Dwane Casey followed through on his threat Wednesday night. He played Andrea Bargnani – and the Air Canada Centre roof didn't fall in. Bargnani heard more boos than cheers when he came in after missing 26 games with an injury, the Toronto Raptors committed six fourth-quarter turnovers and lost 99-95 to the Boston Celtics but the good news is unless Il Mago picked up another injury, general manager Bryan Colangelo should be on the telephone this morning.
Operation Arrivederci Andrea should now begin in earnest.
It matters not if Bargnani shows he can play well with his new teammates; if he shows he can be more of a facilitator and less of a roadblock as he was in 23 minutes 51 seconds of his first game back, when he had 11 of his points in 9:46 in the first half before running out of gas. We have seen these false springs before – last year, in fact, when everybody was raving about how Bargnani had bought into Casey's system.
But Bargnani was never the same after a strained calf and seemed to shrink this season when the team started 4-18. Bargnani tore a right elbow ligament and the Raptors went 13-13 without him and became Rudy Gay's team. So do not let Bargnani break your hearts any more Toronto. Do not fall into that trap.
Casey was miffed that fans booed Bargnani – "I'm disappointed, because this young man did nothing to deserve it," he said – but he could not have been surprised. Bargnani is poison for this team and in this city; he's keeping the spot warm for Dion Phaneuf or Colby Rasmus or whomever is the next.
"Hey, you couldn't wait another day?" Celtics coach Doc Rivers asked Bargnani as the player waited by the timekeeper's bench to enter the game in the first quarter. Well no, Doc.
Not with the trade deadline on Feb. 21.
For all of Casey's pregame musings about the game would dictate how much Bargnani played and how he wanted to "make sure it does not get us out of rhythm," the whole plan now is to show the NBA that he's healthy. Casey was speaking to the NBA when he told reporters about how Bargnani's quiet nature could be easily mistaken for not caring.
"There is a lot going on upstairs," Casey said, referring to Bargnani's mind but also, it is to be hoped, to Colangelo's office.
Let's credit Bargnani for his performance: he went roughly four minutes without getting a shot when he entered the game at the 7:40 mark of the first quarter to a mix of cheers and boos – the latter lingering three heartbeats longer than the cheers – but he contributed in other ways, flicking a pass to Amir Johnson for a layup and getting out to the line to block a shot from Jeff Green.
Gay, who admittedly went a cold 1-for-9 in a messy fourth quarter, gives the Raptors a player of whom the NBA's reputation-aware officials must take note. "I'm sure he will get the 'star' calls," said Casey, whose team had 10 trips to the charity stripe before the Celtics had their first.
That's not all because of Gay, but considering the way the Raptors have been screwed over by NBA zebras this season, it is worth noting. Think back to the Raptors' 98-97 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 21 when Bargnani, who had 25 points, was fouled by the Bobcats Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on a jump shot. No call was made and the NBA was forced to publicly apologize.
The message? A six-year veteran with 25 points, has such a soft reputation that he can't get a call on a game-deciding play. Better to give the minutes to Jonas Valanciunas. So we're not buying whatever Il Mago sells in these next two weeks; but it's to be hoped that at least one of Colangelo's peers is not like-minded.