The experiment began last night: How to make the Toronto Raptors a more rugged and consistent team while maintaining its skill and offensive punch.
Jason Kapono, it was nice to know you, in other words.
The former Toronto Raptor was on hand with the Philadelphia 76ers as the Raptors started their NBA exhibition season with a 107-98 loss to their Eastern Conference rivals. Andrea Bargnani led all scorers with 22 points; Louis Williams had 17 points to lead Philadelphia.
Kapono was Raptors president Bryan Colangelo's first significant NBA free-agent signing in the summer of 2007. And he figured in the first significant deal of the summer of 2009 when Kapono was sent to Philadelphia for Reggie Evans.
Judging by the reaction of the nearly sold-out crowd of 7,213 at the John Labatt Centre, the trade will be well received as Evans started with Chris Bosh back in Toronto and got his first "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie" chant about two minutes into his Raptors career as he played just as advertised: tracking down offensive rebounds, chipping in with some steals and laying the muscle on Elton Brand.
Kapono was given a four-year, $24-million (U.S.) contract and then never provided value for it. He averaged 8.2 points a game on 42.8-per-cent shooting last season, but never really fit in, as he would admit.
"Bottom line, we just had a lot of guys doing the same thing. I was one of many there," he said. "We had a coaching change, a lot of guys hurt. There's a ton of things. We just never clicked. We never had a true style of play. I enjoyed my time there, I'm upset I never got chance to really do something big there. We made the playoffs my first year - and last season was bad."
Triano, for his part, hardly sounded broken up at seeing Kapono in a 76ers uniform.
Why did the best shooter in NBA history - he's tied with Steve Kerr for the career three-point shooting mark at 45.4 per cent - fail to find his niche with a team that was supposed to be built around shooting?
"I don't know," said Triano, who was his head coach for more than half a season. "We watched tape with him, we tried to help him. We ran plays for him a lot. He's a great shooter and people know that and they lean on him. That's supposed to create space for other guys and our guys didn't make them pay for leaning on a guy like Kapono."
He had his moments, primarily the Raptors' first-round loss to the Orlando Magic in the 2008 playoffs when he was perhaps the team's offensive best player. The point was made to Triano that the qualities Evans brings as a role player - tenacity, toughness, rebounding - are more reliable than what Kapono had to offer.
"It wasn't like we wanted to get rid of Kapono, it was a trade. We needed toughness and he just happened to be the guy we gave up," Triano said. "[But]those are consistent things. Defensive play, effort and rebounding should be consistent over 82 games; you're not going to shoot well for 82 games."
There's no surprise why Philadelphia was interested in Kapono. They have the horses but have missed having someone make teams pay for crowding the paint on their crew of offensive rebounders and basket slashers. Kapono thinks he can be that guy.
"I think it's a good fit. Sometimes in a trade you get to a team and they don't really want you, you're just kind of a throw-in," said Kapono, who is now with his fifth NBA team and came off the bench last night. "But I'm stupid enough to believe they actually did want me. Style of play-wise, personnel-wise, it's a good fit."
It might be as the likes of Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young and others gave the Raptors their share of problems and allowed Kapono to convert some early chances for his new team. Kapono's scouting report? "It's a good team; long and athletic."
Even the addition of Evans doesn't make the Raptors that quite yet, but he's active and bruising, which is a turn in the right direction. Kapono's gone, but the Raptors won't look back.
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