Well, the pageantry of the All-Star break has come and gone for another year, which means that the NBA and all of its teams now shift their focus to Thursday's trade deadline, the last day this season that teams can dump contracts on each other or pick up that last piece for a postseason run. After taking a couple of seasons off, the Raptors are right back in the thick of things heading into this transaction frenzy, and they have several needs that they should be looking to address before the evening of the 21st.
The big news continues to swirl around Andrea Bargnani and whether or not Toronto will find a palatable trade for him after shoving him onto the trading block earlier this season. There are rumours that both Charlotte and Chicago would happily dump their unwanted contracts on Toronto in exchange for Bargnani, but Bryan Colangelo seems less than enamored at the prospect of a salary dump.
The fact of the matter is that Bargnani is in the middle of one of his worst seasons as a professional, a statistical truth that is only worsened by his injury woes and being the focal point of a team-only meeting during December's season-threatening tailspin. As badly as Toronto wants to ship Bargnani out of town, his value on the open market has never been lower, and with $22.2 million remaining on his contract at the conclusion of this season there are few teams looking to offer value in return for his services.
That said, it's doubtful that Toronto has heard their best offer for Bargnani yet. As the deadline nears, teams that were looking to lowball the Raptors may opt to up their offers in order to push through a deal knowing how desperately Toronto wants to move on without him. If the Raptors can get a solid rotation player and a young prospect or draft pick for him without further demolishing their future cap flexibility they'll probably jump at the chance. They won't give him away, but they aren't going to wait for a sweetheart of a deal that is never going to materialize, either. They are realistic, and while they don't want to have to wait until summertime to move him, they will if the offers aren't there this week.
That said, they are going to keep making and taking calls until the last second in the hopes of unloading the franchise's lone number-one overall pick.
The club needs more, though, than just a fresh start without Bargnani. Ever since the Rudy Gay trade last month, the Raptors have developed several holes in their attack, and Colangelo would no doubt love to plug a couple while he still has the chance to deal.
The most pressing need remains backup point guard. While John Lucas has finally discovered his shooting touch of late (he's shooting 52 per cent this month from the field and 64 per cent from three), the team's offence looks far less composed when he hits the floor. Dwane Casey has made mention of the fact that Lucas plays better off of the ball than with the ball in his hands and has taken to playing Lucas and starter Kyle Lowry together at times during games to take advantage of Lucas' shooting while hiding his lack of playmaking skill. With Lowry still operating at below peak efficiency and the club's bench possessing so few shot-creators it would behoove Colangelo to try and secure the services of a veteran point guard before the week is out.
Another wrinkle that has cropped up since Gay arrived (or, more specifically, since Jose Calderon was traded) is that the Raptors have become incredibly isolation dependent as their assist percentage has dropped from 64.1 per cent in January to 56.0 per cent in February, which is the difference between third-best and fourth-worst in the NBA.
This is one of the reasons why the Carlos Boozer rumours weren't totally out of whack with reality. The Raptors really could use a low-post presence, a guy that they can throw the ball down to in an attempt to make the offence less stagnant. Amir Johnson has refined his around-the-hoop game this year, but he's still too easy to push away from the basket, which is why he's more useful in pick-and-roll sets where he can take advantage of his speed against bigger opponents.
While Boozer himself is not a great fit from a financial perspective, he'd help diversify the offence somewhat and help the team from experiencing prolonged stretches of one-on-one play on the perimeter. Casey has tried to get Gay and DeMar DeRozan more looks in post-up situations, but a big man who is more adept at drawing defences in those situations and knowing how to react would be a valuable complement to the way the roster is designed right now. In time the club hopes to develop Jonas Valanciunas into this role, but he's still a couple years away from that right now, so a short-term plug-in would be a nice addition if the club can find one on the open market.
If Bargnani isn't moved, though, it will be interesting to see if the Raptors have pieces that they can move to plug any of these holes. While they certainly have an over-abundance of wing players, it remains to be seen if they can parlay any of them into helpful assets elsewhere on the roster. In fact, so much of the talk around the Raptors this season has centered on Calderon and Bargnani it can be easy to forget that the squad has a small handful of other players that could, in theory, be sent away in a trade, including the oft-forgotten $1.3 million contract of Hamed Haddadi, the Iranian big man who has yet to even report to the Raptors after being acquired from Memphis alongside Gay.
Colangelo was pretty insistent in the wake of acquiring Gay that he was not done dealing. While he mentioned shopping Bargnani specifically, there is no doubt that he's open to just about anything given that the club is 21-32 and six games out of the Playoff picture. The only real surprise, at this point, would be if the Raptors make no moves between now and Thursday, a seemingly unlikely scenario but one that isn't totally impossible since it takes two to tango in any trade situation.
Suffice it to say that the Raptors will be as active as any team out there in anticipation of the deadline, given that they have wares to sell and needs to fill, but until the buzzer sounds we don't know how much traction Colangelo can make on trades if Bargnani isn't the key piece being shipped out of town.