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When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to…

Oct 1, 2011, 11:30 AM EDT

Toronto Raptors v Denver Nuggets Getty Images

This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Miami Heat. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last Season: Honestly, it could have been a lot worse. I understand that’s going to come as no consolation to Raptors fans who had to sit through a season with no defense yet again, where the team’s biggest star is the fans’ least favorite (Andrea Bargnani), and who never capitalized on the space gained from Chris Bosh‘s rapid departure. But really, it could have been much worse.

The Raptors were simply a non-factor last season, and it wasn’t really anything surprising. You knew they would be bad defensively, and they were. Primarily, the players caught the heat for that. At no point was the blame directed at Jay Triano, despite the fact that system has more of an effect on NBA defense than personnel nearly every time. But there was a lot to hate about this team. Bargnani struggled with double teams and continued to be horrid defensively, at least as a help defender. (Research shows Bargnani’s actually pretty decent at man defense, but don’t tell Raptors fans, they’ll throw things at you.) Jose Calderon was overpaid still even if he contributed as much as he could. Amir Johnson was Amir Johnson and not the revelation many hoped he would be. Johnson was better at the things he’s bad at but not much better at the things he’s good at. Jerryd Bayless provided a spark but got lost in the mass and perhaps the most promising player was DeMar DeRozan.

Since we last saw the Raptors: Well, they hired an NBA champion assistant coach, for starters. Triano was lifted from the head coaching position and into a consultant role by Bryan Colangelo, while Dwane Casey was brought in. Casey is expected to bring in the defense he helped oversee in Dallas and focus on changing the culture of the Raptors. Speaking of Colangelo, the big guy was given an extension which almost no one understood as he has seemingly perpetuated the problems in Toronto with personnel and strategic decision making. The Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas who is expected to be the big tough center Bargnani never was, and there’s talk of Bargnani moving to power forward, since moving him is nearly impossible with the extension granted to him in 2010. Valanciunas won’t be available until the 2012-2013 season, however, due to his overseas contract.

The Raptors clear a ton of cap space this season, and a possible amnesty clause could have dramatic effects for them. Leandro Barbosa exercised his option before the lockout and is owed $8 million. But the Raptors will be clearing a lot of excess.

When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to:  Make sure there’s an amnesty clause. The Raptors aren’t in the worst shape financially. But an amnesty clause could do wonders for them. You’ll find a good discussion of their options for the amnesty clause here. Most notably, and this is tough for me to say, they need to find a way to rid themselves of Andrea Bargnani.

I’m a Bargnani guy. I think guys that can score from the 4-5 spot are rare in this league, and despite his terrible tendencies defensively, I don’t see a player beyond hope. I think with Dwane Casey working with him and beside Valanciunas, he could redeem himself for years of apparent apathy and laziness. But the Raptors fans I hear from are simply done with him. They want nothing more to do with him, they don’t want him to be the face of the franchise, and he is, by any and all measure, drastically overpaid. If it’s the amnesty, it’s probably going to Calderon. But Calderon will be movable in 2012. So will Amir Johnson. Barbosa might even be dumpable in a sign-and-release deal at the deadline. But Bargnani is anchored to Toronto due to his contract. He deserves a fresh start somewhere and Raptors fans deserve a reprieve from their frustrations with him.

From there, it’s just about building up. DeMar DeRozan has to make the leap this season. Not start to, he’s got to make it. Otherwise, the Raptors need to move him and aim for a draft pick in this year’s insanely good draft to nab a premier wing. Ed Davis showed a lot of promise, and the Raptors need to determine what they have with him. Casey needs to be supported in his efforts to bring in defensive personnel to reshape the identity of the team and the Raptors need to get to work on forgetting who they’ve been and trying to be something wholly different.

  1. johngalt613 - Oct 2, 2011 at 12:28 AM

    Don’t agree with your assessment of Amir Johnson.

    If you watched the Raptors games last season you will have noticed that he was the Raptors best player.

    The (APBRmetric) Top 593 Players of 2012 ranks Amir #48 in the NBA.

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=9780

    Writers like you focus too much on PPG and RPG while remaining ignorant of other factors that come into play in rating a player

    For example of all players who started at least 50 games last season he had the second highest Offensive Rating in the NBA. See Basketball-Reference.com

    He achieved this despite playing injured on one good ankle for the last 6 weeks of the season. The ankle was subsequently operated on in June

    • borderline1988 - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:03 PM

      Amir Johnson is not a starting power forward on a contending team (rather, a good backup). He is a decent fit and hardworking, but anchoring him to the starting 4 spot would simply be resigning yourself to mediocrity for years to come.

      It’s similiar to the Reggie Evans situation in a way. Evans is a fantastic rebounder, one of the best in the NBA. Raptors fans, including myself, love him for that, but honestly, he is not starting talent.

      I think the writer here is dead on. Bargnani is what he is, and he could be a good fit in the right situation. But you have to be able to cover for his defensive and rebounding deficiencies, and need attacking guards who will open up the perimeter for him, because he’s at his best when he catches the ball at the 3 point line (either shoots the 3, or pump fakes and drives). In the current situation, Bargnani’s weaknesses are glaring.

      The team has some good young pieces in Derozan, Davis, Valanciunas, and Bayless. The potential in those players is very real, although their success at an NBA level remains an unknown. Everyone else on the team are bench players, good parts but no real NBA starting talent (except for Barngani of course).

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