Alexis Ajinca: The Newest Member of the Toronto Raptors

Mark BirdsellContributor IIIJanuary 22, 2011

MIAMI - DECEMBER 08:  Alexis Ajinca #21 of the Charlotte Bobcats shoots a free throw while taking on the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 8, 2008 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Alexis Ajinca had a rough day Thursday. He took the early bus from the hotel to the United Center before the Mavericks faced off against the Chicago Bulls. Ajinca got changed and went out to the court to practice. However, little did he know that he was no longer a member of the Dallas Mavericks. This left Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle in the awkward position of going to tell him to go back to the hotel.

The fact that Ajinca is in the process of being traded to the Toronto Raptors shouldn’t be much of a surprise to him. He was the fourth-string center and Dallas is in desperate need of help at small forward since Caron Butler went down with a season ending knee injury.

Now, Ajinca must wait to see if the NBA Head Office will approve of the proposed trade between the Mavericks and Raptors. 

It is the Mavericks’ acquisition of Peja Stojakovic which is holding up the trade. He was waived by the Raptors on Thursday and a number of contending teams wanted to employ his services. Stojakovic has agreed to join the Mavericks, though.

The accusation is that Bryan Colangelo and Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson came to an agreement under the table. However, Toronto gave Dallas permission last week to talk to Stojakovic. Furthermore, Colangelo has reportedly been inquiring about Ajinca all season.

The front office staff of both teams expects the trade to be approved and consummated in the near future.

The proposed deal would send Ajinca, a 2013 second round draft pick originally sent to Dallas in the Solomon Alabi trade and cash to the Raptors in exchange for 2007 second round pick Georgios Printezis and a $1.5 million trade player exception.

This deal doesn’t do much to affect the Dallas Mavericks. Printezis is no longer seen as a viable NBA player and will likely remain overseas for the rest of his pro career. Also, the trade exception will last for a year and may allow Dallas to acquire a minor player, but will likely just expire. 

There was two options: trade Ajinca or waive him. Management decided to trade him to the Raptors.

From Toronto’s perspective this is a low-risk, high-reward type of scenario.

The team waives Stojakovic, who never fit into the Raptors' long-term plans and acquires a young, defensive-minded center.

This is precisely the type of move Colangelo should be making right now. Playoff-bound teams are looking for that one player to put them over the top and young players are available for the taking. Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been doing this for the last couple seasons, acquiring young assets without having to give up anything of value.

Most causal fans have no idea of who Ajinca is. He was a late first round pick of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008. He has only played a total of 47 games in the NBA, in three seasons. However, this is an intriguing pickup.

Ajinca is a 7’1”, 248 lb center from Saint-Etienne, France. He spent two years with the Bobcats before being traded to the Mavericks this summer, along with Tyson Chandler. 

After joining Dallas he was fourth on the depth chart behind Chandler, Brendon Haywood and Ian Mahinmi. He only played 10 games, but in a curious move by Carlisle, Ajinca actually started one game when Dirk Nowitzki went down with an injury.

What attracted scouts to Ajinca’s game when he was entering the league was his defensive presence. He has a 7’9” wingspan and he tries to block or alter every shot.  However, Ajinca suffers from the same problem as most young big men: he is foul prone.  As a result, he can’t stay on the court.

If Ajinca can learn to play without fouling so much, he might be able to help a Toronto team that is very weak up front. 

Amir Johnson has had a similar problem over his short NBA career. Johnson brings a lot of energy to the Raptors, but often gets into early foul trouble. This results from poor footwork, as a player doesn’t get into the right spot defensively and is left in a compromising position when trying to stop an offensive player.

On the offensive end, Ajinca is still very raw. He has a few post moves, but earlier in his career didn’t have sufficient bulk to play in the paint. Ajinca has put on some weight, but could probably use to add more strength going forward.

He can also step out and play facing the basket. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this is a skill most European big men develop.

I don’t expect Ajinca to come in and play major minutes anytime soon; however, if he’s willing to put the work in this trade could turn out to be very beneficial down the road. 

At a minimum, management gave up absolutely nothing to get him and Ajinca only has one year remaining on his rookie contract. If he doesn’t work out then no one will even remember he was here.