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Toronto Raptors Chris Bosh sits on the bench as his team plays the New York Knicks during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto April 14, 2010. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Toronto Raptors Chris Bosh sits on the bench as his team plays the New York Knicks during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto April 14, 2010. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)


Raptors have a bit of leverage Add to ...

Chris Bosh for no one.

Four years ago, Toronto Raptors president Bryan Colangelo proudly signed Bosh to a contract extension and predicted a bright future for the then-downtrodden NBA franchise. Bosh's contract ends Wednesday at midnight, as the league's much-anticipated free-agent festival begins - and the best Colangelo can hope for now is using the club's limited leverage to get something in return as Bosh walks away from the team that drafted him in 2003.

Elsewhere in the NBA, franchises are salivating at a chance to have the guts of the U.S. Olympic team to parade in front of season-ticket holders. Bosh has emerged as the ultimate complementary player, a $100-million (U.S.) assistant to LeBron James with either the Chicago Bulls or New Jersey Nets; or to Dwayne Wade with the Miami Heat; or as the third leg of an all-league stool with the Heat alongside Wade and James.

The possibilities are dizzying, but for Colangelo, they're humbling.

In 2006, he had a newly signed Bosh, the first pick in the NBA draft, the runner-up for NBA rookie of the year (Charlie Villanueva) and loads of salary cap flexibility. Four years later, Bosh is as good as gone, the Raptors are capped out and the franchise has won three first-round playoff games during Colangelo's tenure, none since 2008.

Just a year ago, he was boldly talking about building a team around Bosh that would make it impossible for him to leave - overpaying to add his college friend Jarrett Jack and getting irrationally exuberant over Hedo Turkoglu. When that wasn't working, Colangelo began talking confidently about the Raptors being able to partner with Bosh on a sign-and-trade, where Toronto would ink him to a longer and richer contract than he could command as a free agent and then peddle him to waiting suitors eager to give up useful assets in return.

Why wouldn't the New York Knicks offer up David Lee, a 20-point, 10-rebound man and at half the price of the Raptors all-star? Or the Los Angeles Lakers surrender Pau Gasol, or, worst case, Andrew Bynum? Or Chicago give up Joakim Noah?

But as the game of musical chairs gets closer to conclusion, the reality is this: Bosh is going to go where he wants to go.

Do the Raptors have some leverage? Perhaps. A sign-and-trade would net Bosh a six-year contract for about $130-million, instead of the five-year deal for about $100-million. But Bosh could go elsewhere without the benefit of a sign-and-trade and in three years be eligible for a three-year extension. The Raptors' leverage really amounts to about $10-million over six seasons. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly enough to control the fate of someone willing to sign for less than the maximum number of years as a 23-year-old in 2006.

Bosh rolled the dice to maintain his independence then, why wouldn't he do it again now?

Toronto's best hope is there is a true competition for Bosh's services among teams that have the salary cap flexibility. In that scenario, Bosh will be able to force a sign-and-trade and enjoy the security of that sixth year up front.

What would that mean to Toronto? Best case would be a deal netting a trade exception and perhaps a draft pick or two. (The trade exception could be worth as much as $16-million and allow the otherwise capped-out Raptors a way to add talent by taking on players from teams looking to dump salary - would the San Antonio Spurs be willing to part with guard Tony Parker and his $13.5-million salary to make way for George Hill? Not inconceivable.)

Colangelo's latest spin as it's become ever clearer that his franchise player is leaving is that getting non-player assets - the trade exceptions and draft picks - is a reasonable outcome. That with the right assets in hand, he can pull rabbits out of hats.

He might even be able to put a team together that could qualify for the playoffs, reversing the Raptors' slide under his watch.

In any case, in his four years in Toronto, Colangelo's wheel-and-deal magic act has been as entertaining as anything the floor. Get ready for another summer of the same.

The difference now is that any right-thinking fan will note the magic man's frayed top hat and tails, and be entirely justified in checking if the bunny is alive, dead or this year's version of Turkoglu.

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