Whether it actually happens or not, the talk about the Toronto Raptors trading Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon to the smashed-up, dysfunctional Los Angeles Lakers for Pau Gasol and a spare part at least provides entertaining talking points.
If Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo is serious about moving Bargnani -- and there has never been any evidence whatsoever that he would be -- then the truth is this may be the best potential deal he'll ever get for him (assuming it's actually a possible trade and not just fan and media number-crunching). But it takes on added interest now that the Lakers will be without point guard Steve Blake for six to eight weeks. With Steve Nash still not ready to return, holes in L.A.'s lineup just got much bigger.
This is, of course, where real basketball need meets history, rumour and innuendo.
Calderon has been on the trading block since the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry in July. The Lakers have been rumoured to value Calderon on some level for years and the collective bargaining agreement's rules on contract numbers match up. Even with everyone healthy, the Lakers bench sucks and now they need another body that can play the point -- or at least the other backcourt position when Kobe Bryant's got the ball. A few nights of Chris Duhon should suffice to prove this.
Toronto's shortcomings this season are not all the big Italian's fault. He's just simply become the lightning rod for frustrated fans who have had enough of his seemingly one-dimensional game performed with the same laconic facial expression. He didn't even play that terribly in Monday's loss in Denver -- although when the Nuggets pull down 23 offensive rebounds, you again wonder where your big man is.
Toronto is not a deep basketball team. There are good pieces in Lowry, an improving DeMar DeRozan and rookie Jonas Valanciunas (Terrence Ross's sample size not enough yet to qualify). But Bargnani is no longer part of this. The No. 1 overall pick in 2006 essentially represents the old Raptors and his abbreviated solid showing last season is just that -- a thing of the past. You can criticize head coach Dwane Casey on some level this season for his inability to carry over last year's defensive advances to this team. But on a personal level, Bargnani is responsible for his own play. He no longer fits and Colangelo must know it.
Masking Il Mago
The fact is we've always known Bargnani would be a better player on a better team. In truth, a better team masks his deficiencies. Play him next to, say, Dwight Howard and he would look incredible. Howard, the most dominant centre and defensive player in the NBA, would allow Bargnani to space out opposing defences and shoot -- the only thing he can really do with any great effect.
Bring Bargnani off the bench on a deeper squad like when he showed flashes of brilliance in his early days on better Raptor teams? That's possible, too. I'm just not sure if there's a deep team out there in which a deal could be swung with. While he could also play off Tyson Chandler well, you have to wonder how quickly New York media and fans would eat Bargnani alive the first time he shot 1-for-9 with two rebounds.
Yet that's part of the reason why the Raptors drafted him. Colangelo and the front office were impressed back in '06 at how little stock he put in what people thought of him. The trouble is, that seems to be working the wrong way now. And to bring it back to the Lakers, we know head coach Mike D'Antoni has always liked his game.
Big Boy Pants
Throw in the fact that Gasol is Bargnani's opposite, a European who likes playing a post-up game, and consider this has become like oil and water so far in L.A. with Howard. Gasol's touches are down and his scoring is almost five points a game less than last season. Bryant subsequently called out Gasol after the Spaniard complained about this, Kobe telling him to put his "big boy pants on."
The concern on getting Gasol for the Raptors is his contract. He's still owed close to $40 million US over the next two seasons. There's also a trade kicker in his contract that raises the cap hit on his team next year. After that, however, it's 'Hello, cap space.'"
But all of this is speculation and hyperbole. I think it's fairly safe to say at this point that Gasol is going to be traded by the Lakers and Bargnani and Calderon should be traded by the Raptors. But will they get together? Unfortunately, there's still a good chance after all is said and done that L.A. doesn't want anything to do with the man known as Il Mago.
My first reaction to David Stern's ludicrous $250,000 US fine on head coach Gregg Popovich for sending the San Antonio Spurs' aging stars home ahead of last Thursday's game in Miami was that it was further evidence of the commissioner's decline. However, the truth is, it was circumstantial.
The NBA uses Thursday night TNT games as a showcase and that's why Stern went crazy. I find it very difficult to believe that the same fine would have been levied had Pop sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home from a Monday night game in Salt Lake City. A nationally televised tilt with the defending NBA champs, though? Problems.
Perhaps Popovich erred by sending the players back to San Antonio and not keeping them at the arena in Miami. But that's Pop for you. The purely circumstantial fine was the NBA for you.
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