If you haven’t read enough trade break-down yet, good friend Trev Smith and I did a brief, Grantland-style e-mail exchange discussing the trade from the Toronto perspective. That correspondence is below.
Blake: The board approved it. Colangelo stays. This is my first thought.
Trev: I have always liked Jose as a person, on and off the floor. In my brief but telling dealings with him when I was with NBA Canada, he was the very definition of a professional. He was sincere, and welcoming, to the point of being authentically friendly to people (like me) that he didn’t need to make any time for. I also have a great deal of respect for what he’s been able to do with his career given his limitations as a player. I will miss having a person of his caliber on the team I support.
BUT these things do not blind me to his failings as a starting Point Guard in the current era. It is not his fault that he is playing in what is arguably the best era for his position ever in terms of overall depth of talent around the league, but fault does not factor into it – the truth is that he is a below-average starting guard. Without prompting I could name 15 other guys I would rather have starting, and if I really thought about it that list might get closer to 20.
His salary does not factor into it for me; that is BC’s fault, not Calderon’s. What is relevant about his contract isn’t his salary, it’s that he will be an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer, and seemed destined to walk away for nothing, which if you are the Raptors you simply cannot allow.
I agree that he has been more valuable than Lowry this season, and that he has been invaluable from an intangible/"you’d like to have that guy on your team” perspective. But assuming he is going to leave this summer, you needed to turn the remaining half-season of his contract into something of value.
The reason they needed to act preemptively is one we know all too well as fans of this team: the salary space his departure would create was a total fallacy. That money would not be put towards getting an elite piece to build around and instead almost certainly be spent on overpaying for marginal talent that would not redefine the roster in any meaningful way.
That is which has been the trademark of Raptor Free Agency since...forever. We bring in the Landry Fields and Jason Kaponos of the world – they are nice guys mostly, and fit in great within the culture of the locker room by being likeable and often self-effacing personalities, but they are secondary pieces, the type of premium role players that would make a serious difference for a contender (see: Battier’s impact in Miami, or Perkins’ role in OKC) but who do nothing to change the fortunes of a mediocre team because their skills capacity is limited. We would use the money not spent on Jose to sign a specialist (Reddick?), or a ‘tweener wingman without any elite skills (the Randy Foyes, Trevor Arizas, and Al Harringtons of the world).
So if these kind of signings were the other options, why not try to grab an elite scorer who clearly makes you better offensively? Why not roll the dice?
Blake: Rolling the dice is what it is, and it's not a terrible gamble. Some facts:
*Rudy Gay is overpaid.
*Rudy Gay is the best player in this deal.
*Rudy Gay would not have been acquirable for Calderon+Davis this past offseason.
*The Raptors are unlikely to sign a player of his caliber in free agency.
Whether those things add up to make this a smart move is yet to be seen. I can't judge the deal until I see the secondary deals they make to balance out the roster. What is clear, however, is that it will be Colangelo making those moves - by signing off on Gay's salary for a few years, the Raptors brass has said they trust Colangelo to build the team over that span of time.
Trev: I think that, if this is it, and nothing else changes, we are slightly worse off than we were yesterday, but not by much. That said, I do not expect this to be the only moves over the next 6 months, so I am marking this one as "Incomplete" for now.
I say that not because of Gay's contract; Rudy who is a borderline All-Star talent who is clearly overpaid but nonetheless is a near-elite player and a guy who has a history of making huge shots. My pause though is that losing Davis (who BC is selling at the peak of his value) means requiring Bargnani to reenter the rotation at least until he has regained some semblance of trade value, which may take the entire rest of the season. This concerns me deeply, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is because with Jose gone, fair or not, Andrea is now a relic of the near past in terms of the team’s identity. Because of that, it will now be extremely difficult to rebuild the team’s culture and public perception when Drea is still required to play 30+ minutes a night.
I would be a proponent of completely reshaping our roster by breaking it down completely and starting from scratch, but I simply do not see that happening, for a host of reason. Still though, this is be a trade where success is ultimately dependent on subsequent moves.
What I would suggest is that the only way to rebuild in the ways Indiana or Golden State (or even Dallas) has is by actually taking a plunge with that first trade, which we have now done.
This move creates the necessity for the additional moves to reshape the roster. Yes, it creates redundancies in a lot of spots, and the pieces we now have do not immediately make much sense together. But I would argue that is a good thing – the pieces so clearly do not fit together that it demands more movement.
I think this is the only kind of move that creates the momentum and political will internally to make secondary moves. It is your catalyst for change elsewhere in the roster, because if you just wait and take the pieces you have into the offseason, you at best make one or two marginal moves and come back with another 35-48 team.
This is partly why the DeRozan extension was a near disaster – he is now practically unmovable, so whatever reconstruction you do will need to include him going forward. Which means you probably need to dangle Ross – whose upside is lightyears beyond Demar’s – in order to ship out Andrea. Ideally you would like to move Demarr and Andrea, but that seems extremely improbable given how bad both of their contracts now are. You might be able to free yourself of one, but not both. Bringing in Gay at least sends the message that you are trying to be relevant, even if you have to pay a “Toronto Tax” to prove it.
It doesn't make us better than Indiana or Atlanta this year, but I would really like to see what a big rotation of Lowry/Ross/Gay/Johnson/Jonas (or a small-ball setup of Lowry/Ross/Fields/Gay/Jonas) looks like against the Bucks/Celts/Sixers.
Of course this is probably all a pipe dream, and instead we’ll get another 2+ years of Demar/Andrea killing our cap, Jonas frustrating, and faded “Free T.Ross” shirts.
Blake: Don't be so down on Ross - the way the NBA has moved, Gay could see a lot of time at the four, and a Lowry-DeMar-Ross-Gay line-up is both well-balanced and enticing.
I also wouldn't be so sure that Bargnani is locked in or a sure bet to move - the team will likely remain in "collecting assets" mode up until the draft next year, when it will kind of be decision time.
I'm interested in your summation of the deal in just a few sentences. Assume more moves are coming, but they are talent neutral. The Raptors improved in terms of TALENT but took a step back in terms of short-term roster construction and balance. It definitely improves their ability to build over next summer. So take it all in...what's the grade? And do you agree with me that this is a stamp that Colangelo is getting extended?
Trev: Yes, this certainly seems to cement Colangelo will be around for at least another year or two. As for summing it up in two sentences, you should know my verboseness cannot be contained...and yet, here goes:
To those down on this trade, I'd ask two questions: what was the team honestly going to achieve with the previous roster, and when was our next chance to acquire a talent of this caliber? All else being equal, I give the move a "B", because we "sold high" on our assets, we now have a clearly identifiable 'best player', and the change creates legitimate intrigue about the future where previously there was only frustration.
Blake: That's all fair. One thing we didn't get to touch on is that Gay should actually help at the defensive end as well. Despite a reputation to the contrary, he's a pretty capable wing defender.
I'm still unsure how to sum up the deal. While they "sold high, bought low" and "acquired the best player in the deal," which are general trade axioms, it's difficult to see what moves push this team beyond a 6-8 seed. Time will tell, I suppose.