We're halfway through the Raptors season, 21-20 in the record books, in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, yet the only thing one hears about this team outside of Canada is easy it's going to be to pry Chris Bosh away from this team over the next thirty days.
Look, if there is one word that DOESN'T describe Chris Bosh in the slightest, it's malicious. He is not a person who operates from a place of malice, and it would take outright malice for him to leave the Raptors high and dry in the summer of 2010, so it is of course possible that Bosh could be shipped out before he opts-out of his contract. In fact, there isn't an American sportswriter alive who doesn't think that Bosh is dying to bolt the frigid climate of Toronto as soon as he can this summer.
Thus, the time has come for everyone to put together the best trade scenario that gets Bosh out of Toronto now, because Toronto would be foolish (or even irresponsible) to hang on to him past the February 18 trade deadline, since he'd be certain to leave the club only five months later.
Haven't we grown tired of this story yet? There is basically three ways this whole thing plays out and I didn't think it demanded further clarification.
1) Bosh makes it clear to Toronto and the Raptors organization that though he appreciates all they have given him, he'll be moving on next season and so they'd be smart to trade him now.
2) Bosh makes it clear that if the Raptors can keep winning more than they lose this season, especially if that winning extends into the post-season, then the club will have a real shot to retain him past July.
3) Bosh and Bryan Colangelo hammer out the details of an extension on his current deal that buys the Raptors another couple of seasons to build a foundation of consistency without Bosh being locked into a long-term deal.
While the southern money is on the first option taking place in the next month, there is no reason for anyone to be so brash as to assume that either of the other options aren't at least viable possibilities as well.
Look, I don't have a window into Bosh's soul, and he may feel as though he's run his course with Toronto. If that's the case then he'll almost assuredly do the classy thing and make sure that the team gets something in return for their most prized asset next month.
That won't include returns of Andrew Bynum (Bosh and Gasol make for roster redundancy, this isn't a fantasy team) or Jeff Green (the Raptors have far too much invested in Hedo on the wings, and Green isn't a real power forward), mind you, so put those notions out of your heads right now.
In fact, can we really say that there is absolutely no reason for Bosh to at least be curious about what life might be like if he stays with the only NBA club he's ever known?
As it stands right now the Raptors are winning a lot more than they are losing. Save for one game against Indiana last week, the Raptors have been merciless against teams below .500 since the beginning of December and they've rarely rolled over for teams above that mark as well.
In their last thirteen games before the trade deadline the Raptors see nine sub-.500 opponents; that means that they are in an excellent position to make up some serious ground in the East, possibly catapulting them ahead of the Bobcats (who have nine games against teams over .500 in that span) and the Heat (eleven roadies amongst sixteen games) if they can keep their improved play going.
If the Raptors could secure a buffer zone between the Cleveland/Boston/Atlanta/Orlando foursome and the Miami/Charlotte/Chicago troika, wouldn't that give Toronto some leverage with Bosh against teams looking to wholly rebuild next summer and the unpredictability that process brings?
The Raptors have gone through the first half of their season almost exactly as expected: struggle out of the gate with a tough schedule and nine new bodies, but round into shape in the New Year. They've even managed to get their feet under them without consistent contributions from Hedo Turkoglu and a prolonged absence from Jose Calderon. Support pieces like Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems and even Marcus Banks have had meaningful impacts already this season, and Antoine Wright looks to be shaking off the rust on his game as well.
The team has yet to see how they function with Reggie Evans in the regular season and rookie DeMar DeRozan offers some real promise on the wings and shouldn't be outright discounted as a piece of interest, either. The Raptors may not be scaring the Lakers or Cavaliers just yet, but they are hardly playing at a level that would leave any player begging for a way out.
More than any other factor, though, Andrea Bargnani has a chance to really give Bosh pause about leaving since he could provide him with a heavily-coveted second star while still wearing Raptors' red. If Bosh goes to Miami, Houston or LA, he'd be a second banana to Wade, Yao or Kobe. That means that the ‘bigger market' allure is dimmed by the shadow of the player he's standing behind.
If Bargnani can keep up his development, though, he'd be a great sidekick to Bosh ‘The Star'. Andrea is averaging 19.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in January, along with 2.1 blocks, and has seen his output increase every month this season. He's playing with a heretofore-unseen level of urgency and poise, and he and Bosh have found an on-court chemistry few would have expected had they seen the early travails of that experiment in years one and two.
Teams are having an increasingly difficult time slowing down both Bosh AND Bargnani since few teams have two mobile defenders big enough to guard them. With Bargnani's increased focus on rebounding and defense, the pairing doesn't look as unsustainable as it might have eighteen months ago.
Let's go one step further, though, and ask; what if Bargnani becomes an All-Star candidate in the coming weeks? Even if he doesn't make the team, doesn't having a guy putting up All-Star-esque numbers while also having a meaningful impact in winning games make him a factor in Bosh's thought process? Doesn't that at least count for something to the people desperate to pair him with a talented running mate (probably not since most people want Bosh to be someone else's running mate)?
Ultimately, nothing will dissuade most pundits from shipping Bosh away from Toronto in imaginary trades save for an actual trade or a contract extension. While he still may be inclined to go, the Raptors do keep amassing incentives that could – in theory - convince him to stay.
Aside from the money (they Raptors can offer him $30-million more than any other team) and the precedent (no max-level player has ever left a team that wanted to re-sign him to max dollars since Shaq left Orlando thirteen years ago), the Raptors have an improving blend of youngsters and vets that are actually winning games against legit opponents right now.
Keep in mind that for a lot of teams to get far enough under the cap to sign Bosh away next summer, they'd have to renounce a lot of players, cap holds and cap exceptions, meaning the rosters in questions could be severely depleted by the time Bosh arrives to play on them. What's the breaking point, then, for Bosh looking at rosters that could win now AND afford the salary that he's going to be seeking? Toronto actually being a winning club really muddies that water for a handful of teams looking to pry him away, wouldn't you think?
It's going to be an interesting month for the Raptors on this front. There are no guarantees either way as to what direction Bosh or the Raptors will take leading up to the deadline. Know that if Bosh is traded, it is because the team KNEW that he wasn't coming back. Know also, though, that if he isn't then they have enough reason to believe that re-signing him next summer is a very real possibility – regardless of what the gaggle below insists is true.
With all that said, let's enjoy the remaining 41 games and only revisit this issue when it actually becomes an issue worth visiting.