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Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson greets head coach Dwane Casey (L) during the team's first practice of their NBA basketball season in Toronto December 9, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Mike Cassese/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson greets head coach Dwane Casey (L) during the team's first practice of their NBA basketball season in Toronto December 9, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

Team Report

New Raptors' coach faces uphill task Add to ...

The one thing the Raptors need more than anything is the one thing they cannot get:

Time.

With a new coach ready to implement a new system for a relatively young roster that’s coming off a 21-61 season, a lightning-quick training camp and just two exhibition games are hardly going to provide enough time for things to gel quickly.

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Dwane Casey, who takes over from the departed Jay Triano, is facing some monumental tasks. He is known as one of the best defensive assistant coaches in the game -- and a Raptors team that’s notoriously inept defensively could certainly use his expertise -- but it takes a while for players to get used to something new.

Eight days or so of camp and a couple of preseason games is going to make it difficult for Casey to have the team fully ready to start the season. The concern has to be that if the Raptors get off to a slow start, they could be buried quickly in the abbreviated regular season.

And it’s not as if Casey has a surplus of talent or a veteran roster.

The longest-serving players currently under contract are point guard Jose Calderon and big man Andrea Bargnani, and they’ve got just seven and six years in, respectively. Swingman DeMar DeRozan is in his third year. Power forward Ed Davis is going into his second. Centre Amir Johnson has been in the league for six years, but he’s been a regular in a rotation for only about three.

That’s barely the kind of veteran knowledge that will make it easy to either pick up a new system or have the ability to hit the ground running when the season begins.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Free agent forward Rasual Butler signed with the Raptors, the team announced Saturday.

The nine-year NBA vet has averaged 8.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 23.9 minutes for his career.

A 36.1 per cent shooter from 3-point range, Butler also has extensive playoff experience with 30 appearances.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward averaged 4.7 points and 1.6 rebounds combined in 46 games for the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls last season.

He averaged a career-high 11.9 points and 33 minutes in 2009-10 with the Clippers.

--Teams usually coming off such a bad season at least would have the promise of a high draft pick to look forward to.

Not so much in Toronto.

Jonas Valanciunas, the 7-footer chosen fifth by Toronto last season, won’t be with the team at all this season. He’s on a one-year deal with Lietuvos Rytas of the Lithuanian league and has no contract “out.” He won’t join the Raptors until the 2012-13 season.

--There will be a new hierarchy to the Toronto front office this season.

In an effort to add some “depth” to his management team, Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo hired long time NBA executive Ed Stefanski as the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations.

Along with assistant general manager Marc Eversely and former head coach and current “consultant” Jay Triano, Colangelo has a three-pronged advisory council to help with significant decisions.

--F/G Mickael Pietrus should soon join the Raptors. The team was negotiating a trade for the swingman with the Suns and were expected to send a second-round draft pick in exchange for him.

--C Jamaal Magloire signed a one-year contract with the Raptors for the veteran’s minimum. Magloire averaged 1.9 points and 3.4 rebounds last season for the Heat.

--F Gary Forbes is expected to sign a two-year contract with the Raptors. He averaged 9.5 and 4.0 assists per game in his 11 games as a starter in Denver.

A QUOTE TO NOTE

“We’d like to see some organic growth of our roster this season.” -- General manager Bryan Colangelo, explaining Toronto’s continued rebuilding efforts.

ROSTER REPORT

With only 10 players under contract as training camp begins -- and with one of them, Linas Klieza, not yet fully recovered from microfracture surgery on his knee last spring -- the Raptors have to make moves simply to have enough bodies around. General manager Bryan Colangelo has hinted that there are no plans to make a huge splash in free agency. Instead, he seems willing to add bit pieces and see how a roster of mainly young players reacts.

Guards:

--Jose Calderon

--DeMar DeRozan

--Jerryd Bayless

--Leandro Barbosa

Analysis: It’s a physically small group lacking in backup depth at shooting guard. Calderon and Bayless are expected to battle for the starting spot. DeRozan is the team’s focal point, but they could add some bodies simply for insurance against injury.

Forwards:

--James Johnson

--Linas Kleiza

--Ed Davis

--Andrea Bargnani

--Mickael Pietrus

--Rasual Butler

--Gary Forbes

Analysis: They are OK at power forward, where Bargnani and Davis are key pieces moving into the future. But small forward is a black hole with Johnson so-so and Kleiza still hurt. That’s where GM Bryan Colangelo has to be most active on the free agency and trade fronts.

Centres:

--Amir Johnson

--Solomon Alabi

--Jamaal Magloire

Analysis: Bargnani can move over and play some centre when he’s on the floor with Davis, but the foul-prone Johnson and raw second-year man Alabi hardly inspire confidence. The Raptors seem willing to wait for 2011 first-round draft pick Jonas Valanciunas to arrive from Lithuania next season, while Magloire helps fill out the roster.

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