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Rabbit Hole: Villaneuva for Ford for O’Neal for Marion for Barbosa for Zubcic

Charlie Villanueva touched a lot of Raptors teams.

I was going to write about the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors today. I should probably write about the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors today. Unfortunately, the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors played like hot garbage on Sunday, and I no longer really feel like devoting a couple of hours to them.


Instead, let’s talk about a much, much worse team: the 2004-05 Toronto Raptors. It is the franchise’s 20th season, after all, and I’m personally of the mind we haven’t done enough ridiculous looking back at the hilarious and until-now moribund history of this franchise.


The 04-05 season is best known in Raptors lore because it’s the year Vince Carter forced a trade to the New Jersey Nets, returning a package of players that had about as much impact on the franchise as me or you have had. It was an ugly year, but it was a very Raptors year – Chris Bosh was a sophomore improving by the game, Jalen Rose was as entertaining as he always was, Donyell Marshall was bombing away from long range, Skip to My Lou was an actual NBA player, and the Raptors’ had two players on the all-time best name squad in Pape Sow and Milt Palacio. Seriously, how good a handle is Milt Palacio?


The team was garbage, finishing 33-49 and 25-33 following the Carter trade. A quick 9-6 post-trade stretch was the only brief glimmer of hope all season, but hey, we were going to have two draft picks!


One of said draft picks would be Joey Graham, chosen No. 16 using one of the picks acquired in the Carter deal. Graham would spend four seasons looking the part of an NBA wing when standing still but never quite looking right after ball in.


The other pick in that draft, though, the Raptors’ own No. 7 overall selection, still has a tangential impact on the franchise to this day (depending on how you value Euro prospects). That pick was Charlie Villanueva, a smooth-headed and smooth-shooting 6-foot-11 stretch forward out of U-Conn. He’d play just one year for the Raptors, but he touched the franchise far beyond just the memories of his 48-point outburst in a March, 2006 loss against Milwaukee. You see, Villanueva would ultimately be dealt ahead of his sophomore season, setting off quite the chain of events over the next half-decade.
Bryan Colangelo took over as general manager of the team in early 2006, and so the 2006 offseason saw him look to reshape the team in his image. That meant he needed point guard help, because he clearly didn’t believe Mike James’ Amityville Scorer shtick from 2005-06 was sustainable. And so Colangelo shipped Villanueva and cash to the Milwaukee Bucks for T.J. Ford.


It wasn’t a bad deal, though it was a risky one given Ford’s injury history. Still, he was a 23-year-old point guard coming off of a solid offensive season, and he could create the kind of chaos off the bounce that would conceivably open up shots for teammates.


Of course, there was still the matter of holdover Jose Calderon, who took major steps forward in the two years he shared with Ford, ultimately leading to the poorly-named and even more poorly-argued “Forderon” debates. Calderon won out, as became his calling card until Kyle Lowry vanquished him, and so Ford, too, was on the move. Shortly after the 2008 draft, the Raptors packaged Ford with Maceo Baston, Rasho Nesterovic, and the draft rights to No. 17 pick Roy Hibbert, sending them to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal and the draft rights to second round pick Nathan Jawai (put a pin in Jawai, he re-enters this story later).


Once again, you can understand Colangelo’s logic. Ford had lost his job, Nesterovic in need of an upgrade, and Hibbert wasn’t expected to be anything like the Hibbert he is today, at least not for some time. O’Neal, meanwhile, appeared to be somewhat of a buy-low following an injury plagued season that saw him post his worst numbers since 2000-01. Unfortunately, that buy-low was actually just the start of O’Neal’s decline from an All-Star into a serviceable reserve big, something useful but quite overpriced at $21.4 million.


He lasted 41 games before the once again struggling Raptors decided he was superfluous with Bosh and Andrea Bargnani forming a formidable offensive tag team. And so Colangelo reached out for a versatile staple from his Phoenix days, flipping O’Neal with Jamario Moon, a second round pick that would become Da’Sean Butler, and a first round pick for Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks and cash.


Here’s where things get interesting, and we require two quick diversions.


1) Banks would eventually be traded with Jarrett Jack and David Andersen for Jerryd Bayless and Peja Stojakovic. Bayless would eventually leave as a free agent, while Stojakovic was waived after just two appearances, leaving as the Raptors’ all-time leader in PER. He scored 20 points in 22 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting and 4-of-6 from long range, surely selling plenty of jerseys in Toronto’s Croatian Serbian community (that mistake isn’t going to upset anybody, nope).

Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors

2) Dealing that pick was very nearly a huge blow to the Raptors, and the Marion-O’Neal swap actually made The Big Three era a possibility. While O’Neal had another year left on his contract, he expired in the summer of 2010, keeping the books clean for Miami. Far more importantly, the pick Toronto sent in that deal allowed the Heat to eventually land Chris Bosh in a sign-and-trade – while Colangelo is derided for getting nothing for Bosh, the Raptors received a pair of first round picks to help facilitate his move. One would get flipped to the Chicago Bulls for James Johnson (round one), eventually getting dealt to Minnesota and then back to Miami, where it would become Norris Cole. The other was that same pick the Raptors had sent out for Marion, and would become Jonas Valanciunas.


So, if you follow the bouncing balls here, the Raptors had Marion on an expiring deal and had very nearly lost Valanciunas and Hibbert in the chain of events that got them there. Depending on whether you think Bosh could have left without a sign-and-trade agreement, flipping Villanueva for Ford for O’Neal for Marion paved the way for Bosh to leave (the mismanagement probably didn’t help either). But hey, they got the pick back.


Anyway, back to the chain. Remember Jawai from earlier? Aussie Shaq, as it were? Well he factored back in one year after being acquired, getting paired with a sign-and-traded Marion, Kris Humphries, cash, and a 2016 second round pick. It was a four-team trade, so the machinations are messy, but the Raptors turned Marion’s Bird rights, Jawai, Humphries, cash and a second into Devean George (later flipped for Marco Belinelli, who was later flipped for Julian Wright), Antoine Wright and … Hedo Turkoglu.


Yes, that failed, five-year, $50-million deal the Raptors gave Turkoglu was part of a giant, four-team, multiple-sign-and-trade deal. And again, Colangelo’s logic is clear – with Marion out, the team needed a versatile point forward, and Turkoglu was coming off a season in which he averaged 16.8-45.3-4.9 for a team that went to the NBA Finals.


Unfortunately, Turkoglu immediately turned into a Pizza Pizza-pushing, night club-visiting, shot-missing waste of cap space, averaging 11.3-4.6-4.1 for a 40-42 team and seeing his efficiency drop across the board. Once again, Colangelo was willing to cut bait, flipping Turkoglu to Phoenix after just one season and turning him into Leandro Barbosa, Dwayne Jones, and some additional financial flexibility.


Barbosa wasn’t anything special in his year-plus with the Raptors, but he was a nice bench spark for a pair of awful teams. Late in 2011-12, the out-of-it Raptors flipped him for a second round pick that they would use to select Tomislav Zubcic. That’s this guy:


And that’s it. Villanueva became Ford, who with Hibbert became O’Neal, who with Valanciunas became Marion, who became Turkoglu, who became Barbosa, who became Zubcic. Quite the impact that Charlie V has had. It’s also quite the reminder that Colangelo’s tenure was never, ever boring, and that there was never too long a wait once the struggle began before things got shaken up. The struggle, though, was always quite real.


Zubcic, by the way, is a 6-foot-11 Croatian playing for Cedevita Zagreb in the Croatian League who retweets a lot of stuff about his team and looks like he’s still 18. Considering he only averages 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds and is now 24 years old, I think we’ve seen the last of the Villanueva returns.


And that, folks, is how you avoid writing about a team after a terrible outing.

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