Chisholm: Lakers were an easy choice for Nash

Tim Chisholm
7/4/2012 11:38:01 PM
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Had anyone known that that L.A. Lakers deal was a viable option, no one would have thought Toronto (or anyone else) could have landed Steve Nash.

The Lakers got him his money ($25 million over three years), arguably the best roster he's ever played with, a legit shot to compete for a title for the rest of his career and the proximity to his Phoenix-based children that made the deal a no-brainer for Nash. While no doubt many in Toronto are saddened by this development, it's hard to argue against Nash's decision on Wednesday night.
That won't save Bryan Colangelo much at the fan bank, though. Nash spurning Toronto is a major P.R. black eye (although less so than it would have been had Nash taken New York's quasi-compelling offer). Colangelo completely misread the situation, stuck his team with a Landry Fields deal at three times market value thinking it was securing Nash for his team and reopened Raptors' fans biggest wound: that stars don't want to come to Toronto.

At the end of the day neither New York nor Toronto were ever really in it once L.A. entered the fray, but Colangelo allowing the Raptors pursuit of Nash to turn into such a public spurning won't soon be forgotten by a fan base already skeptical of his ability to turn this team into a relevant entity in the NBA.

Regardless, Toronto must now regroup and reassess its options before moving on with Plan B. It would appear the the organization is committed to making a change at the point guard position despite the solid play it provided last season. They were linked to Houston's Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, as well as New York's Jeremy Lin, as soon as the Nash scenario went the other way, and no doubt more names will enter the conversation in the coming days.

The first call that Colangelo will likely make is to Daryl Morey in Houston. Prior to the draft the Raptors and Rockets had cursory talks about getting Lowry to Toronto, and those talks will likely be rekindled this week. While the previous trade was rumoured to center around Toronto's eighth pick, Toronto still possesses plenty of assets that could be used to acquire Lowry if he is, as has been reported, ready for a split from Kevin McHale and Houston.

However, if Morey is no longer open to a Lowry trade (or if their asking price is simply too high), Toronto has a choice to make. Do they chase after Goran Dragic or Jeremy Lin in a face-saving move for losing out on Nash, or do they go the unpopular route and keep the point guard battle 'in the family'?

Both Dragic and Lin are likely to command deals that in the $9-to-$10-million stratosphere, otherwise known as the "totally unjustified but someone will pay it" stratosphere (some would even call it the Bryan Colangelo stratosphere, but I digress). Both only started a handful of games last year (28 for Dragic, 25 for Lin), and while both had strong numbers in those games, that's hardly a great sample size to use when doling out $40-to-$50-million deals. That isn't to say that neither could eventually live up to such a price tag, it's just that whatever team pays them had better pray that they do.

For the Raptors, the appeal in both is that they are somewhat coveted free agents that, if the Raptors secured one of them, might help take some of the embarrassing sting out of the Steve Nash situation. The fact is, though, that both are a reach in that price class, and they would leave Toronto with precious little flexibility going forward to tweak the roster as needed during this season and beyond.

The prudent, and totally unpopular and unsexy, move would be to either allow Jose Calderon to remain the starter, or to let Jerryd Bayless have a crack at the job. Calderon is still one of the league's most efficient playmakers, and his defensive woes were covered-up considerably last season. He's a steady veteran presence that doesn't make mistakes on the court and shoots a high percentage from the floor. Dwane Casey loved having him around last year and he would love to have him back to help guide the club's youthful rotation.

Keeping Calderon on board also keeps his $10 million expiring contract in tow, allowing the Raptors to keep a major trade chip on the roster in case a desirable player comes available midseason. If none do, Calderon could be allowed to expire and even be re-signed at a more cap-friendly rate to be a starter or backup depending on how the roster shakes out over the next twelve months.

However, if the Raptors are convinced that it's time to hand the reins over to someone else, why not give Bayless a shot? His numbers as a starter in Toronto are every bit as solid as Dragic's and Lin's (25 games, 18.0 ppg, 6.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, .460 FG%, .383 3PFG%) and he'd come at a fraction of the cost of either of them. While he isn't a perfect option going forward, neither are Dragic and Lin, all have their warts, and with Bayless the team is dealing with someone they know and someone who adores the city of Toronto.

Did I mention he'd also cost a fraction of what Dragic and Lin would cost? A reasonable salary for Bayless would probably start in the $4.5-to-$5-million per year neighbourhood, or the Raptors could just wait and see what another team is willing to pay him and then match his offer sheet if it's reasonable. If he doesn't pan out as a starter, you aren't dealing with a cap-crippling contract which helps keep the risk-reward potential far closer to the middle than if Dragic's or Lin's asking price is met.

There is also the possibility of doing both of these things; keeping Calderon as a backup and trade chip while letting Bayless run with the starters where he is infinitely more productive. If the Raptors were to let Bayless start they'd need a strong, pass-first veteran playing behind him anyway, so it may as well be someone that the team knows and likes and trusts, like Calderon.

Again, this would go over like a ton of bricks in Toronto, but just because the team went after Nash doesn't mean that they HAVE to blow all of their cap space on the next best free agent point guard. If they can land Lowry, okay, that's one thing. He's incredibly inexpensive and is a proven NBA starter. Shifting the salary that was earmarked for Nash over to Dragic or Lin just because it's there to spend? How does that work within the framework of Colangelo oft-cited 'plan'?

The perception is that the Raptors put all of their eggs in the Nash basket, but that is a total misread of the situation. They went hard after Nash, but that chase didn't cost them anything tangible (although it was a significant blow to the public perception of the club). They can now refocus their attentions elsewhere and go about steadily improving the roster while maintaining flexibility to make smart, savvy, forward-thinking moves going forward.

Or they could just blow all of their money on Dragic or Lin. You know, whatever.

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