TORONTO - Understandably frustrated and down on his luck, a subdued Andrea Bargnani faced the Toronto media Thursday afternoon after his season was cut short due to an injury for the third straight year.
"It was a very unlucky season," said Bargnani, who is expected to miss the duration of the campaign with an avulsion sprain of his right elbow. "I don't even know if I played 10 straight games because every time I play[ed], I got [an] injury. So it's really frustrating. [I've] just got to stay positive, try to get back in shape and [get] back to play again."
The Raptors' forward appeared in 15 straight games and 21 of the first 22 -- with varying degrees of success -- to begin the 2012-13 season before sustaining a torn right elbow ligament in December. His most recent injury, suffered in Los Angeles on Mar. 8, is said to be unrelated to the one that cost him 26 contests earlier in the year.
The seven-year vet has played in 132 of a possible 230 games over the last three seasons, with each of them coming to an early end as a result of ankle, calf and now elbow ailments.
"It's unfortunate," coach Dwane Casey acknowledged, reflecting on the various roadblocks that have derailed the former first-overall pick's once promising career. "The young man can't catch a break, no pun intended.
"It's one of those things where it's one injury after another. And they're injuries, it's not like he's got an owie or something, they're legitimate injuries. So it's tough because he's missed so many games and he's such a big part of what we wanted to do."
Even when healthy and in the lineup, Bargnani has struggled with his jump shot and wavering focus on both ends of the floor.
"It's frustrating just for the fact that I wasn't able to play at my best," he admitted. "I wasn't in the position to play good through all my injuries. This kind of stuff happens so I'm positive I'm going to keep working to be back stronger next year."
Neither he nor Casey would rule out the remote possibility that the forward could return at some point over the final 17 games however, it's more than likely Bargnani has played his last game of the season, and maybe as a member of the Raptors.
Rudy Gay participated in practice Thursday and plans to continue playing through the back stiffness that has plagued him since a Mar. 1 loss to the Pacers. Since then, the Raptors' leading scorer has sat out two games and has been noticeably limited at times when he's been on the floor.
Gay is shooting just 36.7 per cent from the field in March -- down from 38.4 per cent last month -- and is committing 4.2 turnovers per game, an increase of 1.6 from February.
"Your back is such a big part of whatever you do," Casey pointed out. "Whether it's shooting the ball, handling the ball, definitely defensively, getting down in the stance. I'm sure it does [restrict him]. He hasn't been himself since he's had the back issues."
Gay has also been trying out prescription goggles to help correct some vision issues he's been having.
Among other things, Casey chalked his team's 112-88 loss in Boston up to inexperience. With the season coming to a close, the Raptors' coach has seemingly made a commitment to playing and developing the two first-round picks on his roster, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas.
Both rookies have exceeded 20 minutes of playing time in back-to-back games for the first time since early December, getting the opportunity to learn and play through mistakes that would have sent them to the bench a few weeks ago. This is something that is necessary for any team looking towards the future but can also be frustrating to watch at times, especially if you're the head coach, tasked with winning games on top of developing the team's youth.
"Everybody is clambering for [the] young guys to play," Casey said. "Unfortunately, there's veteran players in the league and there's so much to learn."
Although Casey has credited the progress made by both Ross and Valanciunas this year, he knows there are nights -- like Wednesday's affair against a veteran-laden Celtics team -- that are going to expose their weaknesses and hopefully serve as a learning experience going into next season.
"That's why it's hard to play rookies and play them extended minutes but we've got to. It's painful sometimes, we saw last night, to play two rookies big minutes but we've got to do it."
More D-League Time for Acy
The third rookie, forward Quincy Acy, has been in the NBA Development League since being reassigned to the Bakersfield Jam earlier this month. Despite the opening created by Bargnani's injury, it looks as though Acy may be in line for a longer stay in the D-League before eventually rejoining the Raptors next month.
Casey and Bryan Colangelo both feel that Acy would benefit from the opportunity to play full games with their D-League affiliate, rather than getting sporadic time on the NBA roster.
"He needs to play big minutes," Casey said of Acy, who he expects to be back with the Raptors for the final 10-12 games. "To play he, Terrence and Valanciunas is a little much so that's the hard thing."
Acy is averaging 13.4 points and 6.9 rebounds, playing 28.0 minutes while appearing in seven games for Bakersfield this season.