By Frank McLean
Bismack Biyombo makes his first appearance Sunday at the Air Canada Centre since he left town in the off season after signing a huge free agent deal worth $72-million over four years with the Orlando Magic.
You can’t blame the guy for taking the money and running to Florida’s Gulf Coast area after making around $3-million in his one season with the Raptors. He got the contact that has set him up for life, which is not bad for a guy who makes his living as an energy guy coming off the bench, a rebounder who struggles as a shooter from the field and the foul line.
His numbers from his one year in Toronto and his half a year in Orlando haven’t changed much. In Toronto he averaged 22-minutes a game, 5.5-points, 8.0-rebounds and 1.6 blocks. In Orlando in 47-games it’s 24.5 minutes, 6.3-points, 7.7-rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
Now don’t get me wrong. A player with Biyombo’s knack for rebounding is a valuable piece that is needed when a general manager is putting together his 15-man roster. But 72-million over four years for a guy that mainly rebounds is obscene and it shows that with the salary cap rising each year thanks to ESPN and TNT’s television money that teams are overpaying for talent when they try and find it through the free agent route.
Biyombo’s influence in his one year in Toronto was felt in more ways than just the numbers on a box score. It was with the guy who has taken over his minutes on the floor and that’s Lucas Nogueira.
Nogueira was reflecting on that after Saturday’s practice with the media and he let everybody know that he’s not Biyombo’s replacement.
“I am never going to replace Biz,” Nogueira was saying. “The city loves him. I personally love him too and I am so thankful for what he did for us. I can block five shots a night like I did on Friday, but I’m never going to replace Biz. I do think I have the hardest job in the league trying to replace Bismack because he made a huge impact here.”
Nogueira did say though that Biyombo was his mentor.
“Of course he was my mentor,” Nogueira said of Biyombo. “He changed my habits. He made me become a better professional and he made me see how it was important to take practice seriously and take my basketball life seriously. In life sometimes you only get one opportunity and if you don’t take it seriously you might not get another one. He made me realize that. That’s the reason I say he was my mentor when he was here. His level of professionalism made me a better professional.”
Nogueira is averaging 21.3-minutes a game, but in the month of January it’s up to 25-minutes which shows the coach Dwane Casey has the confidence to use him more.
“He has done an excellent job of protecting the rim, blocking shots and doing what we need him to do in the paint,” Casey said. “He’s doing an excellent job of catching the ball out of double teams and quarterbacking, making teams pay when they do blitz Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and that’s what we needed. That’s a plus that Biz didn’t give us. He was strictly a defensive plus. Lucas gives us that guy who can quarterback, kick it out, he’s a huge target with great hands so he gives that to us on the offensive end as well.”
Casey did say that there is a missing link from the way the Raptors played defense last year to this year that Biyombo brought that he wished they picked up on.
“I wish one thing rubbed off more from Biz and I think it did but they seem to have forgotten it without Biz being around. It’s talking loud and confidently. And not just Lucas, but all of our centres — (Jonas Valanciunas), Jakob (Poeltl), and Pascal (Siakam). Talk loud and with confidence and that is what Biz brought. He brought an energy, but he rubbed off on those guys.”
As you can see, Biyombo’s influence is still being felt on the Raptors.
The Orlando Magic is a young struggling rebuilding team and new coach Frank Vogel is hoping Biyombo can have a big influence there as well and he has a massive four year contract to do just that.