Chisholm: Bargnani extension a shrewd move

Tim Chisholm
7/8/2009 7:23:13 PM
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With all of the hoopla over Hedo Turkoglu last week, compounded with the array of Shawn Marion-to-Dallas sign-and-trade rumours this week, the Raptors found time to take care of a little internal housekeeping this afternoon. Andrea Bargnani, Colangelo's first draft pick as a Raptors' GM, was inked to a 5-year, $50-million contract extension that will kick in at the start of the 2010-2011 season.

It's a move that will no doubt get lost amid all of the Turkoglu/Marion commotion, but it is a move that probably underscores Colangelo's shrewdness more than either of those two noisier moves will.

Bargnani, after a rough start to the 2008-2009 season that saw him post very '07-'08-esque numbers (10.5 points, 4.3 boards and .397 shooting through December), broke out and averaged nearly 20-points and 5.5-rebounds the rest of the way. His shooting numbers were up, his defense (especially down low) was much improved and his confidence on the court seemed to grow with each successive game.

Interim (now permanent) head coach Jay Triano made an effort to allow Bargnani to play through mistakes on the court and one has to figure that Bargnani's development was a key contributing factor to Colangelo stripping the interim tag from Triano's title.

After all, under Triano, Bargnani finally started to look like a legitimate number one pick from a draft possessing both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Both Bargnani and Colangelo withstood a lot of negativity to get to this point, but both are ready to reap the rewards at what appears to be the precipice of Bargnani's career as a relevant NBA starter.

This, of course, is exactly why Colangelo was so quick to lock Bargnani into this particular multi-year extension.

Look, Colangelo is well aware of the fact that Bargnani has shown glimpses before and failed to live up to them down the road. After a promising rookie campaign, Bargnani stumbled badly in his sophomore year and provoked Colangelo to import $43-million worth of Jermaine O'Neal to relieve the pressure on his pick.

Even though the January-to-April stretch was a lengthy period to be productive over (enough to necessitate an exodus for O'Neal), it was production on a losing team that could afford to shrug off his on-court mistakes. Many are the players that have looked great to close out a meaningless season, inked a big deal, and then plummeted back down to Earth (just look at Marcus Banks, who the Raptors are furiously trying to export along with Marion).

That said, the thoroughness of the turnaround last season inspired much hope in the once-maligned Italian. He showed a tremendous amount of composure driving the ball, pulling up in the midrange, coming off of and setting screens as well as finally using his 7'0" frame to punish opponents all over the court.

Were he just improved in one or two areas this contract extension may have been tabled for a year, but his whole game was so completely reenergized with his increased playing time (and with a coach who implemented a movement-based system that appealed more to Bargnani's talents), that nabbing Bargnani for $50-million was a no-brainer for the Raptors brass.

After all, outside of assists, his numbers were shockingly similar to those of Hedo Turkoglu, so why not toss him a shockingly similar contract (with Turk getting a $3-million bump for those assist totals)? Bargnani is six years younger and two inches taller and still has a lot of growth to do on the court, so through that prism his new contract almost seems like a bargain.

And that is no doubt what drove Colangelo to pull the trigger as fast as he could this summer.

In 2010, when a handful of teams are looking to make a splash with free agent dollars to spend, Colangelo didn't want to risk a team losing out on one of the big names and tossing a massive deal Bargnani's way to compensate.

Sure, the Raps would've matched, but the team hopes to be able to ink Bosh to a new deal, too, all without heading into luxury tax territory. Remember that only a year ago Andrew Bogut, the number one pick before Bargnani, got a 5-year deal for $60-million, and his ceiling is a lot low that Il Mago's.

Teams covet potential and they covet former number one picks. Kenyon Martin, the last number one pick to get his first non-rookie deal on the open market, made $93-million over five years, and he had already missed a season post-knee surgery.

If Bargnani can extend his 2009 numbers across a whole season, he'd get a deal worth more than 50-over-5 from someone, guaranteed. While there is risk inherent in signing Bargnani today, Colangelo saw greater risk in letting him test his market value next summer.
So with that, the team gets back to an ever-expanding Shawn Marion trade scenario that may give the Raptors some financial breathing room (or at least an asset in return for Banks or Humphries) after the Hedo signing.

Bargnani's is a signing that may barely register today amid all of the other Raptors news, but could well be a touchdown a year from now if Bargnani's turnaround proves permanent.

Of course, for Bargnani, it's a $50-million touchdown either way.

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