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 TORONTO (AP) -Simply making the playoffs isn't good enough anymore for the Toronto Raptors. This team won't be satisfied until it makes the leap from status quo to the second round and beyond.
Last year, Toronto ended four years of futility by capturing its first Atlantic Division title and earning the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Expectations were high even after the Raptors lost their first-round series against New Jersey in six games.
But this season, Toronto struggled to a 41-41 finish, placing sixth in the East and losing to the Orlando Magic in five games in a first-round series that saw Dwight Howard expose the Raptors' lack of inside depth.
``This year has been tough,'' All-Star forward Chris Bosh said Tuesday after cleaning out his locker. ``We raised the bar for ourselves last year and we kind of took a step back. That just shows we're human, that just shows we always have to be on edge, we always have to have a chip on our shoulder and continue to work hard. We always want to elevate our game, we don't want to take any steps back.''
Like Bosh, general manager Bryan Colangelo said the first-round flameout leaves a sour taste.
``We did set the bar pretty high last year and there is disappointment,'' Colangelo said after conducting exit interviews with the players. ``My biggest disappointment is the fact that we didn't get better. We didn't deliver up to the expectations of the fans. It's incumbent upon us to continue to get better to the point where we satisfy those expectations.''
To ensure improvement, Colangelo will spend his summer looking for more scoring and strengthening Toronto's rebounding and defense.
``We need to get some more help for Chris Bosh, whether it's protecting him inside in the paint by getting a little bit more of a presence in there, to just giving him another scorer to shoulder some of that burden,'' Colangelo said.
Toronto must also sort out its point guard situation, something that was the team's ``greatest strength'' last season, according to Colangelo, but has since degenerated into ``an Achilles' heel.''
Colangelo intends to bring back restricted free agent Jose Calderon, but the price tag for the 26-year-old Spaniard will go a long way toward determining whether the Raptors can also afford to keep T.J. Ford.
Ford missed 24 games with arm and neck pain after a scary fall in a Dec. 11 game at Atlanta, spending the night in a hospital after he was knocked down by Hawks rookie Al Horford. Calderon shone in Ford's absence and the Texan didn't return to the starting lineup until Calderon voluntarily gave up the spot in late March.
Still, it was Calderon, not Ford, who the Raptors turned to in the fourth quarter during the playoffs, leaving the situation unsettled.
Asked whether he would consider returning to Toronto as a backup, Ford sounded cool on the idea.
``I don't know,'' Ford said. ``Where I'm at right now in my NBA career, I consider myself a starter and don't see myself coming off the bench for 82 games.''
Calderon, meanwhile, seems more willing to bend.
``Whether I'm a starter or not, I want to win a championship,'' Calderon said. ``I'm ready to sacrifice for the team, for sure.''
While Ford has been clear in his desire to start, he said he and Calderon remain close.
``We have a good relationship,'' Ford said. ``There's no bad tension between us, there never has been and I don't think there ever will.''
Once Calderon has been signed, Colangelo plans to discuss the situation with both players and their agents before deciding whether to bring Ford back or dangle him in a trade.
``We've got a problem that needs to be resolved and it will be resolved in time,'' Colangelo said. ``The bottom line is, if we can all agree that it's going to work then we'll see about going forward. If it's not going to work, then decisions need to be made.''
Also key to Toronto's future is the development of 7-footer Andrea Bargnani. The first overall pick in the 2006 draft was second in rookie of the year voting last year, but saw his scoring and rebounding numbers drop slightly this season, one in which he appeared to struggle with his confidence.
Looking back, coach Sam Mitchell acknowledged he may have erred by keeping Bargnani in the starting lineup for as long as he did, hoping the 22-year-old Italian would play through his troubles.
``Maybe I should have pulled back a little bit, but I wanted it for him right now,'' Mitchell said.
Bosh said Bargnani must believe in his own abilities and learn to make an impact even when his outside shot isn't falling.
``On some nights, if he doesn't shoot the ball well, he's not a factor,'' Bosh said. ``He has to develop the mentality to get down low, because he's 7-feet, get some easy baskets, block some shots, get some rebounds and be and force in the game, even if you're not making shots.''
Bosh and Calderon expect to spend part of their summer at the Olympic Games. One Raptor who won't be in Beijing is forward Jorge Garbajosa, who missed all but seven games after a second surgery on the broken left leg he suffered last season, then aggravated playing for Spain at the European championships.
With a legal dispute over compensation between the Raptors and the Spanish Basketball Federation still unresolved, Colangelo said it's ``a safe assumption'' that Garbajosa won't be on the court in China.
As for Mitchell, he signed a three-year contract extension last summer but has continued to see his name pop up in rumors as the league's coaching carousel swings into gear. Still, Colangelo was emphatic that Mitchell remains his man.
``All things should be put to rest right now when I say I have absolutely no intentions of making a coaching change at this time,'' Colangelo said.
Ultimately, Bosh said, Toronto can't afford another .500 finish because many of its opponents are also on the rise.
``We have to step up and lead the competition next year,'' Bosh said. ``Philly really has something to build on, and so does Atlanta. The conference is really looking up. I don't think it's going to be as competitive as the Western Conference is right now, but it's definitely going to get better.''
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