June 29, 2010

The Toronto Raptors: The Miami Summit, or Lack Thereof

Steve Aschburner wrote an excellent piece yesterday on NBA.com (linked here) on the free agent summit in Miami. He postulates several great thoughts on its cultural, social, and scientific significance...

As a basketball experiment, it would be fascinating to see the Xs and Os brought to life by such remarkable talents. Who would initiate the action? How would their skills mesh? Where would the outside shooting come from? Then again, with double-teams demanded at three spots, simple math says there would be 2 ½ guys left mostly open much of the time.

As chemistry and psychology experiments, we could learn much about the dynamics of ego, the power of sacrifice and the ingredients needed to bind together such strong personalities. What would the pecking order be? We pretty much know who'd be No. 3, but how would Nos. 1 and 2 get divvied up? Would Wade have squatter's rights because it was his town first? If so, what's higher in the royal flow-chart than King?

As a financial experiment, we might finally get to see how the New York Yankees' methodology of team-building works in pro basketball. The NBA largely has been protected from that by its salary cap, but this would be as close as a hoops team can get to opening the wallet for the best of the best.

Even if a spend-spend-spend approach isn't quite what the Yankees do (they're more like spend-spend-spend-spend to about the 25th power), it would force Miami and the rest of the league to find out what happens when most of the remaining players are brought in on minimum contracts. Would the Gee, Three! be surrounded by marginal talent? Or would they, on their reputations and expectations of success, lure enough solid teammates who'd take serious pay cuts to nail down rings themselves?

As a cultural experiment, seeing how such a galaxy of stars would shine away from the gyms would be fascinating, too. Would they hang together? Would they share off-court opportunities? In other words, would Bosh get a puppet and would Charles Barkley be elbowed out of the T-Mobile spots?

Finally, as a political and competitive experiment ... well, here's where things get dicey. We'd start by assuming that Cleveland and Toronto, abandoned by James and Bosh respectively, would be toast. At least for a (long) while. But what about other markets and their preference for building toward a championship the old-fashioned way? Could they compete with the instant mix of superstars, money and minimal stirring?

I have always written off the possibility that these three end up together as preposterous. Each has earned the right to carry a team on his own (some more than others). And, in their own ways, each has stated that he wants to be the man in a respective uniform. For about 24 hours now this rumor has been swirling out of control, and it appears (of course, this comes out while I'm writing this piece) that it might be just that: a rumor. But the point of it being picked up so virally by many fans and pundits alike, is that it is such a tantalizing thought. So, even if this is not going to happen, I will finish my article as if it were a done deal. Mostly because I want to, but also because - as the reason for the virility in the first place - I'm sure the three stars have given much thought about packing up and moving to South Beach together.

Firstly, I don't care if Bosh leaves Toronto, frankly I want to see him gone. In his seven years here, he has managed to lead his team to 3 playoffs wins. That's games, not series. He has put up fantastic personal numbers, but has never really been able to get more from various and talented teammates. While he says he wants to be the man for a franchise, I think he is better suited as the Robin to a Lebron/Wade Batman. He is not suited to lead, and if we kept him in TO, it would be Garnett in Minny, or Pau in Memphis all over again. Moreover, Bosh ending up in Miami with Lebron and Wade would be bittersweet. I love Miami, have a second home there and consider them to be my second team (whatever the hell that means). Further, I could chalk it up as a situation that Bosh could not pass up. Unlike if he went to, say, Houston, where there is only slightly better talent, and he would still be the franchise guy. I am grateful for his service to the City of Toronto's basketball fans, but it is time to part ways. For the benefit of both parties. If we can return a Michael Beasley, then great. Either way, the Raps move to rebuild mode immediately, so I am fairly indifferent.

Secondly, regarding the 'done deal', "massive 3" (big 3 seems to small for me) in HEAT uniforms. Some might question whether they would be dominant. Whether they would mesh well together. But the question in my mind isn't if, but how many championships they would win. Yes, bringing the three together means that the team will have to do with nine to twelve minimum salary guys, but who cares? You could put John Daly in at the five, and he would average 10, 5 and 5 (boards, dimes, if you were wondering). Especially given that Pat Riley would likely move down from his front office perch, I put the vegas over/under championship total at 5.

Thirdly, at the end of the article, Aschburner goes on to question their competitive drive if they decide to sign together. That's ludicrous. They would still have to go up against the Lakers, Celts, Mavs, Magic, Nuggs, etc. These are the three biggest names in the sport right now only by virtue of the free agency, not because they are the only talent in the league. There is no question that this would be a seismic shift and leave the Cavs and Raps high and dry (the Cavs would be worse off IMHO). But in no way is this a sign of a lack of will for competition. I would say the exact opposite. League wide talent is at an all-time high and the three would be saying that they want to pair up to face this talent. If anything I would question their competitiveness if they didn't decide to pair up.

Lastly, and most importantly, with Bosh all but gone, where do the Raps stand? We can try a patch-work for one season to see if we can salvage anything from this shipwreck... maybe Beasley comes to town. Maybe we get some interesting pieces in return for Turkoglu or Calderon. Marcus Banks and Reggie Evans are expiring deals too, maybe we can package them into a deal and return some value. 

Either way, it looks like the team will be handed to Bargnani. He's had plenty of time in the league and it's time to see what he's made of. If he can't handle it, get rid of him and blow up the team. The roster next year will be drastically different, and probably not great. Jose needs to go, he's not good enough. His body is weak, and injury prone. His defense is weak. He handles the offense perfectly and its a pleasure to watch him dime Amir for the alley, but his deficiencies are too big to ignore. Ship him, for expiring contracts even. Jack gets the starting the job. With Jose out of the picture, Turk's job as a ball handler becomes much more important and I could see him being sold to stay a Raptor. Further, I would bite that he would be useful once more. 

A starting five of Bargs, Amir (Re-Signing him is absolutely necessary) Turk, Sonny and Jack is interesting, but still pretty shit. Demar and Ed Davis off the bench are a pretty big wild-card at this point. Add in a player or two from the Calderon deal, and maybe Beasley, and the team might be alright. Do they make the playoffs? Likely not. Do they make for some entertaining games throughout the season? Sure, but few. If Demar and Bargnani, and Triano for that matter, have great off-seasons, the team might not be in bad shape. If they maintain the status quo (more likely in my mind), the situation in Raptors land looks pretty bleak. If that's the case, blow it up. Clean house. Get rid of Colangelo et al. and start fresh with the core of Demar, Sonny, Davis, Amir. The Raps can only give it a year though, and this is key. If they don't make the playoffs, BLOW IT UP! I do not want the Raptors to become mediocre hacks wadding in the middle of the pack, which a lineup of Bargs, Amir/Davis, Turk, Sonny/Demar, Jack has written all over it. We would win thirty five games, and everybody would be like, "oh well we had an alright season, let's give these guys another shot." That's not good enough. Specifically because I don't believe Toronto is a draw for major star power... unfortunately. Our success needs to come from organic growth. The Raptors need to be really bad to be really good. And we need to draft well in the process.

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