has, he will certainly contribute.

Now if only that contract wasn’t so much..

Toronto also added some nice depth with other under the radar moves. Landing Dominic McGuire gives coach Casey another defensive-minded talent, while second-round pick Quincy Acy out of Baylor is pure energy and can fill in that Reggie Evans type role off the bench with his size and rebounding. John Lucas III is nice insurance at the point guard position with the departure of Jerryd Bayless and the possible departure of Calderon.

I like what Toronto did this offseason, especially as a resident of the great city. The contract for Fields was questionable and the reach for Ross still makes me wonder, but the youth that was added this summer to an already young and talented roster should bring some big optimism and hope to this franchise.

The rest of the Atlantic Division improved just as much these past few months, so it’s encouraging to see the Raptors not stand still and make the necessary adjustments to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports

Tags: Brian Colangelo Dwayne Casey Jonas Valanciunas Jose Calderon Kyle Lowry Landry Fields NBA Offseason Toronto Raptors

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