North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Trading Bargnani for a three-dollar bill

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I’ve written about this before, but my favorite Hunter Thompson line is the one he used to describe a meaningless NBA trade in a later ESPN.com column: Like flipping a used mattress for a three-dollar bill. The unwanted for the useless. It’s kind of sad how often I think about that line when I think about Toronto sports.

Right now the Raptors are sinking fast. They’ve lost three in a row, nine of their last ten and sit on the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They’ve lost every in-division game this season, only won one road game and have more losses than the hapless Washington Wizards (to be fair, the Wiz have played fewer games).

Toronto is losing games at the buzzer and losing games by 30 points. They’re losing thanks to blown calls and losing after a near-miracle near-comeback. In so many words, they’re finding ways to lose, new creative ways I’ve never seen before, even in those ugly post-Carter, pre-playoff years. It’s disheartening, at least when I can bear to watch. More and more this year, I’m finding myself listening to the games on the radio, where at least I don’t have to see the Raptors blow a lead or see Bargnani toss up another clutch airball. I try to be an optimist, but it’s hard with this team. I don’t think I’m alone.

I’m only familiar with him through his resigned-sounding Twitter account (example: a “topes lose” post after every Raptors loss), but National Post beat scribe Eric Koreen has turned on Bargnani, writing first how the forward’s pretty much what he’ll ever be and more recently looking at trade options. Over at Sportsnet, Holly MacKenzie recently wrote it’s time to break up with Bargnani, making a case that this season isn’t exactly Bargnani’s fault, but:

The reality is it has been nearly seven years and the Bargnani + Toronto equation has not produced the answer each side wants.

And that’s the biggest mark against Bargnani. Everyone likes to hammer the things he does wrong: his lackluster help defence, his tendency to settle for shots rather than going to the basket, the strange ability to be defended by someone much shorter than him. But those are all echoes. We know those, we’ve known them for years. It’s 2012 and as Koreen pointed out, we know who Bargnani is. He’s not going to walk through that door playing like Dirk Nowitzki anytime soon.

So, the question about him and this probably-lost Raptor season boils down to what happens next. I think it’s a safe assumption Jose Calderon will be gone after this year, probably to take a backup role on a much better team. With a recent contract extension, DeMar DeRozan is the de-facto face of the team. And waiting in the wings is Ed Davis, who can’t play while Jonas Valanciunas and Bargnani are on the floor. Something has to change.

Enter the trade rumours. One, which keeps getting word of mouth and got as far as sources telling ESPN about it’s rejection is a trade where Bargnani and Calderon would be flipped to LA for Pau Gasol. From a GTA-point of view, it sounds fantastic. From a LA point of view, not so much. I’m not sure there’s any reason why LA would make that trade: there’s not much of value coming to the Lakers, especially given Bargnani’s play of late, and it’s obvious Toronto needs to make a move. I can’t say I’d blame them for pressing to a move like this which also nets them DeMar and rids them of an excess point guard.

Enter the above metaphor. Given how he’s played this season, I can’t imagine Toronto will get anything of value back for Bargnani, unless he’s paired with one of the teams assets. But the Raptors have precious few: Jonas, DeMar and Ed Davis, all of whom I hope are the core of this team, making them nearly-untouchable. There’s no first-round pick to package Bargnani with. There’s one nice expiring contract, but good luck finding someone willing to ship you back nearly $20 in salary on a contract that won’t become an albatross around this team’s neck.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the eventual Bargnani trade will end up looking something like this. It could be worse. They’ve made worse trades in the past.

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Written by M.

December 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

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