|To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Getty Images)|
I. How they finished 2012: The Raptors had one of those quietly not-as-disappointing-as-it-appears seasons. The win total was bad, they had no All-Stars, and arguably their most memorable game was Jeremy Lin's game winner against them.
But very quietly, there were significant elements of improvement, particularly at the defensive end. In his first season as head coach, Dwane Casey instilled both a superior scheme and managed to motivate players into operating within that system, which is always the trickier part.
They wound up in the lottery, but for the first time in several seasons, the Raptors seem to be headed in the right direction as an organization.
II. Needs entering the offseason: Jose Calderon presented a dilemma. He wasn't good enough to build around and they needed an upgrade at point guard, but his contract was just valuable enough to want to keep for best offer and he was too good to drop off in a salary dump.
More pressingly, however, they needed an upgrade at small forward. There was a lot of talk before the draft about the Raptors trading out for a veteran small forward, which never materialized.
They needed help down low, but had a plan for that after the 2011 draft.
III. The Draft: The Raptors decided they couldn't get that veteran small forward upgrade, so instead they opted to draft a wing to augment DeMar DeRozan.
They took Terrence Ross, who was a sleeper candidate for the draft, but at their spot, it was a bit of a reach. Ross brings athleticism and three-point shooting, but doesn't have the ability to create off the dribble. Ross has the potential be an excellent fit, but it may take some time for him to develop into the player they need him to be.
Quincy Acy is a Reggie-Evans mold big who can rebound, but will need time to develop.
IV. Free Agency: And here's where things kind of went nuts.
So the Raptors wanted Steve Nash. And the Knicks wanted Steve Nash. There were reports the Knicks were going to offer the Suns a sign-and-trade package, including Landry Fields.
A few days later, Landry Fields agreed to a four-year, $20 million offer sheet with the Raptors.
Steve Nash did not come to the Raptors. Or the Knicks.
So the Raptors wound up spending that much on a player who had a good start to his rookie season and then severely regressed. Fields is a player the Raptors genuinely wanted, but the poison pill was probably not part of the necessary plan.
It represents a huge mistakee for the Raptors. Even if they had to overpay for Fields, the amount they did was a pretty serious limitation long-term.
They did manage to pull in their 2011 draft pick Jonas Valanciunas which represents a huge addition to the club. Valanciunas struggled in the Olympics for Lithuania's Olympic team. But he should develop into a solid defensive center who can also function in the pick and roll.
And then, when it looked like they wouldn't be making any big additions, the trade.
With Kyle Lowry deciding he and Kevin McHale just weren't going to work out, and with the Rockets collecting assets for a Dwight Howard trade (or something else), the Raptors swooped in and snagged a near-All-Star point guard for just a draft pick and filler.
It was a coup of a trade for Bryan Colangelo, and the result is a vastly upgraded Raptors squad. Lowry should make the Raptors better on both sides of the ball, pressuring the ball defensively and working in the pick and pop with Bargnani and pick and roll with Valanciunas. It gives them their best player, and any time you can pick up the best player on your team for a first-round pick, that's a win.
Without the Fields deal, this is a B+ to an A. But Fields is such a drastic overpay, and even if Nash had nothing to do with it, that makes it worse because they simply overvalued the player on the market. The money's one thing, the years is a whole other bag.
But they did get Kyle Lowry, drafted what should be a good player in time, didn't do anything drastic, and added Valanciunas. The Raptors turned over a lot of their roster, but they also got better. The plan under Dwane Casey is working.