Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Brave New Raptor World

Who is this impostor and what has he done with Bryan Colangelo? It's a question many Raptor fans have asked themselves after the 'Saviour' traded for a seemingly washed-up Jermaine O'Neal.

Gone are the warm and fuzzy feelings that surrounded the GM upon his arrival. The general awe and excitment, not to mention respectability that Colangelo brought with him when he arrived in Toronto is slowly fading away, just like Chris Martin's hairline and Lindsay Lohan's career.

With the acquisition of O'Neal in exchange for T.J. Ford and Rasho's expiring contract, the ball-moving youthful Raptors squad that surprised many by winning the Atlantic division a year ago and appeared on the rise is nothing but a memory.

In its place is a win-now type of team that most people assume won't, largely because the new guy who makes $22 million (nearly 1/3 of the Raps cap space) hasn't played a full season in 5 years, and the former #1 pick (Andrea Bargnani) can't turn around without committing a foul.

In moving Ford I would have preferred the rumoured offer from Portland that included Martell Webster and Channing Frye, but I can understand the (presumed) logic: Webster and Frye are obviously younger and healthier but they won't necessarily make you a great deal better. They are simply more pieces to build around and another way to buy more time for the core of this team to mature.

That would have been a tweak to the roster. And in a suddenly strong Eastern Conference, that might have been enough to get back to the playoffs.

Instead, with one swift move (gamble?) Colangelo changed the entire dynamic of the team and the overall direction it was headed. The Raptors have transformed from a young and potentially promising team to one that is suddenly all about the now. In the end it may prove be a lateral move, but taking the safe route and continuing with the youth movement might not have shown Chris Bosh this franchise was serious about winning. Getting Jermaine O'Neal does.

Everyone, myself included, has been extremely quick to point out how O'Neal will almost certainly go down at some point. He's only 30 years old but has already been through 12 NBA seasons. His best days clearly are not ahead of him. The flip-side is that T.J. has serious back and neck issues that could force him into retirement at any moment.

Plus, the Raptors HAD to move Ford. And because eveyone in the league knew Toronto was shopping the guy, Colangelo was dealing from weakness. Let's put it this way: two years of an old Jermaine O'Neal are unquestionably more desirable than four years of an overweight and uninspired Boris Diaw.

Perhaps O'Neal really was on cruise control the last couple of years in Indiana, patiently biding his time on an awful team, waiting for his next opportunity. In that case, Toronto could be the beneficiary of a fallen star who works himself back into top shape to showcase his game for one more big contract.

One thing is certain: the Raptors will be exponentially better with Jose Calderon playing 40 minutes a night. When Ford was out of the lineup in the middle of last season Jose absolutely carved up opposing defences and the team played its best basketball and won a lot of games. He's also a great teammate and a consistently hard worker. T.J. created chemistry problems, his own shots...and not much else.

Everything considered, maybe Colangelo hasn't lost his golden touch. If O'Neal can stay healthy (and that is a gigantic 'if'), there's no doubt the new roster has a higher ceiling than the old one.

And if he can't, if the experiment doesn't work, O'Neal's contract expires in 2010 so the Raptors will have ample space to get Bosh another new wingman. Actually, with more than $22M coming off the books, Toronto could get him two.

Will it be enough to convince Bosh to stick around?

1 comment:

  1. It is a change in direction, but I think that this is a good trait in management. You don't want a really stubborn guy who doesn't change his approach.

    The last point is important, JO is going to expire just as we need to re-sign Bosh. Also, next season he is a 20+ million expiring contract, so that has value.

    We're not really getting older though. Out with Rasho in with JO. Out with TJ in with Roko Ukic. Not much of a change in ages. Actually, I think this reduces the average age of the Raps.

    My biggest beef with the trade was that we included the 1st rounder. I wouldn't mind having Hibbert on the bench to bang with Howard, but I like the trade. As you said, Calderon needs the minutes.