With the Raptors mired in another losing streak and sitting 11 games under .500, now a nearly insurmountable 6.5 games out a playoff spot, much of the talk among fans and observers is about what the Raptors have to do to improve, specifically in the short term.

Much of the talk is about what moves have to be made. But if you ask me, the real concern for a team at a delicate stage of a rebuilding process should be more about what moves have to be avoided.

Three moves that should be made are as follows – 1. Try to find a deal for Andrea Bargnani that doesn’t financially hamper the team in the future. 1b. If there are no such deals to be made and Bargnani cannot be molded into a reliable sixth man/bench scorer, seriously consider using the amnesty clause on the former No. 1 overall pick (Personally, I seriously doubt that MLSE would okay eating the remainder of Bargnani’s contract while he plays elsewhere). 2. Find some value for Jose Calderon’s expiring contract (this should be the easiest task). 3. If not used on Bargnani, use the amnesty clause on Linas Kleiza this summer, assuming the Lithuanian forward picks up his $4.6 million player option for next season (If Kleiza elects to become a free agent, then the only amnesty-able contracts remaining will be Bargnani’s and Amir Johnson’s).

Moving Bargnani and Kleiza (while using the amnesty clause on one of them) and acquiring an asset from Calderon’s expiring deal are the moves to make, but beyond that, again, the concern should be with regard to what moves not to make.

In the rare event that a James Harden-type of young emerging star/franchise building block becomes available through trade like Houston encountered, then the Raptors should move all in and consider trading some of their current stock of young assets. But in reality, those opportunities are very few and very far between, and the much more likely trade scenarios out there involve rebuilding teams like the Raptors, for example, trading young assets for borderline All Stars like Rudy Gay.

If your team is already a legitimate playoff team trying to get over the hump or maybe even a 50-win team and playoff threat looking for that push into true championship contention, trading intriguing young players for “win-now” pieces like Gay or other players in his class is reasonable, understandable and defensible. But as you’re probably painfully aware, the Raptors aren’t even withing sniffing distance of that level.

The good news is that as currently constructed, the Raptors have organically built through the draft for the first time since the franchise’s expansion years. If we assume that Toronto’s 2013 pick will go to Oklahoma City to complete the Kyle Lowry trade (Reminder: Toronto’s 2013 pick moves in the Lowry deal if it falls between 4-14), then we can look at the situation with Lowry posing as what was made out of the Raptors’ 2013 first round draft selection. And looking at things that way, then you can assert that the Raptors’ starting lineup of the future was built completely through the draft/use of draft picks over five consecutive seasons.

Lowry at point guard (acquired with 2013 lottery pick), Terrence Ross (2012 No. 8 pick) and DeMar DeRozan (2009 No. 9 pick) at the wings, with Ed Davis (2010 No. 13 pick) and Jonas Valanciunas (2011 No. 5 pick) manning the Raptors’ frontcourt of the future. That’s a decent young core of players at various positions, all aged between 20-26 years old.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these naive “homers” that assumes a young group of players automatically grows into a contending group just because they’re left to grow together, but that group of five players has a chance to evolve into a very formidable NBA team in the future, and it’s not out of this world to suggest they could become a playoff regular in the Eastern Conference. Sure, they’ll need luck and health to reach their potential the same way even elite teams require those bounces (I’m aware luck/health are not things this franchise has been blessed with in recent years), and the eventuality of becoming a regular playoff team without reaching true contender’s status is a legitimate possibility, but for all this fear of the Raptors becoming a “treadmill” team, what do you think would happen if they traded one or two of these young players with untapped potential for a player currently in his prime to deliver a couple of 40-45 win seasons at best?

Now that would spell the beginnings of a treadmill team in its purest, most disappointing form.

Outsiders see the potential in the group the Raptors are bringing together, whether it’s Zach Lowe of Grantland writing that this core “could hold great promise” in his in-depth Calderon/Lowry writeup earlier this week or even CBS’ Matt Moore, known to twitter as @HPbasketball, taking a break from his recent trolling of Raptors fans to tweet this:

True superstars are the most precious commodity in the NBA and the most foundational building blocks to championship contention, and if one of those said players was available in trade talks, the Raptors shouldn’t hesitate before breaking up this young core. Furthermore, despite my cautious optimism regarding the young pieces currently in place, I won’t pretend for a second that they’re good enough to guarantee future success the way we all could with an astonishing collection of talent in Oklahoma City a few years ago. But I am certain that this current group of young players the Raptors have assembled have a better chance to become a consistently successful team in the future than a team consisting of say only two of them plus a borderline All-Star in 2013 would, and I hope the Raptors’ management team thinks along the same lines as I do as we begin to close in on February’s trade deadline.

As disappointing and utterly frustrating as some of this season’s losses and the season as a hole have been, the present would be a lot more gut-wrenching and a hell of a lot more depressing to take in if there wasn’t even the hope of a brighter tomorrow in the future.

If this passionate and loyal fan base is ever going to be rewarded in the future, we’ll likely look back at this stage of the rebuilding process and at moves that perhaps weren’t made as much as we will at moves that actually were made.

***

(For what it’s worth, if the Raptors can find a way to rid themselves of Bargnani’s contract, amnesty Kleiza and elect not to pick up the team option on Lucas, then the nine-man group of Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Davis, Valanciunas, Johnson, Fields, Acy and Gray (assuming Gray picks up his player option) would be on the books next season for only $41,298,687, per ShamSports.com. That’s about $17 million below this season’s salary cap of $58,044,000.)

Comments (14)

  1. Would you consider a Josh smith +filler for Calderon/Bargnani and one of our good young players(Ross/Davis/Amir etc)?

    • I dont see how smith is better than rudy gay. Hes another somewhat incosistent, talented borderline all star type. Having said that, he probably be the best player on this team so why not.

    • The Hawks wouldn’t give up Smith for Calderon/Bargnani.

      But, in the situation that they DID and Smith agrees to an extension, the move still puts them onto the mediocrity treadmill. So, personally, I wouldn’t make that trade.

  2. See, the problem is if a harden type becomes available through trade I dont think this team has the young pieces to get a deal done unless val is included which I highly doubt. Quite frankly, the young core other than val is not that strong and I dont think would be appealing to other teams. Players like davis and ross do not have particularly high upside and will likely be good role players but not all star caliber. So how does this team get better? I have no idea and I think BC has done a terrible job building this team. If they do find a way to get kleiza and bargnani off the books i dont trust BC to use the cap space efficiently as we saw with the fields debacle. Best case, raps find a way to fleece a team in a trade and get an all star player back. Thats very unlikely though. Raps are in a tough spot at the moment.

  3. I agree with you in avoiding giving up young assets to go after players like Rudy Gay. However, I think the team is still headed towards the mediocrity treadmill regardless.

    The only players I think the team should keep are Ross, Davis, Valanciunas. They should trade everyone else for what they can get.

    IMO, the team needs to continue to try and draft a franchise player. Getting a high pick in 2014 likely holds a better future for the team than going forward with this team as presently constructed.

    • I wouldnt say ross and davis are keepers. Dont think they have that much upside. I would only trade them for certain players though. To me, the only keepers are val and lowry. Val can be a top 5 C. Lowry can be a top 10 pg easily. He is not chris paul but I would put him in the same category as pgs like rondo.

      • Wise up. Lowry is not rondo.
        Raptors suck. Colangelo is the weakest link, cant even look at that jack azz, the coach is a fool. never plays the hot hand, only call time out when too late, cant win games even with big lead.
        Big V has not done enough for me to be that impressed. Raptors need veteran big man. I would trade derozan, barg, calderon, klieza, gray .
        Rudy Gay would make this team better. 40-50 wins is better than 25.
        We have better players in the d league than at least 6 raptor players.

        First thing to do to make Raps better is to clean out management. Fire the whole of colangelo free loading crew, and get real north american leadership who view skills over race…. ex barg euro-colangelo euro, many more ex trust me.

  4. You may think that a young team like this needs some time to grow as well; but chemistry is another important factor. Based on BC track record of builing a team that gels I am not that optimistic that they will contend together as a team. Hopefully one of the young guys develops into a leader with a desire to win. Maybe having a borderline All-star that can drive our young guys compete to be the best would be a good option, as I don’t see anyone on this team with a KD or Westbrook type caliber. Of course things will take time this way, but not with BC at the helms; giving out foundationless contracts will keep this team in mediocrity.

  5. Another “Let’s be optimistic for the sake of being optimistic” column from Joey Cash.

    Again, you can write a similar piece about every bad team in the league, there is nothing unique about the Raptors situation. In fact, the lack of a draft pick in the midst of this half assed rebuilding plan and cap space at the disposal of a general manager who has repeatedly wasted it year after year are not things to feel good about.

  6. Here is the biggest problem, toronto is not bad enough to draft guys like andrew wiggins unless they blow the team up and risk losing a guy like kyle lowry to free agency. And toronto isn’t good enough to be a playoff team because they simply cannot finish games out. You need all stars to win in this league and rudy gay is a clutch player that’s a #1 option go to guy that the raptors need BADLY so why not trade for a guy like him? Oh, because guys like ross davis demar could be all stars right? Honestly, I only see lowry and jonas as players to keep. If we can get gay for ross davis jose that leaves us with bargnani to trade. If we could then trade bargnani for somebody solid, then you can compete.

  7. the purest scorer this team has is bargs.he isnt going anywhere..one of amir or ed has to be moved.jose moved…..the albatross hindering this team is the ever popularly overrated demar….arron gray is quicker laterally.demars athleticism is a joke….a sg who cant shoot.cant defend.cant hit the ocean when it counts and is getting 40 mill over the next 4 years……this fan base is dumb…..bargs has been out the entire season and they are putrid?…bargs fault?……….no. demar has no business starting and our best player has been alan anderson who was a 10 day contract signing

    fire colangelo.

    • I agree fans seem to overrate DeMar. But even though he has been a problem, he’s not the only problem, or even the biggest.

      Calling this fanbase dumb, while also saying that Bargnani is NOT the problem with this team? I guess you’re kind of proving your own point there.

    • the raptors were 4-19 with Barg on the floor. the players on the bench can not be responsible for losing the game. since barg is always on the floor, always have the ball, always miss 65% of his shots, cant defend, cant keep his mouth shut in italy, cant pass, it is more than fair to put the blame of bargnia’s arrival in toronto as dooms day.
      his contract is 8.5 million per year more than what he is worth.
      Derozan is not overated he was not a number one pick. He is playin like a 9th10th, pick.
      Raptors need number 1 player , they dont have that right now.

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