Chisholm: Nuggets' Chandler could be good fit for Raptors

Associated Press
8/11/2012 7:29:59 PM
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Well, Andre Iguodala got traded, and much to the consternation of Raptors fans, it wasn't to Toronto.

Instead, Iguodala was slotted into the Dwight Howard blockbuster, with Denver winning his rights in exchange for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a first round pick (the lesser of two picks, Denver's own or New York's, in 2014). While Iguodala has appeared cool to the prospect of heading to Denver, once he sees how perfectly he slides into George Karl's system you can expect his tune to change pretty quickly.

This trade leaves Toronto with one fewer targets to pursue to address their small forward position since they are still as interested in upgrading the position as they were in the weeks leading up to the draft. They'll make inquiries about Danny Granger, Rudy Gay and Luol Deng as the season progresses, but a new name may pop-up on the radar now that Iguodala is Denver bound: Wilson Chandler.

You remember Chandler, don't you? He's the guy that the Raptors wined-and-dined last March when he came back to the NBA as a restricted free agent after a season spent in China. Toronto ultimately balked at his asking price, rumored to be around $8-million per year, and Chandler wound up back in Denver for $31.7-million over five years (roughly $6.5-million per year), although the last year has only $2-million guaranteed on it.

It's unclear how serious Chandler ever was about Toronto. His agent had next to no leverage in negotiations with Denver thanks to the late start to Chandler's free agency and his restricted free agent status, so using a team like Toronto was probably just a negotiating ploy to try and juice Denver's offer. Toronto's interest, however, was genuine. They wanted an athletic small forward who could defend and create offense and Chandler ticked all of their boxes. While he isn't in the same class as Iguodala or Gay, he'd have been an upgrade at the position over anyone they had under contract.

And that still holds true today.

He's still a 6-foot-8 athlete, still a solid defender and rebounder, still able to create his own shot and he's still a fantastic finisher in transition. He's not an All-Star, but he's not paid like an All-Star, either, and he'd be a great fit in Toronto's starting five that still needs shot creators on the wings.

For Denver, it's unclear how committed they are to keeping Chandler now that they have Iguodala (at $14.7-million this season) and Danilo Gallinari (at $9.4-million) playing in front of him on the wing. It's also unclear how committed they are to keeping him considering they have the underrated Corey Brewer sitting behind him, and rookie Evan Fournier making his debut behind Brewer.

Remember, this is also a team that gave JaVale McGee $44-million and Andre Miller $15-million this summer, and they anticipate extending Ty Lawson to a deal that should eclipse both of those contracts before the season starts. While Toronto cannot offer them immediate salary relief, they could offer them positional help while shortening their financial commitments.

For instance, Denver traded away their backup power forward (Harrington) to get Iguodala, which leaves a big hole in their rotation. Toronto could potentially package Ed Davis and former Nugget Linas Kleiza to secure Chandler. Davis is on a cap-friendly rookie deal and Kleiza's contract ends after next season. Or Toronto could keep Kleiza and swap in DeRozan's expiring deal with Davis, which would time some of the financial relief to Lawson's extension kicking in.

Is Chandler worth that price? It's hard to say. In one sense such a trade would balance the Raptors' roster, sliding Landry Fields down to shooting guard and teaming him his former Knicks teammate on the wing. Kleiza can alternate between small forward and his more natural power forward spot off of the bench, and it deals with the minutes crunch Davis and Amir Johnson face as backup bigs.

More importantly, though, it prevents the Raptors from having to deal with DeRozan's looming free agency, which could present more of a headache than it's worth if he's still with the team next summer. Whether or not this Chandler stuff holds any appeal to management, DeRozan's future is nonetheless a looming cloud the Raptors will have to face. Unless DeRozan has a true breakout season this year (possible, but hardly a safe bet), you'd have to wonder how much Toronto would be willing to invest to bring him back, especially after signing Fields and drafting Terrence Ross this summer. If they can foresee a future without DeRozan (again, there were moves made this summer that suggest that they can) then finding a way to move him now, rather than waiting until next summer, should be a priority this season.

All that being said, Chandler is only a short step up the ladder from DeRozan, even if his skills are better suited to Toronto's needs. Chandler, like DeRozan, isn't quite the player that people want him to be, nor is he the player some people already believe he is. He's dependable to a point, but he's not a true second option and he has yet to effectively demonstrate what kind of career he has in front of him despite having played four full seasons and one short stint last year.

Nonetheless, Chandler fits Toronto, and DeRozan actually fits Denver, with their high-octane and athlete's playground offense. Denver re-signed Chandler because they don't like to lose assets for nothing. They'd rather re-sign them and trade them (like Afflalo and Nenê) than let them walk in free agency. That doesn't mean that Chandler is a long-term piece for them, and their ability to get him on an economic deal only makes him easier to trade when the time comes. Toronto missed out on Iguodala, but that move opened up the doors for them to get half-decent consolation prize if their willing to sacrifice some pieces to get it.

Toronto pursued Chandler once, so you know that he is at least on their radar. They struck out on Iguodala, Granger and Gay this spring before the draft, and they struck out on Harrison Barnes on draft night, so the appeal of a small forward is still there for the Raptors. Is Chandler good enough to get their attention again? Maybe not. A team can miss a lot of opportunities, though, waiting for the piece that they want to fall into their laps. One of their prime targets has just moved out of their range, and it's unclear if any of their other targets are any closer to their grasp. Chandler may not be the solution that they are looking for, but this season is a perfect season to make a move so the team has to hope that someone that appeals to them comes available over the next few months. This roster has clearly been designed so that multiple assets can be packaged together in a trade, it just remains to be seen who the club is comfortable packaging them together for.

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