It almost came as a surprise when then President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo suggested Andrea Bargnani might benefit from a change of scenery early last season and then kept throwing that idea out there right up until the Raptors landed a new leader. The former first overall draft pick had been forced into a face-of-the-franchise role after All-Star Chris Bosh departed for Miami in 2010 and despite the team’s efforts to build up their best scorer, this wasn’t a role anyone could say they had envisioned after watching the big man play a stretch-five over his first four seasons in the NBA.
Bargnani has proven he can score. He has averaged 36.1 percent from three-point range over his career and he can drive by big men drawn out of the paint to challenge him. His man-on-man defense is more than acceptable and his ability to stay in front of guards or wings when defending the pick-and-roll is good. As a true seven-footer, his glaring weaknesses have been a failure to develop an offensive game in the post and being almost completely oblivious on defense to what anyone besides what his own man is up to, even modest levels of help defense and rebounding often seem absent from his game.
However, in today’s NBA, a stretch-four/five has become a valuable commodity and as long as teams believe Bargnani can bounce-back from his recent injuries, the remaining $22.25 million left on his deal over the next two seasons will not be an obstacle to a trade. Any team would be hard pressed to find a player with this size and skill at this price. Current President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri will have a sales job on his hands; however, Bargnani has missed 98 games over the past three years and only recently got back to practicing again after a second elbow injury ended his most recent season. The image of Bargnani as a “dented-can” is not going to be easy to overcome. Of course, there are other “dented-cans” out there Ujiri might be interested in and with so many managerial and coaching changes in the NBA this off season, there will be many opportunities available to help other teams shake things up.
The Easy Trades
Brooklyn Nets Kris Humphries – $12 million, 1-year
After two seasons of averaging a solid double-double and better than a block per game, Kris Humphries lost his starting job to rebounding phenom Reggie Evans and became an under-utiliized third-wheel in the Nets big man rotation. The only real value of Humphries to the Nets now is as an expiring contract to be used in trade.
The Nets are a team in need of scoring and Bargnani is a scorer. Plus, if one remembers how effectively Evans played with Bargnani in Toronto, the fit seems obvious. The Nets are also in need of some insurance. Brook Lopez bent the metal screw that holds his foot together and without his offense or someone to fill the gap, the Nets might not even be a playoff team next season.
Humphries is not the home run MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke is looking for to bolster a Raptors roster, but he would provide defense and rebounding and some salary cap flexibility after next season. This is an easy, but uninspiring move that could help both clubs.
Oklahoma City Thunder Kendrick Perkins – $18.6 million, over 2-years
The Thunder acquired Kendrick Perkins at the trade deadline in 2011 for his toughness and veteran leadership, but that was when their star players were that much younger and the somewhat one-dimensional defensive-minded Perkins has outlived his usefulness. Perkins only played 25.1 minutes per game last season and averaged just 4.2 points and 6.0 rebounds. In the playoffs, he played less than 20 minutes per game. It is no wonder there have been calls to trade or even amnesty Perkins.
At just 28-years-old, Perkins could still provide the defensive presence and leadership the Thunder acquired him for and he seems like the obvious veteran presence Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey has been asking for. From the Thunder’s side, Bargnani could be the missing third scoring threat the team needs to get their championship aspirations back on track.
Acquiring Perkins wouldn’t create a lot of buzz in Toronto for next season, but toughness has been a commodity in short supply on the Raptors and Perkins would add a truckload of that skill.
Denver Nuggets JaVale McGee – $34 million, over 3-years
When Ujiri managed to trade Nene for JaVale McGee at the 2012 trade deadline, it looked like a big win for Denver. However, Nuggets former Head Coach George Karl only gave the 25-year-old center five starts in 2012 and last season had him coming off the bench for just 18.1 minutes per game. One could argue Karl didn’t want to play the young guys, but 24-year-old center Kosta Koufos started 81 games last year and four of Denver’s starters were 25 and under. The Nuggets also have to make a decision on whether to make backup center Timofey Mozgov a restricted free agent this summer.
The Nuggets will both have a new general manager and a new head coach next season, so what happened in the past is not a reliable clue as to what will happen in the future, but it is obvious something has to give. Koufos and Mozgov are much less expensive options at center than McGee and without forward Danilo Gallinari to spread the floor, the Nuggets have proven to be less than competitive against playoff teams in the Western Conference. Gallinari had two knee surgeries after the season. First to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and three weeks later, a second surgery on the same knee to repair a partially torn ACL. Gallinari could be back by December, but rehab and recovery times from knee surgeries can be much longer than expected and Gallinari had two surgeries.
Bargnani is almost a Gallinari clone. If Denver wants to put a similar team to last season’s on the court from day one, Bargnani can fill the void left by Gallinari and based on how much McGee has played, McGee’s absence won’t even be noticed. Not sure how the Raptors talk themselves into taking on McGee’s bloated contract, but his per 36 minute numbers suggest he has a lot of upside if he can develop a positive relationship with his new head coach.
The Luxury Tax Moves
Chicago Bulls Carlos Boozer – $32.1 million, over 2-years
One of the hottest trade rumors at last season’s deadline was a swap of Carlos Boozer for Bargnani. As Bargnani was coming off an injury and having a poor season overall, the only rationale was that Chicago was in the very unusual position of being a luxury tax team. With minor tweaks to make the deal work under the CBA, the Bulls could get out of the luxury tax. That rationale is still valid between now and the trade deadline next season.
Almost from the day the Bulls acquired Boozer, there has been speculation about what it would take to move his burdensome contract. The speculation has even gone so far as to suggest the Bulls should just amnesty the former All-Star. From a basketball talent standpoint, Boozer is still a major contributor on a good team, but he is in the way of Taj Gibson. Gibson is younger, a better defensive player and is just starting a four-year $25 million contract extension.
Bargnani might actually be the better fit on the Bulls by coming off the bench behind Gibson to spread the floor and providing some much needed second unit scoring. At least the salary differential between Gibson and Bargnani shouldn’t influence playing time. In Toronto, Boozer would give the Raptors the veteran presence their young team needs to take the next step.
Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol – $19.3 million, 1-year
The Lakers roster for next season is about as uncertain as possible heading next season. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol represent over $50 million in expiring salaries. Dwight Howard is an unrestricted free agent. Metta World Peace is an amnesty candidate. The Lakers could decide to be major players in free agency this season, next season, or follow their traditional model of acquiring the next big talent via trade. However, assuming they re-sign Howard to a max deal and do not amnesty anyone, next year’s payroll could easily exceed $100 million and could cost the Lakers upwards of $85 million in luxury tax. Even the Lakers have to pay attention to those kinds of numbers.
It was speculated the Lakers and Raptors were interested in a Pau Gasol for Bargnani (and parts) trade at the last season’s deadline, but injuries to both players eliminated the possibility. Gasol and Howard were not a good fit in Los Angeles and paying Gasol to be a floor spreader for Howard is not going to work next season either. Bargnani, however, is most comfortable in a floor spreading role paired with another big man that dominates in the paint at both ends of the court. Plus, if the Lakers remember their history playing against Bargnani in the past, the former number one overall pick gave them nothing but trouble over the years and often outplayed Andrew Bynum.
Toronto would have to include additional player(s) to make a deal work under the CBA, but there would be substantial luxury tax savings available to the Lakers and the distinct possibility of much better team chemistry than last season. With so many divergent possibilities, what the Lakers will do this off season is up in the air; but acquiring Bargnani could meet a need. Acquiring a veteran big man like Gasol definitely meets a need in Toronto.
Utah Jazz Paul Millsap – unrestricted free agent by sign and trade
Utah has two free agent big men the Raptors should be interested in if EVP Kevin O’Connor and GM Dennis Lindsay decide acquiring another stretch four/five is the right way to transition the Jazz into the hands of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson would fill the veteran big man role on the Raptors.
Utah almost has as much salary cap flexibility as is possible and a pair of first round draft picks. They have a lot of options, but just bringing everyone back isn’t the most likely. If Ujiri could acquire one of their free agent big men with a sign and trade deal that would be the type of home run Leiweke is looking for.
With so many teams clearing out management and/or their head coach, this should be a particularly interesting off season. Organizations will be looking to move out players that no longer fit with their new philosophy of team building. An even bigger impact will come from the new luxury tax rules that kick in this season. This year’s typical luxury tax team will see their tax bill more than double next season and big tax payers could see their bill triple or worse. Which players will be in demand or on the auction block are even harder than usual to identify.
There is one constant in the NBA, however, seven-footers always get a second chance and skilled seven-footers get third, fourth and often more kicks at the can. Anyone that believes Bargnani isn’t tradable, hasn’t been paying attention over the years.
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.