IF JERMAINE O'NEAL wants someone to thank for his deliverance from Indiana, he should start with José Calderón. Why? Because the 27-year-old Calderón's steady development at point guard allowed the Raptors to package T.J. Ford in a six-player trade with the Pacers. Now the 6'11" O'Neal teams with Dream Team power forward Chris Bosh to give Toronto one of the best one-two inside punches in the league. "If José is not here, no way that deal gets done," says general manager Bryan Colangelo. "Me, the coaches, the players—we all believe he is ready to lead this team."
The confidence in Calderón stems from his brilliant playmaking last season. After Ford went down with a neck injury in December, Calderón averaged 13.2 points, 8.8 assists and just 1.9 turnovers in 48 games as a starter. He also proved to be a good teammate: Despite turning in an All-Star-caliber first half, Calderón returned to his reserve role without complaint shortly after Ford rejoined the club in February. "It was difficult," says Calderón, "but it was what was best for the team. And now that I'm a starter, it was all worth it."
Calderón appeared in all 82 games last season, but a nagging groin injury limited his play with Spain in the Olympics. He says that he's healthy, and he'll need to stay that way: His backups are journeyman Will Solomon and rookie Roko Ukic, and the team won't exceed the luxury-tax threshold to bring in a veteran. "There is pressure on me, but I welcome it," Calderón says. "I want us to go deep into the playoffs, and I know I will have to play well for us to do that."
A rival scout on the RAPTORS: Chris Bosh gets swallowed up inside when you put any kind of length on him, but I saw games last year when he was nothing but bottom-of-the-net with his jump shot.... Jermaine O'Neal could have a honeymoon year, especially at the defensive end. Both O'Neal and Bosh are good at helping from the weak side, and they can trade off defending against the post scorer with help from the other.... They need to keep Jason Kapono behind Anthony Parker, who is such a stabilizing force that he gets minutes his stats don't warrant. He makes good decisions and keeps the others focused.... Jamario Moon's amazing athleticism is offset by mistakes and goof-ups. He needs to start thinking about being a solid basketball player.... Andrea Bargnani needs to develop as a defensive presence and a rebounder. When he puts the ball on the floor, he's a righthanded, straight-line driver. It isn't like he's Dirk Nowitzki bringing it up the floor—and he's nowhere near Nowitzki as a shooter.
Since turnovers became an official statistic in '77--78, only the Hornets' Muggsy Bogues (two times) had a better assists-to-turnover ratio than José Calderón's 5.38 to 1 last season (minimum 300 assists).
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: C-F Andrea Bargnani, F Jason Kapono, F Kris Humphries, G Roko Ukic (R), F Joey Graham
Record: 41--41 (6th in East)
Points scored: 100.2 (13th in NBA)
Points allowed: 97.3 (10th)
Coach: Sam Mitchell (fifth season with Raptors)
TARGET PRACTICE Star forward Chris Bosh (opposite) will find himself on the receiving end of many more passes from Calderón (8) now that the Spaniard is a full-time starter.
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[See caption above]
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