Toronto’s investment in Johnson should tell everyone that the team envisions him playing alongside Andrea Bargnani in the starting frontcourt, which may or not include Hedo Turkoglu.
Johnson complemented Bargnani well because of his ability to rebound and defend.
Overlooked during last season’s late-season losing was how much growth Johnson showed when the ball made its way into his hands, how much more confident he was when heaving a mid-range shot.
He’s far from being a complete package, but Johnson has made strides and you know he’ll always work hard to get better.
Prior to signing his contract, Johnson used his Twitter account to keep touch with fans in Toronto.
“I know the fans have got my back,’’ he said. “I’ve been tweeting every now and then, but this is exciting. I’m ready to make something happen.”
In the wake of Bosh’s move to Miami, there’s a feeling that the best way for the Raptors to move forward is by going backward, eschewing short- term gains for long-term results, a direction that promises to be painful, but one that may land some high-level talent via high first-round picks.
General manager Bryan Colangelo has heard the talk, has seen it in print, but refuses to buy into it.
A day after Bosh committed to the Heat, Colangelo finally got to say his piece on a day when the NBA’s free-agent moratorium was lifted, a day when he was as steadfast in his franchise building as he has been at any time during his stint in Hogtown.
“I can’t tank,’’ Colangelo said. “I’m about competing and winning. I don’t plan to lose. That won’t happen as long as I’m here.”
The clock on Colangelo ticks, however. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment already has exercised its option to retain Colangelo for next season but there are no guarantees beyond that, no signs or any indication as to what direction the franchise has in the event the GM fails in his latest attempt to re-work the Raptors.
Whether Bosh embodied all the qualities necessary to be a franchise player is no longer worth visiting. He’s gone and this space wishes him the best in South Beach.
Chris Bosh is a good guy who made mistakes by getting caught up in the madness that has become this free-agent frenzy, highlighted by LeBron James announcing his intentions in Thursday night’s hour-long self-promotion, aided, we may add, by another self-serving outfit in the form of ESPN.
President/general manager Bryan Colangelo made it clear Thursday that, under his leadership, there is no chance the team blows it all up and heads into the tank.
Instead, the club will “retool” minus the franchise leader in most categories.
It is not the right call, but unless ownership commits now to an extension, it is Colangelo’s only call.
He can’t slice up the roster and throw a dog’s breakfast 25-win team on the court next season. Drastically reduced season ticket, concession and apparel sales will not please his corporate masters.
But if this chronically underwhelming franchise wants to turn things around, it must acquire some serious talent. No offence to the likes of Linas Kleiza, Amir Johnson and Jarrett Jack, but a team of role players won’t cut it in the NBA.
Not in a league where individual players matter far more than they do in any other major sport. If you don’t have a superstar and a couple of other very good pieces, you are not going to be competitive.
Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan might become very good players one day, but that day remains far off. Even if they do get there, it will matter little if a superstar is not also toiling for the team.
Without cap space for the foreseeable future, signing such a talent is basically impossible for the Raptors.
Besides, Toronto has never been a prime landing spot for the league’s elite, even on the rare occasions the organization has had ample cap space.
Which leads straight back to Secaucus, N.J., home of the NBA draft lottery.
There is no guarantee a few lottery appearances will take a team to the top — the L.A. Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves demonstrate that clearly — but the draft brought Bosh, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady to T.O., with no pick higher than fourth overall.
It remains the best means to acquire potential all-stars and if you are really lucky, potential game-changers.
The moment he stepped inside the Raptors office to sign an offer sheet to join the club on Thursday, Linas Kleiza was reminded of the incident.
It was during his final year at Denver and Kleiza and Jay Triano, then an assistant coach with the Raptors, exchanged words during a Nuggets rout.
Kleiza doesn’t back down from any challenge and it’s that competitive spirit that drew the Raptors to the Lithuanian, who spent last season playing in Greece and earning acclaim in Europe.
“I heard that incident many times,’’ Kleiza recounted on Thursday when he officially signed a four-year offer sheet worth approximately $20 million US. “It wasn’t a screaming match. It was directed at one of the players and Jay defended his player. I got a technical foul and we were up 35. It was funny.”
It’s funny how Kleiza stands poised to join the Raptors, who have courted the small forward for two years.
While nothing is official, it seems highly doubtful the Nuggets will match Toronto’s offer. By NBA rules, Denver has seven days to match, but the team is right up against the cap and is desperate to keep players such as J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony happy, which is best achieved by throwing plenty of cash their way.
This is similar to last off-season’s offer sheet for Jarrett Jack, a slam dunk because Indiana had so much depth at the point that it would have been foolish for the Pacers to match Toronto’s offer.
“I don’t want Denver to match,’’ Kleiza said. “I want to stay here.”
The repercussions of James’ decision will be felt around the league — and particularly in Toronto.
While salary cap machinations still have to be worked through — the Heat have yet to officially sign any of the three players — the Raptors remain very much alive in trying to turn Bosh’s departure into some kind of sign-and-trade transaction with the Heat.
Toronto president and general manager Bryan Colangelo had no comment immediately after the announcement but said earlier Thursday, “There’s a lot of things that are still under consideration and I don’t think it’s over yet.”
Colangelo and Miami president Pat Riley have spoken since Bosh said Wednesday he was leaving the Raptors for the Heat. But the chance that James could join them was thought to be remote until late Wednesday and Colangelo and Riley were waiting for the result of James’ deliberations before anything concrete could be negotiated.
“Whether or not there’s an outcome that’s favourable for us in a potential sign-and-trade, we’ll still know the results of that later,” Colangelo said early Thursday afternoon.
“Things are under consideration but beyond that, we’ll know more later.”
If the Raptors were serious about building a championship-calibre NBA team, and their chairman of the board, Larry Tanenbaum, has long claimed they are, this would be an obvious moment to begin the grand project. Coming off two straight seasons without a playoff game, with their only all-star lost to free agency, you don’t need to be a statistical analyst to understand that Toronto’s hoopsters don’t possess a good enough core to be a serious contender this coming season or the next handful.
They could be good enough, though, to add a couple of pieces and win 30-something games. That’s too many wins to get a real shot at a top-few draft pick, and too few to get to make any likely competitive impact going forward. It’s the makings of a rut in which the Raptors have often found themselves in their 15-season history, to forgettable results. But why learn from history?
Trying to win this season — no matter the odds against being any good, no matter that the franchise has no blue-chip talent in its stockpile and is only likely to acquire it with top draft picks — is precisely Colangelo’s plan.
“My strategy is always to compete,” said Colangelo. “You can talk all you want about rebuilding. It’s not about that.”
“For all the naysayers that think that there’s no talent on this team, I’ve got no shortage of opportunities to move players along,” he said. “People like our players. We like our players, too … We’ll see how quickly we can re-stock the pond, so to speak.”
He always talks like this, of course. One of the defining features of Colangelo’s personality is his veneer of confidence — in himself, in his decisions, in his players. He believes. He really does.
But it feels like that confidence is increasingly misplaced. His losing streak is lengthening by the day — we’ll see how sign-and-trade negotiations for Bosh go with Miami — but he keeps doubling down, rolling the dice, looking for the one big score that will turn everything around.
But where will it come from? Where will this team find an all-star, much less a game-changing superstar? A trade exception to the salary cap, if it can be extracted from Miami in a Bosh sign-and-trade, would allow for the possibility. The draft would, especially at the top, but Colangelo eschews the notion. And when pressed yesterday, he asked of free agency this summer, “You tell me: Do you think anything would have changed if we were a team sitting there with maximum cap space right now?”
Well, not regarding Bosh. But that’s at least partly because this team has been headed mostly nowhere, with occasional upward feints. Colangelo, looking back, believes the feints were the real thing, and the failures the results of matters out of his control. It’s like a man blaming the persistent holes in his roof on the weather.
Even Amir Johnson was surprised by the amount of money that was being thrown his way during this wildest of free-agent seasons.
“The numbers were probably in like the 25-30 [million-dollar range] for me, but this is great for me,” Johnson said on Thursday. “I’m very happy about it.
“I couldn’t stop smiling. I was ready to come to Toronto after that.”
“That”, in this case, was a five-year, US$34-million contract the Toronto Raptors offered him on the first day of free agency last Thursday. The offer, no doubt influenced by the five-year, US$32-million deal Milwaukee gave forward Drew Gooden earlier that day, outsizes Johnson’s past performance.
In five years in the league, Johnson has never averaged more than 18 minutes per game, averaged more than 6.2 points or 4.8 rebounds per game. Of course, the latter two numbers are influenced by the first, but there are reasons why he has not played more: He is constantly in foul trouble, and he occasionally gets lost on the floor.
Still, with Chris Bosh now gone, Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo is once again betting on promise, as he did with Andrea Bargnani.
“Guys develop. Guys mature. Guys grow,” Colangelo said.
Bosh, whose posts on Twitter during his impending free agency left some fans feeling he seemed all too eager to leave Toronto, said the decision to leave after seven years with the Raptors wasn’t easy.
“As I diehard sports fan, I know what it’s like when a familiar face decides to leave and so I understand your disappointment,” he says. “But know that this was my toughest decision, mostly because Toronto has been so great to me. I’ve loved every minute here and I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart …
“To a world-class city and its world-class fans, thank you.”
Kleiza is a good player. An effective piece. But if he’s a starter and you want to be a good team, he better be your fifth-best starter or you’re not good enough, period. If he’s coming off the bench, that’s a little bit too much money for my liking, but it’s not a complete disaster.
Kleiza was one of the top players in Europe last season (Euroleague leading scorer). He rebounds, defends and gets after it. The Raptors need as many players like that as possible. This move makes a lot more sense if a Hedo Turkoglu deal is on the horizon. There aren’t enough minutes for Kleiza, Turkoglu and Sonny Weems.