“Honestly, it was a hump in the road,” Lowry said about the start of the year. “Unfortunately, I got hurt. Jose was playing fantastically. We were winning games. We were trying to win games as a team. It’s been an up and down-type six weeks, but at the end of the day, I just wanted our team to win and me to stay professional and get better to help our team win games.
A lot of Canadians often wonder about having Steven Nash on the Raptors. Having a pass-first point guard who would make his whole team better and was a legitimate offensive threat was something many pined for. However, we had our own player who exuded many of the same qualities that we admire in Steve Nash. There’s no way Jose Calderon would be a perennial All Star in the same way Nash was, but at the same time, Jose was a pass-first point guard in a league of show-boating me-first guards.
I think the more realistic hope for Raptors fans should be that Gay has an impact this season and just gets the Raptors back into the race (maybe 2-4 games out) and into some more meaningful games later in the season. If Rudy can help the team do that, and if Bryan Colangelo can get creative with his roster management to parlay Andrea Bargnani and possibly even DeMar DeRozan into another significant asset while utilizing the amnesty provision this summer, then there’s no reason for fans to expect anything less than a return to the post-season next year. I’m not saying he’s a prognosticating genius, but Kenny “The Jet” Smith mentioned on TNT Thursday night that he thinks the new-look Raptors could have been a top-four seed in the East if they were together from the beginning of the season and stayed healthy.
Dwane Casey knew it was coming, but he saw no point in commenting on it further. About five hours before his $25,000 fine from the league office became official, Casey politely, but firmly declined to comment on his outburst the night before to a group of media members. For the fourth time this season, the Toronto Raptors were the victims of a missed call at the end of a game that almost assuredly – OK they could have missed the free throws but it’s unlikely – meant the difference between victory and defeat.
While Ed Davis was on only the second chapter of his Toronto tenure, Calderon completed a full book. And what a story it was. Having made a name for himself playing for club and country in Spain, Calderon signed with the Raptors as a 23-year-old (24 by the time he suited up a few months later) undrafted free agent. The best move, as it turned out, by former general manager Rob Babcock (Sam’s note: the only good move Babcock made).
What the Raptors really need is a steadier backup option like Luke Ridnour, Ramon Sessions or Beno Udrih, but it is unclear how available any of those guys are and how attractive Toronto’s assets are to Minnesota, Charlotte or Milwaukee. Suffice it to say that in some form or another, the Raptors will be importing some backcourt help in the next couple of weeks. Given how few shot creators the team has, especially off of the bench, finding a strong veteran presence to lead the second unit would be a great next step if Colangelo can find a way to pull it off.
To the extent the Grizzlies blew up anything, the explosives were set to self-detonate by the previous ownership. The Grizzlies simply couldn’t keep Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Gay after this season. Nobody in the basketball universe disagrees with that. A trade had to happen, either before the trade deadline or during the offseason. So the only thing that might possibly have been blown up Wednesday was this coming postseason.
Put aside all the salary numbers, this trade is talent upgrade for the team. Is there positional duplication? Will there be a logjam on the perimeter? The answers are yes and yes, but Toronto does have a player with star potential. It also means that there are more than likely other moves coming in the reshaping of the roster. In the words of one scout, “That’s a big hit for Toronto. They now have a star and they’re right on the edge ready to breakthrough with another couple of moves. They’re really close. “
I don’t have anything against Bargnani personally; I spent the better part of the last decade absent from the game and as a result I haven’t been tortured by his failings as many of you have – I even think he’s a rather ok guy to have put up with it. But for a 7 footer, he doesn’t give you what you need – which is rebounds, shot blocking and defense. We all keep wanting him to be Dirk, but Dirk couldn’t lead a team to a championship in all his time save once, and the year later they didn’t even come close without Tyson Chandler. And Bargnani isn’t even Dirk..
It’s also not the worst deal for Gay himself. He has his flaws – doesn’t give his all on D, inefficient, overpaid – but he definitely has his strengths. Every night, he can get you 20-25 points a game, he makes tough shots and steps up on defense against the biggest guns. In Memphis, he was on a very good team that was best when playing an inside-out style that wasn’t really suited to his game. With that said, when the team has needed him to step up in the past (most notably in the 2012 playoffs against the Clippers) he hasn’t managed to do so. It’s not unfair to suggest that the ability to turn it on when it matters is the mark of a truly elite player, something which Rudy Gay probably is not.
If Bargnani is an enigma than Gay is a bigger one. He can do it all but some in the NBA don’t believe he cares about the game or what he can achieve. He is the prototypical athletic swingman with endless ability to score. He can beat anyone off the dribble. He can go head-to-head on both sides of the ball with anyone in the league. He wants the ball at crunch time. In the eyes of any hoop junkie Gay is simply a player. He will bring all these qualities and attributes to the Raptors. That is what Gay can do for Toronto with his numbers, when he is actually healthy which has been an issue. He is also the godfather to Kyle Lowry’s son. Lowry now has three reasons to be happy with the trade: he has Gay on his side, his son is happy and now Calderon is gone. Lowry is now undeniably the starting point guard.
Lowry, though, refuses to look at this development as a new beginning. As far as he’s concerned, you can’t begin what you never left. “I can’t look at it like that,” Lowry said after addressing a larger-than-normal assembled media group following practice Thursday. “I’m just going to look at it like I took a step back and now I’m taking a step forward. I’m looking at it as an opportunity to gain back the respect of the team and the coaches and gain my rhythm back and make sure that everyone knows this is what they brought me here to be.”
The big stat for me is the way Gay played last March with Randolph sidelined with his knee injury. He was given the chance to be the focal point of the offence and responded by averaging 20.3 points while shooting 45% from the field. Throw in his 6.9 boards and 1.7 steals and it’s clear he was engaged and playing at a near all-star level. Even with Gay’s shooting woes this season he is still averaging 17.2 points per game and has averaged 19 points or more every season in the NBA besides his rookie year. Clearly the guy knows how to score and can hit clutch baskets. All Raptors fans need to do is flash back to the game last season when he ripped the heart out of fans at the Air Canada Centre with his dagger.
While Gay is the best small forward the Raptors have seen since Vince Carter, he’s not going to take the team to another level. His low-efficiency scoring and ball-dominating game is duplicated throughout the roster. This trade comes on the heels of a season-ending injury to Rajon Rondo, which greatly diminishes the Boston Celtics’ chance at the playoffs. The potential vacant playoff spot may have spurred Colangelo to make a big splash with an impact player. Will the Raptors make the playoffs? Probably not. But follow-up trades could determine whether Gay is the right long-term fit for the Raptors.
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