Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets

If you thought Wednesday’s season finale meant things would be slow in Raptor Land, think again. On Thursday, Bill Simmons published Part 1 of his annual list of the NBA’s top 50 most valuable assets, which included Jonas Valanciunas at No. 44 (just ahead of Enes Kanter and Andre Drummond, just behind Kenneth Faried).

More importantly, Simmons included this tidbit…

When Sam Presti was quietly shopping James Harden last October, he called Toronto to feel out a Jonas package. And got rebuffed. Quickly.

Simmons also includes a sidenote, which reads “Our pal Chris Broussard told me this one and nearly made my eyeballs fly out of my head. But I got it confirmed — it’s true.”

My first reaction was that we’re all aware of how scrutinized Broussard’s “sources” are, but between Simmons writing that he had the report confirmed himself and Zach Lowe writing back in October that the Raptors were one of the teams who “had at least semi-serious internal or external discussions on Harden,” I can definitely believe that the Raptors had a legitimate shot at trading for Harden with Valanciunas as the bait.

I’m as big a Valanciunas fan and am as hopeful about his potential as anybody, but obviously, if you’re asking me today if I would trade Jonas to land James Harden, my answer would be yes. I see Valanciunas as a future All-Star and a potential top-three player at his position one day, but Harden has proven himself to be a legitimate franchise player this season and might be a top-10 player overall already at the age of 23.

Having said that, let’s remember that things were different back in October. Valanciunas had yet to play a regular season game in his NBA career, and while Harden was seen as a top-five shooting guard and rising star, very few people expected the memorable season that the bearded youngster delivered and there was no guarantee that Toronto could have locked him up long term. So while it’s easy for us to sit here now and cry about the fact that it sounds like there was a chance for the Raptors to acquire Harden, it would have been an incredibly tough decision to make for Colangelo to trade away his prized top-five pick without him playing a single game for the franchise.

You can do that for the absolute, no doubt about it superstars, but Harden wasn’t in that category before the 2012-13 season tipped off. He is now.

Though I will say, while the decision to not actually pull the trigger on the deal is understandable given the circumstances, Colangelo rebuffing the deal “quickly” is surprising. Really, he didn’t even think about it for a few seconds? Didn’t even come back with a counter-offer in the event that Presti’s offer wasn’t to his liking?

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On a final note, if this recent development has tempered your excitement about Valanciunas because you now lament what could have been with Harden, may I present the following player comparison presented without comment to remind you of the special talent that Valanciunas could be.

I’ve included a table below which includes the per-36 minute stats and advanced stats for the rookie seasons of two big men.

Player PTS/36min REB/36min BLK/36min FG% TS% RebRate BLK% PER
PLAYER A 13.5 9.0 1.9 55.6 .618 14.9 4.2 15.62
PLAYER B 12.3 8.0 1.5 45.9 .513 12.8 3.1 15.24

Player A is a rookie named Jonas Valanciunas in 2012-13.

Player B was a rookie named Chris Bosh in 2003-04.

Again, presented without comment.