We are officially one month away from the NBA trade deadline, and you can expect the Raptors to be active participants when negotiations get real just after the All-Star break.
This season was about two things for the Raptors: talent development and talent evaluation. Both areas are a work-in-progress, especially since the team has only just recently been afforded some consistent practice time with head coach Dwane Casey, but certain trends are beginning to emerge that make activity likely in the next 29 days.
First of all, the expected clog has emerged at the team's power forward slot. Andrea Bargnani being out of late has eased the situation considerably, but there is no denying that Amir Johnson and Ed Davis are being seriously challenged at their natural positions by James Johnson and Linas Kleiza.
While the latter two have typically listed as small forwards in the NBA, both are tremendously more effective playing power forward for the Raptors. Johnson's PER is 9.4 as a small forward but a whopping 18.6 as a power forward, according to 82games.com, while Kleiza has a 9.1 rating at small forward and a 15.7 rating as a power forward. In fact, both of those players have better PERs than Amir Johnson and Ed Davis do at power forward this season, suggesting some roster rearranging might be in order.
The fact is that once Andrea Bargnani gets back, this situation will become untenable. He'll be eating up over 30 minutes a night at the power forward position (while also logging a few minutes at center), which will simply squeeze this group too much, especially since Johnson (8.0) and Davis (11.5) have posted sub-par PERs as centres so far this year.
It would be shocking to see the club move James Johnson considering he's having a tremendous growth year, is the team's best perimeter defender and is turning himself into a mini-Matrix with the minutes he's afforded. It would, likewise, be surprising to see Kleiza moved since he brings some much needed grit to the club, is one of their most efficient scorers (thanks to solid three-point and foul shooting) and is the team's only player outside of Bargnani and Jose Calderon to have a PER above the league average (he's at 15.5).
It's also worth remembering that the team knows that they have Jonas Valanciunas coming over next year, and whether he starts or not, he'll be eating up lots of frontcourt minutes, and that in certain situations, Aaron Gray is going to play (if the team does the wise thing and re-signs him this summer) because his size and tenacity are simply called for in certain matchups. That means that the clock is ticking for Amir Johnson or Ed Davis in Toronto, it's just a matter of numbers, and this trade deadline may bring a swift resolution to that position.
The power forward slot, though, is not the only area that could be shaken up in the month to come. Colangelo has made no secret of the fact that Leandro Barbosa is an attractive asset to contending teams, as his scoring punch off of the bench basically slides into any situation, and his expiring contract makes him doubly attractive to potential suitors. In trying to trade Barbosa, though, the Raptors are going to have to ward off the belief that they'll simply release the guard if no trade can be consummated by the deadline. If teams believe that they can just work to secure him as a free agent, they may not entertain the thought of parting with an asset to get him to their club. It will be very interesting to see how Colangelo plays this one out.
Those are just the obvious areas, though. The thing about rebuilding a club is that no one can be precious about assets. Outside of Bargnani and Valanciunas, Colangelo isn't going to hang up on a call about any of his players.
You can hardly say that DeRozan or Bayless have made themselves essential to the organization going forward. Jose Calderon seems to perpetually be on the trading block. Even as well as James Johnson and Linas Kleiza have played, you have to at least listen to what teams would give you in exchange for them.
Right now Colangelo is looking at Bargnani, Valanciunas and an as-yet-unknown rookie (could be Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, could be Perry Jones or Thomas Robinson) and he's trying to plug the best pieces around them to make the best team possible going forward. He knows he needs shot creators. He knows he needs a future point guard. He knows that after he loses Barbosa, he'll need a scoring punch off of the bench. Basically, he knows he needs an overall talent upgrade.
This bizarre lockout-shortened season has been tremendously quiet on the trade front thus far, but once the floodgates begin to open in a few weeks, expect to see Colangelo shoving his way into all sorts of conversations in an attempt to re-engineer his roster for next season and beyond.