Monday, August 17, 2009

SPORTS: Ukic Gone. Too Bad

If Roko Ukic had a rental lease somewhere in Toronto, I'm pretty sure he didn't renew it anytime after about, oh, June. By then, Bryan Colangelo, as close-lipped a GM as there is in sports, had let it be pretty well known he wasn't happy with the Toronto Raptors' backup point guard. You or I might quibble with his obvious unhappiness, but neither of us happens to have the power to move Ukic out of town. Apparently, that moving van's headed for Milwaukee.

Ukic and the sign-and-trade rights to Carlos Delfino, another fan fave, are going to be moved to Milwaukee for front-court plugger Amir Johnson and a player as yet named (methinks it will be Jodie Meeks, for salary reasons. But it might be Joe Alexander). Will not be official before Aug. 23 because Johnson was recently obtained by Milwaukee and can't be moved until then, but the transit papers are already in order.

I am a fan of Ukic, the son of a Croation rock star. Although he shoots the ball as if he's afraid of it, Ukic made me think he was on the same career path as starter Jose Calderon. Calderon's rookie problems were also shooting related. And Calederon improved dramatically with a lot of extra work. And Ukic is not afraid of hard work. I was hoping the 6-5 guard (I LOVE tall point guards) would mimic Calderon. And he might end up being a better defender than Calderon (who's not very good) by virtue of more dexterity and having more height. I just pictured Ukic as Calderon's more-or-less younger, bigger brother. But alas, the transformation of Ukic into a super sub won't happen here.

There's every chance it WILL happen in Milwaukee. Luke Ridnour's the starter for the Bucks and I'm not sure he's really any better than Ukic right now. Brandon Jennings was drafted to be the starter, maybe as early as this year, and Ramon Sessions might still return. And Sessions is likely to be the best bet for playing time this year, if that's the case. But it's more likely that Sessions ends with either the Clippers or the Knicks. Thus, Milwaukee traded for Ukic to be the third-stringer and back-up in training. I believe Jennings is the single most over-rated player drafted in July and Ukic will get playing time at his expense. And Ridnour's hurt about as often as Tim Horton's sells coffee. It's not hard at all to see Ukic playing good minutes ... assuming his shot doesn't resemble mine in accuracy.

Delfino's year away in Russia made him better in the minds of just about all Raptors' fans. He was Jordan in absentia as we watched wing problems plague last year's non-playoff team. The truth is, that he's always going to tantalize you with good games two of three nights, taking the third one off completely. I think he starts at the wing for Milwaukee, ahead of Hakim Warrick and Canuck Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. That and a bit more money than Toronto was offering on a one-year deal is probably what sealed Delfino's decision to abandon the wilds of Russia to become a Buck. Assuming Delfino is about the same player he was when we last saw him two years ago, you have to think Milwaukee did okay with the trade.

Did Toronto? I think so. It's a long season in the NBA and big men get banged up. Having a sixth big is a good idea and Johnson offers some rebounding, shot-blocking and a bullyish personality on the court to the Toronto mix. He's Reggie Evans, but younger and he has something approaching a mid-range game. He's also got an expiring contract. Joe Dumars has had some hits and misses in his drafting over the years and no longer wears the kind of halo reserved for Jerry West, but he has had faith in Johnson forever. Maybe the kick of being traded twice this summer does something to ignite Johnson. If so, Toronto traded a free agent who wasn't going to re-sign here and a third-string point guard for a contributor. That can't be bad.

Meeks is roster fodder, a shooting guard out of Kentucky who set the school one-game scoring record last year. A total wild-card with a slim chance to contribute. But the pedigree is good and he's 6-6, which is about the right size for a shooting guard. If, somehow, the guy coming back is Alexander, then the Raptors have a lottery ticket kid with spectacular hops and a single season of college success. But he was so spectacularly good with West Virginia two years ago that I wouldn't mind putting him on the developmental squad at all. He was rushed a bit in Milwaukee last year and failed. But again, a new coach might mean new results.

Whether Meeks or Alexander, we are talking long shots to contribute. But not hopeless players. Putting which one of them comes over, Patrick O'Bryant and fifth-string point guard Marcus Banks in civies most nights will be the best thing Toronto can do. It means they're dressing 12 legit NBA players that night.

Just too bad Ukic won't be one of them.

UPDATE: Apparently the soon-t0-be 15th Toronto Raptor will be guard Sonny Weems. I though he was trade-locked until Oct. 1, but guess I was wrong. I liked Weems coming out of Arkansas two summers ago, so I can't turn around and diss the acquisition completely. On the other hand, he didn't exactly light up the Denver sky with the Nuggets last year. My guess is he's going to look good wearing Cavelli on the bench beside O'Bryant and Banks.

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