“You’re talking about a team that’s really young,” Colangelo said. “You’ve got a changing dynamic, you’ve got new faces. Right now, there’s a little bit of a settling-in process for everyone to kind of understand what we have. But what we feel we have after the horrendous start [4-19] is a playoff-caliber team because we’re playing .500 ball.
“But I think this team is going to get much better just through internal growth.”
The Raptors have a pair of up-and-comers in former lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas and last year’s first-rounder Terrence Ross, who won the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend.
Victories have been difficult against the tougher teams. Toronto led Golden State heading into the fourth quarter last week and collapsed in the final period. The West Coast trip became even more infuriating when the Raptors practically had the Lakers beaten before Kobe Bryant went 3-point crazy and sent the game into overtime.
Those games can be viewed as building blocks, but Colangelo is getting weary of moral victories.
“We’ve got to learn how to win those games, and that’s going to be the biggest difference,” he said. “It’s a fine line in this business.”
Of course, Toronto’s biggest issue has been keeping its stars. Marcus Camby, Damon Stoudamire, Carter, and Bosh all came to Toronto with high hopes. All were traded or left town with expectations unmet.
Gay is next in line, and he said he’s warming to the Canadian lifestyle.
“Since I’ve been there, I’ve loved it,” Gay said. “It’s been great. The fans are great, and it’s a great organization. I love it so far. Instead of complaining about it, you’ve got to embrace it. It’s by far not a bad situation.”
Colangelo realizes there’s a stigma about playing in Toronto, but said, “There is a higher level of credibility with Rudy on our team — call it star power the great talent that he is. I’m going to tell you that the guys we’ve had in Toronto love the city, love the way they’ve been treated, and it’s a top five North American city, hands down.
“Let me tell you something, it’s cold everywhere on the East Coast. And it’s not as north as everyone thinks.”
NO HARD FEELINGS
Lee shrugs off Howard’s rant
Don’t count Celtics guard Courtney Lee as one of those offended by Dwight Howard’s comments about his ex-teammates on the Magic. Lee was on that 2009 Magic club that came within three games of an NBA championship. Lee was soon traded to the Nets in the Vince Carter deal as the Magic tried revamping for another run that never happened.
Howard angered several of his former teammates last week, saying Orlando had players that no other teams wanted, and suggesting the Magic were a bunch of underdogs when they defeated the Celtics and then the Cavaliers to reach the Finals, where they lost to the Lakers.
Lee said he did not take the comments personally, and he credited Howard with doing most of the arduous work in that playoff run.
“I don’t think he was necessarily trying to bash the players,” Lee said. “But it’s a true statement. He was the anchor. He took us there. He was our go-to guy.
“But as far as nobody wanting us, what did [Hedo] Turkoglu get? $55 million? Rashard [Lewis] got $100-something million [$118 million]. Jameer [Nelson], he got $40 million. So people definitely wanted those guys. I don’t think he was meaning it in that sense.”
Lee knows Howard has been widely criticized for his personality during his time with the Lakers, but says the big man was the same way with the Magic — it was just taken in a different way on a team with lower expectations and in a smaller market.
“It’s hard to point that out then because it was working for us,” Lee said. “Dwight could be himself and we were winning games. You only bring up all that stuff when teams are losing. The way he left was kind of sour. But when I was there, it was hard to point that out because we were winning.”
The fact that Lee, Howard, and others in the nucleus such as Turkoglu, Nelson, and J.J. Redick led the Magic to their second Finals appearance is not lost on that group four years later.
“Everybody on that team to this day is still tight,” said Lee. “All-Star Weekend, when I went home to Orlando, because both of my cars are [in Boston], Jameer let me ride in one of his cars. I’ve seen Turk a couple of times and we went out to eat.”
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