Wednesday Ramblings, March 25, 2015: Nash Calls it a Career, Raptors Stumbling Towards Playoffs and Jays Roster Almost Set

There is absolutely no doubt, argument or misgivings about it: Steve Nash is THE GREATEST Canadian-born basketball player in history. His statistics speak for themselves but his leadership on the court is something every coach dreams about. While the timing of his retirement announcement seems odd, he finally realized he was not going to be able to recover from injuries to become the same player he wanted to be. Unfortunately, the last three years of his career with the Lakers were so injury plagued that I had to go online to see what number he wore with them since he only played 65 games from 2012-2014 and played zero games this season. He played in 62 games for the Suns in 2011-2012 but we have to go back to 2009-10 for the last time he played 80 games or more in a season to see his spectacular highlight reel. Injuries became a real problem during his NBA career. He spent 4 healthy years at Santa Clara University before he was drafted by Phoenix in 1996 but the amazing thing that most people may not know is that even though his high school coach sent letters and video to over 30 schools, Santa Clara was the ONLY school to offer him a scholarship. He was not recruited by a single college. With his incredible career behind him, he can now spend time concentrating on his duties as GM for Canada’s national team. There couldn’t be a better time for Basketball Canada with Canadian players going first overall in the draft the past two years in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins joined by other first round picks Tristan Thompson, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Ennis and Nik Stauskas along with veteran Joel Anthony. One thing I find interesting about Nash working for Team Canada is that he hasn’t played for them since 2004. He was in the prime of his NBA career and when Canada really needed him, he walked away apparently because he was upset at the firing of Jay Triano as head coach. No one has ever called him out on that but the other night during a broadcast I believe Matt Devlin said “let’s see someone try to say no to Steve Nash when he recruits them for Canada” and I immediately thought it would be really easy for a player to “say no” because by walking away it really set the program back for the past decade. Now I’m not saying anyone should call him out on it but if the greatest player in our country’s history could walk away from the team, no current player should take any heat if they were to do the same. I truly hope that Nash has all the success in the world with Team Canada and maybe one day his trophy shelf will have a Gold medal in the place where his NBA Championship trophy should have been.

This really has been a tale of two seasons for the Raptors making them the third Toronto team in the past year to pull this off. The Jays were in first place for most of the first half in 2014 before they fell apart, the Leafs were the highest scoring team in the NHL until Christmas 2014 and the Raptors were 25-8 in 2014 and are 17-21 in 2015. Their latest loss against Detroit last night made two things very clear: they can not sustain without Kyle Lowry (he left with back spasms after 10 minutes) and if their defense continues to struggle, they better find a way to score more points. They are dangerously towing the line between contender and pretender and while they have already overachieved this season that will not be a good enough excuse. In sports, the reward for overachieving and having a great regular season is extra pressure and criticism. It happened with Bryan Colangelo’s first team in 2006-07 who came out of nowhere to win the Atlantic but got their asses handed to them by VC and the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The Eastern conference was similar then with teams like the Celtics and Knicks struggling so playoff spots were there for the taking. Right now there is so much parity in the East that every win or loss heavily affects seeding and if the Raptors were to lose in the first round again because they allowed themselves to slip in the standings with their recent play, Masai Ujiri would definitely take a lot of criticism for not making a move at the deadline. Even though this team is an admitted work in progress, once fans get a taste of winning they only see black & white. Most fans are clueless about how hard it is to build a franchise like the Spurs who have been able to sustain greatness for a long time. Some of it is foresight but a lot of it is luck and timing. Regardless what state Ujiri says the team is in, a first round playoff loss would mean the season was a failure. Period.

It looks like the Jays are going with the young guns to start the season. The lineup already was going to feature Dalton Pompey as the starting CF and now looks like Kevin Pillar will fill in for Michael Saunders and Devon Travis will be the starting 2B. With the Stroman injury the starting rotation will most likely feature Hutchinson, Sanchez and Norris with the two veterans Dickey and Buehrle and the bullpen will be a mix of both including the possibility of Osuna making the team. The feeling around the team is good and with the AL East in a state of flux this HAS to be the year to step in and take it. Our starting lineup 1 through 5 looks outstanding with Reyes, Martin, Bautista, EE and Donaldson and I feel fine with Navarro/Smoak, Saunders/Pillar, Travis and Pompey rounding it out I think we have the ability to pull something off. Obviously it all rests on the unknown of the pitching staff and if the small bits of success we saw from kids like Hutch and Sanchez last year can translate over the course of a 162 games. Injuries crippled us in the second half last season so we need good health and good luck and maybe, just maybe we can get that 22-year old post-season monkey off our backs. Season is only two weeks away so let’s go Blue Jays!

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