Despite the beginnings of team building this week at training camp, the Toronto Raptors may not be done with their off-season retooling, as one line posted yesterday on RacineSportsZone.com resurrected a left-for-dead possibility in Toronto:
''The scuttlebutt now is that Dampier is expanding his options and is in the process of making two visits later this week: one to Milwaukee and another to Toronto.''
The Dampier in this case is, obviously, Erick Dampier, formally of the Dallas Mavericks and current free agent centre after being released from his non-guaranteed contract by the Charlotte Bobcats two weeks ago. Popular assumptions had him heading straight to Miami, which didn't happen, and then to Houston, which has also apparently fallen through. The question for Dampier now appears to be selecting between a bench role for a playoff team (Milwaukee) or a starters role on a rebuilding club (Toronto). At this point there is no way to tell which way he's leaning, but he would dramatically alter the Raptors this season if he were to choose them later this week.
Dampier is a 35-year-old veteran centre who has just come off of the controversial mega-deal that he signed with Dallas after career-highs of 12 ppg and 12 rpg in his last year in Golden State prompted Mark Cuban to throw a wall of money at him in free agency. Those highs, though, turned out to be a contract-year mirage because the next season with Dallas (in 2004-2005) his averaged dropped to 9.2-and-8.5 and his reputation as a bust has dogged him ever since.
However, his defense, rebounding and shot blocking were all reliable areas of production for Dampier, and he managed to stick as a starter for the club after Rick Carlisle took over as head coach and even after the trade for Brendan Haywood (once he returned from injury last April). He may never have lived up to his 7-year, $73-million contract, but he was a key asset for a team that never missed the playoffs and went to the NBA Finals in 2006, which should certainly be enough to drop the ‘bust' tag from his résumé.
As it would pertain to the Raptors, Dampier would immediately start at center for the club and his impact would be felt across the roster. First and foremost, his ability to defend, rebound and block shots would address three key areas of need for the Raptors. Right now they have no one who can bang against the bigger bigs in the NBA, they have pedestrian rebounding in the frontcourt and they have questionable talent at protecting the paint against drives. Dampier would be able to immediately step in and provide a serviceable solution in all of those areas, and the trickle-down effect would be substantial.
First and foremost, it would free up Andrea Bargnani. He wouldn't have to act as the team's last line of defense around the basket (a role he is horrible at), he wouldn't have to be the one manning-up guys like Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins or Yao Ming and he'd have someone that could make his rebounding deficiencies a little less glaring in a team-wide sense. Dampier's per-game rebounding may not jump off of the page, but he is top-ten in rebounding percentage, which tracks what percentage of available rebounds he grabs, at 17.9% last year. It would be a huge boon for the Raptors to have a seven-footer that grabbed rebounds at a rate like that, especially because they're a team that likes to push the break, as corralling the ball is a must for any team that wants to punish teams in the open court. He was also top-fifteen last year in block percentage, which measures the percentage of available blocks he connected on, another key area for a club looking to create stops and turnovers to initiate their offensive system. Lastly, those blocks (as well as his general ability to provide help defense down low) would be of great use to a team that is looking to pressure more on the ball this season, as that inevitably leads to blow-bys, which is okay so long as the help can rotate to protect the rim on drives. Let's just say that without a guy like Dampier that could be a huge area of hurt for the Raptors this season, even if they have redesigned the defense with the best of intentions.
Still, some will see a downside to a Dampier signing. Were the Raptors to ink Dampier, for instance, it would push Amir Johnson to the bench and Ed Davis into the fringes of the lineup. The rotation already looks to be nine-deep as currently assembled (Calderon, DeRozan, Kleiza, Bargnani, Johnson, Jack, Barbosa, Weems, Davis) and shaving precious developmental minutes from Davis will ire some to no end.
However, there is a rebuttal to that sentiment. If Dampier were to be signed, it would be a minimum-salary deal for only one year. It would be a move made to help keep the team somewhat competitive in a hump year for the organization. Injuries, blowouts and back-to-backs all provide minutes to fringe rotation players and if Davis uses those minutes to earn more time he'll get it. Remember Jamario Moon three years ago? Or Sonny Weems last year? The cream rises to the top in the NBA, but if Davis has to spend a year earning his stripes it wouldn't be the end of the world After all, the expectations for DeRozan this season haven't been dimmed despite being an 8.6 ppg afterthought for much of last season, so why would they necessarily be for Davis?
The point is, without a guy like Dampier the Raptors are going to have serious issues with post-defense, rebounding and matching-up against bigger teams this season. There is a reason that Bryan Colangelo has been so desperate all with regards to addressing this position (nearly getting it done, too, before Charlotte pulled Tyson Chandler off of the table in a trade in early July). There is no guarantee that Toronto has a great shot at landing Dampier, he has said that he wants to play on a playoff team, but if they can lure him with the promise of starter's minutes then snatching him up would be a no-brainer. Especially since, at a minimum-salary, he'd be a very erasable addition should things not work out. Such a move wouldn't exactly tip the balance of power in the Conference, but at least it would address some vital areas of need at a relative pittance, salary-wise. We'll see later this week if there is any real chance of this going down if he makes good on the scuttlebutt and visits the Raptors.