With nothing but pride and draft lottery positioning left to play for, the Toronto Raptors opted to shut down their injured scoring leader Friday.
Forward-centre Andrea Bargnani will miss the Raptors' final seven games after the team decided against risking further damage to his strained left calf. Bargnani suffered a second recurrence of the injury late in the first half of Sunday's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and hasn't played since.
Bargnani underwent diagnostic tests on his calf Thursday, and the results were enough to prompt the Raptors to end the seven-footer's season after just 31 games played. Bargnani has already missed 28 games with assorted calf issues.
With Toronto already shorthanded — guards Jose Calderon (right eye contusion) and Jerryd Bayless (torn left oblique) are also on the sidelines, while forwards Amir Johnson (sore back) and Linas Kleiza (sore left knee) are banged up but in action — it may have been tempting for the Raptors to have Bargnani play through the ailment. But head coach Dwane Casey said he and the rest of the decision makers didn't see the point.
"The injury is still there, and (with) the risk of him continuing to play and injuring it again, possibly tearing it ... our organization's decision is to get it well completely," Casey said prior to Friday's game against the Boston Celtics. "Rest is the only way you're going to do it in this league, and recovery time is even less this year than what it has been in years past.
"Next year is a different animal. The things that we probably miss games for now can't happen during the season next year."
Bargnani initially suffered the injury in the third quarter of a home loss to the Sacramento Kings back on Jan. 11. He sat out the next six games, then returned for a pair before being placed on the shelf yet again.
The former first overall pick was thrust back into action the first time — averaging more than 41 minutes a night during his two-game stint — and that may have played a role in his quick aggravation.
"This time it's bad," he said following a five-point win over Utah on Jan. 26. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to be out for a while."
Bargnani went on to miss the next 20 games, during which the Raptors won just seven times despite playing two-thirds of their games at home. That effectively ended any shot they had at a playoff spot.
It was an up-and-down campaign for Bargnani, who burst out of the gate at both ends of the floor but struggled to regain his form following his 20-game absence. The 26-year-old averaged 23.5 points on 47.6-per cent shooting in his first 13 games, but just 16.5 points on 39.2 per cent afterward.
Casey said Bargnani looked like a superstar over his first dozen games.
"Pre-injury, he was rolling," Casey said. "He was an all-star offensively and defensively. I've said it, I meant it. He was a great surprise to me at the beginning of the year, playing at a high level ... then the injury happened, and he never came back 100 per cent."
Bargnani has long been criticized by Raptors fans and media for not being a good defender — an area in which he has repeatedly vowed to improve. Yet, when asked what aspect of Bargnani's game had surprised him the most this season, Casey identified his work on the defensive end of the floor.
"His ability to play defence, his quickness and speed at the defensive end, to move his feet, take charges and just use his length on the defensive end," said Casey. "I had never seen it, and he showed it. And as my grandfather said, 'he told on himself.' He knows he can do it."
The challenge now, Casey said, isn't making Bargnani a whole lot better — it's improving the team around him going into next season and beyond.
"They must get better, they will get better," Casey said. "By guys improving their offensive skills and (the team) adding offensively-skilled guys, (it's) only going to enhance his play."