Take that

The Toronto Raptors are poised to go from good to elite as training camp kicks off in Victoria, B.C.

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How the Raptors would hold court at Hotel X, the site of Monday’s media day marking the official start of a new season.

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The X could easily be affixed to the back of each jersey. After all, the Raptors will be the hunted, not the hunters, which suits them just fine.

In many ways, the Raptors came as a revelation last season when many so-called pundits felt the team would be lucky to compete for a spot in the consolidated lower-tier Conference Qualifying Round. East of the NBA.

By any measure, the Raptors exceeded expectations as they finished fifth and faced off against Philly in the first round of the playoffs. Toronto would be eliminated in six games, but very encouraging signs would surface.

No one imagined fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes accomplishing what he did in his first season. No one thought Pascal Siakam would piece together a season that would have earned him a spot on the all-NBA Third Team.

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Predictably, every person invited to sit on the podium on Monday said all the right things when questions were asked. Anyone who has ever witnessed such an occasion expected nothing else.

The handful of contractual issues were raised, but no resolution to any of the lingering issues was going or needed to be resolved in such a context.

The overriding theme involved taking the franchise to the next level and not being satisfied with last season’s playoffs.

The Raptors are more than capable of being a top-four team in the East and starting a postseason with home-court advantage. Time will tell how head coach Nick Nurse handles a group that promises to be better than last year’s edition.

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Only time will tell how many games will be won, but 50 seems like the low end.

And for the first time in quite some time, Siakam heads to camp in Victoria, BC, having had the luxury of a full offseason.

His goal is to be in the top five in the NBA, a status reserved for the very elite of hoops. His body looks stronger and his game, which added that game element last season, can only improve as Siakam plays with better players.

When Fred VanVleet struggled with injury, it was the likes of Siakam and Barnes who served as point guards in an unconventional look that gave the Raptors a clear height advantage.

Barnes, for his part, said Monday he wants to take on more of a ball-handling role, a big reason he chose Florida State. The kid, who is a gym rat, said he has been working tirelessly on his jumping and footwork in the offseason.

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Barnes has shown he can play the post and dominate against smaller defenders. He showed last season that he can defend at a high level, but he wants to take his defense to another level.

For a team led by a nurse known for being restless, one of the newest additions is Juancho Hernangomez, a sharp-shooting floor spacer and Netflix star after his role in the round movie Hustle.

He arrived in Toronto after being named Most Valuable Player in the EuroBasket Finals.

He’ll eventually find his bearings in the city and eventually find his role in the Raptors, who will make that leap if three-point shots are consistently made.

The versatility the franchise has coveted remains, and the drive to be among the best is stronger than ever.

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Even though only one game is to be played, there is a lot to love and a lot to look forward to as the season begins again.

If Siakam, maybe even Barnes, can make a field goal in the big moments when a field goal is absolutely necessary, that leap to another level will be well within reach for the Raptors.

Until Barnes’ jumper is tested, for now the best option is to have the ball in Siakam’s hands and allow him to create or facilitate.

Siakam is arguably in the best space he’s ever found in a season.

Shooting for the stars must be the goal for Siakam, who is keen to be among the NBA’s biggest stars.

He will have on board a compatriot from Douala, Cameroon, in Christian Koloko, whom the Raptors drafted 33rd overall last June.

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“It’s crazy,” Siakam said. “That’s strange. I can only think of the kids at home. What are the odds?”

As league-wide training camps begin, the odds of the Raptors winning it all are at the mid-level.

Within their conference, teams such as Boston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Miami, Philly and Cleveland have been pegged with higher odds.

No one is suggesting the Raptors are close to winning a championship because they aren’t, but they’re ready for a postseason run.

Media day often feels like the first day of any school year when the air of excitement and anticipation is palpable, when familiar faces come together and when new faces are welcomed.

Monday’s event was no different.

As Masai Ujiri rightly said when he started the procession to the podium: “We have to take a leap now with this team.”

There is no room to step back and there should be no reason for regression to occur. That’s why the Raptors should be chasing a top-four finish in the East, because anything short will be considered a disappointment.

Nurse will determine which five-man roster is best to close out games, but the 2022 Raptors are a very good team with the potential to be elite.

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