Isn't it always the way: You're at work, minding your own business. You turn your head for a second, and someone goes and acquires a Reggie Evans. Typical.
As I discussed earlier this week, all transactions have a speculative resonance beyond their apparent impact. Yesterday's trade for Evans has tons of it, but to get the full breadth, we must take a step back before we look ahead.
The 2007 Jason Kapono signing had disaster written all over it from the moment it was leaked. Giving a one-dimensional shooter (who was afforded countless open looks due to playing with Shaq and Wade in Miami) the full mid-level exception in a summer where defence, rebounding and athleticism should have been priorities was indefensible. The move, predictably, did little to help the fortunes of a team already excellent at knocking down three-point shots but still lacking in the aforementioned areas.
It was a signing that had disastrous implications as Kapono tied up so much cap space, yet failed to find any traction as a contributing member of the team. The club's depth eroded and Kapono seemed like an incredibly hard sell on the open market given his limited skill set and prohibitive contract.
However, it only takes two to tango, and yesterday the Raptors found their dancing partner.
Philadelphia, in desperate need of three-point shooting after closing out the year in last place in that category (THAT is the time to acquire Jason Kapono) and harboring a surplus of bigs, made for an ideal companion for the Raptors. Kapono will now be employed as a gunner used to pull double-teams off of Elton Brand and to punish collapsing defenses on penetration. It's a role far more akin to the job he had in Miami and he should be serviced better there than he was being asked to do more than he was capable of in Toronto.
So, allow that to close the book on Jason Kapono. Now we begin to look at this trade from the Raptors' perspective going forward, both as it pertains to Evans and beyond.
The obvious comparison to be made in the aftermath of this move is the trade that brought Charles Oakley to Toronto in 1998. While the Raptors didn't need to give up a promising young centre named Marcus Camby this time around, they nonetheless got the gritty, defensive presence their 'too nice' club sorely needed.
Evans is a beast in the best sense of the word. He fights tooth and nail for every rebound, loose ball and possession, and that is a quality that will benefit this team countless times next season. He's the kind of player who makes an immediate impact off of the bench, a must for any team's reserve crew, and he can play both power forward and centre because of his bruising strength.
He's not a 'stats guy', mind you, just a player who makes his impact felt in any game he plays in, regardless of what the box score indicates. Is he a trifle dirty? Absolutely, but for this squeaky-clean club, a little dirt will go a long way. The fact that the club actually managed to save money on this deal is just the cherry on top (and it helps one to ignore the fact that the Raptors could have just inked this deal themselves two years ago instead of signing Kapono in the first place).
All that said, the benefits of acquiring a Reggie Evans on a club sorely lacking in defence, rebounding and toughness should be readily apparent. It's the fallout from a trade like this that holds the fun for now – especially since Evans won't suit up for another five months.
The first impact is that it probably spells the end of Pops Mensah-Bonsu's career in Toronto. While he was an immediate fan favorite with his hustle and energy, Evans simply does the same things a lot better and with a lot more consistency. The fact that he can guard both post positions just puts him over the top.
If the Raptors were to retain Pops this summer, where/when would they play him? This team finally looks like they are getting out from under the player duplication habit they've had the last couple of years, so why jump back into it when so many other areas need an off-season focus? He was a fun player for a team that had zero energy players off of the bench, but Evans simply takes that role a step further and makes a player like Pops redundant.
Similarly, it makes the future of Kris Humphries a lot cloudier. While GM Bryan Colangelo alluded to using Evans to push Hump in practice, it would be surprising to see him last that long in Toronto. Like Kapono, Humphries never really found his niche in Toronto. The team wanted him to play like... well, like Evans, but he always seemed more interested in playing like David West (or a very poor imitation of David West).
While keeping Humphries hardly breaks the bank for the team, it would seem like he (along with Roko Ukic and his palatable contract) makes for ideal trade bait on draft night to get the Raptors a second first-round pick. A team with multiple picks like the Thunder, Grizzles or Timberwolves might be interested in grabbing Hump (along with some cash sweetener) to add to a young, developing front line. It's hard to see where he'd fit on a Raptors club already employing Bosh, Bargnani, Evans and project centre Patrick O'Bryant, but it isn't as though he'll erode the team from the inside if he's retained, either.
In a broader, philosophical sense, the Kapono trade really brings into razor-sharp focus the disdain that Colangelo had for his current crop of wing players. With Kapono gone, not one wing player from last year's roster remains in the guaranteed employ of the club. Not one. While it is expected (here, if nowhere else) that Shawn Marion will be retained, and that Carlos Delfino is just a name-to-paper signing away from happening, that still leaves lots of open space for new faces come the fall.
As well, due to the Evans deal it can be expected (though not assured) that if the Raptors can snag a second first-round pick, it will be used – along with their current ninth selection – on a perimeter-based player. For instance, the club could opt to grab DeMar DeRozen with their first pick, and then a backup point like Jeff Teague or Ty Lawson with their second selection.
Conversely, they could opt for Johnny Flynn or Jrue Holiday at nine, then Chase Budinger down the line. Go after a veteran wing in the summertime, and see about unloading Ukic, and an understandable picture of this team begins to take shape.
Lastly, and this is just a personal perspective sort of observation, the Evans deal represents yet another in a line of sensible trades pulled off in the shadow of the 'swing for the fences' Jermaine O'Neal move. Every transaction in the aftermath of that one has brought with it a sense of acceptance as to the needs of this club that the Kapono and O'Neal transactions simply lacked.
Getting Shawn Marion (and his expiring deal) to guard the perimeter, run the floor and grab rebounds was inspired – and his fit with the club bore that out. Swapping redundant guard Will Solomon for a project centre in O'Bryant gave the team a defensive seven-footer to develop that might actually become serviceable down the road. Picking up Pops and Quincy Douby to test at roles the team needed addressing, and then using the pluses of the Pops experiment to justify unloading Kapono to acquire Evans, was long overdue.
The thorough line of logic that applies to these moves should encourage hope in a fan base used to divisive moves defining their fandom. Plus, the promise of many transactions to come by Colangelo himself yesterday at least promises an eventful summer. Next up, the NBA Draft.