No pout in Jose Calderon
Surrounded by about a dozen or so of his media pals at the Air Canada Centre on Monday morning, Raptors point guard Jose Calderon was asked if the players were going to do any “team-building” exercises this pre-season, away from the basketball court.
“We’re not going to do that this year,” Calderon snapped.
Yikes. It seems the eighth-year Raptor IS bitter about GM Bryan Colangelo going out and acquiring another starting-calibre point guard in Kyle Lowry this off-season.
But after a second or two of awkward silence, Calderon smiled. Turns out — or so he insists — Calderon is not unhappy that the Raptors traded for the ever-improving Lowry — the guy who may very well take away Calderon’s starting point guard spot this season.
“No. I’m really happy here,” said Calderon, when asked if the media reports were true, that he was angry about the Lowry move. “I know during the summer there was a lot of (talk). Everybody was talking about a lot of crazy things that maybe wasn’t ... 100% true.
“I’m happy here,” he insisted. “I’ve been here seven years. I’ve been up and down. We’ve had great years and not (so) great years, and I want to win with this team. So that’s what everything’s about. I want to win with this team.”
ESPN reported this summer that Calderon’s agent Mark Bartelstein and Colangelo were “working together” to find a deal. Colangelo confirmed that Calderon wasn’t thrilled with the Lowry deal. But when asked on Monday if he actually requested a trade, Calderon was emphatic.
“I didn’t ask for a trade,” he said. In fact, he said it twice.
On the other hand, it’s still possible, and perhaps even likely, that when and if Colangelo finds the right deal for his veteran point guard, Calderon could be shipped elsewhere. In the meantime, the personable Spaniard is not going to pout, nor is he just going to hand over the starting point guard reigns to Lowry, 26, who is considered a solid up-and-coming PG and already one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. Lowry is a huge defender and good rebounder who can also go to the basket, while Calderon is the classic pass-first PG.
“Kyle’s an alpha dog,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “He’s a leader, he plays like a pit bull. A different type of player than Jose, a different type of point guard. And we need that type of toughness, that approach that he brings to the table. That doesn’t demean Jose’s approach or his style of play whatsoever, because, again, I think we can have them co-exist quite a bit on the court together.”
That will be the key. If Colangelo doesn’t trade Calderon, can they coexist? Lowry and Goran Dragic shared minutes last season with the Houston Rockets (when Lowry wasn’t hurt), though the “pit bull” didn’t always get along with coach Kevin McHale. And though Calderon has been the Raptors’ starting PG for years, he did play well during the 2006-07 season when he lost his staring job to T.J. Ford for much of the season.
“Last year I watched a lot of tape on Houston and Kyle and also Dragic played a lot of minutes together and co-existed very well,” said Casey. “So that’s going to be something we’ll look at it in training camp, because they’re two of our best players, not only (our) best point guards, two of our best players. And I think it’s up to us ... to find those situations we can put them on the court together.
“But we’re going in with an open mind and, again, finding the balance there between the first unit and the second unit,” added Casey. “We may find that (Calderon) is more valuable as a starter. We also may find that he may be better coming off the bench, giving us offence with the second unit and giving us that punch. And that’s what we need. We gotta have punch with that second unit and not lose. If you look at our first unit (last season), our numbers were close (with other teams). And then when we went to our second unit, there was a drop off, and that’s what we’re fighting to stop.”
Casey said he has “no thoughts” at this point about Calderon being traded, despite the reports.
“I like Jose. I respect Jose,” said the Raptors’ second-year coach. “He’s done a lot for our program, and I don’t expect any point-guard controversy whatsoever. My thing is about winning. You’re not going to have 100% happiness by no means (on any team). And I don’t expect that. But that’s not going to affect my decision as a coach and its not going to affect the way we approach our team as an organization. So I’m not going into it looking for a fight.”
Neither’s Calderon, nor is he planning on rolling over on the practice court. He plans to fight for every minute.
“This is my eighth season, and I have to compete to with another guy, so it doesn’t matter,” said Calderon, who helped Spain win a silver medal at the London Olympics this summer, and still sports a scar over his right eye from the heated gold-medal game against the U.S. “You have to compete to be (a starter). A the end of the day, the coach is the one who gives you more or less minutes. I don’t know what Kyle thinks about it. (But) at the end of the day, if we want to win, we have to co-exist. We’re just going to try to win games for the Raptors.”
Calderon, 30, suggested that his “situation” has been blown out of proportion — so the media has something to write about heading into camp.
“I think (you) just want to make a big theme before everything has started,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to win games if we want to make the playoffs. If he (Lowry) scores 20 points per game, I’ll be happy.”
Calderon said it’s the GM’s duty to upgrade the talent and that Colangelo was doing his job this summer.
“It’s the NBA and you always expect to have better players on your team. And that’s what the Raptors have been doing,” he said. “You compete for minutes with other guys and coach makes decisions. It’s about that. Not a big thing.
“I’m always happy,” Calderon added. “So hopefully (Lowry) will be happy. (We’ve) got a lot of things to worry about more than basketball. The coach is the one who makes the decision. You got to do your best ... and try to give 200% to win games for the Raptors.”
Point guard Jose Calderon believes the Raptors have a good chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 — partly because of positional upgrades, another year of experience for some younger players, and the fact that most of the Raps have played for a season under head coach Dwane Casey.
Casey implemented a defence-first approach when he arrived in T.O. last season, which resulted in the Raptors improving leaps and bounds in their end of the court.
Last season, Toronto gave up 94.0 points per game, ninth best in the NBA, a vast improvement from the 105.4 points they yielded during the 2010-11 campaign.
“It’s going to be easier for a lot of us. We know what we’re doing, we don’t have to change anything,” said Calderon. “We’re going to keep the same system, so I think it’s going to be easier for everybody. It’s not like last year, where (we had) to start from zero. “
GM Bryan Colangelo has made a number of upgrades and added depth to the roster this season, including shooting guard Landry Fields and PG Kyle Lowry, and the arrival of 2011 draft pick Jonas Valanciunas.
“I think we have a lot of talent,” said Calderon. “We’re deeper this year, and I think the guys who have come here will make us better for sure. If we keep playing the way we did last year as a team and play really good defence like we did, we’ve got a lot of chances.
“I know we have a tough division for sure. But chemistry is right for now, and if we keep going this way, why not? I see talent, I see guys who really like to work and when you work and play together, yes, you can make it (to the post-season).”