After a month of speculation and gestation, Shawn Marion is finally a Raptor. It took three years for Colangelo to bring one of his most prized Suns up north, but he finally managed to do it just as the Raptors are making one last, final (and probably unlikely) push to make the 2009 Playoffs.
The trade brings with it no shortage of controversy and derision, but ultimately I stand by my earlier assessment that this is a trade that makes the Toronto Raptors a superior basketball team.
The most recent objection to this trade has been the fact that O'Neal has come on strong lately as an offensive force for the Raptors and that he should be retained for what he's bringing to the floor. While he certainly found a groove for himself when Bosh went down with a knee sprain against the Lakers, he was not long for this team. He's still a massive injury risk (already missing nearly a quarter of the Raptors' games this year, and slowed by injury in several others) that may not have even been able to muster the requisite motivation down the stretch of the season if he was forced to stay in Toronto for two more months. This is a player who willingly traveled, on his own time, to Miami to be examined by team doctors in an attempt to expedite a trade. There is nothing too unsavory about that since the Raptors were just as eager to move him along as he appeared to be moved, but it does call into question his long term dedication to the franchise if those are the lengths he's willing to go to in order to push through a move out of town.
Plus, O'Neal simply didn't fit with the make up of this team. Bargnani's effectiveness (especially in terms of consistency) was negatively affected by O'Neal's most recent return to the lineup. He took up so much space down low that Bargnani was once again parked too far from the basket on most offensive trips, and he wasn't offered the same paths to the basket because O'Neal wasn't exactly fleet enough to clear space for him on his drives. When Bosh returned, the team would have most likely gone back to their three bigs lineup that simply demands too much of the team defensively to be effective for long stretches, especially for a club that already has to deal with the shortcomings of Jose Calderon on that end of the floor.
Basically, Colangelo knew that O'Neal was a risk from the start, even if it was a risk worth taking.
He played as well as anyone could have asked from an individual standpoint but the team simply couldn't work him into the system effectively, a scenario complicated further when Bargnani came on strong in January. With Andrea securing the centre position for the team, the Raptors once again had a logjam at a position while other positions (primarily the wings) got the short end of the stick.
Thus, out goes the logjam and in comes one of the leagues best small forwards to turn a historically bad position on the team into one of their strengths. Marion, on paper, fits this team like a glove as he provides the kind of rebounding, defense and basketball I.Q. this team has been lacking on the perimeter all season. He will be able to make up for the nights when Bosh or Bargnani aren't their sharpest on the glass, in a pinch he can cover the quicker guards that always seem to salivate when the Raptors come to town and he can slide down to power forward a lot more naturally than Bosh or Bargnani can slide into the small forward slot.
Is he the explosive scoring guard this team needs to open up the court of Bosh? No, but he's a far better ball handler than Jamario Moon was or Joey Graham is and he knows how to put himself in a position to score without having plays drawn up for him. His basketball I.Q. rivals just about anyone on the team and he's going to be one motivated dude over these next two months because he knows as well as anyone that if he has a shot at getting a halfway decent deal this summer in a recessed economy it's going to be with Bryan Colangelo offering it.
It would be foolhardy to say, especially after the Jermaine O'Neal era, that anyone can predict exactly how Marion will slide into this rotation as it looks to make one last push, but in terms of reasonable and available options it is among the few moves made by Colangelo that makes logical sense. The Raptors plug a hole that they've had since Garbajosa left town, they get major cap relief a year before Bosh reaches contract time to try and give him enough reason to re-up with the team and they do both without compromising their chances to win a few more games right away.
While the Raptors community is a little down on Bosh ever since they've learned the apparent limitations of his game (lamentably all players do have a ceiling), that doesn't mean that he team gives up on him. Recent history proves that an organization is rewarded far more generously when they hang on their embattled cornerstone guys (Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta) than when the panic and unload them (Memphis, Phoenix, Sacramento). Marion may not solve all the problems that ail the Raptors, but he solves more than a few and the team now gets a free (figuratively speaking) two months to see how well fits into their stalled operations.
If he works, great. If not, at least the team has some flexibility to play with this summer. After all, taking a serious, analytical and realistic eye to the rest of the league, who was going to offer more for O'Neal between now and next summer? Who was going to offer a big money player on a short contract that could actually come in a make a difference on this club at the position they needed help at? Sure, you can argue that one never knows, but that kind of paralysis makes for teams like Chicago and Washington, two of the few organizations that can unequivocally be said to be worse off than Toronto.
Plus, with another five days before the deadline, who knows if the Raptors have something else cooking below the radar.