Thursday, April 7, 2011

NBA Today and rebuilding the Raptors

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Mosi Platt of the Miami Heat Index sent me a link to a recent NBA Today podcast where (starting at around the 27th minute) Ryen Russillo talks about how to rebuild the Raptors. Mosi wanted to hear my thoughts on Russillo's comments about the Raptors, and so I sent him a quick email reply.

I've expanded on my brief thoughts below. Each of my comments is made in response to something that Ryen Russillo said on the podcast; Russillo's comments are italicized.

The Raptors have no good pieces (maybe only Cleveland is as bad). Who are the core guys? DeRozan ("improved") and Ed Davis ("better than I thought"). Bargnani ("not a good contract"). Amir Johnson ("will always be a backup - fouls a ton").

I disagree. DeRozan has not been productive, but his perceived value is high in the league, and I'm sure he could fetch the Raps something pretty. Ed Davis has had a good rookie season (as expected), and should improve going forward. Joey Dorsey is a good - and cheap - big man. Amir Johnson has played well (again, as expected), is signed to a very reasonable deal, and will be turning 24 on May 1st. If that's not the definition of a good piece, then the NBA has very few good pieces. And, of course, there is the Raptors' high first round lottery pick in this year's draft.

Raptors announcers (as are other NBA announcers) are brutal homers.

Totally, 100% agree. I can't stand listening to the games ever since Chuck Swirsky left to do radio work for the Chicago Bulls. Matt Devlin is boring, has no catchphrases, and seems like he doesn't understand basketball. Swirsky was also a homer, but at least he was an interesting homer who had personality and seemed like he cared about the team. While this may be nostalgia rearing its ugly head, I remember Jack Armstrong being less useless in the past; nowadays he seems like a Yes-man who simply parrots all of Bryan Colangelo's talking points. Sadly, it has come to the point where Leo Rautins is the most palatable Raptors' commentator. And let's not even talk about the fact that Raptors' games are spread across four channels -some of which aren't on standard cable packages. It's no wonder that some fans have had to resort to watching games online.

Not much cap space ($49 Million, not counting #4 pick). Bad contracts: Calderon and Bargnani. Raps "don't need" Calderon.

Bargnani has an indisputably bad contract, but Calderon is still valuable - overpaid, but valuable; I wouldn't just give Calderon away. Calderon's backup, Jerryd Bayless, fluctuates wildly and tends towards the suck end of the spectrum, so if Calderon is to be traded, it would be smart of the Raptors to pick up another usable PG. The team's cap situation isn't terrible, but it's not perfect either; getting rid of Barbosa (who's bound to pick up his option) and Bargnani would save the team $16.6 million.

Toronto is not a destination for NBA players.

I agree - it seems like NBA players don't want to come to Toronto. Now, other than the fact that the franchise has been a joke, why would anyone not want to play in Toronto? Toronto is the 5th largest city in North America and the only Canadian city with an NBA franchise - the marketing potential is huge. The city is a world-class city, host to many national and international events, and has tons of stuff to do. Canada is a much better country to live in than the US (even my American girlfriend agrees with that statement); the standard of living is higher, life expectancies are higher, and there's less poverty....if American players are concerned about the tax rate, they're nuts. Players don't even have to maintain their primary residence in the city if they don't want to! European players seem to have no problem with Toronto as a destination. Are American players concerned about not having "the good cable", worried about encountering Curling while channel-surfing, or having to slog through the CFL draft? Are they worried about their children learning the Canadian anthem and the metric system instead of the American equivalents? Or perhaps about the "cold weather" in Toronto? Whatever it is, I think that if the Raptors turn things around for a sustained period of time, this whole conversation will become moot, because players like to play for winners.

For the record, I'd take Toronto over Minneapolis every single time

Greg Oden in Toronto? No, because of cap space.

Greg Oden is exactly the type of player that Toronto has to go after during free agency. Toronto is a crappy team, most prominent players probably aren't going to want to play there, and so the Raps have to take calculated risks. Greg Oden is one such risk. He's a young player - still 23 - who's been very effective when he's been on the court. He's also a Centre, which is a very important position. Of course, the downside is that he's always injured and he might be one serious injury away from retirement (sweet deal - where can I sign up for that?). But as long as the Raptors pull a Dallas and sign a relatively dependable backup at the same, Oden has a decent chance of being a difference-maker next season (assume that there are games next season). If Toronto's crafty enough, cap space won't be a problem.

Bryan Colangelo: "he's done a good job, not a great job", "don't care either way if he's back".

No. Bryan Colangelo has not done a good job; every major move he's made has failed. While many of the minor deals he's made have been good ones, the good has not been nearly enough to make up for the bad, and there has been no semblance of a plan or a philosophy during his time with the team. It would be best for the franchise if they let Colangelo walk and find a cheaper, less-heralded GM, preferably one with a history of success. But, failing that, I'm available for a reasonable price.

Hibbert for O'Neal - "bad trade, but reasonable at the time".

Definitely a bad trade, but not one that should have seemed reasonable at the time; I was not a fan of the deal when it happened, and actually, I wouldn't have traded O'Neal straight up for Hibbert, let alone included T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic in the deal. And I'm not the only one who didn't like the trade at the time.

Jay Triano "won't and shouldn't come back". Get a new coach who will "bust some skulls" - Lawrence Frank.

Jay Triano has not wowed me - his decisions on who should get playing time have been poor all season long. However, such is the case with most NBA coaches, so I really can't get too upset about it. What I can get upset about, however, is that he seems to be ignorant about "advanced" basketball statistics - and by "advanced", I mean relatively simple concepts like True Shooting percentage, which is a shooting percentage that takes into account the extra value of threes and free throws. I'm sure there are better coaches out there somewhere, but the questions are, will they be willing to coach Toronto, and how much will they cost? Triano's big plus is that he's cheap. If the team is going to hire someone who is a typical NBA coach, it might as well hire someone like Triano who doesn't cost very much. I wouldn't mind going after a guy like Jeff Van Gundy or Lawrence Frank, but only if the price is right. Given all this - despite my lack of confidence in his coaching - I don't really care if Triano's back or not.

As far as defensive-minded/offensive-minded goes, as a bad team, I think the Raptors would be better with a defensive-minded coach. On average, bad teams...are bad. This means that, as the tempo increases, the likelihood of the bad team being beaten by a better team increases due to a larger sample size (more possessions). Defensive coaches tend to slow down the tempo, and this gives crappier teams a better chance of pulling out an undeserved victory.

You can't have Bargnani playing 30mins a night - bad D guy on a bad D team - trade him? But that's hard to do, because who knows what other teams think of Bargnani. Biedrins? Lamar Odom? Zach Randolph? Elton Brand? Iguodala? Al Jefferson?

Yes, what to do with Bargnani? If I could get any of those players in a trade for Bargnani, I would (although Elton Brand is a bit iffy given his contract, so the rest of the players in the deal would be important). Bargnani must be traded. The question is, who will take him? I'd be willing to trade him away for any contract that is either less money per year, or shorter than his deal. I repeat: any contract. If I could get any useful players out of it, that would be a bonus, but really, just getting rid of him would be a victory.

Trade Bargnani and #4 pick for Steve Nash and Gortat? Ryen says Toronto should say no. But Canadians would love to have Nash on the team. "I don't know if Phoenix would do it".

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! That would be an amazing trade for Toronto, and I'd do it in a second. Gortat is a very good and relatively young Centre. Nash is old, but still really good and signed at a reasonable price; plus, he's Canadian and really, really fun to watch. I'd do this immediately. Unfortunately, there's no way in hell that Phoenix would do this trade, and I suspect that current Toronto management wouldn't do the trade either (as obsessed with "youth" and "potential" as they are). While Nash might not want to leave Phoenix either, if he's going to be on a crappy non-playoff team, perhaps he might rather be in Canada? Of course, if I was Nash, I wouldn't want to play for a crappy organization like the Raptors, so who knows.

The Bosh Trade Exception "is useless".

I disagree. It might come in handy during the summer, perhaps when some team is looking to shed a big contract. Maybe one of the team's bigger contracts (Calderon, Bargani, and Barbosa) can be combined with the $12 million left in the trade exception to nab a great player? Maybe the Hawks get tired of mediocrity and decide to cut costs - I'd take Al Horford or Josh Smith off their hands for them (but you couldn't convince me to touch the Joe Johnson stinker). What about the Mavs? Mark Cuban is going on record as saying that he'll blow the team up once he realizes that the team isn't going anywhere. After another disappointing playoffs this year, maybe he pulls the plug, and Chandler or Nowitzki are available? The Cavs might be looking to trade Varejao away - sure he's coming off an injury, but those are the types of gambles you have to make.

 - Devin


  1. yeah, just saying, the TPE is now at 9.05 million. It was used to get ajinca,Bayless/Peja, and James Johnson.

  2. Oh, so they used part of it in the Ajinca and Johnson deals? I hadn't heard that.

    Thanks for pointing that out - although I don't think the extra $3 million makes that much of a difference.

  3. You really would make a deal for an aging Nash? Gortat would be great going forward, but this team is so devoid of young star level talent that we need to at least try and score big in next year's loaded draft lottery. Nash would only serve to make us much better much too quickly, and could easily put us right back on the treadmill. You need to be patient with rebuilds and develop your young core overtime .. a 38 year old Nash belongs on a contender, not a basement dweller.

  4. Oh yeah, Nash all the way; the trade would accomplish two things:

    1) Gets Gortat. A very good starting centre! Every time one of these becomes available you have to strike, because they don't come around very often.

    2) Gets rid of Bargnani. One of (if not) the worst starters in the league, someone who might be impossible to move (I don't know how other teams view him).

    Sure, you're trading one or two years of Nash for the a high draft pick. But you're also switching Bargnani for Gortat! Nash could help the team in the very short run, or you could trade him away for something else. Either way, I'd make that trade every time. If I could somehow throw Jared Dudley into the mix (perhaps...DeRozan?) I'd be laughing.

  5. I wouldn't throw away Derozan so quickly. His numbers on the season might not look all that great, but I bet if you looked at them month by month you'd see steady improvement in several categories. By all accounts the kid is a hard worker and he has all the tools to be an efficient 3rd or even 2nd offensive option and adequate defender (with a coach who actually values the defensive end).

  6. I would honestly take Joe Johnson if it meant getting rid of Bargnani. Although, with new CBA you never know, but at least Joe Johnson is average!

  7. Your kidding me about Derouzan and Barney
    Keeping Barney at the 4 with a true center would do wonders and Derozan has steadily improved all season
    The pu off Johnson at the 3 seems good
    Keeping Bayless and Calderon at point for now is fine
    Our biggest need is a true center---Gasol, Chandler???
    Someone that is defensive minded

  8. Just do not understand all the Bargnani haters. He has a solid and developing offensive game. Only thing missing is a more consistant desire to drive the lane since he is a terrific ball handler for a big. He is weak on the defence but this part of the game has also improved from two years ago. If Jordan had not gone back on the chandler deal the haters would not be so strong because the complimentary nature of his game to Barg's would have compensated for these weaknesses and the attention Chandler gets on the boards would have increased Barg's. I know that Barg is no Dirk but remember Dirk has had a solid big beside him most of his career. Keep Barg, get a top flight big and watch Barg's numbers all around game and numbers go up.

  9. DeRozan gets part of the next season to prove to me that he's worth keeping. If I don't see substantial improvement by next trade deadline, he'd be gone. And by improvement, I'm not just talking about an increase in PPG average, which, by itself, is useless.

    Evan: If I was to take on the Johnson contract, I'd have to get Horford and some other nice pieces. The problem is that Johnson is going to be making $16 million+ each season from here on out, so it would be hard to make salaries match.

    Bargnani is simply not good, people. I've been over it several times. It doesn't matter how you look at it, Bargnani is not a good player. Playing him next to a true centre won't help. He's barely useful on the offensive end and doesn't do anything else:

    This year was Bargnani's ultimate test to prove himself, and he failed (as expected). At his age, he is who he is, and who he is is a terrible NBA player. He must go.

  10. I think we all have to remember that the last step in defense is getting the rebound. Bargnani just might be a good 1-1 defender, but if he can't rebound, your giving the opponents a good chance at another shot.

    The way around this then is to get a good rebounding team as a whole to compensate. The problem with this however is that Bargnani is not close to efficient enough offensively to build a team of rebounders around him so he can play offense, when its not that great of an offense anyway.

    He is a garbage player, and has been for every single year he has been in the league, and a team where he is seen as the top option is never going to win anything.

  11. Not only is Bargnani a putrid rebounder, he is among the worst PnR defenders in the league, and that's where he he kills the team the most. However, it seems no one on the Raptors seems to have a clue how to defend screen coverages properly outside of maybe Amir Johnson. This is probably a coaching issue.

    Derozan should be given some more time. His Offensive Efficiency has improved over the course of the season even with an increase in possessions. You can see how he's developed a dangerous midrange only this year to go along with his ability to draw fouls and even work in post up situations. He just needs time to put these together. Next up would be a respectable 3 pointer.

  12. Well I would like to see Andrea stay but if he goes there will be a lot of teams interested. His contract would make him, on average, the fourth highest player on a west coast nba playoff team and third on a east coast nba lottery team the next two years and bump it up one for the last year of the contract(assuming player contract do not go up the next three years!!!) If Davis is the PF of the future, which I believe he very well could be, and the Raps can get a quality wide body in return then make a trade. I for one look at the whole picture and understand the Bargnani may not be a player to build a franchise around, just like Bosh was not, but he is a top fifty player with the 77th highest salary in a 30 team league and that ain't garbage. Ultimately he may not be a piece toronto needs to make the next step but he will be an important piece somewhere.

  13. Can I hate on your blog for a moment? You can't be a basketball expert and like or even tolerate leo. Jack is the only watcable part of raps tv, paul jones is good on radio...

  14. Paul Jones is pretty good when I see him on TV, but I don't listen to the radio and that's where he usually stays.

    Re Rautins: One, I never claim to be a basketball "expert", and two, I said "Sadly, it has come to the point where Leo Rautins is the most palatable Raptors' commentator". I never said that I liked listening to him, nor did I say that he was even tolerable (although I do think he and Armstrong are both tolerable); I simply think that right now, he is the most listenable of the three. As I said, Armstrong used to be better, but this season he has been annoying.

    Last comment about Bargnani: the salary on his current contract averages out to $10 million/year - I don't think that would be the fourth highest on most teams (I'd have to look). But regardless, Bargnani is not a top 50 player. He is a bottom 50 player. He is the least productive player in the league this season - and it's not even close. And it isn't the first time he's "led" the league in that category before. He is garbage.

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  17. I wish you wouldn't provide so much free advertising for beer companies, Jack. It's not like they really need (or deserve) it, and I don't find it very endearing.

    And nice try, but the real Jack Armstrong doesn't say hello like that. There's more em-phasis on the second syll-able. The way you wrote it makes it seem like Jack's a valley girl.