Sam Holoko (@RapsFan) from ESPN Truehoop's Raptors Republic and I got together and fired off some questions to each other as we look ahead to tonight's matchup. You can also check out my answers to his burning questions about the Heat as well.
1. What's the short-term and long-term plan for the Raptors franchise after the Rudy Gay trade?
Ujiri has played his cards very close to his chest, so it's tough to divine what his intentions are, but the ultimate goal is to be a championship team. I know that's the goal for every team, but those words hadn't been uttered in Toronto with conviction in a very long time, so that's what they are working towards. The current short-term goal seems to be to develop players and build up a cache of assets that the team can use down the line. The Gay-trade was intended to send this team into tank mode, but what it's done is strengthen the team.
2. Has the Raptor's recent success surprised you? Is it sustainable?
What most fans thought they knew about this team was shattered with the Raptors having gone 10-3 since the Gay-trade. However, some of us called that the team would actually improve after the deal because of the number of rotation worthy players that were coming back, and the ability to move Ross (shooter/athletic wing) into the starting lineup. Winning 75% of their games is not sustainable, but the Raptors will win more games than they lose from this point forward.
3. It doesn't appear that Bosh's departure has cast the kind of shadow that LeBron has in Cleveland but that could just be a perception seeing as how LeBron dominates headlines. Is that accurate or is there more to it?
Bosh is a different beast than LeBron. People were split with respect to his leaving. It's clear he's a top-20 player in the league, but he isn't someone that you can build a championship calibre team around. The problem is he's paid like one, and the Raptors couldn't afford that. He will get booed, but that's because that's what we do in Toronto.
4. Would you prefer the Raptors be a lottery team this year or make the playoffs and have to potentially face the Heat or Pacers?
Tough question, but I wanted the team to tank because it didn't seem that there was enough here to build a team around, but that has been proven wrong. The one thing that's been clear, even through all this winning, is that the Raptors don't have that type of elite talent you need to be a championship team. The Gay-trade was meant as a tanking move, but it's resulted in quite the opposite. A positive outcome is that this team is playing a winning brand of basketball, that if they continue to play and somehow not make the playoffs and add top-7 player (phew, mouthful), that there is a system the incoming player will come into that is moving in the right direction.
5. How have the Raptors changed since the Heat faced them in November?
Since the Gay-trade, the Raptors pass the ball 30+ more times a game. There is no more iso/hero-ball that ends in a low quality, contested shot. The starting unit of Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Johnson, and Valanciunas has been on a tear. And finally, and more importantly, the team has a real bench that goes 9-deep and is the best we've had since 2007. We're hoping the Heat are tired from playing last night ;)