The Toronto Raptors opened training camp on Tuesday with a handful of fresh faces added to a team that was in dire need of reconstruction last season.
Although the Raptors were without a first-round pick in this year's NBA draft, it didn't stop new general manager Masai Ujiri from making some bold roster moves. The biggest off-season move came in July when struggling forward Andrea Bargnani was sent to the New York Knicks in exchange for draft picks and forward Steve Novak. Other notable additions include power forward Tyler Hansbrough, small forward Austin Daye and point guards D.J. Augustin and Dwight Buycks.
"We`re going to go into the exhibition to see what we have, to see how the new additions fit in," head coach Dwane Casey said after practice on Tuesday. "But it`s a huge help because now, the guys that were here last year, the core guys, can coach the new guys."
Perhaps the favour can be reciprocated, too. New players Novak, Hansbrough, Daye and Augustin have playoff experience under their belts and are eager to bring that leadership to the Raptors' squad.
"I`m in a winning mentality," said Daye, who received a taste of playoff action last year with the Memphis Grizzlies. "It`s experience I can bring. I know some things that can help, especially situation-wise. "
The players were greeted at training camp with a firm message from their coach: defence is vital.
The Raptors excelled in their ability to control the basketball last season, achieving one of the league's lowest turnovers per game averages, but finished 18th in the league in defensive field goal percentage, falling from their seventh-place rank the previous year.
Casey said his squad emphasized offence during last year's training camp because they finished with one of the worst offensive records in the league the prior year. Now, the trick will be to find a happy medium.
"We`re going to start (camp) with defence," Casey said. "Last year, I don't think it was a mistake, but we had to get better offensively. We tilted the pendulum a little too far to the offensive side. This year it's going to be back to the defensive side."
Amidst the fresh faces at training camp and the hype surrounding the announcement that Canadian rapper Drake will serve as a global ambassador for the franchise, a burning question remains for hopeful Raptors fans: will 27-year-old superstar Rudy Gay lead the franchise to their first playoff berth since 2008?
Gay set a franchise record by scoring 74 points in his first three games with the Raptors last season, and the team went 18-18 after he was acquired in late January.
"It`s game time," Gay said, adding that his first training camp with the Raptors will allow for stronger team development. "No more summer basketball. Whatever we do, we make sure it`s all about winning."
The Raptors will open their preseason against the Celtics on the road in Boston on Oct. 7