Am I the only one who is salivating at the prospect of Solomon Alabi playing extended minutes? Alabi going toe-to-toe against Dwight Howard, Nene, Blake Griffin, Joakim Noah on a nightly basis? That’s like watching The New Guy go up against Machete. We would be witnessing the “coming of age” of Alabi, who would have his feet held to the fire culminating in a proper NBA initiation. None of this D-League BS where he gets to tip-toe his way to rebounds and soft jumpers, this initiation would be like drenching him in blood before throwing him into shark-infested waters.

Where is this coming from? From the forum thread that speaks of Dwane Casey being very high on him, and from the mini-camp he had. Quickly looking at the current true center depth chart we have:

» Alabi

Yup, that’s it. Alabi. As you might’ve heard, Andrea Bargnani is not a center which leaves Alabi as the lone big man on the roster. Alexis Ajinca is not under contract (not that it matters) so if the season started this very day the Raptors starting lineup would be: Calderon, DeRozan, Bargnani (PF), Kleiza and Alabi (C). No, Amir Johnson will not be asked to play center because that’s not what he does. Johnson only missed 10 games last year but was playing with niggling injuries about 20% of the time. Do we really want to stretch his capacity to take physical punishment by shuffling him over to center and face even bigger, stronger guys? I would vote that down.

When I suggested to Rob Mahoney that the center is the pillar of Casey’s defense, he agreed, which now leads me to ask you: how comfortable are you with Solomon Alabi being the pivot who is supposed to be the central figure in Casey’s defense? Taking into account that next year is a rebuilding year as well, we have one major risk to deal with: if Alabi sucks as the defensive center, is the whole year a wasted exercise?

Let me explain. All is swell if Alabi steps in and becomes Samuel Dalembert but without the the shitiness of Samuel Dalembert. The Raptors will be lauded for grabbing him with pick #50, he’ll be considered a steal and a defensive stalwart for years to come. Casey’s defense will have a core building block, and he could even symbolize the Raptors’ defensive identity along with Ed Davis and Jose Calderon (haha…just joking, seeing if you were paying attention).

What if he fails? Would Casey’s defensive schemes be up for fair measurement without a proper big? If there is not at least an above-average defensive center in there, and the Raptors fail miserably next year, would Casey simply get a pass because of poor personnel? It sounds like for Casey to do what he needs to do, he requires a framework to work with, and asking an unproven commodity like Alabi to play such a massive role appears to be too big of a risk because so much of the defense hinges on that position. Another argument could be that if we’re doing a rebuild in earnest, then a year with Alabi at center is logical in the name of development.

The ideal solution is to “bring him along” slowly, which is fine if the Raptors could afford to sign a starting center and have Alabi back him up playing 15-20 minutes a night, thus entirely eliminating any ill-advised situation which would call for Johnson to play center. Then the depth chart would read (remember, Casey already said Bargnani will not be the starting center):

C: New guy, Alabi
PF: Bargnani, Johnson, Davis

This isn’t even counting Kleiza who played a bit of PF last year too. The problem now becomes that Davis, a key cog in the machine, is the third-string power forward. Something’s got to give. My opinion: The Raptors cannot rely on Amir Johnson being that center, and unless Alabi is tearing it up large this summer against NBA competition, he will not be the first choice center and the Raptors will acquire a legitimate big, thus producing the above predicament. How do you deal with it?

Trade from your strength and address another position, maybe the point guard or the small forward. The odd man out here is…I’ll go with Johnson. He might only be 24, but his ceiling is easier to predict than Davis’, whose game is viewed through the rose-colored glasses of potential. Johnson also happens to have a contract that is reasonable and thus, easier to trade. Bargnani is still untouchable no matter what Colangelo says, so all you #FreeAmir fans, you might have seen the last of him. Please don’t cry about it…

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