The Raptors go up against the Lakers today, and the best news for Raptor fans is that Kobe sprained another finger and is not even close to 100%. Unfortunately, he’s still Kobe and the Lakers are still the Lakers, so I wouldn’t expect any big miracles. The Lakers went through a bit of a slump, but have gone 4-1 on their East coast road trip. Of course, the only +.500 team they’ve faced have been the Bulls, who they lost to. Andrew Bynum is back for the Lakers, but he’s struggled so far and it will be a while until he probably regains his rhythm. A game against the Raptors might be exactly what he needs.
After a thrilling win against New Jersey, allow me to throw some cold water over things. It took career nights from both Bargnani and Kleiza, and a season best game from Calderon for the Raptors to barely beat the East’s second worst team at home, despite no New Jersey player playing really an above average game. The Lakers are a tad better than New Jersey.
On the plus side, Bargnani was barely recognizable in the second half, against the Nets. He was aggressive, and not just on offense, and despite a few miscues on defense (including allowing Brook Lopez to dunk on a post up right after Bargnani brought everyone to their seats on a drive and dunk- which was a microcosm of why he frustrates me), Bargnani had the best game I’ve ever seen him play. Yes, he took 26 shots to score 32 points, but most of those misses occurred in the first half. Ironically, it’s usually the first half that he does most of his damage, generally being content to fade into the background in the second half.
The Lakers have much better defenders to try and stop Bargnani on the offensive end. He played poorly against then in Los Angeles and there’s a very good chance will do the same today.
One big reason the Raptors were able to come back against the Nets was their use of the zone against them. Triano gets a lot of criticism, and in my opinion unwarranted most of the time, but he out-coached his more respected counterpart last night. Lopez didn’t go off, but he still was able to score 20 points on 7-13 shooting. What hurt them were his 6 turnovers, mostly caused by the swarming double teams the Raptors sent his way, as well as the zone he had to contend with.
The Lakers have much better 3 point shooters than New Jersey does, so a zone won’t work as well against them. That means that Gasol will probably have his way against the Raptors front line.
Kleiza certainly took advantage of getting back in the starting lineup, and may have made a case for returning there full time. The question is whether it would be simply to put Kleiza on display to up his trade value. I still firmly believe that both Kleiza and Barbosa should be shopped before the trade deadline this season. While they both bring attributes the Raptors need, I think they’re more valuable to the team as trade bait. Can they get a first round pick or two in return?
ORLANDO TRYING TO WORK SOME MAGIC
Speaking of trades, I did a double take when I saw a report that the Magic have sent Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a 2011 draft pick to Phoenix for former Magic player, Hedo Turkoglu, as well as Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. If that was it, it would still be a team transforming trade. But they also traded Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas.
Here’s my take on the trades:
Orlando has struggled lately, but for a contender to make such massive changes is unheard of. If Otis Smith truly feels that things are not working with the current roster, then I applaud his aggressiveness, but talk about risky. Not only is there a danger in bringing in three such dominant players, but not one of them has ever been known for his defense. That’s putting a lot of pressure on Dwight Howard on the defensive end, as much as it takes away pressure on the offensive end. And he also Orlando loses it’s only real backup center. And I haven’t even mentioned the contracts, yet.
When Orlando overpaid Rashard Lewis with that $100 million, three and a half years ago, it was a big gamble. Although he never was the player he was in Seattle, the gamble paid off. At first. Orlando even went to the Finals his second year in Orlando and made the All-Star team. Unfortunately every year his production declined culminating in this year, where he’s averaging an 11 year low 12.2 ppg on just .419 shooting. Way too low for a guy making $65 million over the next three years.
Lewis was quickly becoming untradeable, so they found another untradeable player they could trade him for in Gilbert Arenas. Arenas has a very good chance of helping the team more than Lewis, but the question is whether he’ll be more of a distraction than a help. He didn’t help Washington win much this year, but a change of scenery may help.
Acquiring Vince Carter was obviously a failure, as many Raptor fans could have predicted. Apparently they also feel letting Turkoglu go in the first place was also a mistake. Orlando definitely had it’s most success when Turkoglu was on the team, and have definitely not been the same since he left, but I’m not sure getting him back was really the best option for Orlando.
Turkoglu turns 32 this year, has declined a fair bit every year since he won the Most Improved Player Award three and a half years ago, and has never shown an inclination to really stay in shape or work hard. And he’s owed $42 million over the next four years. Add Gilbert Arenas’ nearly $80 million over the next four years and Orlando is investing A LOT of money in this deal. A lot. If this fails, Orlando is going to have a hell of a time digging themselves out of this hole.
Jason Richardson is the least risky acquisition for Orlando. There’s no doubt he can score, but like Turkoglu and Arenas, defense is not his strong suit. This might end up being a problem for Orlando, since they’re trading away two strong defenders in Gortat and Pietrus.
As I said, this trade is a huge, huge risk for Orlando. It will either be a home run or a disaster. My guess is it will be the latter.
In one fell swoop, Phoenix made over their roster, vastly improved their defense and gave themselves a brighter future. Trading for Turkoglu was a big mistake and Phoenix figured that out fairly quickly. Getting Carter’s expiring contract for him was extremely fortunate. How Carter performs in Phoenix is largely irrelevant, since it is his expiring contract that they wanted. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees a rise in his production playing next to Steve Nash.
Gortat should finally get a chance to start, and should immediately help Phoenix on the defensive end and on the boards. A team that has historically not been strong at the center position now has 3 that will battle it out for minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Phoenix isn’t done dealing.
Pietrus was caught in a numbers game in Orlando, but should get plenty of minutes in Phoenix and probably even start.
Despite losing Jason Richardson’s scoring, this was a very good trade for Phoenix. Not only for the future, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it helps in the win column this year. They even get a first round pick out of it.
Getting rid of Gilbert Arenas was a priority for a team that needed to separate itself from the past and give the keys to John Wall. Lewis not only has a (slightly) shorter contract, he fills a need for the Wizards.