When I chose this headline to describe the news that Linas Kleiza will miss the next nine to 12 months recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee, I saw that one of the definitions for euthanasia is “mercy killing”. That seems an apt way to describe the ending to what had been an extremely disappointing season for Kleiza up to this point.
When Raptors President/GM Bryan Colangelo signed Kleiza to a four-year, $18.8 million contract in July, I thought it was a savvy pickup at the time. I recalled him being a solid backup to Carmelo Anthony in Denver with a reliable shot and a decent post game. I’m not sure what happened to his game while he played in Greece for the 2009-10 season, but his 39 games as a Raptor have mostly been dismal.
It’s hard to say who has been the worst player to get regular minutes on a team as bad as this season’s Raptors, but Kleiza is a top candidate with his career-lows in True Shooting Percentage (.502) and Player Efficiency Rating (10.2). As is often the case with Andrea Bargnani, Raptors fans discovered that Kleiza doesn’t provide a positive impact when his shot isn’t falling — and his shot hasn’t been falling nearly often enough.
If there’s an upside to this news, it’s that Julian Wright probably has the starting small forward spot for the rest of the season — which is timely for him since he’s in a contract year. Going into the season, I wondered if Wright would have an NBA job in 2012 if he didn’t exhibit increased dedication to improving his game. While Wright still isn’t really “starting lineup material”, he’s generating a good reputation as an athletic defender with underrated playmaking ability. While Kleiza’s season just got euthanized, you could say the condition of Wright’s career has been upgraded to “fair”.
Edited to add: As commenter “dribbles” correctly points out, Sonny Weems has actually been the starting small forward for the past three games and since he’s also in a contract year, this is an equally critical time for him. Regardless of who starts, no Kleiza means more minutes for both Wright and Weems.