My thoughts on Jose.

The NBA Trade Deadline is one week from yesterday (March 15), and as such it’s probably time to take a look at the very last event we Raptor fans have to look forward to until the NBA Draft in June.

Yes, I know Andrea Bargnani’s impending return to the court is the major news headline, but is there any value in dissecting how he could have improved this team from a lottery one to a first round playoff exit if healthy? Perhaps, as it’s actually been quite a story how this low-on-talent Raptors squad has played consistently competitive basketball without their top player and only crunch-time scoring threat. That said, it’s an issue that will probably be touched on heavily over the weekend with a pair of games Saturday-Sunday.

Instead, let’s have a look at the roster, player-by-player, and theorize about potential deadline scenarios.

The Untouchable
Andrea Bargnani – In previous seasons, his name would have most certainly been involved in trade rumors. As a highly paid, one-dimensional player on a rebuilding team, he’d be the first man out the door. That is, unless a new coach, an offseason of recommitment, and a stunning 13-game sample could lay the foundation for changing everyone’s opinions about him. Bargs played the best ball of his career when healthy this year, and there’s no way Colangelo moves him without a longer look at how he performs in Casey’s system.

The Slightly-More-Touchables
DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, James Johnson – These three are in a sort of limbo with the franchise, with their long-term ceilings in question but their floors already apparent. They are each clearly rotation players, but for a franchise looking to acquire high-end talent, none are untouchable if the right deal came along. Still, the type of team looking to acquire this type of player is likely a team in a similar spot to the Raptors. So, unless it’s as part of a multi-team deal that comes out of nowhere, I think you’ll see these three stay put at least until the offseason, when Colangelo knows who he’ll be drafting and where that leaves the team’s talent distribution.

The Contracts
Linas Kleiza, Amir Johnson, Gary Forbes – Both Kleiza and Johnsons clearly have value and could be potent bench players in a contender’s rotation. That said, Amir has three years remaining on his deal after this season, for a total of $19.5M, while Kleiza has a full year at $4.6M and then a player option for the same amount. While neither is grossly overpaid, teams would be taking on a player with a contract paying him a premium, and it seems like contending teams looking to add “the last piece” would be looking at better contracts or higher-end players. Despite decent performance, I think Colangelo would be hard-pressed to find a taker on either without taking a similarly bad contract in return. And finally, there’s the saving grace for Kleiza that he could be a big help with the transition when fellow-Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas comes over next season. Amir, however, has no such redeeming quality and may be expendable in the offseason with Bargs/Jonas/Davis/Draft Pick all in the mix. Oh, and I included Forbes simply because no team would want to guarantee a 2nd year to a bit player unless he’s a salary-matcher in a bigger trade.

The Rentals
Aaron Gray, Rasual Butler, Jamaal Magloire, Anthony Carter – None of these players have much trade value on their own, but you’d think the Raptors would explore moving at least one of them for peanuts. Gray is probably safer in TO than the others (and was only included here because there’s nowhere else to put him), as the “soft skills” that Butler, Magloire, and Carter bring are all kind of redundant. There are rumors already that the Raptors are trying to shop Carter for something in the neighbourhood of a top-59 protected 2nd round pick, so he’s also a buy-out candidate. No, there’s no value returned there tangibly, but it opens up a roster spot to give some D-Leaguer a chance to prove himself worthy. I think at this point everyone knows how I feel about keeping three “savvy veterans” eating playing time and a roster spot on a rebuilding team, and if there’s a contender out there willing to give ANYTHING for Butler’s supposed range, Magloire’s toughness, or Carter’s assistant coaching, then by all means pull the trigger.

The Project
Solomon Alabi – Why does he even exist at this point? He’s played 7 minutes without a point or rebound, has a -7.95 PER (yup, negative, that’s 3rd-worst in the NBA ahead of only Brian Skinner’s 4 minutes and Hamady Ndiaye’s 3 minutes). In 9 D-League games he was alright, putting up 9.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 21 minutes, but he should be back down there for another few years, not sitting at the end of an NBA bench. So what’s his purpose? He’s an $830,000 expiring contract (team option…yeah, right) to toss into a deal. I’d imagine that’s it.

The Curiosity
Jerryd Bayless – Bayless has shown that he can be a semi-effective scoring guard off the bench. He’s also more or less shown he can’t be trusted with the keys to the offense. So where do we go from here? Well, he’d be handy to have around as a stop-gap in the event Calderon is dealt, but if Jose stays put, then I think it’s possible you could see Bayless shipped out in a deal similar to the one he was acquired in (moving of the deck chairs, so to speak). His qualifying offer for next year is over $4M, which might be too prohibitive for the Raptors to pay to a back-up. Again, this is all conjecture and his status depends entirely on the club’s plans for Calderon this year and next. I don’t see any way they’re both here at a combined $15M next season.

The Shopped
Leandro Barbosa – When the lockout more or less forced Barbosa to pick up his $7.6M player option for this season, I figured it was only a matter of time before he was moved. He’s an expiring deal, a proven bench scorer, and someone with ample playoff experience. His contract isn’t friendly, but there are teams with trade exceptions big enough to take it, allowing them to acquire him simply for picks. I’d list the potential suitors and analyze but honestly, probably every team in the playoff hunt would be interested for the right price. The Lakers could offer picks and the Lamar Odom trade exception; the Pacers could offer Louis Amundson and a low pick, while using their cap space to absorb Barbosa; the T-Wolves could gamble and offer Michael Beasley’s Crazy Ass, although Colangelo allegedly turned down a free Beasley in the Bosh trade; the list goes on. I can’t see Barbosa wearing a Raptors uniform on March 16, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him dealt at the very last minute as teams wait to see what other teams do on deadline day. You can’t expect much in return, but a low-1st or high-2nd would suffice for a player not in the long-term plans.

Jose Calderon
I’ve been taken to task by commenters before for suggesting the team hang on to Jose, but allow me to present my argument one more time:

*There are no elite point guards in the range the Raptors are expected to pick.
*The draft has been downgraded from superb to merely good.
*His $10.5M expiring contract could be a huge trade chip next year.
*He’d be a great mentor to any young PG.
*He’s still a very good player, and the Raptors might not be too bad next year.

Add all of that up, and I’m standing firm that I’d only move him for either a lottery first, or a late first paired with a prospect. And by prospect I don’t mean Darius Morris – for those expecting a straight-up Lakers deal for Morris, a 1st, and the Odom exception, think again. I’m sure Colangelo realizes the market for Calderon would be just as big next year with the expiring deal, and the team has said they’re not actively shopping him. A prospect who can’t crack the rotation on the league’s thinnest team and a pick in the 20-30 range just won’t do it (unless, of course, you have Calderon act as a spy and sabotage the Lakers, pushing them into the lottery…*evil laugh*). As for other suitors, there are plenty…

Magic – if they decide to keep Dwight, they’d love to add another PG. He’d be a great fit, too, as he’d be hidden defensively with Dwight’s presence behind him. That said, the Magic have little in the way of expiring contracts or young assets, so a multi-team deal would probably be necessary.

Lakers – Again, they’d have to come more correct than Darius Morris. I’d be asking for Goudelock and both their’s and Dallas’ 1st rounders, but again a multi-team deal is more likely.

Blazers – eww, would you take Ray Felton back? It’d be an expiring contract, but are the Raptors going to be in the free agent market this summer? It’s an interesting destination, as the Blazers could kick in a mid-1st pick or a middling prospect like an Eliot Williams or Luke Babbitt.

Jazz – they may have fallen too far out of the race now, but they have the Warrior’s 1st, top-7 protected, and could offer Devin Harris’ $8.5M contract for next year. The hope with Harris is that Casey could get him to buy-in and return to the defensive stalwart he once was, but the Jazz might rather roll the dice on keeping him and the pick over Jose, while focusing on dealing from their deck of bigs to upgrade the point.

Others – Like Barbosa, the market for an experienced and highly effective vet with a defined role is large. Jose’s contract for next year eliminates some suitors (Mavericks), while his D wouldn’t be as easy to hide on a team with already poor defense. That said, I’m certain the Hawks, Pacers, Thunder, and others would kick the tires to see what the asking price is.

I still honestly think the odds of a Jose deal are just 50/50. The assets of interested teams just don’t match up well with what the Raptors are looking for. And I know I’ll likely get the “he’s old, we’re rebuilding, take any picks you idiot” response multiple times, but just keep in mind the points in favour of keeping him I outlined above. It’s not crazy to think Colangelo might want to keep Jose in the mix a while longer, at least until that “PG of the future” is identified.

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