Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SPORTS: And with the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA entry draft, the Toronto Raptors select ...

The NBA Draft is 30 something hours away when I write this. The Toronto Raptors, in need of anybody who thinks defence first, and who might turn into an NBA All-Star, have the fifth pick. And I think the team should (and will, if given the opportunity) select a player who won't play for them this upcoming season.

Jonas Valanciunas.

Why? Well, the team isn't going to go from dog days to top dog in one season with one player not of the mega-star variety. The first year of Dwane Casey's command is going to be a pruning process anyways. And why not let things fall as they may and add a high lottery pick again NEXT summer to go with Valanciunas as a double-headed rookie monster? Yeah, it'll be tough on Toronto fans to go through another losing season, the fourth in a row. But it'll take more talent than this team's got, to rebound past mediocrity and into title-contention.

Of course, there might not BE a season to talk about. Sort of takes the disappointment out of not having Valanciunas completely off the board, wouldn't you think?

Valanciunas is a seven foot centre who likes to play defence and crash boards. He's European, so the mid-range game and even the three-point game is second nature. He's Tyson Chandler The Younger. If GM Bryan Colangelo thought Chandler was the solution a year ago, then he probably didn't have his mind changed by the Dallas romp to the title.

IF in fact, Valanciunas is off the board, then I wonder if the thinking in the same vein process then leads Toronto to Enes Kanter, who likely WILL be there if the Lithuanian isn't. The problem is a lack of in-game context for Kanter, who sat out last year trying to get eligible for the Kentucky Wildcats. He failed, and so did they. But his measurables are all good, allegedly. And before the emergence of Valanciunas, his name was the chatter you heard most coming from within Toronto circles. The difference with him is the will they/won't they problem of the season. IF Kanter is the pick, then they have to sign him and have him sit even longer while the NBA billionaires and millionaires argue over how to split the loot. IF the season were to be called on account of mental defect, then it wold be two completely blown seasons in the development of a young man. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a gamble.

But what else is out there? Doug Smith asks today on his blog if there is a single player in the draft who would start ahead of any current Raptor starter. And his question can be answered thus: no. Really, even Kyrie Irving, the reputed top pick, would come in behind Jose Calderon at the start. Derrick Williams would find time behind James Johnson initially. And Kanter would head the second unit, getting time after Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani needed a blow. Shooting guard ahead of DeMar DeRozan? Nope, although I really, really think Alec Burks is a sleeper in the draft.

As for the purported picks the Raptors have been hooked up with, I see flaws more than I see talent. Kemba Walker has done nothing but win in college, but he's a tweener, being a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Tweener. That's a word you hear a lot. And when you hear it, shudder. It means the player doesn't have the right size to play the position in the NBA that his talents suggest he should spend time playing. And it rarely works out.

Not that Brandon Knight will be there at #5, but I saw an analysis recently that broke down Knight's individual skills. And right now, the hoped for defensive stopper with a good shot is more mirage than reality. It projected Knight as the biggest flop of the lottery picks. That scared me. Jan Vesely is a 6-11 small forward who maybe isn't the best shooter from the wing. If Toronto had power forward minutes, I'd be more inclined to back Vesely, but the Raptors have a glut there. Bismack Biyombo? A mini-Dwight Howard according to some, a rebounding, shot-blocking Taj Gibson at the other end. Well, that's something any team could use. But a tweener power forward with the Raptors? Puh-leeze. Seen it already, in triplicate.

Which leaves me with one alternative to the big man draft theory. Kawhi Leonard. If it was guaranteed he could develop into a threat from the perimeter, given his high marks for aggression, defending and rebounding, he'd be my pick. A small forward who's slightly larger than one would expect from the position, Leonard's high motor would work with the Raptors. He'd get playing time, splitting with James Johnson, the de facto 29th pick, since that was used to get him from Chicago. It's a combo I could live with on a good team.

After all of that, who will Toronto pick? Well, it certainly depends on two things. The third and fourth picks before them will affect their decision-making. And so will trades. Which, reputedly, there will be a lot of.

I could see Calderon being an ex-Raptor ... again. Would Minnesota trade Michael (Tweener) Beasley to the Raptors for Calderon so that he could serve as a mentor for the incoming Ricky Rubio, his teammate on the Spanish national team? The TWolves would have to throw in Luke Ridnour and there might be some other constituents to the deal. But Minny would clear room for Williams and get the perfect compliment to Rubio. Mind you, there would be better deals for Beasley out there. And, it's no given Toronto would like Beasley playing out of position any better than other teams.

Other Toronto trading chips include Bargnani and Amir Johnson. I could see Bargnani and DeRozan headed to Golden State in return for Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and some collateral goodies. Ellis is a defensive liability and a Calderon/Ellis back-court isn't the kind of stuff Casey signed on for. Still, I think you're going to see Ellis moved and Toronto shouldn't see DeRozan as an impediment to getting him. It's not like DeRozan has demonstrated defensive will over these last two years.

Calderon doesn't have to move to Minnesota. I had him going to Anaheim to join the Royals there. 'Cept, Sacramento didn't move south (this season). I still think he makes sense to collar the highly individualistic Kings, especially shot-happy Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. I'd want Omri Caspi back at a minimum. But dealing Calderon and NOT getting a running partner for Jerryd Bayless would be a Knight-drafting requirement.

Miami would salivate at the thought of Calderon joining the team some how. Would they swap Calderon and Amir Johnson for say ... Chris Bosh? Pat Riley says no breaking up the Amigos. But letting LeBron James move to power forward and having Calderon dish the ball to either wing would make Miami better. A starting five of Calderon, Johnson, Mike Miller, James and Dwayne Wade would be better than Mario Chalmers and the centre of the minute starting with the Amigos.

Amir Johnson's recovering from surgery, So there is a no-guarantee warranty on any deal with him. But he's absolutely the kind of second-team power forward a lot of teams would want. He hustles, rebounds, has developed a mid-range game, blocks the odd shot and he stays out of foul trouble most nights. He's sort of a poor man's Anderson Varejao. The problem is who to extract for him. He's not cheap, but not overly expensive contract wise. I could see him moving in the reported Tony Parker trade to San Antonio. That's an interesting deal since the Spurs seem intent on saddling the new Parker owner with Richard Jefferson. With the Bosh exception burning in his pocket, Colangelo would still have to include some contract ballast going the other way. Say Amir and the soon to be optioned out-of contract of Leandro Barbosa, plus exception credit plus that fifth pick (the reason the Spurs want to trade) to San Antonio for Parker, Jefferson and a bit more (Matt Bonner ... in your dreams). Calderon would then HAVE to be dealt. And maybe the new CBA gets one free buy-out, ending Jefferson's Raptor career before it started.

By the way, who does San Antonio want the high pick for? Valanciunas.

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