Other than dealing with the Chris Bosh saga, figuring out how to strengthen the team for the second half of the season should be a top priority for Bryan Colangelo as the trade deadline nears. This roster has shown they have the potential to either be a complete failure or a moderate success, and Colangelo must make moves to ensure that it’s the latter or better. As the schedule has softened, we have once again shown the ability to beat the lesser clubs of the association. However, as we found out the last two seasons, that distinction doesn’t come close to determining playoff success, something that should be an immediate goal.
Prioritizing what weaknesses to address will be the key challenge. Two years ago Colangelo incorrectly prioritized three-point shooting ahead of rebounding and ended up with Jason Kapono. Last year he finally got around to getting a rebounding big but failed to consider the impact of dribble penetration and left perimeter defense unaddressed, we all know what happened next. At last year’s trade deadline we attempted a pseudo-rebuild and ended up pulling a trade which saw us lose two draft picks, acquire a bad contract, give up a massive expiring deal holding great value this year, and then let a piece that actually fit walk away in the summer. So figuring out just how to tweak the current roster without costing flexibility and resources is going to be key. The key word here is tweak, because realistically speaking, that’s all Colangelo will do. He’s not going to trade Bargnani, Turkoglu or Bosh in an effort to make the team better this year.
From a basketball standpoint, there are a few things to consider. The problem of dribble penetration still exists, albeit it is less severe. The tweak we could make is the acquisition of a shot-blocker; we’re 17th in the league in blocks with 5.2 and Andrea Bargnani is our leading shot-blocker with 1.22bpg. Chris Bosh and Amir Johnson follow up with 1.09bpg and 0.79bpg, respectively. The issue is that none of these three players are great help defenders or weak-side shot-blockers. Amir Johnson is decent, but nothing that could anchor your defense or bail out guards who allow get beat. The idea here is that instead of collapsing the paint each and every time, we allow a good defender to contest the shot and make shorter interior rotations rather than longer perimeter ones. A defensive big man with length (Camby, Dalembert, Birdman) could be a tweak that would result in better overall defense. It’s hard to see Reggie Evans making a big impact at this point and his services could be offered in a trade but takers would be few and far between. We could also simply increase Johnson’s minutes and see if he fits the bill, but something tells me personal fouls will get in the way.
Everybody loves Gerald Wallace because he plays hard on defense, doesn’t settle for perimeter springers and has that look about him which you only see when you go to prison and drop the soap. Since there aren’t many Wallace-types available, adding a “defensive specialist” is perceived to be the next best option. However, strictly adding a defender is risky business as we’re seeing with Antoine Wright. A player of that nature produces next to nothing on offense and brings varying levels of play on the defensive side. Expecting someone like Wright to consistently contribute in proportion to his minutes is impossible, he’s just not that good. The Raptors would be better suited going for a good intelligent defender who has an offensive niche, someone who possesses enough offensive tools that he needs to be accounted for by the defense, not just left alone and doubled off of. Players like Raja Bell, James Posey, Ronnie Brewer and to a higher degree, Caron Butler come to mind. The premise of this move is acknowledging that Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan are decent players, but not ready to carry the defensive load at the wing by themselves. They need help and competition, both will serve them well in the long run. You can keep Marco Belinelli, he’s harmless, if he’s on he’s great, if he’s not, he’ll play 6 minutes. No sweat.
Focusing on offense, we have the option to commit to being a quick-fire team, much like what Orlando, Phoenix and New York are doing with different levels of success. They’re making 10.3, 9.5 and 9.1 threes a game, leading the league; the Raptors are lagging behind at 6.5 makes. The Raptors are shooting 36.6% which is not far off from Phoenix and Orlando at 42% and 36.9%, so the formula for better success might simply just be, as Triano put it, “to shoot more threes”. As a side note, if the Knicks just had better three-point shooters (33.3%), they actually could be decent. To remedy this “problem”, we could acquire Matt Carroll, who peaked Colangelo’s fancy over the summer. Going this route is unlikely, since our league-worst defense is simply too much for Colangelo to look past and should be at the top of his todo list.
With Jarrett Jack’s great play of late there’s been a lot of talk around trading Jose Calderon. This doesn’t make entire sense because it would mean Marcus Banks would become the primary backup, a position he is not capable of playing as found out by Phoenix and Miami. Now, some trades out there have the Raptors receiving a backup PG like Jordan Farmar in return for Jose, this also doesn’t jive because if Jose is one thing, it’s a tremendous backup PG. A trade involving Calderon would have to yield more than just another PG and a throw-in; as much as I like D.J Augustin, I’d even turn down a one-on-one swap (if salaries matched which they don’t) and simply opt for Jose coming off the bench (as bad as that would look on Colangelo) until he’s shown that he can’t do so. Also amiss is the realization that trading an injured player doesn’t net maximum returns, the Raptors would be much better off having Calderon return, start, have good showings and then make a deal rather than pull the trigger right now. Given the length of Calderon’s deal, a team will have to be absolutely sold on his abilities before trading for him and I just don’t see that happening (Lakers being an exception because of Gasol and the lack of dependence on the PG in the triangle). I say trading Jose Calderon on his own is very difficult.
If, for whatever reason, a Bosh trade must be executed, three things need to come back: 1) an expiring contract, 2) a quality starter, 3) first-round pick(s). #1 is needed in order for us to start re-tooling as soon as possible, #2 is compulsory, trading an All-Star should yield tangible returns and #3 is obvious. Draft picks are the crux of what makes a franchise successful, they’re the foundation of a franchise and rarely has one acquired its headline player via trade or free-agency (Shaq, Kareem). Serious trade scenarios should include Bosh returning to Dallas in a three-team deal. Nowitzki is 31 and will soon need to be replaced as the top gun in Dallas; Josh Howard and Jason Terry are great role players and Mark Cuban’s smart enough to know they’re not capable of being centerpieces, he might think Bosh is.
Win or lose, the trade deadline will be interesting.