Nothing is cast in stone yet, of course, but if you are someone who cares about basketball in Canada and/or you are a Toronto Raptors fan, then the past week has pretty much been as close as it gets to Christmas in the summer.
You may have been barely over the surge of national pride in seeingAnthony Bennett go No. 1 in the NBA draft when the Raptors managed totrade the albatross known as Andrea Bargnani for six separate entities (three players, three draft picks).
Yes, it has been an exhilarating few days. And with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s hiring of Jeff Weltman as executive VP of basketball operations Tuesday, it is clear that we are likely just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of Raptors changes (the Detroit Pistons’ laughable offer of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey for Rudy Gay Wednesday is at the very least an indicator that Gay is available).
But back to Bargnani.
Whether or not Marcus Camby or Quentin Richardson ever suits up for the Raps is virtually immaterial. Getting a needed three-point shooter in Steve Novak and three picks (sure, the 2016 first rounder comes with conditions) for the Italian big man is still a trade triumph for Toronto.
As Andy Phillips pointed out, the trade is a calculated risk by New York, done in part to keep the Knicks relevant on the back pages of the Post and the Daily News — a response, if you will, to the cross-town Netsloading up on the sort of name power that makes you wonder how on earth rookie coach Jason Kidd will manage them.
Put it this way: Nothing short of Bargnani completely turning his career around makes this trade a loss in any way for Toronto. And even then, you’d still be able to make the case that it was simply time for Bargs to go.
The Knicks, for their part, believe he still has lots left to offer offensively. Shooting coach Dave Hopla and assistant coach Jim Todd were both with the Raptors for Bargnani’s rookie season and know him well. Bargnani, in a previous life, dropped a career-high 41 points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2010.
Defensively, Tyson Chandler will be able to cover Bargnani’s shortcomings to a point, but it’s going to take a real effort on the part of Il Mago not to earn the wrath of Gotham fans and media. Think how bad it got in Toronto for him. Now magnify that tenfold.
To tank or not to tank?
What the Raptors do next is anybody’s guess, but there’s a palpable sense that a bigger shoe may be about to drop. With a sudden glut of wing players and a belief in some quarters that Toronto is still serious about blowing the whole thing up and going in the tank for a shot at Andrew Wiggins next year, the Gay trade rumours hold water. Dealing him for expiring contracts in Villanueva and Stuckey would be the surest sign yet of a tank, but the Raptors need a little more quality in return than that.
Tanking may not be particularly well advised, however. With Boston completely tearing down their roster (and looking to lean heavily on Canadian rookie Kelly Olynyk) and Philadelphia going young as well, the Raptors — even sans Rudy Gay — are no longer the worst team in the Atlantic Division.
And therein lies a little frustration if you are a Raptors fan. Watching Bennett get drafted by Cleveland to join fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson — and knowing Wiggins may not be an option next year if Toronto doesn’t fall far enough in the standings — feel like missed opportunities, even though that’s not the best way to describe it. The Raptors just aren’t bad enough right now.
So, as George Costanza would say after inadvertently outing his father-in-law, “onward and upward.”
If Toronto chooses to go forward toward the post-season, then a backup point guard and a big man are on the shopping list.