Andrea Bargnani has worn out his welcome with a lot of Raptors fans, but more importantly, he does not fit who Toronto is trying to be as a team.
Dwane Casey came to Toronto and was brought in to make the Raptors' inept defense better. In his first season with Toronto, he did just that. Even Bargnani seemed to have bought in and was at least giving some attempt to defend his position.
This period I have personally coined as the “mirage of greatness.” The mirage would come crashing to halt with a calf injury. We never saw that Bargnani again, even when he came back briefly, only to be re-injured and head back to the bench.
Casey’s mantra to sell these new defensive-minded ways was the slogan “pound the rock.” You can’t go around the Raptors locker room or practice court in the Air Canada Centre without seeing the slogan written somewhere. If that is not good enough, the Raptors have a giant rock to the right as you enter their locker room. It is hard to miss that.
If you are not familiar with the story behind the whole pound the rock philosophy, I will give you the quick version. It is a story about a stone cutter who would have to pound a rock 100 times and the rock would still not break. On that 101st time, the rock breaks. It is a story that is about working hard, and eventually, you will break through with hard work and effort.
This brings us back to Andrea Bargnani, who, for his entire NBA career, has been a massive underachiever in terms of rebounding. He also, as mentioned, has never exactly impressed anyone in the NBA with his defensive effort or ability. Does this sound anything like a guy that fits this story of hard work that is the base for Toronto’s team identity?
In addition to that, there is the question of his attitude, which can leave a lot to be desired. I was there Sunday afternoon to watch Bargnani shoot a pathetic 2-for-19 from the field in a double-overtime loss to San Antonio. After the game, Bargnani admitted the obvious: that this was a terrible day for him shooting.
When he was asked if he thought he deserved to be playing in overtime based on his performance, he deflected the question by saying "that was not his job."
That would be Casey's job, who said in his post-game remarks “Andrea is our guy come hell or high water.” This was in response to a question on why the crowd didn’t see Ed Davis in the overtime sessions.
Davis had arguably his best game as a Raptor in this game with a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds. Included in that were eight offensive rebounds, a career high for the third-year product out of North Carolina.
Davis, like DeRozan last season, struggled in the lockout-shortened season. Finally, in his third season, he was able to play a full training camp and preseason. In his rookie year, Davis had to sit out the entire preseason and first few games of the regular season. This was thanks to a knee injury prior to start of camp and player optional workouts.
After the game, Davis basically took the high road, saying all the right things to the media.
Casey is the third coach for Bargnani in his seventh season with the Raptors. Dwane seems in the same spot that both Sam Mitchell and Jay Triano found themselves in. Only Casey knows what he truly thinks of Andrea Bargnani. However, if he came in thinking he would find anything resembling Dirk Nowitzki, he was mistaken.
He left Dallas after winning a title as an assistant and was credited for making the Mavericks as group better and finding ways to help Dirk be a more acceptable defender.
When Casey claims that Andrea is his guy and this team’s guy, Raptors fans don't exactly believe him. They think he is Bryan Colangelo’s guy and has been since drafting him with the first pick in 2006. It would appear Colangelo’s unwillingness to trade Bargnani has been an on-again, off-again source of pain for the fanbase.
Sam Mitchell was a believer in tough love with Bargnani. It seemed pretty clear he was forced to use Andrea and was never really happy about that. Colangelo and Mitchell were not on the same page on many things. Bargnani was always near the top of the list, though.
It would lead to the firing of Mitchell and the introduction of Jay Triano. It was pretty clear Mitchell was not a fan of Colangelo’s pick of Bargnani, and it was a big factor in the friction between the two.
It leads to legitimate speculation on if Colangelo influences his coaches in terms of Bargnani and his role on this club. Does Casey have the freedom to bench Bargnani? To play Bargnani coming off the bench? If you asked him and the organization, or Colangelo, they would all tell you he does. Raptors fans may have a tough time believing that given the history.
It comes down to the simple fact that Casey wants to have a team that thinks defense-first and is held accountable. In both cases, you can say that with Andrea Bargnani, this is not going to ever happen.
Yet Casey came out yesterday with such strong support of his choice to roll with the struggling Bargnani.
Is this confidence like Randy “Macho Man” Savage had in Hulk Hogan? In which Savage, who secretly hated Hogan at the time, allowed him to be beat up because he claimed he believed in Hogan.
Dwane Casey is not likely to hit Bargnani with a steel chair or championship title belt anytime soon. That said, you find it hard to believe that he is willing to roll with Bargnani to hell and back. Andrea has had many chances to take control of this franchise and make it his own and has failed to do so.
Now, the highly talented offensive player that lacks effort, rebounding and defensive skills no longer seems to fit the Raptors' goals and ideals as a franchise. Still, they deny that, and the actions of yesterday seem to suggest the exact opposite.
Patience is wearing thin, as the Raptors sink lower and lower record-wise in the Eastern Conference. Toronto's next few games are not easy, with stops in Houston on Tuesday and Memphis on Wednesday not offering much hope of victory.
If you believe Casey, after several of his squad’s recent close losses, he has talked about seeing the light and them being close to breaking through and finally getting it. That light, if you ask Raptors fans, is an oncoming train, and the conductor of it could very well be Andrea Bargnani.