All it took was a rumor that the Pistons, an organization desperately targeting every remote possibility to improve a team in disarray, were interested in Rudy Gay and the Raptors Tank Nation was out in full force. Brian Windhorst ESPN.com says the Pistons coveted Gay last season and have offered the Raptors couple of expiring contracts for the small forward.
“The Pistons have offered the Raptors the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva in an attempt to acquire Gay, league sources.”
MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke has given President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri carte blanche to blow this roster up if that is what he believes is best for the Raptors long term. However, we have yet to hear Ujiri say that is part of his plans.
Now if the rumor had included a couple of unprotected Detroit first round draft picks, it would have carried a lot more weight, but Pistons President Joe Dumars has been rumored to be going after everyone from Josh Smith to Andre Iguodala to Rajon Rondo. He has over $20 million in salary cap space to use and he is searching for someone to take it. Dumars is trying anything and everything to get better. Sadly he traded his 2014 first round draft pick to Charlotte for Corey Maggette. (What?!)
It makes complete sense that Dumars would be interested in Gay. Why Ujiri would be interested in Stuckey and Villanueva without the sweetener of at least a 2014 first round draft pick (and probably a lot more) isn’t so clear. The suggestion of tanking to get better only really works if you end up with a future asset that can help make you better.
Toronto has another and potentially bigger problem with the concept of tanking next season. Outside of a 4 win and 19 loss start to the 2012-2013 season, the Raptors were better than a .500 club the rest of the way. That included 23 games before they acquired Rudy Gay with Bargnani either on the shelf or playing very ineffectively. This roster just isn’t bad enough to tank for a top draft pick.
When the Raptors returned from that disastrous five game western road trip in early December having won just once in their past 12 games, there was a frustrated and mad Amir Johnson sitting in the Raptors locker room saying this was going to stop. Johnson grew up during that losing streak and played with an intensity and purpose that he hadn’t shown before. Bargnani was injured didn’t play again until February and the big addition to the roster for the home stand was the return of journeyman Alan Anderson from injury. The Raptors won five of their next six games and went 12-11 before Rudy Gay was acquired.
The only key players missing from that better than .500 team in December and January are Jose Calderon and Ed Davis. The Raptors had been trying to trade Calderon for two years and had brought in Kyle Lowry to replace him. Davis was loved by the fans, but he plays smaller than his size, isn’t a good defender and couldn’t even beat out Darrell Arthur for minutes after he was traded to Memphis.
The really bad part about the proposed Detroit trade from a tanking standpoint is Rodney Stuckey is a very skilled combo guard who would make a solid backup behind Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. It’s not unusual for players like Stuckey on an expiring contract to have an inspired season. Faith in Villanueva taking advantage of a second (third?) chance seems less likely, but last time he was on expiring deal he put up 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26.9 minutes for Milwaukee. No one has ever said a team can get their players to tank a season.
The middle part of the Eastern Conference is in disarray. Where Atlanta ends up is a mystery, likewise with the Bucks. Boston has just dumped three of their best players. Philadelphia is in full blown tank mode. Cleveland is better, but very young and inexperienced and it’s very hard to have faith in what Washington and Detroit are going to do. The Raptors without Rudy Gay could still find themselves winning over 30 games next season and that kind of record is not going to land them any kind of a shot at a top draft pick in 2014. No one said tanking was easy.
Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Center since 2009. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.