The Peja Stojakovic Raptors era was all of two games.
Unless you count the 26 consecutive ones he sat out with a swollen left knee.
Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo brought it to an end yesterday when he bought out Stojakovic’s $15-million US contract for a “nominal amount” and put the 12-year veteran on waivers.
The big value on his contract means Stojakovic will not be claimed and then will be free to sign wherever he wants.
ESPN.com was reporting last night the Dallas Mavericks had a deal in principle to bring Stojakovic to the Lone Star State.
Stojakovic was acquired as part of the Jerryd Bayless trade that sent Jarrett Jack, David Andersen and Marcus Banks weighty contract to New Orleans.
Stojakovic did the Raptors a favour by waiving a fairly significant portion of a trade kicker (about $400,000) to make the financials of the deal work as per league rules.
At the time of the trade, Colangelo said he would attempt to trade Stojakovic for another asset, buy him out or let him play in Toronto.
“The playing part didn’t work out necessarily,” Colangelo said Thursday night. “He did injure his knee. He is pretty close to getting back out there.”
But it was Stojakvoic’s willingness to give up that $400,000 that ultimately led to Thursday’s decision.
“He didn’t need to do that, but probably did so for reasons that were beneficial to him, but at the end of the day it allowed the deal to go through and that’s something we didn’t forget,” Colangelo said.
The deal also helps the Raptors in that it takes away any temptation they may have had in playing Stojakovic over one of their younger developing players. Head coach Jay Triano admitted Thursday he talked with Colangelo about sending Stojakovic, who has not been with the team on this five-game road trip, down to Orlando as insurance should Linas Kleiza not be able to play for a third game in a row.
“The intent was to do something that worked out favourably for everyone,” Colangelo said. “We made the deal with the future in mind, moreso than with the notion that we were acquiring Peja in a deal to make our team better. We did pursue the trades and we have pursued the buyout and this is the outcome.”
You may recall DeRozan was in it a year ago and finished runner-up to Nate Robinson. DeRozan certainly remembers it and it’s fuelling him this time around because the second-year Raptors feels he got jobbed the first time around.
DeRozan believes even with the ankle injury that kept him from attempting any two-footed takeoffs, he deserved the title a year ago. Now up against the unofficial “people’s choice” in rookie Blake Griffin, DeRozan isn’t shying away.
“I’m still confident,” he said following a light shooting practice at the Orlando Sports Center. “I think it will be really entertaining, back home for me and playing at home for Blake. It should be really fun.”
Also in the contest, which will play out Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Staples Center in L.A., are Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka and Washington Wizards’ JaVale McGee.
“A lot of people are rooting for Blake and I don’t blame them,” DeRozan said. “The things he’s doing this season are incredible. It should be very entertaining. This year, hopefully, I’m going into it healthy and have my legs and maybe try something new.”
DeRozan had played only a couple of games heading into the dunk contest last year. Prior to that, he had sat out five consecutive games because of a right ankle injury.
“My (right) ankle was still bothering me,” he said. “I really couldn’t jump off two feet last year. It was kind of bothering me and limited me from doing things I wanted to do. Hopefully everything is well going into this year’s dunk contest and I can definitely do something.”
DeRozan is one of the few Raptors who doesn’t require post-game icing or trainer attention following a game for various nagging injuries.
He’s healthy and he’s confident, something those handing this year’s trophy to Griffin already, should take into account.
“This year I’m going to really have fun with it,” DeRozan promised. “Last year I was a little nervous but this year I’m just going out comfortable and having some fun with it, put some entertainment into it.”
As for a more substantial deal, Colangelo said he simply didn’t see one for Stojakovic in the offing.
“We explored multiple (trade) scenarios and nothing looked promising whatsoever,” said Colangelo.
The buyout was something of a goodwill gesture to Stojakovic, who is looking to prove he’s worthy of another NBA contract, and who waived about $440,000 of a trade kicker to allow the Hornets’ trade with Toronto to happen.
More important, perhaps, is that Stojakovic’s exit pre-empts any potential conflict over playing time.
“I would rather watch the young guys play than have Peja go out and thwart those efforts. It’s the right thing to do for us,” Colangelo said.
Stein was also reporting that the Raptors were poised to acquire third-year French centre Alexis Ajinca, cash considerations and a 2013 second-round pick in exchange for Georgios Printezis, the Raptors’ second-round pick in 2007, and a US$1.5-million trade exception equal to Ajinca’s contract.
A league source told the National Post on Thursday night, however, that no trade call had been set up between the Raptors and Mavericks.
Ajinca is averaging 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in 10 outings with Dallas this year. He was the 20th pick in the 2008 draft. He worked out that year in Toronto, after which Raptors senior director of scouting, Jim Kelly, was very high on the now-22 year old.
From a Raptors perspective, the Stojakovic move is interesting solely on a financial level. Despite the Toronto’s three-point ineptitude — their 32.5% success rate from long distance is the 29th-worst mark in the league — marksman Stojakovic was unlikely to find much playing time with DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Sonny Weems and Leandro Barbosa in front of him in the rotation.
There was some thought that his US$15.3-million deal, which expires after this season, could be of some use in a trade. However, that logic failed for two reasons.
First, the league is now flooded with expiring contracts, so each one loses some value.
Second, as the Raptors have continued to lose — they are 5-18 since Dec. 5 — the urge to take on salary has become less and less. Not that a low playoff seed would restore the franchise, but it was something to fight for. If it was in sight, maybe you deal Stojakovic for a player with a longer salary commitment that could help out.
Ajinca is a physical specimen — 7-foot, 220 pounds — but one who is still figuring out the game and how he can impact it, now entering his third year in the league (with some time in the D-League as well). This past Summer League you could see moments of progress — games where there were more good plays than bad, games where he was a beast on the boards — but there were always mental errors. The game does not always flow naturally for him.
The Mavericks are in it to win it, they don’t have time for a raw youngster to learn on the job (although they were so banged up for a while he got two starts). The Raptors have room to let him learn. This might be a good fit. Maybe better than Peja in Dallas, but that’s another discussion.
Quietly and slowly, the majority of NBA teams have actually become financially responsible. It may not seem that way, especially after last summer when borderline All-Stars, like Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay, were getting max or near max contracts, but the fact is that most of the teams have, for the most part, stopped the ridiculous spending.
So the fact that Colangelo was able to actually get something out of Peja, no matter how much it circumvented the CBA, was fairly impressive. Not that Alexis Ajinca is a potential All-Star, or anything, but he’s a 7 foot 2, mobile center capable of blocking shots. And he’s just 22, so he’ll fit right in with the rest of the Raptor youngsters. In many ways, he’s a Solomon Alabi clone (or visa versa), both rail thin, raw offensively but with potential on the defensive end. Hey, if you’re going to rebuild, you might as well stockpile as many potential assets as you can in case some of them actually are worth something. And if they get a second round pick, as is the rumour, all the better.
Whether Colangelo wants to say his team is rebuilding, retooling, transitioning, it doesn’t matter. The Raptors have made it clear with their decisions this season that that they are focused on the future and this move shows they are committed to the development of their youth.
Maybe there was a team hoping to take Stojakovic’s deal off of the Raptors’ hands in exchange for Toronto taking a troubled star or failed experiment in return, but, really, why take a risk when you can get rid of the contract yourself and provide financial breathing room for next season? Especially when there is still a trade exception allowing the Raptors to absorb another contract and an expiring contract in Reggie Evans if the team needed to swap players to free up another roster spot to facilitate a move.
Either way, we knew Stojakovic wasn’t going to be with the team for the long haul. Now we know regardless of how they want to spin this season (or, how this season spins out), the Raptors are in full-blown youth movement.