Chisholm: Raptors should consider moving Barbosa, Johnson

Tim Chisholm
12/5/2011 1:43:36 PM
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With NBA training camp expected to start on Friday morning, teams across the league are scrambling wildly to assemble complete rosters to begin the season with. The Raptors have been linked to a bushel of free agents (from Tyson Chandler to Shane Battier to Chuck Hayes), and they'll probably ink a couple between now and Friday, but don't rule out the trade market as a tool for the Raptors to retrofit their roster this week.

There are two positions of immediate redundancy that could be cleared while attempting to address the various holes that litter the rest of the roster: backup guard and backup power forward.

While depth is always an enviable thing for a team to have (especially heading into a compressed season that will take its toll on players' bodies), given the pressing needs elsewhere on the roster there is probably room to sacrifice depth in the name of rounding out this year's squad.

We'll start with Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa was brought to Toronto as much to rid the club of the colossal free agency mistake that was Hedo Turkoglu as he was to be a contributor to the team's offense. In fact, that Barbosa was a useful player was almost secondary to the fact that his deal ran two years shorter and for fewer per-year dollars than Hedo's did. The team would have likely taken just about any player that fit those terms just to rid themselves of the memory of Turkoglu and his $50-million contract, it just so happened that Barbosa was the guy who best fit the bill.

Barbosa, though, is not at all the kind of player that the Raptors need this year. He's a bad defender who is getting worse being on a team with no immediate chances of success. His offensive potency has dipped since his heyday with the Suns, and his body is fragile enough without the wear-and-tear of three-games-in-three-night stretches that this season promises to offer. Plus, with Jerryd Bayless slotted to basically play the "Barbosa" role for the Raptors this season, Leandro doesn't even have his own role to himself with this club.

He can still score in bunches, though, and he'd be a big asset to several contending and near-contending clubs (Boston, Chicago and Indiana come quickly to mind), plus his expiring deal makes him a low-risk pickup with zero long-term cap penalties. So long as the Raptors strategically manage the cap implications of losing Barbosa's expiring deal, it says here that unloading him should be a priority in this severely compressed offseason period.

The second player that would seem to have lost his place in the greater scheme of things is Amir Johnson, the bouncy forward that started 54 games for the team last season. Here's how the facts about Johnson shake out: He and Ed Davis are strikingly similar players in terms of their role on the team, but Davis is just better in the areas that are most important to the club: defense and rebounding.

Johnson got his shot last season, getting to start the bulk of the games he played in while playing a career-high 25.7 minutes per game in the process, and while he was a solid offensive contributor, he didn't really do enough to cement his place in team hierarchy. While he cut his foul rate considerably to maintain starter's minutes, shot a good percentage (.568) and transformed himself at the free throw line, his defense was as exposed as ever going against starting caliber fours each night and his rebound-rate dipped to its lowest point since his rookie year.

What's worse for Johnson is that the Raptors seem intent on moving Andrea Bargnani to power forward this season, which means less minutes available at the position, and Davis will likely be the primary backup given his stellar rebounding and shot blocking abilities (plus, Davis only scored 1.9 ppg less than Johnson a season ago). There will still be minutes available to Johnson in a four-man frontcourt rotation, but the Raptors may be better served moving Johnson along and letting James Johnson and Linas Klezia log the leftover power forward minutes and using Amir in trade scenarios.

Of course, it's a lot easier to say that a team should trade a player than it is to actually do it. It takes two to tango, as they say, and as of yet we have no idea if the Raptors would have any partners for these particular dances. However, it simply bears remembering that while the free agent news dominates the headlines this week, the Raptors (and every other NBA team) have other ways of filling out their squads than just spending their available cap space away before the season tips off.

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