As the offseason progresses teams start to take shape. The NBA is unlike any other professional sports league in the world. It is pretty much set, with a few exceptions, before the season even tips off which teams are going to be successful in the upcoming year.
Currently, the Eastern Conference is getting stronger. I’m not sure how much longer it can be called the “Leastern Conference.” Boston, Orlando and Atlanta have maintained their status in the conference’s elite. The Miami Heat have shocked everyone by signing the three most coveted free agents of the summer. And both the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks have made strong additions.
By my count that leaves two playoff positions left and it is only the middle of July. Unfortunately, unless a miracle happens I don’t see the Toronto Raptors stealing one of the remaining spots. This is probably a positive, at least from a fan’s perspective, a first round sweep doesn’t sound very exciting to me. However, I’m sure Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment would appreciate the extra revenue.
One of the most glaring holes on the Raptors’ roster is small forward. This is a major disappointment as Bryan Colangelo was supposed to have locked up that position last summer with the signing of Hedo Turkoglu. Now Turkoglu is headed to Phoenix to play with Steve Nash.
On a sidenote, this move for the Suns doesn’t make much sense to me. Turkoglu was unproductive last year with the Raptors because he didn’t have the ball in his hands enough. Now he goes into a situation with one of the top point guards in the league, who needs the ball to be effective.
But anyway, back to the Raptors.
The top tier of small forwards basically boils down to three names: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. James signed with the Heat, Durant signed an extension with the Thunder, and Anthony is expected to resign with the Nuggets or join the New York Knicks next summer when he enters free agency.
Outside the top three, there are small forwards available, however, the Raptors continue to have bad luck. The team was set to acquire Boris Diaw, until Bobcats majority owner, Michael Jordan, backed out of the deal.
Then Colangelo worked out a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic for Matt Barnes. A deal that seemed all but done; Barnes even announced on Twitter that he was joining the Raptors. However, because he only signed a one-year deal with the Magic last summer, the team did not hold his full “Bird Rights” and therefore Orlando could not engineer a sign-and-trade worth more then $1.9 million per season. Barnes has since reportedly agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Finally, the player that I wanted to see the Raptors acquire, Corey Maggette, was sent to the Bucks for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell. This could have just as easily been Marcus Banks and Reggie Evans, but I guess since the Raptors are entering a rebuilding period Colangelo didn’t want to be locked into the three-years and $30 million remaining on Maggette’s contract.
Currently, the player(s) Toronto has under contract at small forward are Linas Kleiza and possibly Sonny Weems, but I’m not sure whether he can play consistent minutes at the three-spot.
The Top Free Agents
The top free agent small forwrds available are Josh Howard, Jarvis Hayes, Bobby Simmons, Rodney Carney, and Adam Morrison.
Howard is clearly that most talented out of the group. However, he is too expensive. Even if Toronto had the money to spend, I’m not sure it would be a wise move since Howard’s production has dropped ever since he publicly admitted his fondness of marijuana a few years ago.
Hayes is rumored to be interesting in joining the Boston Celtics, a move which would be beneficial for both sides.
Simmons is a journey-man and would simply be filling the hole for a season or two, but clearly is not a long term solution.
Carney was the 16th overall selection back in 2006, but really hasn’t done much in the league up to this point in time. He is very athletic and would fit a similar style of play with a number of current Raptors. Most notably: Weems, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson.
Lastly, there is Morrison. There is no question he has been a disappointment in the league. The Bobcats, lead by Michael Jordan selected him 3rd overall in the 2006 draft. He was a great college player, but in retrospect a terrible selection, with Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay drafted after him.
Morrison has collected two championship rings, while riding the pine for the Lakers the last few seasons. It’s unlikely the Lakers will bring him back, but a number of teams including the Celtics and Wizards are rumored to have some interest in his services.
I hope Morrison is able to turn his pro career around, and at least develop into a rotation player. After such a brilliant college career it would be a shame for him to go out like this. However, it wouldn’t be as bad as how he ended the NCAA Tournament a few years ago, at center court crying after a loss to UCLA.
Players Available Via Trade
Both Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala have been connected to trade rumors over the last few seasons, however, I don’t see either ending up in a Raptors uniform anytime soon.
A few names that may be available include: Marvin Williams, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green.
Williams would be an interesting pick up. The Hawks obviously made the wrong choice in 2005 selecting him over Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Atlanta needed a point guard then, and the team still needs one now. A trade centering around Williams and Jose Calderon could work for both sides.
I am a big fan of Wilson Chandler. He doesn’t do any one thing great, but he does a lot of things well. Chandler likely won’t be in New York much longer, as management is not convinced he can play shooting guard. The team already has Danilo Gallinari at small forward, and with Amare Stoudemire and Anthony Randolph upfront, Chandler may find himself as the odd man out.
The problem for the Raptors is Chandler is still on his rookie contract, which would make putting together a trade package difficult, unless Toronto is willing to absorb Eddy Curry’s contract in exchange for the Chris Bosh-trade Exception.
Then there is Green. Green was selected 5th overall in 2007. He is a talented player, however with Durant already occupying the three-spot Green has been forced to play out of position at power forward. That is the Thunder’s biggest area of weakness right now and the team will likely have to move Green to rectify the problem.
Unfortunately Toronto really doesn’t have much to offer for Green. The Raptors don’t have a starting-quality big man on the roster that the team can give up. And unless that happens I don’t see Sam Presti giving up Green any time soon.
The Why Not Take a Chance Players
Sometimes it takes guys a few years to develop maturity and improve their game, and then they become ready to contribute on an NBA team. A few of those names may include: Gerald Green, Joe Alexander and Ime Udoka.
Green was a lottery pick of the Celtics a few years ago. He was traded to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Garnett deal. He really hasn’t done much after making the jump straight from high school. He also didn’t show much on the Lakers’ summer league teams, averaging only 8.6 points per game. However, maybe given the playing time he could develop, if put in the right situation.
Next, Alexander, he was one of only a handful of lottery picks to not have his 3rd option picked up. After two injury filled seasons with the Bucks, Alexander was traded to the Bulls last season for John Salmons.
Alexander was on the Bulls’ summer league roster, but didn’t see any game action. Despite the lack of playing time and injuries over his short NBA career, Alexander is a player I think teams should take a look at. At a minimum he should get an invite to some team’s training camp.
Finally, there is Udoka. He has played for 5 teams, in 6 seasons in the NBA. Udoka impressed both the Trailblazers and Spurs with his defensive toughness over the last few seasons. At this point in time he remains without a team. Since, defense and toughness are two areas the Raptors are sorely lacking in Udoka could be someone Colangelo wants to take a lot at.
At the end of the day, this is going to be a long season for Toronto Raptors fans. The team lost its leader, the face of the franchise, and that isn’t something the Raptors can bounce back from overnight. All fans can hope for, is that the team plays hard every night, and hopefully in a year or two there will be a return to the postseason.