In week four of the "Tweet Bag" we take a look at Valanciunas' strong play, a timeline for possible trades and whether or not the time for panic has set in for the Raptors. As always thanks for the questions and tweet me @timpchisholm if you want me to answer one of your questions next week.
Are you as impressed with (Valanciunas) as I am? Far more developed than I expected. Has an ok offense, hustles hard and in year 1? Wow
I am very impressed with the play of Valanciunas so far, but I don't feel it's been beyond expectations. He's averaging 8.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg and has had to work through some foul trouble early, about what you'd expect in the first month for a young big man project.
I think when it comes to Valanciunas and the city of Toronto, what you're really working against is people bracing their expectations because of perpetual disappointment. People were told for months and months how good Valanciunas was, then they saw him look overmatched at the Olympics (for most that was their first exposure to him) and they lowered their expectations accordingly.
I still think some fans are reluctant to really embrace Valanciunas, fearing he'll either peak well short of his potential or that he'll leave Toronto if he ever lives up to it. That's the only history Raptors fans have to draw from, but hopefully they've finally found a player that will buck both of those trends.
When can you see some moves happening?
It's tough to say. Clearly this Raptors roster is imbalanced and could use a move or two to smooth it out, but it's all about maximizing assets in the NBA, while being mindful of the hole waiting too long can put you in.
For instance, the Raptors would probably get the best value for their players at the trade deadline (February 21, 2013), because by then opposing teams generally know if they need an asset or two for a run or if they are shedding salary in anticipation of a lottery appearance. Looking at the Raptors today, however, they probably cannot wait that long to make a move. The odds of them making a move before December 15th are slim, though, because players signed this off-season aren't eligible to be traded until then. While Toronto may not be targeting a summer signee, those little end-of-bench contracts that get signed in August and September are often needed to balance the salaries in larger moves.
So, that's your likely window for the Raptors to make trades within. They'd love to do them earlier rather than later, but they also aren't going to panic-move someone at below market value, so that could delay how quickly they could get a meaningful trade done.
Is anyone on the @Raptors untouchable right now? Or is everyone on the trade block?
Bryan Colangelo always says that no player is untouchable, and in a broad sense that's true. If he can trade one player for a vastly better player, he'll do it. However, in practical terms there is little-to-no chance that anyone will offer something for Valanciunas that the team deems superior to their projections for his future. Likewise, it would be hard to convince the team to move Lowry, as they not only see him as a team leader but his contract is one of the best values in the entire NBA.
Also, it would be hard to move DeRozan's newly-extended contract for cap reasons.
Cause for concern yet?
I've been a bit of a holdout when it comes to boarding the panic train, but dropping much-needed wins against Charlotte and Detroit, which sunk the Raptors to 3-10, has me considering buying a ticket.
The problem is that Toronto's early schedule is tough, and they need to grab the winnable games so as to avoid falling into such a deep hole with regards to their win-loss record that they cannon dig themselves out of it when the schedule softens in January.
Honestly, for me this isn't entirely about quality of play. Yes, they've been uneven, but they've also been beset by injuries and yet have been in a position to win nearly every game they've played. Fans lament the close losses, but they show that the club is at least competitive and can put themselves into a position to win games. A possession here and a possession there and this team is 5-8 or even 6-7 (this is especially true considering they made the play to win the Charlotte game but were denied by the refs). However, they did lose those games, are seven games below .500 and are watching their season slip away only three weeks in.
What's keeping the Raptors afloat, though, is the relative instability of the East right now. Today the Raptors are tied for 11th, but teams like Boston, Indiana, Chicago and Philadelphia haven't really separated themselves from the pack, Milwaukee is struggling after a hot start and it's hard to imagine Charlotte staying in the playoff picture all season long. There is time for the Raptors to right the ship; there just isn't a ton of it.