The Case for Trading…

The 2012-13 Raptors are littered with redundant talent. Here’s one way to deal with it.

Ed’s Note: Another post by GetDefensive.

The 2012-13 Raptors are littered with redundant talent.  At point guard alone there’s Kyle Lowry, a borderline All-Star when healthy, Jose Calderon, a player who’s flirted with the All-Star Game himself and is coming off a strong year, and John Lucas III, a player who filled in admirably as the primary backup for the Bulls in the playoffs last year when Derrick Rose tore his ACL.  At shooting guard we have incumbent starter DeMar DeRozan, a rookie who may push him for minutes in Terrence Ross, and our marquee free agent signing: Landry Fields.  None of these players is decidedly more talented than the others, the only reason playing time won’t be much of an issue is because of the glaring hole at small forward.  Some, or all, of these players will undoubtedly spend time at the 3 with the only competition there being Linas Kleiza, a player who’s actually more effective as a 4.  Speaking of power forward, here’s where we have the greatest congestion of similarly talented players on the roster.  Andrea Bargnani is the starter, finally at his natural position after years of being cast as a centre, and with short stints at small forward.  After him, we have Ed Davis, a young player in need of playing time to encourage development, Amir Johnson, who will follow in Bargnani’s footsteps and be forced into the centre position out of necessity, the aforementioned Kleiza, who will spend most of his time at small forward, and Quincy Acy, an undersized PF who isn’t skilled enough to play the 3.  The centre position is quite possibly the only position that needn’t be shuffled in trade this season as, while not overly talented, the current rotation allows for plenty of development for the Lithuanian sensation, Jonas Valanciunas.  So who stays?  Who goes?  What realistic moves can Bryan Colangelo make that could help balance the roster?  Read on….

Point Guard:

The answer here is obvious and it’s been discussed at length by almost everyone who follows the Raptors.  If Kyle Lowry is the future of this team at the PG position and Jose Calderon feels like he’s a starter and is being paid like a starter, then he is the likely candidate to be shipped out.  This is especially true when our 3rd point guard has proven himself capable of stepping up when needed.  Jose could really help a playoff contender in need of steady point guard play or 3 point shooting, especially if there’s an injury.  With an expiring contract (worth over $10.5 million), Jose also has tremendous value to a team looking to rebuild quickly or cut costs.  As I said, this story has already been beaten to death so I’ll end the explanation right there.

Shooting Guard:

Here it’s a little more difficult for some, but for me the answer is nearly as obvious as our point guard situation: DeMar DeRozan has got to go.  There are a number reasons for this, and it deserves explanation.  First of all, he has begun to plateau as a player, although enough excuses have been made for him that another team may still be convinced of his potential.  I, however, am not.  For my taste, he’s too slow and robotic out there.  He doesn’t have the feel for the game or the ball-handling to react quickly.  Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the great ones are playing chess while DeMar’s playing checkers, and he still takes longer to make his damn move.  He hasn’t shown much, if any, actual improvements to his game since he was a rookie, it’s only his usage that has gone up.  Still, there are many people out there who think he could still put it all together.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, just that I’d be pleasantly surprised.  If he doesn’t make serious progress this season, his value will plummet.

Another reason: his contract is up at the end of the year.  Like most players in his position, having been coddled as he has, DeMar probably sees his value a lot higher than it actually is.  What do we do if he starts demanding $10 million per?  Do we let him walk and regret not trading him while we could?  Or do we re-sign him for too much when some other idiot GM decides to offer him what he wants and we have to match?  That would cripple this team going forward.  Too much money invested in a mediocre player that doesn’t produce wins?  Haven’t I seen this one before?

Lastly, we already have his replacement.  Terrence Ross may take a few years to get acclimated to the NBA, but what better way than to clear up minutes for him at his natural position?  His skill-set is a better fit with Lowry anyway; Lowry can drive, Ross can shoot.  On a very basic level it makes more sense that DeRozan and Lowry, doesn’t it?  And, by most accounts, Ross has the talent to be better than DeRozan in a number of areas very quickly if he isn’t already: shooting, passing, dribbling, defense; you know, the little things.  If he falls on his face, fine, at least we gave him the chance and cashed DeMar in for another asset while it was still possible to do so.  And we’ll still have the 6 million dollar man in Fields waiting in the wings to relieve the young fella if need be.

Power Forward:

The most congested position on the Raptors also presents the most difficult decision, and it essentially comes down to 2 players: Amir Johnson and Ed Davis.  Some people will always want Andrea gone but I just don’t see it happening.  Colangelo has been unwilling to waver on his faith in Bargnani so far, and we still haven’t crossed the final excuse off the list he’s made for him: playing Andrea at his natural position at power forward.  Not to mention, Bargnani showed more promise in his 1st 13 games under Dwane Casey than he ever had at any other point in his career.  There’s just no way BC gives up on him now, not with what he feels is the perfect interior compliment to Bargnani in Jonas Valanciunas finally making his way to Toronto.  Removing Kleiza or Acy doesn’t really do anything, Kleiza will barely play PF and Acy, well… he’ll just barely play.

So, back to Johnson and Davis.  Who stays, who goes?  In my opinion, Amir is still the better player.  He’s a better defender.  He’s got more hustle, more strength, more experience, and more versatility.  He can play centre in a pinch, particularly against backups without an advanced post-up game (in other words: most back-ups).  I’m not sold Davis can, at least not yet, anyway.  What Davis has is potential, youth, a cheaper contract, length, and a better rebounding ability.  Many of the differences are slight at this point, and it’s reasonable to suggest that Davis may be the better player in a few years.  For me, however, he’s the one who’s got to go.  Here’s 2 reasons why:

1st Reason – Value

In trade, if a team is giving up the better talent, they need to be able to justify it with a number of things in return: youth, potential, fit, and salary.  In most, if not all of these categories, Davis is superior to Amir from the incoming team’s perspective.  Amir has played 7 seasons in the NBA, he essentially is already the player that we’re going to see for the remainder of his career.  Davis is entering his 3rd year, and any disappointment so far has been wrapped into a nice bow of excuses and explanations.  So many, in fact, that much like in DeMar’s case someone is going to be inclined to believe them and take a chance.  And if it doesn’t work out?  Fine, he’s still on a very manageable rookie contract which expires in 2 years.  Amir has 3 years and $19.5 million left on his deal.  Adding someone like Davis to a trade will return you much more than adding Amir.

2nd Reason – Versatility

One of the main reasons I would rather keep Johnson is ability to play centre.  If our goal at the position is to develop Valanciunas without compromising our ability to fight for a playoff spot, then Amir is essential to meeting these goals.  We needn’t bring in a talented, true centre to nail Jonas to the bench, but we also can’t just hang a rookie out there to dry with only Aaron Gray and the ghost of Jamaal Magloire to back him up.  The biggest thing I expect the rookie to struggle with is foul trouble, something Johnson himself is certainly no stranger to.  If anything, he may even be able to help him in that regard as he’s been battling that demon his entire career and has actually improved in that area.  Still, there will be nights where Amir will have to step up and play the position alongside Bargnani, something I’m not yet particularly comfortable having Davis do at this point.

With all that being said, I’m not entirely opposed if Amir is the one who has to go, but I would prefer that it’s Davis.  Like I said: this one’s tough, it could go either way.  If Johnson has to go to make the right deal work, so be it.

So now that we’ve established who’s got to go, who do we get in return?  I would say our biggest needs this season are going to be a go-to scorer, more athleticism on the wing (especially with DeMar gone, although he never really uses his athleticism anyway), perimeter shooting, and perimeter defense.  We need an upgrade in our talent level altogether, so a package involving all 3 players for 1 or 2 players in return seems like the way to go.  Perhaps someone a bit overpaid would yield a higher return in talent, with the other team motivated by the potential and cap savings of the package we can offer.  If you put it all together with the obvious hole we have at small forward, a few prime candidates emerge.  (Another backup or 3rd string PG would certainly help as well.)

Rudy Gay:

This one’s easy, another topic that has been discussed at length.  I, for one, don’t believe there’s a better option out there (if this could even be called an option).  I have my doubts about whether Memphis would pull the trigger, unless they get off to a bad start to the season, but I would have no problem with Toronto offering all 3 of Calderon, DeMar, and Davis for Gay and someone like Tony Wroten Jr., who I think could really thrive with the right collection of talent around him (he’s not really the point of this discussion, but a line-up featuring Wroten with a bunch of shooters like Ross/Fields, Gay and Bargnani, as well as a good pick and roll finisher like Amir/Val, could eventually really thrive I think).  Gay is one of the few players out there that could fill most of the holes on the Raptors.  He’s clutch, a go-to scorer not afraid of the big moments.  He’s athletic, and he actually uses it unlike DeMar.  He’s a pretty decent shooter (although last year was a down season from 3 for him), a decent defender (better than DeRozan anyway), and a natural small forward.  He’s also a good rebounder, a necessity for any forward playing next to Andrea.

If Memphis did this deal, they would have to be sold on the potential of either DeRozan or Davis, and playing poorly enough to dismantle a big part of their core.  However, they must be feeling the financial pinch at this point with so many high-priced players; if they can pick up a younger, poor-man’s Gay (DD), significant cap space (Jose), and a young big with potential (Ed) for an over-paid Rudy Gay, you’d have to think they’d give it some thought.

Yes, I know, then we’d be stuck with an over-paid Rudy Gay, but we’re in a much better position to handle that salary.  2 of our potential starters in this scenario (although it’s possible neither start initially) are just beginning their rookie contracts.  Lowry has 1 of the best contracts in basketball, even Bargnani and Amir aren’t as over-paid as people seem to make them out to be.  What we need is to sacrifice depth where we’re too deep for an upgrade in talent where we aren’t.  I’d even throw in cash and a 2nd-rounder if it meant getting a deal done.  This is one that the Raps should be pushing hard for early, before the internal competition on our roster robs each of these players of much of their value.

Danny Granger:

If there’s 2 spots the Pacers need help at, it’s shooting guard and power forward.  They have quality starters at PG, SF, and C, and while David West is good at PF, he’s also on the last year of his contract.  A little depth could never hurt in that scenario.  At SG, the Pacers start the 6’8’’ Paul George, a player much more suited to play small forward.  The problem is: that spot is occupied by former All-Star Danny Granger.  Granger is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.  He’s a sound defender, a good shooter, an adequate rebounder, and he wants to be the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of games.  Not quite the scorer that he once was, Danny would still represent a serious upgrade at that position for Toronto.  With only 2 years left on his contract at a reasonable $13+ million per, Granger may be a tough sell for the Pacers, but it’s definitely worth it for BC to take a shot if he can find a deal that works.  I won’t speculate on details here, as it’s difficult to make salaries match without finding a 3rd team or completely fleecing either ourselves or the Pacers.  This makes it all the more unlikely, but Colangelo has shown a talent for complicated deals like this before, although sometimes with mixed results.  Fingers crossed….

Luol Deng:

An acquisition that doesn’t quite solve our problems like Gay and Granger, Deng would still certainly improve our team.  His greatest contributions come in the form of leadership and basketball intelligence, 2 attributes that would certainly be welcome on a young team such as this.  While not really athletic, Deng uses his size and intelligence well and is actually a very effective defender.  Aside from that, there’s nothing about his game that really stands out, but he won’t really hurt the team in any areas either.  He’s a decent shooter but not much for creating his own shot.  He’s a good rebounder (noticing a pattern here?) but not an exceptionally adept passer for someone of his intelligence.  A solid player all around, he’d be an excellent pick-up for the Raptors provided we don’t give up too much in return.

Would a deal including Jose and DeMar for Deng and Marquis Teague be appealing?  Chicago could use some help at PG to hold things down until Rose returns, and with Jose’s expiring contract and the youth of DeRozan, the Bulls could potentially rebuild on the fly without surrendering too much in the win column in the meantime.  They don’t really have much use for Davis and that’d be too much to give up anyway; as it is this deal seems mutually beneficial for both teams.  In Teague the Raps would get a young, talented player to be our 3rd-string point guard and eventually maybe even the primary backup.

I know there’s other options out there, but these are the 3 most talented, somewhat attainable players out there at a position of need for us.  We thin out some of the log-jams at other positions and fill a gaping hole at small forward with a player more talented than most, if not all, of our current roster.  I know some of you are going to freak that we’re giving up too much here or that our players aren’t good enough to get a deal done there.  I’m damned if I do, I’m damned it I don’t.  Just try to keep in mind that each of our players I listed is highly expendable at this point, and in each case here I would probably give up a little more even just to get a deal done.  Unless it’s a complete robbery (ex. Carmelo to Knicks), the team that gets the best player usually wins the trade.  Depth can only get you so far when you can only have 5 players on the court at once, hell Miami just won a title with 2 and a half men.  Lowry was a good start, and Bargnani’s coming around, but would’ve been strong at those positions regardless.  It’s time to get some real talent where we need it most.

Thank you for reading.

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