With the Toronto Raptors season over and the franchise's future almost never more uncertain, the question begins in earnest: Is Andrea Bargnani worth it?
The No.1 pick in the NBA draft has played five full seasons and proven himself --- without debate this time -- to be what he's always been: an enigma.
This season his usage rate (the amount of time he had the ball in his hands) increased, his minutes increased and his scoring increased. But in his first opportunity to be the primary option for an NBA team he regressed, and don't forget, offense is supposed to be his strength.
The spike in scoring - from 17.2 points a game to 21.4 a game; (second among centres in the NBA his dwindling supporters would tell you) - came from more trips to the free throw line (a career-high 5.3 per game) and more shots (his 17.8 attempts from the floor more than Chris Bosh ever took in his career, or ever will, now that he's in Miami) but obscured his decline in every rebounding measure, in blocked shots, in shooting percentage and an increase in turnovers.
With more opportunities, Bargnani scored more and did everything else less except give it away.
The only argument in his favour; the only thing that prevents him from being an albatross is that he is paid relatively affordably, by NBA standards, his four-year, $42-million contract not the kind of number that will have rival teams hanging up the phone.
Moving Bargnani is not a core strategy, according the NBA sources; but it's been discussed and there's a sense that Bargnani's potential and his pay cheque would have other teams on the phone in significant numbers. "There are 29 other teams out there who think they could help them," said one source.
Which is why the most important move Bryan Colangelo - or whoever ends up running the Raptors for whatever ownership group is in place - can make is trade the player he drafted as a bigger, more athletic Dirk Nowitzki.
As Jay Triano said during the Raptors season-ending press conferences yesterday, "We know we're infant."
DeMar DeRozan, who Triano gushed about - suggesting he'd take DeRozan over last year's rookie of the year winner Tyreke Evans -- is 21;as is rookie Ed Davis. Whoever they draft in June is likely going to be younger than that. They have veteran presence in the likes of Jose Calderon. Reggie Evans can be resigned if the feeling is they need more.
Even at 25 the five-year veteran centre who struggles as an offensive player, let alone a defensive one (Triano referred to him as a 'good' on-the-ball defender. Help side? Bargnani's guess is as good as yours) doesn't fit on a team heading for another year of rebuilding.
No way. After all, whatever Bargnani's potential might be, it's clear he's got no Nowitzki-like upside.
At this stage of his career Nowitzki had just racked up a 25 and 10 year with three assists a game on a team that went 60-22. He was a couple of years from leading Dallas to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals. Nowitzki is still going, but he'd arrived in full by his fifth NBA season.
Bargnani has played five seasons, including one in which he fell off a cliff (his second season) and this past year when he regressed in some significant areas. There is no threat of him leading a preschool class across the street, let alone an NBA franchise deep into the playoffs.
When your head coach says getting you to play basic help defense and secure some rebounds is like " asking a home-run hitter to bunt"; the ship has sailed.
Bargnani was not a bad choice as the first overall pick in a weak draft. He was signed to a relatively decent contract extension and for that money he's willing to shoot often and occasionally spectacularly well, while otherwise mixing in the rest of a growing bag of me-first offense when the mood strikes, as long as someone else picks up the mess left over at either end of the floor. There may be more to come from his game, but there's been no evidence it's going to come here.
Bargnani's best contribution is as a reasonable contract for a player in his prime who can put up some shiney numbers. Played in shorter minutes against second-unit players - a 7-1 Jamaal Crawford - he might even emerge as a helpful piece on a good team.
But if the Raptors bring him back Bargnani would no longer be the person to blame for his status as one of the league's official enigmas; a tease of a talent unable to harness it.
If he comes back the fault would lie with the person - whoever that might be -- who didn't turn him into assets that will be able to help what will be infant core again next year.