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Chisholm: Belinelli is Kapono at a cheaper price

TSN.ca Staff
7/30/2009 12:23:38 AM
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Say this about Bryan Colangelo: If he wants a player, he will not stop until he gets him. He wanted Shawn Marion in Toronto from the day he got there and ultimately nabbed him briefly last spring. He wanted Hedo Turkoglu in Phoenix in 2005 and couldn't get him until his Toronto tenure this summer. Now, after multiple trade attempts, he's finally landed Golden State's Italian guard Marco Belinelli in exchange for the fleetingly-a-Raptor Devean George.
 
Belinelli is one of those players that many have been waiting to see 'break-out', as it were, ever since he lit up the Vegas Summer League in 2007. It was a summer stretch so electric – 37 points in his debut game – that it caused Don Nelson to proclaim him an opening night starter (it didn't stick). Later, he became trapped in Nelson's inconsistent rotation and he never found a way to attain consistent minutes due to a logjam at his position and certain defensive deficiencies.

Now, while some would lay the blame solely on Nelson's shoulders for not giving him enough playing time, a reasonable person would have to conclude that in the end it is for the player to make himself invaluable enough to force his way into steady minutes. While Belinelli has shown flashes over the last two seasons, he has never found a way to stick. That, of course, could change in Toronto.

One of the most unrecognized aspects of Toronto's offseason has been the fact that the team has shed two of its best perimeter shooters in Anthony Parker and Jason Kapono this summer. While neither one was exactly a make-'em-when-they're-needed threat last year, both still demanded attention from defenses and both helped keep the mid-range open for guys like Bosh and Bargnani to operate in.

With both of those players gone, and ostensibly replaced by poor three-point shooters Antoine Wright and DeMar DeRozen, the Raptors were actually looking like a club without an overabundance of long-range bombing. After all, this is a team that still carries the league record for consecutive games with a three-pointer made (859) and has a reputation for stocking their team full of gunners – at times at the expense of guys who will penetrate or draw fouls. Belinelli (along with Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani) helps keep Toronto's long-range reputation alive.
 
Belinelli, a career 40% three-point shooter, is sure to find a way into Toronto's suddenly crowded guard rotation next season. How he cracks in remains to be seen, but after all of the work Colangelo has put into acquiring the 6'5'' gunslinger, one has to figure that every effort will be made to give him a better shot at sticking in Toronto than he ever had in the Bay Area.

The nice thing about acquiring a guy like Belinelli is that he actually brings a lot of the same characteristics as Jason Kapono did last year, except at a fraction of the cost and with some added abilities, to boot.

Last season, Belinelli and Kapono actually played very similarly as it relates to the stat book; 8.9 points for Marco to 8.2 points for Jason, .442 and .432 shooting, respectively, and only 0.02% difference in their distance accuracy. While Kapono had the advantage being 6'8'', and thus able to shoot over smaller guards, Belinelli has far superior ball skills and can actually play a little bit of point guard in a pinch. What this means is that unlike Kapono, Belinelli may actually be able to create a little bit for himself in an effort to find his own shot. While the team surely won't want him dominating the ball next season with so many more important scoring options dotting the roster, a little versatility never hurt anyone at the NBA level.

Still, with every move, the roster must shift to accommodate a newcomer. In all likelihood, the arrival of Belinelli means the end of the Carlos Delfino saga (or at least one can hope). There is only going to be so much time to divide up on the wings and, as was stated earlier, there is no way Belinelli isn't going to at least be given a chance to earn and keep minutes with the Raptors after all of the efforts made to acquire him.

Delfino has been playing hardball with the Raptors for weeks, demanding an outrageous salary to leave Russia, and as the dog days of the offseason kick in, it becomes harder and harder for the Raptors to justify his price tag. Does that mean he won't be signed? No, but the signing of Jarrett Jack, combined with the recent effusive talk surrounding Wright and now the trade for Belinelli, it would seem like the club set themselves up just fine without the temperamental Argentinean.

However, while the Delfino saga will always have legs until something definitive is said about his status one way or the other, it would appear that this most recent move signals the end of the Quincy Douby experiment in T.O. While Douby started gaining a following after a torrid Summer League for the Raptors, his only real shot at sneaking into the regular season with the club was if he could prove capable as the team's designated gunner off the bench.

With his non-guaranteed contract, though, along with the arrival of Belinelli, it would seem as though he's not long for this iteration of the Raptors. If he makes it to training camp, he'd have to perform at such a heretofore-unseen level just to supplant Marco that his best-case scenario is probably that another team took a liking to him in Vegas and makes a play to acquire him.

So then what now? Well, the club does still need depth at forward, but it looks like an athletic combo forward who could play some defense would make a lot more sense to this team now than another shooting guard who could log minutes at the 'three'. While James Singleton remains a favorite in this space, no doubt Raptors fans will be clamoring ever louder for the return of Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

Neither would be a poor choice, nor would several up-and-comer types from the D-League, but a minimum-salary player could definitely contribute here and would be far less likely to gripe about his role than Delfino.

Regardless, if there has ever been a surprise addition that has managed to be no surprise at all, it would probably be Belinelli's addition to the Raptors fold. He's foreign, he's a capable shooter and he's a spotty defender, to boot. He's all the things that the Raptors are known for, plus he gives Andrea Bargnani someone to converse with in his native tongue (does that even matter? No, but no doubt it will be an over-reported aspect of this story).

This is certainly not the end of a busy summer for the Raptors, but when guys like George and Belinelli start impacting the summer plans, it means that the end of the offseason cannot be too far off for Colangelo and Co.



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