I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about sports recently. Anticipation, mostly, and the predictable talk that’s already reached a more fevered pitch than we’ve seen in a while, and there is no sign of it slowing down.
The World Cup was already enough for me; the viewership stats buoying the soccer guy’s argument that there is a big wave ready to wash over the American sports landscape is a played notion. We’ve heard it and we’ll continue to hear about a novelty having staying power. It won’t. I’m quite certain the NFL and NBA are safe at the top of the mountain.
So now that the forced, contrived World Cup talk is behind us, the public can turn their attention to the incredible, if not also a bit labored by now, anticipation for the upcoming NBA season. Generally, most of us wouldn’t need big storylines or massive free agent news to get excited about a product that is at its peak, polished off smoothly by the San Antonio Spurs in their destruction of the Miami Heat.
But the big news can’t hurt in drawing in even the most casual NBA observer. Even after the LeBron James earthquake, there is still the Kevin Love question (take that Cavs deal, Flip, before you overplay the hand and Andrew Wiggins gets pulled right off the table. I’m asking you), and, as my personal favorite: the anointing of the Chicago Bulls as the team to rain on Cleveland’s parade. I’m not buying that one, but I love how fervent a lot of the analysts are in wanting to wait on crowning Cleveland while being sure that “a healthy Derrick Rose” is only a matter of time.
So it is hard to not be drawn into the world of anticipation and expectation, even if we know throwing out expectations, especially lofty ones, doesn’t do anyone any good. But for the first time in quite a few years, the Toronto Raptors will have to deal with the kind of expectations that don’t have words like “growing” or “learning” or the famed “potential,” which everyone knows is the word of choice when nothing else can be sold to a desperate or apathetic fan base.
Improvement is going to be expected from the Raptors this season. I hardly think it is wrong to think that, given how the season ended and how I waxed positive about a roster that I think is smartly put together. There is no reason to think that DeMar DeRozan is going to regress. I said at one time that he went from “blindly aggressive” in years past or when fighting for shots with black hole Rudy Gay to “aggressive with a purpose” as the year went on.
He seemed to have gained so much perspective from this successful season, his first in the playoffs. DeRozan is only going to get more comfortable with Kyle Lowry and the rest of the cast. While he may not become a markedly better player, he will continue to evolve into a smarter one, and the Raptors need not ask for anything else.
I could go on, and will, in future write-ups about my expectations of particular players like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, who will validate my All-Star hopes (please). But this is about improvement from the team, and I’m not sure that quantifying that is as easy as it sounds.
Let’s be honest: that three seed last season was a gift that the Toronto Raptors will never see again. While it ended up resulting in an unfortunate matchup with the experienced Nets team that no one thought they could beat, the fact that they had the three seed was simply amazing.
It was more a sign of the East’s ineptitude than a true symbol of the Raptors’ relative success. Will they need to get a higher seed this season for it to be considered improvement? I mean, their division is soft, but you never know, and the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t going to be a bottom-feeder for long.
It will be fun to spend the remainder of the summer and into the fall discussing what it is going to take for the Raptors to take the next step and where they sit in the new East’s hierarchy, even if I don’t foresee it being a top three seed. Either way, the players are the thing and I love their guys.
Really though, even as I write this, I think about the slanted commentary viewers are going to face next season. Can you tell me that any team not playing in Cleveland or maybe Chicago is going to be anything more than a blip on the radar? They will be wallowing in the shadows, background noise in LeBron’s symphony. Although the Toronto Raptors and others deserve better, perhaps they’ll prefer the anonymity.