launches another jumper. (J. Dennis & Allen Einstein, Getty Images)
By Ben Golliver
Things are coming apart north of the border.
The 4-16 Raptors have been pretty atrocious under second-year coach Dwane Casey after showing hints of respectability last season. They have regressed on defense, found innumerable ways to lose close games, failed to meet modest expectations almost across the board and have sunk to the third worst record in the league entering Sunday. The only two teams below them -- Cleveland and Washington -- have played some or all of the season without their franchise point guards. The Raptors have no such excuses and even GM Bryan Colangelo, in the last year of his contract, sounds fed up in comments to the Toronto Star.
“This situation is, from all standards, unacceptable,” the team’s president and general manager said. “It’s disappointing, it’s embarrassing but this is where we find ourselves.”
“There’s been a lot of dialogue, a lot of discussion,” he said. “It’s constant evaluation of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it.”
“We’re all under a microscope now, as should be the case, including myself,” said Colangelo. “We clearly have to make this right.”
A major lightning rod for that dialogue, not to mention ongoing criticism, is Andrea Bargnani, Toronto's underachieving seven-foot forward who averages less than five rebounds per game and couldn't guard a stanchion. This week, CBSSports.com reported that Toronto could be the "most likely landing spot" for Lakers forward Pau Gasol and that Bargnani would be one of the key pieces sent to Los Angeles. ESPN.com also reported earlier this week that the Raptors were weighing the idea of shopping Bargnani in an attempt to land Gasol but that nothing came out of the talks yet.
The Toronto Sun reports that Bargnani is as frustratingly indifferent off the court as he is on it.
“No, of course it doesn’t affect me, but I think it does make sense on this team,” he said. “Who else would you blame? I don’t really know what you want me to answer.”
“It’s something you don’t control, so there’s no purpose in being prepared for it or getting prepared for it,” he said. “The only thing you really care about is trying to play good for yourself and for the team. That’s what you have to prepare for. A trade? Be prepared or not prepared, it doesn’t make you a better player or a worse player. If it’s going to happen, it happens. If it doesn’t, I mean it’s not something you really think about, at least I don’t think about it.
For Raptors fans stuck watching a fifth straight lottery visit unfold, with the very real possibility that the team's 2013 first-round pick will be transferred to the Thunder following the Kyle Lowry and James Harden trades, Bargnani's laissez-faire attitude must read like nails on a chalkboard. Maintaining focus amid a brewing media storm is admirable, sure, but if Bargnani doesn't care whether or not he's traded, why should anyone care about the Raptors? Role players cycle through the league at a fast rate but $10 million per year for guys like Bargnani, especially those selected near the top of the draft and cultivated over the course of six-plus seasons, usually project a little bit more buy-in to their surroundings. Here, he's left fans wondering: If the thought of getting traded isn't a big deal, does winning or losing really matter? If he's come to terms with being gone tomorrow and the thought doesn't seem to particularly bother him, what hope is there that the next 62 games will look meaningfully better than the first 20 if he's not moved?
Bargnani has dealt with criticisms of his game for long enough that he knows how things work. His scoring and rebounding numbers this season are his worst in four years and he's shooting a pathetic 40.2 percent from the field with more than sixty percent of his attempts coming from 15+ feet. This, at 27, when he should be ascending. This, while being paid $10 million this season and another $10.8 million next season. This, after years of steady backing from Colangelo.
Right now, the arguments for moving on from the Colangelo/Bargnani era appear far stronger than the arguments for staying the course. An array of teammates have cycled through around Bargnani, producing nothing but middling results. Multiple coaches have tried to crack the puzzle, to no avail. Colangelo has doled out more than his fair share of bad or questionable contracts (Hedo Turkoglu
, Amir Johnson
, Linas Kleiza, Landry Fields
, DeMar Derozan, etc). Even the rays of hope --DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas
and Terrence Ross
-- are not guaranteed to form a winning core in the future. Taken together, the current turmoil has the developing feel of a crossroads commonly reached by perpetually struggling franchises: the moment when it becomes clear a drastic change in direction couldn't possibly be worse than maintaining the status quo.