The biggest challenge facing the Toronto Raptors as they head into training camp is adjusting to life without Chris Bosh.
It won’t be easy, but coach Jay Triano says his team will step up to fill the void.
The Raptors open camp Tuesday without the all-star forward, who joined the Miami Heat this summer after seven seasons in Toronto. Bosh’s departure leaves a huge hole in the lineup as last season he averaged career bests of 24 points, 10.8 rebounds and 51.8 per cent shooting.
“It’s going to be different obviously,” Triano said Monday. “He was a guy who got 24 points a game for us.
“At the same time we’re going to have a lot of guys that are going to look at that as an opportunity for them to step forward and see if they can show a little bit more of what they can do offensively.”
Even with Bosh’s brilliance, the Raptors posted a 40-42 record last season to miss the NBA playoffs.
Toronto posted a team record-tying 29 wins heading into the all-star break and appeared poised to contend for a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference. However, the team struggled with injuries down the stretch and the Chicago Bulls (41-41) captured the eighth and final playoff spot.
“He’s gone so we just keep going, keep playing,” veteran Andrea Bargnani said of Bosh. “We didn’t come from a championship last year so we can still get better.
“Of course, all the guys are going to have the chance to step up. We have a lot of young guys, we can be a great team.”
Toronto selected the six-foot-10, 230-pound Bosh fourth overall in the 2003 NBA draft. The Dallas native quickly developed into one of the league’s top players, being named to the all-rookie team before garnering five league all-star berths and winning Olympic gold in 2008.
But that didn’t translate into playoff success as Bosh participated in just 11 post-season contests during his time in Toronto. However, Bosh made his mark on the Raptors franchise, leaving as its all-time leader in scoring, rebounds, blocks, double-doubles, free throws made and attempted and minutes played.
“We go into the season with great expectations, we can be a better team,” said veteran guard Jose Calderon. “I think we have a lot of players who can play, maybe we don’t have that star role for somebody.
“I prefer sometimes it’s better to have five guys scoring 12, 15 points than to have one get 35. We have to play like that, share the ball more than ever and play like a team.”
With Bosh gone, the expectation is Bargnani will assume more of the offensive workload. The seven-foot Italian, taken first overall by Toronto in the 2006 NBA draft, set career highs last year by averaging 17.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.39 blocks in 80 games, all starts.
He led the team in scoring 15 times last season and had a career-high 27 games with 20 or more points. Bargnani also registered a career-high 34 points at Indiana on Feb. 2.
But Bargnani balked at the suggestion that now the Raptors are his team and added a player has to receive that distinction from his teammates through dedication and hard work and not a mere public declaration before the start of training camp.
“This is the Raptors team,” he said. “It’s important to play as a team, to have great chemistry. That’s important.
”I look forward to playing better, to playing more inside and trying to shoot less from three-point and trying to be more aggressive inside the paint. I have to be a good player, to play as best as possible and try to get better.”
Triano said Bargnani won’t be asked to pick up the offensive slack with Bosh’s departure, adding the Italian’s continued development with Toronto will be measured by more than points.
In fact, Triano said Toronto’s main priority heading into camp will be to improve defensively.
“We’re not going to put a lot of pressure on him to have to be the guy to carry this team,” Triano said. “He’s going to be a guy that if he plays defence and rebounds we’re going to be a better basketball team and that’s all we really care about.
“Andrea was a lot of times the beneficiary of double teams on Chris. I don’t know if we’re going to have anyone teams are going to want to double so he’s going to have to be a bit more creative about how he finds his points.”
Bargnani spent time this summer as a centre with the Italian national team, adding the move helped him become a more complete player.
“I played centre so I always played with my back to the basket,” he said. “I was the main guy there so I got a lot of touches.
“It was great for me. It was great to learn other stuff coming into an NBA season.”
Toronto will also have to wait for forward Eddie Davis, its 2010 first-round draft pick. The former North Carolina star had arthroscopic surgery last week to repair a meniscus tear to his right knee and is expected to resume basketball-related activities within five weeks.
Still, not much is expected from Toronto this season, which is fine with Triano.
“I love that challenge,” he said. “I love the challenge when people tell us we’re no good, that people don’t think we’re going to be that good.
“I want the other teams to believe that when they come in here that it’s going to be an easier game for them just because we’re going to have something to prove every single day.”