The goal of the season should be to off-load O’Neal to free up cap space and play the free agent market this summer in hopes of satisfying Bosh’s craving for winning. – Arsenalist
 

It’s good to have goals. They drive you. They’re the  bulls-eye just over the horizon. Small goals, big goals, short-term goals, long-term goals individual goals, team goals- without them, no one but the top dog would have a measurement for success. The great thing about goals, especially sports-related goals, is that they’re flexible. Rather than not reaching your goal and being disappointed with the outcome, you can always replace it with a new goal that’s a little bit more realistic, a little closer to being reached.

This is where we find ourselves now. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make the playoffs with the “most talented Raptors ever assembled.” Some maintain that with a healthy roster, renewed focus, and a little bit of luck we could indeed salvage a 7/8 spot in the playoffs. As I write this, the online poll to your right reflects this opinion to be the majority, the result of a two game win streak. Still, these are folks still holding on to the original goal set prior to the season. Like a child with their blankie, they refuse to let go.

But I, like some (including Arsenalist), have moved past that goal (notably because there’s a better chance of RapsFan becoming a rabbi) and are now looking to put a positive spin on the rest of the season. Our new goal should be to win the summer of 2009. It may not be a game, but it’s a competition. Let everyone else sweat it out until 2010. If we make the right moves this summer, we’re positioning ourselves to win both summers, because if we do right by Bosh next season, there’s a slight chance he might not bounce to go win championships (but never MVP’s – he should get that out of his head while he’s still young).

Winning the summer of 2009 begins with unloading O’Neal for an expiring contract. We tried, it failed, game over. The most obvious and talked about solution is Shawn Marion, but I like this trade better.

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I think the sell to Cleveland is easy. They’re going deep into June. They already have an excellent fit at center, but imagine if they could bring JO off the bench? Not to mention having that type of injury insurance come the postseason. They’re not resigning Wally, and I think the whole Varejao contract debacle soured both sides beyond repair. They are also pretty high on the talented J.J. Hickson, who with minutes will be an upgrade from Varejao by the end of the season. So they get two players off the books in 2010 (when they’re trying to resign this guy Lebron James) for a hard-nose big body that can still contribute at a high level when motivated and healthy. He won’t be asked to play too many minutes for the Cavs, which should negate the fatigue we’ve seen in his legs some games. And playing for a championship, on Lebron’s team…well if that doesn’t motivate JO, he should just retire. If Cleveland is serious about beating Boston, L.A., or even Orlando, this is a great trade for them.

For us, we get two players who we aren’t obligated to pay next season. I could see us resigning Andy, who’s hustle and rebounding (and foreigner status) make him more attractive to Colangelo than Humph. Sorry Kris, but you’re out on this one.

Okay, so now that we’ve done that, our roster for the remainder of the season is:

Jose/Roko/Other Guy

Parker/Sczerbiak

Kapono/Graham/Jumpshotio

Bosh/Varejao/Humphries

Bargnani/Voskhul/Jawai

Clearly we’re thin at the C but Varejao and Bosh are both more than capable of playing minutes up front. And I defy anyone to tell me this isn’t a better roster than we have currently: I’m not buying it. We’ll win enough games with these 13 down the stretch to salvage a bit of respect and not totally disgust the fan base (though I’m learning we’re capable of anything, like CNN keeps telling me young black children across America have recently discovered). Plus, we could play Kapono and Sczerbiak at the same time just to watch them clunk into each other like lemmings at the three point line. High comedy.

Now – fast-forward to July 2009, the point of all this. Who’s available? Names like Kobe, Iverson, Kidd, and Boozer top the “no way in hell they’re coming here” list. Guys like Rasheed Wallace, Okur, Drew Gooden, Andre Miller, and Mike Bibby are all on the “no thanks, we’re all stocked up” list.  If we can we agree our needs are perimeter defence, a wing who can create their own shot, and rebounding, then let’s look at who else is available and alluring, in no particular order.

Lamar Odom

Current Salary: $11.4 million/yr

In theory, he’s a dream player. A big who can handle the ball very well, has excellent range, play the 3/4/5 (in smallball), can rebound, doesn’t need plays run for him, and has good quickness at the position. Again, this is all “in theory”. Odom has had motivation/attitude problems in LA, which may be a result of playing in an offense that doesn’t put enough focus on him. If he came to Toronto, it would be a similar situation, but at least he’d be out from under Kobe. He hasn’t proven he can play alongside other bigs yet, which he’d have to do in TO. Regardless, a 5-4-3 lineup of Bargnani, Bosh, and Odom is long, athletic, and a major matchup issue for most teams. 

Brandon Bass

Current Salary: $826,269/yr

Yes please! He’s strong, doesn’t need the ball, comfortable coming off the bench, and is only 23. Even for $3 million per season, the upgrade Bass gives us as the first big off the bench over Humph/O’Neal/whoever is gigantic. He’s got a punishing inside game and would average 10 boards given the right PT. All those ill-advised, long jumpshots we like to take and miss? Bass would wrangle them bitches quicker than R.Kelly at the prom. I’d put Chris Wilcox here right beside Bass if Wilcox wasn’t already making almost $7 million a year (though he IS only 26…). Bass fits into the “complimentary” category – at that salary, Wilcox doesn’t.

Hedo Turkoglu

Current Salary: $6.86 million/yr

Hedo’s the type of guy I’m not totally sold on. Yeah, he’s having a great run in Orlando, but is that because he’s truly blossomed into an All-Star or a function of all the space Lewis and Howard make for him? Is it the maturation of his skill set or a coach that knows how to best utilize them? I’m undecided but there’s no denying that “Orlando Hedo” would be a home run in Toronto. Calderon would have a field day kicking it out to him for open 3′s, and his ability to get to the free throw line and rebound from the wing position are two things sorely missed on this team. And then there’s the whole international vibe we’ve got going on. Hedo’s got a player option that he may or may not exercise, depending on how Orlando fares this season. At only 29 someone’s going to overpay him either this year or next. At $9/season, I could see us getting him and still having a lot left over for another signing/2010.

Ron Artest

Current Salary: $8.45 million/yr

He’d bring the toughness we’ve been lacking since Oakley left. He’s as good as any one-on-one defender in the league, and would welcome the responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s best player every night. He can hit the three, a necessity for any Raptor. He’s an excellent rebounder and a near-perfect 3 for this team. He’s also insane, and could easily swing a chair at the Raptor during a TV timeout. That being said, someone will gamble on Ron-Ron, and Colangelo’s been nothing if not a dice-roller. Why would he come here? For the same reason girls with low self esteem date jerks. Because somebody wants them. Signing Artest leaves room for another significant FA acquisition, perhaps a solid veteran 2 guard that would help turn this team right around. Maybe someone like…

Desmond Mason

Current Salary: $5.3 million/yr

There are bigger FA names left to discuss, but I can’t help but think that if Mason was brought in as a complimentary signing to a higher-tiered player like Artest, it would instantly turn this team around. A starting 5 of Calderon, Mason, Artest, Bosh, Bargnani has it all (on paper) – rebounding, deep threats, ball movement, athleticism, the ability to get to the FT line, and a little big of swagger.  I like Jamal Crawford here as well but he’s unlikely to opt-out of his last two years in Golden State and makes Mike James look gunshy. Desmond isn’t going to want to stick around in Oklahoma City to watch his minutes dwindle, and at 31 he’s at the perfect age where veteran wisdom and athleticism still co-exist. He’s still a starter in this league – just look at Jamario Moon and tell me otherwise. Forgetting about his numbers with the Thunder (his minute are way down), he’s a proven scorer/slasher. We could sign him to a $5.5mil/season contract and I’d consider it reasonable.

Carlos Delfino

Current Salary: $2.75 million ruples ($4 million USD)

It’s clear to me that we miss Carlos’ ball handling, and resigning him would alleviate some of the major of finding a backup PG for Jose. Between Jose, Roko, and Delfino, we should have 48 minutes of solid guard play. When he doesn’t rely on the jump shot, Delfino is a definite slasher who can keep the defence guessing.He carried us in more than a few quarters last season when our offence was stalling. Carlos is an above average defender and wouldn’t command a crazy salary. To top it off, we still have his NBA rights. But can we bring back a player we let go last year? I want to say we shouldn’t but… 

Rasho Nesterovic

Current Salary: $8.4 million/yr

…I hope the answer to that question is yes because I want to see Rasho back in Raptors red black next season. If we kept Anderson (in my total fantasy scenario) then I there’s no room/money for him, but if we didn’t, Rasho is comfortable with the team, the players, and his role as a backup. He’s got high basketball IQ, rarely makes mistakes, and can play more minutes if someone’s injured. But he’d have to be willing to make less than his current salary.

 

I realize there are more names to chat about, but they’re either totally useless (The Collins twins) or totally destructive (Starbury and Damon Jones – you could potentially add Artest to this list, but I’m not). In my most realistic “nice to have” scenario, here’s how we net out in 2009-2010:

We lose: O’Neal, Szcerbiak, Parker, Voskhul

We gain: Artest, Mason, Bass, Draft Pick, Varajeo*

We drown: Solomon

* If we resign

2009-2010 roster:

PG: Jose/Roko

SG: Mason/’09 Draft Pick

SF: Artest/Graham/Kapono/Me/Whitney Port/Jamario Moon

PF: Bosh/Bass/Humph or Varajeo

C: Bargnani/Rasho (if we don’t sign Varajeo)/Jawai

 

Yes, there are a TON of what ifs in there, and I’m sure more than a few of you will call me all sorts of flattering things in the comments section, but what is being a sports fan without speculation? Would you not play with this team in NBA 2K10, if nothing else than to trot out a lineup of Bargnani, Bosh, Bass, Artest, and Mason just to grab every rebound? What if we swapped Kapono for a competent backup PG or a SG? Tell me we’re not instantly more competitive next season. Deeper and tougher and with more less holes across the board?

I’m not suggesting long-term contracts for anyone but Bass. No more getting pushed around. No more being one foul away from the bonus with 7:00 left and not getting to the FT line. No more stints where we don’t have a legitimate NBA talent on the court. No more laughing stock. 

These are MY goals for the team next season. And it begins now. If we don’t get rid of JO this year, it will be the biggest mistake in franchise history. Mark my words. Admit your mistake Colangelo, and help achieve our new goal for this season.

(I am aware none of this takes into consideration stockpiling more money necessary to resign Bosh in 2010. But if we can resign him to the same type of contract, the numbers should work.)

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