The Toronto Raptors have already addressed some of their roster needs this season, but they still have some important decisions to make as the February 21st trade deadline approaches.
Here is an overview of who should stay and who should go.
RUDY GAY, SF
General Manager Bryan Colangelo, whose contract is not guaranteed beyond this season, may have earned himself an extension with the acquisition of Rudy Gay.
Although the trade was initially criticized because Gay is under contract for two more seasons at a hefty total of just over $34 million guaranteed, it would appear that the Raptors now have the franchise player they’ve lacked since the departure of Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.
Since the trade on January 30th, the Raptors have a record of five wins and two losses and are currently riding a four-game winning streak. In two of those contests, Gay has used his length, athleticism, and veteran savvy to calmly knock down game-winning buckets.
For a team that is 5-7 this season in games decided by three points or less, Gay has proven to be a boost of confidence for a young Raptors squad that sorely lacked a player capable of taking over and creating his own shot, especially down the stretch of close games.
The Raptors essentially used their available salary cap space now instead of waiting until the summer, but the organization has experienced difficulty attracting top-tier free agents.
At just 26 years old, Gay is entering the prime of his career and may end up playing his best basketball in a Raptors uniform.
KYLE LOWRY, PG
Prior to this season, Lowry was acquired from the Houston Rockets, a transaction that cost the Raptors a first round draft pick. But at a relatively low cost (2 years/$12 million), the team seized an opportunity to acquire a point guard they could immediately insert into the starting line-up.
Plans were derailed, however, as Lowry missed 13 of the team’s first 29 games due to various injuries.
The Raptors had the luxury of playing Calderon with the starting unit, but his stellar play forced some tough decisions once Lowry returned from injury. Even though the Raptors wanted to move forward with Lowry as the starter, he was assigned the back-up role, a decision that did not suit his personality or style of play.
The problem was alleviated when Calderon was dealt, as Lowry can now play the bulk of the minutes knowing he is the clear number one.
The decision to keep Lowry and pair him with Gay puts the team in position to build around this dynamic duo.
ANDREA BARGNANI, PF/C
Virtually since the day he was drafted first overall in 2006, Andrea Bargnani has been the subject of criticism by fans and media in Toronto.
After Bosh was traded, there was an expectation that Bargnani would become the team’s primary scoring option. Bargnani did prove to have some scoring punch, averaging a career-best 21.4 ppg. in the 2010-2011 season, but he has not shown a desire to grab rebounds and play defence on a consistent basis.
The team’s general manager Bryan Colangelo has been criticized for a perceived reluctance to trade away his former number one pick, holding out hope that Bargnani would emerge as a player similar to Dirk Nowitzki, to whom he has often been compared.
Colangelo has now acknowledged that a change of scenery might be best for Bargnani and the team if the right deal were to immerge.
The timing finally seems right for a move. With the offensive punch provided by Gay and Lowry, the reliance on Bargnani has diminished to the point that he is no longer a starter.
The irony to the situation is that Bargnani now provides the Raptors with a reliable scorer to insert into the game with the team’s second unit, a role that trade suitors probably see as a perfect fit for him.
However, after six-plus seasons of falling short of expectations, it simply does not make sense to hold onto a player who has gone from building-block to expendable piece.
DEMAR DEROZAN, SG
When Colangelo packaged Ed Davis as part of the trade for Rudy Gay, he demonstrated his ability to sell a player at his highest value.
There is certainly no sense of urgency to deal Demar DeRozan, however this may be the right time to explore his value in the trade market. His athletic abilities and career-best 17.6 ppg. this season could be tempting for teams looking to upgrade at the shooting guard position. His price is arguably expensive, with a 4yr/$38 million extension kicking in next season, but for a player that could average 20 ppg. as a second scoring option, his contract would eventually be seen as a bargain.
Most importantly, moving DeRozan would allow the Raptors to slide Terrence Ross into the starting line-up. Ross, who has struggled to find consistency with his shot, would benefit from playing the bulk of his minutes along side Gay and Lowry.
Even if the Raptors feel they can make a push for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, it would be short-sighted to delay Ross’ development.
To make up for the veteran presence of DeRozan, the team would still have depth with Alan Anderson and Landry fields to play the back-up minutes for Terrence Ross.
ON THE FENCE
JONAS VALANCIUNAS, C
The fifth pick overall in 2011, Valanciunas played in Europe last year before making the jump to the NBA. Much like Terrence Ross, his development needs to be a priority for the Raptors.
Valanciunas had his season interrupted, missing 18 games with a fractured finger. Although he has started 31 of 35 games, he is averaging just 21 minutes per contest.
If the Raptors organization views Valanciunas as a core piece, then he should be anointed as the every-day starter and play at least 30 minutes per game. For the Raptors this would mean refraining from starting Aaron Gray as a way to “match up” against the opposing team’s centre.
On the other hand, if the Raptors conclude that they over-estimated Valanciunas’ ability to be a starting centre in the NBA, then perhaps they can trade him and his potential for some help at the point guard position, where they now only have John Lucas III to call on as a reserve for Lowry.
With the February 21 trade deadline looming, the Raptors are faced with some difficult decisions as they balance the temptation to win now and the need to build a team capable of contending next season and beyond.
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