Jay Triano’s time in Toronto may be over.
Triano has survived three coaching purges — Lenny Wilkens, Kevin O’Neill and Sam Mitchell. It’s obvious Triano has an ally at the board level, but his work this season almost cries for yet another coaching change.
Now that the Raptors are officially done, talk has already begun to percolate that Triano had a tough time communicating with his players. He certainly never got them to play defence and his relationship with Turkoglu has been characterized as tenuous.
What the Raptors need is a strong-minded coach who won’t tolerate any b.s.
Depending on who is ultimately calling the shots, the Raptors have to move away from this Euro-centric blueprint to one that is more balanced.
There was friction between the Euro-based element and the U.S. faction, a rift that was temporarily brokered, but it ultimately fractured the locker room.
Even if the Raptors want to trade Turkoglu, who will earn $9.8 million next year, and Jose Calderon ($9 million), teams won’t exactly be lining up for players whose play does not justify their salary.
So many questions, but so few answers.
Andrea Bargnani ($8 million), Turkoglu, Calderon, Reggie Evans ($5 million), Jarrett Jack ($4.8 million), Marcus Banks ($4.7 million), DeMar DeRozan ($2.4 million) and Marco Belinelli ($2.3 million) are under contract for next season.
The Raptors have a club option on Sonny Weems ($850,000), while Amir Johnson, Antoine Wright, Rasho Nesterovic and Patrick O’Bryant are free agents.
“We’ve got a lot of regrets,” said Andrea Bargnani.
Said Reggie Evans: “(Stuff) happens.”
There was an upside to the downer. The Raptors keep a lottery pick that would have gone to Miami had Toronto made the playoffs. Toronto will have something in the range of a 0.6 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick, and will, odds are, pick in the 12th slot in June.
“Lottery results and the final early entry list will determine how valuable the pick will be and what sort of consolation we are talking about,” Colangelo said this week.
Where did it go wrong? You can argue there’s not enough incentive for an NBA team to play hard down the stretch. The Raptors missed out on a collective playoff bonus of $179,092, a sum that, once split among the 15-man roster and support staff the players deemed worthy, would have amounted to pocket change in a league in which the average salary is more than $5 million a season.
But there are no easy answers. If Bosh leaves, there’s no easy way to fill the gulch in the lineup. And if Bosh signs and stays, there’s scarce flexibility to add additional talent, and the status quo isn’t especially appealing. The Bosh-led Raptors are a sub-.500 team since he became a perennial all-star five seasons ago. And now they’re saddled with undesirable contracts from underperforming players that won’t be simple to shed. There’s $43 million and four years left on Hedo Turkoglu’s deal, and he’s 31 years old and coasting. There’s $29.3 million and three years left on Jose Calderon’s deal, and he’s never played a full season as an NBA starter.
And there’s $50 million and five years left on Andrea Bargnani’s deal. If you’re a fan, you can only hope that at, age 25, he still has some growth in a skill set that is frequently effective but maddeningly erratic.
“In this league, you have to be very wary of injuries that can happen or confidence levels dropping and I think that’s the one thing you have to guard against,” Triano said before Wednesday’s game.
“I was never in that boat, I tried to stay focused on every single game. Did I feel good about where we were going into the all-star game? Absolutely, but who was to know that Chris (Bosh) would have an injury the first game back. Those are the things you can’t control.”
The Bosh issue is one that will dominates the discussion from now until July 1 when he can become a free agent. The 26-year-old, who led Toronto in scoring (24.0 points per game) and rebounds (10.8) this season, made his first appearance at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday since he broke his nose and had surgery in Cleveland last week.
He got a warm — not overwhelming — reception when he was acknowledged during the first half.
And in a corporate show of wishful thinking, fans were given small cardboard placards that read We Want More on one side and CB4 on the other, in reference to Bosh’s initials and uniform number.
If there was one bright spot in the final few games of a lost and disastrous season, it was that the front-court duo of Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson seemed to work quite well.
Bargnani, showing a willingness to attack the basket that was missing for much of the season, finished with 24 points against the Knicks while Johnson had 21 points and five rebounds.
It’s a case of one teammate being able to create opportunities for others.
“A lot of it depends on Amir,” coach Jay Triano said of Bargnani’s offensive effectiveness. “Amir’s ability to roll to the basket and finish meant that they had to help with somebody (Monday in Detroit when Bargnani had 33 points).
“Andrea, as we’ve seen, feeds off other people. It’s hard to run isolations for him although against this (New York) team we think we can do it and we’ll try to get him in the low block.”
The Raptors were greeted to adoring cheers as they walked onto the floor at the Air Canada Centre yesterday.
The crowd was dressed in a mix of red and black T-shirts, emblazoned with ‘Red and Black Attack.’
The love rained down. It was a playoff atmosphere.
Unfortunately, it was also about 10:15 in the morning and the Raptors were coming on the court for their game-day shoot around, mostly still groggy with sleep. The crowd were Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. staff, full of coffee and out of their offices for a pep rally.
The players looked surprised and a bit sheepish but it’s the thought that counts.
Lord knows there are hard issues. Colangelo has publicly put on the “outside influences” fig leaf – suggestions are they’re with Bosh – and the great Raptors tradition of covering one’s ass by expediting a player’s exit from the city with a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the press corps is now in full force.
And what about the “internationals,” who can’t get any respect from NBA officials let alone opponents? Again: nothing wrong with having Andrea Bargnani on your team, providing you don’t count on him to do anything other than jack up treys. But Jose Calderon has no business starting an NBA game. And Hedo Turkoglu’s contract looks like a millstone. Enough with the FIBA overload. It’s nice to be all Kumbaya and One Love and stuff like that but what happens when Kumbaya becomes kumba-yuck?
You can try to win without a bona fide point guard or bona fide centre, but you can’t win without both of those commodities. The Raptors have neither, and more to the point they have $43.6-million (U.S.) tied up over the next three years in Calderon and Jarrett Jack – not onerous, but an issue in a salary-cap league.
Colangelo cannot begin next season with Turkoglu, Bargnani and Calderon in the starting lineup. Not after the softness and lack of self-respect they have shown this season. And he needs a coach who can speak authoritatively to his players. I mean, it’s good that a Canadian like Jay Triano was given a shot. But – and read this carefully and understand it – this team has played like it was coached by somebody out of his depth. I don’t know Triano enough to state definitively that that is the case. But I do know his team played like it.
"We can compete against anybody," guard Jose Calderon said. "We’re just now thinking about a lot of games, Phoenix, L.A., and some (teams) we were leading here by six, eight points with two minutes to go. It’s kind of tough now."
(It was not necessarily so tough for every Raptor; swingman Sonny Weems was belting out R. Kelly’s Step In The Name Of Love in the locker room after the game.)
Well, at least the Raptors got their fans free pizza – they surpassed the 100-point mark before the third quarter had ended – and a victory. Andrea Bargnani delivered his second consecutive command performance as the team’s go-to presence.
Bargnani was magnificent, not missing any of his first six field-goal attempts, and finishing with 24 points. He also seems to have developed a nice working relationship with Amir Johnson, finding Chris Bosh’s replacement in the starting lineup with a few dart passes into the post. Johnson had 21 points.
DeMar DeRozan added a career-high 24 points.
During the game, though, Bosh wandered out to the bench and was introduced, his parents in attendance, and the in-house announcer tried to get a "We Want More/C-B-4" chant going. But it was tepid at best; there was no standing ovation, no sea of the aforementioned cards, no fire. Maybe it was a crowd dulled by this deadening season, but it didn’t feel like this town would be heartbroken if he left.
And maybe that’s for the best. The winds swirling around this team are sour, and getting worse; the reasons for failure are being mapped and explored, theorized and itemized. Whatever their flaws, this was a playoff team at the all-star break; since then, the Raptors have settled like dust, going 10-19 in the stretch leading up to last night’s finale. Whatever went wrong, it was pretty comprehensive.
"If the chemistry isn’t solid," said one source, "it doesn’t take much to screw it up."
Like the off-season, it begins with Bosh. Some sources believe Bosh quit on this team after the all-star break to protect his impending free agency. Others counter that he was talking to friends about catching Boston in the heady days before the season began to die, and that his post-all-star injury was the culprit, sapping his explosiveness and reducing him to a jump shooter.
Of course, some of those same people believe that the injury was a knee, not an ankle as was reported, and that the franchise player is a medical wreck waiting to happen. The truth, like Bosh on the subject of his pending free agency, remains elusive.
Bosh sat along the sideline. During the first quarter, the public address announcer implored fans to chant, “We want more CB4.”
So do the Knicks. Bosh is expected to be one of the summer’s most coveted free agents.
Toronto could have helped its playoff cause by beating the Bulls when the teams played Sunday. Instead the Raptors lost badly.
“Good thing about the N.B.A., guys turn around and play the next night,” Triano said.
There will be no more turnarounds — jumpers or games — for either the Knicks or the Raptors for a while. Instead, the summer holds more intrigue and a series of possibilities for upgrades and downgrades.
– I’d like to be there when Sonny Weems find out he’s the third Graham brother. It’s going to be a really touching moment.
– By the way, I learned today that Sonny Weems/Graham’s real first name is Clarence. I assume there’s a legitimate backstory for his nickname, but it’s still a shame to see a Clarence go to waste.
– If you skipped this game, you missed Walt Frazier trying to figure out the Fahrenheit-Celsius conversion on air. He didn’t get that in-depth, but it made me wonder…how good do you think Clyde is at math? It’s possible that he’s compensating for poor computational skills with a large vocabulary, but it’s equally possible that he’s just a genius.
- After the game Amir Johnson admitted to the media he’s at a loss for how he’ll spend the next few weeks. He’s used to playing in the playoffs and he’s not sure what he’ll do over the next few weeks.
- Danilo Gallinari started an abysmal 3-11 from the field but he didn’t stop chucking. He finished with 22 points while going 6-18 from the field. You’ve got to appreciate his swagger and confidence to keep shooting even when he has a tough start to the night.