The “R” Word

Is it safe to write this, yet? The Turkoglu trade is finally official, so I’m guessing it is. I had written another version earlier this week I had to scrap after Michael Jordan got cold feet and decided not to take Calderon, or more precisely, not to give up Tyson Chandler (in this trade, anyway). I understand his misgivings. I think Calderon would have been a good addition to the team, but Chandler and Boris Diaw are a little too much to give up for him. Especially with his contract (Of course I would rather have taken the trade with the Raptors than the junk he got from Dallas, but that’s another story).

That’s why, despite my affection for Calderon’s game, I liked the trade overall. I have, however to say I’m not disappointed that Jose is still a Raptor. I just wonder for how much longer. It now seems there are rumours about him heading to Indiana for Roy Hibbert, although someone else would have to be added. I did find it incredibly ironic that Calderon was going to be replaced by Chandler, one of the best ally-oop finishers in the game, by really the only player on the Raptors that can throw them effectively. Calderon, for all his weaknesses, IS the perfect PG to play alongside young players like DeRozan, Weems, Johnson and Davis because he is an adept passer and knows where to give it someone to put them in a position to score. Plus his steady hand would offset the turnovers that a young team like the Raptors are no doubt going to rack up next season.

I do think the aborted trade did give a glimpse at the overall plan of Colangelo. The Turkoglu for Barbosa trade could mean anything. Raptor fans are just ecstatic not only to get rid of Turkoglu, but for a player with not only a much better contract, but who can actually contribute. Even better is that if Barbosa has a good year, he could opt out of his contract next summer, making his essentially an expiring contract. Barbosa may not be a real PG, but the fact that he plays that position means that the Raptors have a glut at that position, and that means one of them has to go.

The inclusion of Charlotte in the deal gave you a sense that it might have been Barbosa’s contract that was most appealing to Colangelo. If Calderon had been dealt for Diaw and Chandler, the Raptors would have cleared the books of the two worst contracts on the roster, without bringing back any long term contracts. Calderon would definitely be the better PG to play on this team, especially with Barbosa backing him up, but the fact that Calderon is now apparently being shopped tells me one thing.

Ah, yes, the “R” word.

“Rebuild” is the dreaded word that no GM is ever supposed to mutter. Even if it’s what they mean. In his discussions with the press after the press conference for Amir Johnson, Colangelo accidentally used the “R” word, and then backtracked, instead opting for the word “re-tooling”. He even preferred the word “re-engineer”. Anything but rebuild. The reason is not that Colangelo doesn’t actually wish to rebuild. It’s that a GM cannot use the word rebuild without ramifications. Even if that’s what he’s doing.

The reason Colangelo cannot use the dreaded “R” word has nothing to do with his intentions, but of perception. Admitting you are rebuilding scares away both ticketholders and corporate sponsors, cutting deep into the bottom line. Ownership wouldn’t be very happy about that. Raptor fans criticize MLSE, but as long as they stay in the black, they pretty much let Colangelo do what he wants.

That’s why Colangelo has to give the perception that the Raptors are going to compete, and his aborted deal actually would have brought in players who look like they could have helped, but in actual fact, would have had a negligible effect in the win/loss column. That was the genius of this move. Barbosa, Diaw and Chandler are all talented players. It was not necessarily their talent that Colangelo was after, however. It was their contracts.

If Colangelo were simply retooling, as he claimed, then he would not have worried about getting shorter and expiring contracts, and would have focused on trying to acquire impact players, none of which describes the players he attempted to acquire.

I’ve debated the merits of rebuilding versus retooling among Raptor fans, and the fact that so many fans are against rebuilding is a good indication why Colangelo backed away from that statement. The thing, though, is that many fans seem to be confused by what rebuilding would entail. The fact is, though, the Raptors ARE well on their way in the rebuilding process. Most teams that rebuild don’t have the pieces that the Raptors have. Rebuilding usually requires the team to turn over it’s roster, get rid of any big contracts and acquire younger players and draft picks.

Currently, the Raptors are one of only three teams without a player making 8 figures (Minnesota and Oklahoma are the others). If they trade Calderon, they will have gotten rid of all their bad contracts, and the roster consists of 9 players 26 years of age or under. If the Raptors are rebuilding, they’re already halfway there.

The fear that most fans seem to have is years of losing while acquiring pieces and developing players. The fact that the Raptors are one move away from financial “flexibility” and already have acquired quite a number of talented young players means they are well ahead of the game.

When the Thunder/Sonics drafted Kevin Durant, they only had Jeff Green. It took them a few more years to acquire Westbrook, Sefolosha, Harden, Serge Ibaka and now Cole Aldrich. And still, the situation was completely different for Sam Presti. With the team’s lame duck status in Seattle, he had the luxury of not having to appease fans or corporate sponsors since the team was on it’s way out of town. Colangelo simply doesn’t have that luxury.

If Colangelo wants to rebuild, he has to make it appear to the fans and corporate sponsors that the Raptors are at least going to be competitive. At least reasonably.

Now, admittedly, I’m making a rather large assumption but it’s one that seems to have some basis in fact. The fact that Colangelo has so far refused to use the rather large trade exception they got when Bosh left for Miami shows that he’s not simply willing to do what a team like Utah did, and use it to try and simply replace Bosh. Hopefully Colangelo has realized what many of us have, and that’s that the roster, even with Bosh, was flawed. Simply trying to plug a hole with a lesser talent, like Monta Ellis or Al Jefferson, would have been disastrous. It would have doomed the Raptors to mediocrity. Something that both Charlotte and now Utah seem content on doing. For a fan like me, this is like death.

Instead, Colangelo seems to be attempting to rebuild, yes rebuild, the roster with players that fit better together and hopefully do what it takes to win. With Turkoglu gone, and Calderon apparently next, the Raptors seem to be ridding themselves of below average defenders, something I wholeheartedly applaud. And if that’s the case, Colangelo can’t hold onto Bargnani any longer. Losing Turkoglu and Calderon will only help so much. If you’ve got a weak link in your front line defensively, no matter which position he plays, it will hurt you.

Personally, I was hoping the addition of Chandler meant that Bargnani had become expendable. Sure, they certainly could use his front line scoring, as he’s the only big man on the roster that has any real hope of scoring double digits, but what they need even more is a front line that can protect the hoop and rebound the ball. That’s how you win in the NBA.

So Raptor fans, don’t be afraid of the “R” word. It’s not as scary as you might think. A year or two of losing while building the right kind of team is far, far more appealing than a decade of mediocrity.

18 thoughts on “The “R” Word

  1. Of course what Colangelo should do is not use the TPE until the Feb deadline at the earliest or till July 1st 2011.
    That way the Raps suck all (or nearly all) season long – thereby getting a top 5 pick in next year’s draft – on top of which they add a borderline ALL-STAR with their 14.5m exception.
    Getting two potential stars in one go will hasten the rebuilding process enormously.

  2. Tim, I hope you are right and BC is in fact rebuilding. To date, he’s never shown any interest in rebuilding and has always made moves to improve the team in the short term. If he waits to use the trade exception then it will be clear he is rebuilding.

    • Al,

      Jack as the starter and Barbosa as the backup would be temporary, so I can live with it for a year or two.


      I certainly hope I am.


      I agree completely.


      I don’t think Colangelo has ever been in this position before. In Toronto, he’s always had Chris Bosh to build around, so rebuilding didn’t make much sense. You can debate whether Bosh is a franchise player, but it simply made sense for Colangelo to try and build around him. Because of Bosh’s contract situation he’s always had to look at the short term. Now, it simply makes sense to look at the long term.

  3. I hope it, but think that Jack as a starter is going to be for more time, just hope the guy begins to play more like a PG rather than “da man”. My usual rant on him.

    BTW, the starter PG at Las Vegas is doing well IMO (good passing, decent shot, good court vision, goes to the rim once in a while … sounds familiar? :) ), too bad we have Banks this year too (I like Banks, I just don’t like his contract).

    It would be nice to watch that guy B. Brown (with a minimum contract or so) in the NBA and see if he could play.

  4. Tim,

    I agree.

    After not being able to retain the services of Chris Bosh, it makes little sense for the Raptors to hold onto Bargnani, if they also trade Turkoglu and Calderon.

  5. Nice thoughts Tim, I always enjoy reading your articles….

    I too think Bargnani has to go if we really want to commit to this paradigm shift…but I get killed by fans when I go after Bargnani….

    I totally agree with the sentiment that even if we were rebuilding we already have rebuilding pieces…most teams that were rebuilding would do flips for talents like DeRozan and Davis to build around….not to mention all of our other under 26 players as you mentioned…..that is the reason I also choose the word re-tool

    Presti had the #2 pick, lucked in to KD and traded Ray Allen for the #5 pick in Green….
    I dont think he deserved to be lauded until the Aldrich deal…the rest was just being very bad and taking a risk that Westbrook could play point.

    It seems like a few of us are of the same sentiment to trade Bargnani and maybe we should make a concerted effort to make this happen…

    • Anyone who’s read this blog knows my feelings about Bargnani. I will truly be in heaven the day Bargnani is traded away.

      RD, I’m actually of two minds about the Aldrich deal. I think he’s a solid player but I think they’re going to regret passing on Ed Davis. Aldrich certainly is probably going to help more immediately, but I think Davis is going to end up being a far better player and a better player for their team.

  6. Just a minor nitpick:

    “When the Thunder/Sonics drafted Kevin Durant, they only had Jeff Green.”

    It would probably be more accurate to say when the Thunder drafted Durant, they had nobody since Green was drafted after Durant (5th overall, same draft). And it is for this reason that I have to wonder whether we are truly ahead of the (rebuilding) curve.

    Because the Thunder had essentially nothing before drafting Durant and Green (then again, they weren’t exactly low on youngsters, with the likes of Ridnour, West, Wilcox and a slightly older Collison), they were able to bomb Durant’s rookie and sophomore years, leading to their picks of Westbrook and Harden. The Raptors’ young core of DeRozan, Davis, Alabi, Johnson, Bargnani and Weems is somewhere in between — we have nowhere near the talent level of a Durant + Westbrook, yet we’re also ahead in the financial curve. Bargnani and Johnson are already on new, pricey contracts, and Weems will get a salary bump soon too. Combine that with a team that will be bad but not bad enough, and BC has his job cut out for him.

    I’d ideally also like to see Calderon remain on the team, feeding the likes of DeRozan, Weems, Davis and Johnson. I see Jack’s value, but other teams know he’s not a great ball-handler, nor is he on Calderon’s level as a distributor either. Jack’s is better than Calderon defensively, but in all fairness, his defense is average at best and it’s probably easier to cover up Calderon’s defense than to ask Jack to be something he’s not.

    It might be too much to ask for, but I would have loved to see both Calderon and Chandler on the team. And this is definitely in the realm of fantasy, but I’d love to see a trade of our expirings for Portland’s Przybilla.

    As a Bargnani fan, I can honestly say it’s not a big deal if he’s traded for value. Bargnani is what he is — ever promising but too slow to improve his defense. If he can bring his help defense on par with his man defense, and if he actually makes an effort to collect every possible rebound (knowing that the team’s best rebounder is gone), then he could be the center the team envisioned when drafting him (big IFs, of course). I think he certainly has the potential, and the reason I’m not in a rush to get rid of him is because of the dearth of available good, young defensive stalwarts at the 5. I think his contract is very reasonable and won’t be a problem if we decide to trade him, but I have a hard time coming up with good, realistic parts to trade for aside from Rubio (as suggested by you). The last thing we want to do is trade away Bargnani only to have a Jefferson or other poor defensive big replace him, or equally bad, someone who will be past their prime by the time we’re contenders again.

    That said, Davis, on paper at least, was a great draft pick.

    • You’re right about Green. For some reason I was thinking they drafted him the previous year. Maybe it’s just because Green is two years older. I think the Raptors are ahead because they simply have more young talent and more tradable assets than Oklahoma City did when they drafted Durant. Ironically, the Thunder rebuilt when arguably their best player left as a free agent to sign with a Florida based team. And as far as I recall, they got nothing for him.

      ON a side note, how much better would Oklahoma look right now if they had drafted Joakim Noah over Jeff Green? People bash the Raptors for drafting the wrong players, yet Presti could have drafted Noah and then passed on Tyreke Evans (although he’s a poor match for the team).

      I would love to have seen Calderon throwing ally-oops to Chandler, Johnson, Davis, Weems and DeRozan. If you’re going to lose, you might as well entertain.

      I don’t know what I would have done if the Raptors had grabbed Jefferson. I’d be fine with Johnson and Davis sharing the PF duties next year, and then whoever they replace Bargnani with at center.

  7. just curious, nobody thinks that Barg’s one on one defence (at the perimeter or the low post) and Davis help defence (I like what I’m watching from this guy, better than CB4 doing that IMO)could match nicely?

    Yeah, I’m almost sure that I’m the last Bargnani believer on the world :D

    • Al,

      I think Davis is exactly the type of player Bargnani needs, but it’s still not going to be able to cover up Bargnani’s weaknesses completely. You’re always going to be at a disadvantage with him, so It’s my belief it’s simply not worth it. I think a team is going to do better with less offense coming from his position and more defense and rebounding.

      Also, I certainly wouldn’t call his perimeter defense strong. He struggles against bigs who face up. Really his only positive on defense is post defense, and it’s simply no all that consistent.

  8. From a defensive perspective, there is nothing wrong with Ed Davis, as a front-court running mate for a Big like Bargnani; likewise, from a rebounding perspective.

    The biggest problem for this specific pair of Bigs is on the offensive end of the floor where Davis does not appear to have the type of back-to-the-basket low post game which would alllow Bargnani to operate on the perimeter with impunity.

    When Bryan Colangelo speaks of the possibility that Linas Kleiza might be this team’s best low post scorer then this tells you that scoring points in the half-court with post-ups from the Bigs may not be a strong suit next season.

    As Tim has correctly pointed out already, the main problem with Bargnani concerns his individual defense and rebounding and has little to do with the specific PF playing beside him.

  9. Thanks for the answers guys, your points are some I didn’t think too much about: the rebounding and the back to the basket offense.

    IMO it’s going to depend on all the team to defend the right way (nobody in this team is a stopper), but if they give too much second chances things don’t look good.

    I still have some hopes that Bargnani improves: there is size, he isn’t slow and once in a while he has showed he can do it. Now the problem is he has to do it night in and night out, I’ll pray for it :)

    On the back to the basket offense, well, I think that Bargnani has some moves (but no his game), although hanging on the perimeter is difficult to do it, I agree we need to run that play more to get some diversity in offense and some space for the shooters bringing to the paint some perimeter defenders.

    Now if instead of some PFs we had got some decent center (big, heavy that can free space at the paint and with some back to the basket game) it would have been better (for Bargnani and for the whole team).

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