Jun 16, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra looks on as small forward LeBron James (6) runs up the court against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of game five in the 2013 NBA Finals at the AT

Raps need bigger tent

The Toronto Raptors waived Quentin Richardson, which barely qualifies as news, and certainly not as a surprise. He was a throw-in to the Andrea Bargnani deal for salary-matching purposes, and while I hold my nose at having to buy out two players (the other: Marcus Camby), I can understand the reasoning. What I can’t fathom is word from the Raptors office to the effect that they don’t anticipate filling the 15th spot on the roster. Does that make sense, and are they really planning, to commence training camp with only 14 players?

I’m opposed on principle to the notion that pro athletes have a guarantee of making the big team prior to camp. While it seems counter-intuitive, I’ve seen too much evidence (over the course of many seasons, and in all sports) of the need to ensure players never get too comfortable. For the sake of the team, everyone on it should always feel he’s a few bad games, or even a few bad plays, away from the bench or a demotion to the farm. Scotty Bowman, who won a ridiculous number of Stanley Cups, was a huge proponent of this “keep ‘em off balance and running scared” attitude. His players hated him, but they kept winning.

Nov 21, 2012; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward/center Tim Duncan (21) talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the negative perspective – let’s think positive. There’s always the possibility of a training camp surprise player to gladden the hearts of jaded fans. It’s not at all unusual for Joe-from-the-sticks to arrive as an unheralded free agent or late-round draft pick and make the team through hustle and coach-ability.

The Raps are not the San Antonio Spurs or the Miami HEAT. Those teams have the luxury of zeroing in on those players who have proven they can produce wins under coaches (Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra, respectively) who demand adherence to team goals. Alas, there is no identifiable “Raptor way” to play NBA basketball. Until that style emerges, if it ever does, I’d have training camp be a cattle call. Invite a bunch of free agents, and players like Jonny Flynn who are aware they are already viewed as washouts. Let’s get some ultra-hungry guys challenging the incumbents, and perhaps posting big numbers in pre-season.

Everyone’s got to sing for their supper.

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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Tags: Masai Ujiri Miami Heat San Antonio Spurs Toronto Raptors

  • Guy

    A player that fills the 15th roster spot for the Raptors will have absolutely no impact on the team. No 15th player is going to make any of the core players uncomfortable or worry for their job. And considering Ujiri wants to maintain flexibility with the team as currently constructed, leaving that roster spot open makes perfect sense. This makes it easier to absorb an extra player in a trade, which they’d likely have to do should they decide to deal Rudy or Derozan because of their big salaries.

    I like the move.

    • Newmarket_Brian

      Hi Guy:
      I should have made clear in my post that I don’t particularly care how many players make the team after training camp; it’s the number of players who start camp I’m interested in. I agree that the fifteenth player is largely moot, barring a rash of injuries, but we need a solid squad in the D-League. That’s why Masai should be shaking the trees for eager players.
      Depth matters so much in the NBA.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • cd hall

    Guy you are right , it’s a smart team move!! This gives Ujiri the flexibility that if the roster as currently constructed doesn’t jell to his liking, he can make trades easier as you described.
    Brian, I also agree with you about the guaranteed contracts. Any contract (3-4 years) should be dealt with like 3 or 4 one year contracts and the player must make the team each year to continue his contract. That way if the players performance drops off, he will be let go and become a free agent.(but the team is not responsible for the remainder of the contract) IE Andre Bargs!!!! If you think that is too harsh, then guarantee the first 2 years ONLY for any contract.
    Also ,why should a team pay any amount to a player who refuses to report to a team after being traded!!!! IE Camby. In the real world, that person would be SUED not have his contract bought out!!!!! Your thoughts.

    • Newmarket_Brian

      Hi cd:
      I still burn when I think about Alonzo Mourning getting paid $10M to go away after refusing to report as a result of the Vince trade. The NBA seems to operate in some sort of a parallel, and upside-down, universe when it comes to contract obligations.
      I don’t know about whether a player should be sued, but surely he should be suspended, WITHOUT pay, if he refuses to report. You and I would be fired in similar circumstances.
      Somehow we have to find and keep players who want to be Raptors, and avoid the mercenaries and complacent types. It may be tough to figure out who those guys are, but our GM is well-paid to make those determinations.
      Thanks for commenting.