Toronto Raptors President/GM Bryan Colangelo is not held in particularly high regard these days. Here’s ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons on Colangelo: “He didn’t just ruin the Raptors these past four years; he shoved them down the stairs, beat them to death with a baseball bat and buried them in a sanitation site.” Considering the current state of the Raptors, it’s pretty hard to argue with that assessment. But what I will say about Colangelo is that he probably executes more surprising transactions than any other GM in the NBA. Whether or not they’re transactions that help his team is another story entirely.
I was at my parents’ house this morning and was discussing the state of the Raptors with my father. I told him that sometime this season, Colangelo was probably going to have to trade either Jarrett Jack or Jose Calderon and Jack was more likely to be shipped out because of his contract. Sure enough, Jack has apparently been traded to one of the elite teams in the NBA where he’ll backup the league’s best point guard. Assuming he cares more about winning than being in the starting lineup, this is a pretty good development for Jack.
As weird as it seems to identify Jarrett Jack as the “key player” in a trade, that seems to be the case here. While he’s had a rough start to this season, the Hornets obviously see him as an upgrade over Jerryd Bayless as Chris Paul’s backup. Since Paul’s contract expires in 2012 and there might not even be a 2011-12 NBA season because of Collective Bargaining Agreement issues, it’s understandable that the Hornets are trying to do whatever it takes to convince Paul that he should sign an extension with the team. Upgrading his backup is a smart move in that context.
Peja Stojakovic and Marcus Banks are both expiring contracts and that’s mostly how they should be viewed (although we’ll get back to Peja later). David Andersen isn’t technically an expiring contract but his 2011-12 contract is only guaranteed for $185,185. So when we push aside the financial aspects of the deal (which probably include part of Toronto’s trade exception from the Bosh “trade” to Miami, since the deal doesn’t seem to work out on its own), it’s basically a swap of backup point guards. Since Bayless is younger and cheaper, it’s safe to say he’s a downgrade from Jack.
I’m not an expert on Bayless by any means but from what I’ve observed about him, he’s an undersized, athletic combo guard who can’t shoot, defend or pass particularly well. Try to contain your excitement. The one thing he’s good at offensively is getting to the free throw line. Otherwise, the best thing I can say about him is that he’ll definitively end the debate about who should be the Raptors’ starting point guard this season — Jose Calderon has the job until he inevitably sprains his ankle again.
Why did the Raptors make this trade? I’m not entirely sure. Based on the details I have now, it appears that the Raptors will save around $3 million over the course of all the players’ contracts, so there’s that. But more importantly from the fans’ perspective, Stojakovic is almost certainly the key figure in this trade for the Raptors — and not because of what he can do on the court. Sure, he’s one of the great three-point shooters in NBA history and even now that he can’t do anything else, he still has some use as a guy who can stand in the corner and make 40 percent of his treys. It will actually be kinda surreal and fun to see him dropping long bombs in a Raptors jersey for a little while.
But let’s be clear on his real value to Colangelo — it’s not his three-point shooting, it’s his $14 million expiring contract. And that’s what scares me about this deal. When you combine that expiring contract with what’s left of the trade exception from the Bosh deal, Colangelo has some assets that he could potentially use to put this team right back on that treadmill that allows this team to either barely miss the playoffs or barely make the playoffs so they can get demolished in the first round.
Haven’t most Raptors fans bought into a full rebuilding project at this point? This roster is frankly embarrassing when you compare it to pretty much every other NBA roster. The Raptors need star talent and the only realistic way they’re going to acquire that talent is through the top picks in the next few drafts. If Colangelo sabotages the franchise’s chances of landing one of those potential stars by forcing the team back into a cycle of mediocrity, I will be one of the last remaining people to get on the bandwagon proclaiming that he should be replaced by pretty much anyone besides Isiah Thomas.
But I’m not lighting my torch just yet. Let’s see what Colangelo has to say about this trade and I’m not going to assume that he’s going to sabotage the rebuild just because it seems like something he might do. Hell, based on this team’s recent history, let’s see if this trade actually goes through. With my luck, I just wasted almost 900 words on a rumor.