TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on the Raptors' need for a good start, a healthy Anderson Varejao, the return of Danny Granger, the improved De Andre Jordan and the Rockets juggling free agent addition Asik with Howard.
1. Raptors open pre-season action: Last season, the Raptors only lost one game in the pre-season and played really well before having a disastrous 4-19 start to the regular season and for all intents and purposes, the season was over. Getting off to a good start come Oct 30 and beyond is what matters. I was one of the ones lured in by the impressive pre-season only to be disappointed by the early season play. This season, whatever works for head coach Dwane Casey and his staff in their preparation for the Oct 30th opener vs. Boston is paramount. They know exactly what they need to work on, what they have to put into their offensive and defensive systems and, most importantly, how they want to experiment with roles/playing time so you know your team well enough when the games count for real. The W's are nice at any time, yet a cohesive/prepared group at the end of the month is the goal. Here we go.
2. Anderson Varejao (Cavs): Having him healthy and in the lineup will be huge for the Cavaliers. He was having a very nice season (14ppg and 14rpg) last year before he got injured. You have him out there and you get some minutes from Andrew Bynum and this team will be tough to play against. I've already heard the discussion that Varejao will be trade bait since he's got an expiring contract. Maybe so, but developing a winning team that makes the playoffs is huge for an organization hoping to take the next step and maybe lure Varejao's old teammate (some guy in Miami) back to Ohio next summer. Varejao helps the Cavs have a better chance at winning and, unless they get blown away by a trade offer for him, concentrate on getting W's.
3. Danny Granger (Pacers): Good to see him back on the court. Real curious how he will adjust to Paul George's increased role/profile on the team and his role possibly changing. He's a good professional scorer who will add a new element of firepower and depth to the Pacers attack. Over the course of a long season, having a guy like Granger is quite a luxury. It will be very interesting to see how head coach Frank Vogel handles the situation on a daily basis and whether president Larry Bird stays with Granger or tries to dangle him in the trade market. Either way, a healthy Granger helps the organization.
4. De Andre Jordan (Clippers): I found Doc Rivers comments about him to be encouraging. Rivers alluded to the fact that he would have loved having Kevin Garnett in LA yet not at the expense of Jordan and also emphasized that he's a very valuable defender and much improved. Obviously, Rivers is trying to pump up Jordan's tires and let him know that he's a significant piece to the new-look Clippers. He's a guy that can protect the paint, rebound on both ends, get you garbage points in the lane and play with energy. Can he be a consistent post player and free-throw shooter? Can you have him on the court in crunch time? Only time will tell but it's clear that Rivers wants to see it through for a while and figure out whether he's got more room for growth.
5. Omer Asik (Rockets): They made a run at him, luring him away from the Bulls as a free agent last year and now he's trying to figure out where he'll fit with the new free agent, Dwight Howard. Do I see the two of them being able to play extensively together? Highly unlikely. How Kevin McHale sees this through will be important for this potential trade chip. If given minutes, he's a player that can be a consistent double/double guy for you. Asik has already expressed concern about how it will all unfold. My guy tells me that GM Daryl Morey is a bold/forward thinking operator and won't let this fester for long. If it's not working, they'll be swinging a deal. Better to be proactive than reactive.