Hollinger: Raptors' issues start with Bargnani (ESPN Insider)
Here's a snippet from the article. Full one is here (need insider).
The problem is that it's not adding up the way it should, and it's been a major contributor to one of the most fascinating stories in the NBA this season: The amazing ability of the Toronto Raptors to lose in the most gut-wrenching of ways. Whether it's having a dramatic comeback fall just short (Denver), getting jobbed by the refs in the final seconds (Charlotte, arguably San Antonio), snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (too many to recount) or failing to show up at all (such as Friday's withering 131-99 smackdown in Utah), Toronto has been one of the league's biggest disappointments.
The weird part is that Bargnani is back this season, playing all but one game, but his weaknesses are again outweighing his strengths. A PER of 12.80 just doesn't cut it for a big with little to no defensive value and a severe rebounding allergy, and Casey has earned criticism for leaving him in the game in crunch-time situations despite his struggles and the strong play of Ed Davis and Amir Johnson off the bench.
Bargnani is shooting only 39.9 percent overall and 32.6 percent on 3s; while these percentages are likely to improve (um, they will improve, right?), Bargnani's justification for playing time is as an uber-efficient floor-spacer who makes up for his soft defense and historically awful rebounding by knocking down shot after shot.
Instead he's been something of a Charlie Villanueva clone, and there's not a great need for that kind of player. The Raptors, alas, are paying Bargnani $10 million a season through 2014. With a crowded frontcourt, no first-round pick (most likely) and the potential for $10 million in cap space, we're at the point where the A-word comes into play next summer if things don't pick up. (That's "amnesty," for the uninitiated, which would dump the final two years of his contract so the Raptors could sign somebody else with the cap space.)
But back to the present. As a result of Bargnani's struggles, the Raptors are still a mediocre-to-bad offense (21st in efficiency) despite adding Kyle Lowry and improved production from DeMar DeRozan and Davis.
Meanwhile, the Raps are backsliding on D in a major way, ranking just 27th at this end. The reasoning here is a bit clearer: The frontcourt of Bargnani and rookie center Jonas Valanciunas has simply been eviscerated. Valanciunas is a tremendous prospect who likely will be a top-10 center in a few seasons, but right now his inexperience on defense is magnified by the fact Bargnani offers no help.