There are two moves that would make Toronto Raptors fans happy. Nos. 1 and 1(a): Fire general manager Bryan Colangelo; have somebody else trade Andrea Bargnani.
Based on what this city has seen over the past half-dozen or so years, it is hard to imagine either coming back to hurt the franchise. So to the person in charge at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (Larry Tanenbaum or Tom Anselmi or whomever): Do it.
There’s your pound of flesh, Raptors fans. That’s the easy stuff out of the way. Piling on, you say? Whatever. It is what it is.
Bargnani has been diagnosed with a ligament tear in his right elbow and a strained right wrist and is out indefinitely, so let’s leave him aside. Not much to see there, anyhow.
The Raptors fell to 4-19 on Wednesday, when they hit a third-quarter wall in a 94-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Bargnani, Kyle Lowry (partial tear of his right triceps muscle) and Amir Johnson (serving a suspension for throwing his mouthguard at a referee) were all kept in hiding.
Credit the large crowd at the Air Canada Centre: It was largely supportive, especially when Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas shot a combined 11-for-13 and collected 26 points in the first half, before the Nets’ edge in talent simply took over.
Credit the crowd: It held its powder, and didn’t start booing until there was five minutes left.
Yes, here we are: Dec. 13, and it’s moral victory time.
But that’s been our Life of Bryan, hasn’t it?
In any other city, Colangelo would have been done and dusted already. But thing is, this is not any other city. It is a city where everybody – fans, reporters, media, team executives – thinks that, deep down, he or she could be general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Baseball? Yeah, well, maybe.
Basketball? Not so much.
We don’t live the sport here. It’s not as much a part of the daily dialogue. It’s easier, in other words, to be deferential to the smooth-talking American.
Nobody can talk the funny-money language of the NBA – trade exceptions, mid-level this or that, lottery-protected picks – like Colangelo can. That’s what he’s selling half the time, anyhow; smoke and mirrors instead of players. But that’s how you avoid blame, isn’t it?
The new catchphrase Colangelo’s spreading is “a lack of focus and attention to details.” Do this job long enough and you know that focus and attention to detail are buzzwords for: “I’m blaming coach Dwane Casey and his staff.”
Really? My guess is Raptors fans are more interesting in revisiting that Lowry trade. Because after a blazing start, Toronto is now seeing what the rest of the NBA sees in Lowry: a guy who plays out of control and whose body language suggests he could be a problem on a team going south in the standings.
Don’t feel bad, a lot of us fell for it. After a steady diet of Jose Calderon giving up blow-bys in recent seasons, seeing a point guard keep another point guard in front of him was a shock to the system.
But it speaks volumes that the Raptors played one of their best games in the past two weeks without Bargnani and Lowry. There was not much to blame Wednesday night. For once, the Raptors looked like they cared, not like they were some screwed-up chemistry experiment. And the Raptors threw a whack of zone defence at the Nets; more than they’d seen in their previous 20 games combined, according to Nets head coach Avery Johnson. But in the end, in Casey’s own words “their (the Nets’) talent took over.”
The Raptors took away the middle and gambled that the Nets couldn’t win from long range. The bet flopped: the Nets went 3-for-3 from behind the arc in the fourth quarter, after seizing control with 31 third-quarter points, including a 23-7 run.
Joe Johnson led the Nets with 23 points while Davis’ career-high 24 points led the Raptors. Davis also out-rebounded Reggie Evans 12-11.
Frankly, given where the Raptors are now, it’s going to be more interesting watching Davis and Valanciunas than it would be Valanciunas and Bargnani, anyhow. There will be adjustments, of course, primarily in terms of spacing – the middle will be clogged more than it would be with Bargnani, who has little affinity for the nasty bits of the game.
“Ed is a more defensive player,” said Valanciunas, who managed just two points in the second half. Added Davis: “Jonas plays hard; it’s always fun to play with a guy like that.”
Know this: Casey is not absolved of responsibility. He’s had his moments this season, too, but not enough to undo the good he did in 2011-2012 when he even managed to get Bargnani to be interested.
You’ve heard of difference makers? Bargnani’s been an indifference maker. But then, we knew all that, didn’t we. We know what Bargnani is about and we know what Colangelo is all about.
Casey? Don’t think so. Let’s let his contract play itself out. Let’s see if there’s more of what we’ve seen recently in Davis and Valanciunas; let’s see if he can get it out of them. Because in a battle of credibility right now, I’m taking the head coach over the G.M., and it’s not close. Not even remotely close.