You can say Jose Calderon is heading into next season with his eyes wide open – which is not the way the current campaign has wound down for the veteran Toronto Raptors point guard.
And from his vantage point, he likes what he sees.
“I’m really excited, I think it will be our year,” the 30-year-old Spaniard said.
The NBA team held its final practice of the lockout-shortened season Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre, in preparation for its final game Thursday against the New Jersey Nets. (The game has been moved forward one hour to a 7 p.m. Eastern start.)
Once again, Calderon will be in uniform but will only play if head coach Dwane Casey runs out of players or insists the guard don a catcher’s mask.
Calderon has missed the last six games recovering from two separate lacerations to his right eye. On April 4, he caught an errant elbow which cut him just above the eyelid. It required four stitches to close and the resulting swelling and rainbow-coloured bruising was something to behold.
Just as that was healing, Calderon was hit in the same eye a week later, which opened up another cut above the eyebrow that required three stitches.
For a 22-43 team that ranks 12th overall in the Eastern Conference standings, there’s nothing really left to play for – other than a higher pick in the draft lottery.
Currently, the Raptors own the sixth-worst record in the NBA, which would give them a 6.3-per-cent chance of landing the No. 1-overall pick at the June event.
Wherever they end up, the Raptors are expecting to land a solid player in a draft where the talent level is high after many U.S. college players opted to remain in school another year to avoid potential issues due to the lockout.
That means the Raptors will be adding at least two lottery picks into their lineup by the time the 2012-13 season rolls around: their top pick from this season, along with Jonas Valanciunas, their first-rounder in 2011.
The 6-foot-11 Lithuanian centre, the fifth player chosen last year, decided to remain in Europe to play professionally for a final season before testing the NBA waters.
All this, plus some salary cap room that will allow general manager Bryan Colangelo the opportunity to add a seasoned NBA body or two to the lineup, is helping to fuel Calderon’s optimism.
“I think we’re going to be much better,” Calderon said. “It’s not going to be about like this year. Yes, we have some young guys coming, but at least with the one guy [Valanciunas] he should know a little better how to play basketball at this level.
“For sure he’s going to need time to adapt his game to the NBA, but he’ll be okay. We’ll be okay I think.”
Despite the lateness in the season, Casey said, the players continue to display a willingness to learn and work during these final few practices: A good sign given the Raptors are about to enter a new phase of their development.
“The growth part, being young, is going to be out the window,” Casey said. “It’s going to be about getting to the playoffs.
“I’m not saying we’ll automatically make it, but it’s going to be that goal.”
The groundwork will begin in earnest in early July, in Las Vegas, where the Raptors will hold a mini-camp before putting a team in a summer league (where the likes of Ed Davis and recent draft picks are expected to play).
Valanciunas could also be there if Lithuania fails to earn a berth at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.