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Chisholm: With Gay in a Raptors uniform, what's next?

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Tim Chisholm
2/1/2013 3:51:46 PM
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Rudy Gay has only just arrived in Toronto and already Raptors Nation is abuzz with the question: "what's next?". In sending away a point guard and a power forward to acquire a new starting small forward, Bryan Colangelo left his roster significantly imbalanced and the task now is to try and iron things out before February's trade deadline.

The most immediate need lies behind Kyle Lowry at the point guard position. John Lucas has struggled in the role of backup playmaker this season and is shooting a pathetic .353 from the field, and with Lowry struggling through injuries all season the club is going to need a more productive backup waiting in reserve.

The two routes that Toronto can take to that end would be a free agent pickup or a trade. The free agency route is expected to be available to them once they waive Hamed Haddadi, which should happen as soon as all the traded players pass their physicals to complete last night's blockbuster. That will free up a roster spot for Toronto to go shopping for a bench aid, but there aren't a whole of lot enticing options out there for Toronto if that's the route they choose to go down. In fact, unless they can pry breakout Euroleague star and frequent Toronto Summer League participant Bobby Brown away from Siena, the Raptors probably aren't going to get a much better option than Lucas provides them with now as the primary backup point guard.

What the Raptors really need is a steadier backup option like Luke Ridnour, Ramon Sessions or Beno Udrih, but it is unclear how available any of those guys are and how attractive Toronto's assets are to Minnesota, Charlotte or Milwaukee. Suffice it to say that in some form or another, the Raptors will be importing some backcourt help in the next couple of weeks. Given how few shot creators the team has, especially off of the bench, finding a strong veteran presence to lead the second unit would be a great next step if Colangelo can find a way to pull it off.

After that (or perhaps in tandem with that) the Raptors have to figure out what they are going to do with all of their wing players. The roster is now loaded with swingmen including Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Alan Anderson, Landry Fields and Mickael Pietrus. Even if one assumes that Gay will spend some time at the four in small-ball configurations and that Pietrus has one toe in retirement, that's still a lot of players to squeeze into not a lot of available minutes.

The problem facing Colangelo is how to break up that glut. Obviously Gay is going nowhere. DeRozan and his yet-to-kick-in extension initiates salary cap and trade rules that make it hard for him to be moved along in a trade before July 1. Terrence Ross was deemed 'untouchable' in talks with Memphis for Gay so it seems safe to assume he features heavily in Toronto's long-term plans. That leaves Anderson and Fields as the odd men out, and neither one is exactly easy to trade, though each for very different reasons.

Anderson is hard to move along because he is such an effective player for a guy making a league-minimum salary. With Colangelo committing so much money to guys like Gay and DeRozan, he needs more contracts like Anderson's that deliver well above their hit to the salary cap. Also, given his paltry salary it is virtually impossible to trade Anderson and receive an equally effective player in return given the league's salary-matching rules in trades. If he could be packaged up with a more expensive player to add value to a return package that's one thing, but on his own Anderson is a hard player to imagine parting with while also improving the team in the process.

On the flip side of that coin is Fields. While Fields has bounced back considerably since his early-season surgery, he is nowhere close to justifying his $6.3 million per year contract. That deal was onerous before the Raptors backed up the Brinks truck to acquire Gay, and it's downright crippling now. It's hard to envision any team in the NBA taking on Fields without the Raptors having to excessively sweeten the pot to push it through, yet minutes are now going to be so scarce for Fields in Toronto it will be hard for him to prove his worth without injuries opening up time for him in the rotation. So, it's easy to say that Colangelo has to thin out the wings to create depth at other positions, but right now it's hard to envision exactly how he does that in a way that makes Toronto a stronger team once he's done.

Of course, all of this is an appetizer next to the question that every Raptor fan really wants answered: what will become of Andrea Bargnani before the February 21 trade deadline? Colangelo not-so-subtly explained that he was open to dealing Bargnani last night (and that Bargnani would welcome such a move) and so now the clock is ticking for Colangelo to ship him out of town.

While Colangelo tried to temper expectations by saying he won't necessarily find a palatable trade before the deadline, his insistence on introducing the possibility to the fan base's consciousness has effectively forced his own hand. This team has been too bad for too long to now start toying with the fans and their dreams of seeing Bargnani moved out of Toronto. Colangelo laid bare his intentions for Bargnani and now he HAS to follow through on them. He opened the can and now he has to clean up all the worms.

So what can he get for Bargnani? Who knows. There may not be a player in the league whose value is harder to assess, even if many can't fathom another organization taking him on. Consider this, though: Colangelo was supposedly dealing from a severe disadvantage when he was shopping Hedo Turkoglu in 2010 and yet he turned him into a cheaper, shorter contract in Leandro Barbosa. There is so much that goes into trades that fans and the media have no access to that to assume a player's value must be 'this' or 'that' is foolish. Bargnani may be worth nothing, or he may be worth something. Until he's wearing another team's jersey, though, we won't know what he'll command on the open market.

So, even though the Raptors have probably made the biggest deal that they are going to make for a while, that doesn't mean that the dominoes have stopped falling. There is a lot more work to do before the trade deadline now that the Raptors got their biggest fish reeled in early. In fact, landing Gay has started knocking down a whole new line of dominoes. We'll see over the next 21 days where that ultimately leaves this Raptors roster.

Andrea Bargnani (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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