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Chisholm: Raptors stuck between a rock and a hard place

Tim Chisholm
1/18/2013 1:44:23 PM
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There is no harder asset in the NBA to acquire than top-line talent, and unfortunately for Bryan Colangelo and the Toronto Raptors, that is exactly the kind of asset that they need in order to take the next step forward as an organization.

While the club proved to be terrifically effective at dispatching the cellar-dwellers of the league during their 10-wins-in-13-games hot streak recently, their inability to defeat teams above .500 (let alone even compete against teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio) can be traced squarely back to the limitations of relying too heavily on a roster overstocked with B-level talent. Yes, you can take a team like that and mold them into a cohesive unit that beats certain teams with effort, tenacity and execution; but pure star-power can unfairly tip the scales against well-executed team ball, and when you face star-laden teams that also play team ball... well, forget about it.
Colangelo has been active in his pursuit of more potent individual talent, and he's been linked to just about every major name that pops up in trade rumors, from Pau Gasol to Rudy Gay, but unfortunately for him and the Raptors, he just doesn't have the assets to pull off such a trade.

Well, within reason, that is.

Obviously, he could toss the highly-coveted Jonas Valanciunas into trade scenarios, but it would be short-sighted to do that only months into his NBA career. He could also probably sweeten the pot if he made Kyle Lowry available in discussions, but Colangelo views him as exactly the kind of potent talent that the team needs more of, so it's unlikely he'll be wearing a different jersey at any point this season.

That leaves Toronto with Jose Calderon's $10.6-million expiring contract, the rookie-scale deals of Ed Davis and Terrence Ross, along with the hope that there is some GM out there that believes in Andrea Bargnani as Toronto's best shots at getting some top-shelf help this season. It's not much, but it's what Colangelo has to work with.

There are other considerations at play, too. For instance, how much do you offer for an asset like Josh Smith or Paul Millsap, guys that would certainly help the team take the next step but could also depart in free agency next summer, leaving Toronto even weaker than before? How do you balance fit against ability? Rudy Gay duplicates a lot of DeMar DeRozan's strengths and weaknesses, but he is probably a better player so how does that factor into the equation? What about age? Personality? Impact on the team's long-term financial health? Beggars can't be choosers in these scenarios so what sacrifices is Colangelo willing to make to improve the weakest area of his current roster?

The tricky part is, it really is an all-or-nothing situation facing Toronto right now. Colangelo has put together one of the strongest supporting casts in the NBA, so shuffling around B-level players is really just risking upsetting some nice chemistry for the sake of making a trade. Amir Johnson and Ed Davis have been terrific together in the post, Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross have been strong scorers off the bench, Landry Fields has begun living up to his 'glue guy' reputation since returning from elbow surgery and Jose Calderon has been the twine that ties them all together. Stick that crew behind just about any team's primary weapons and you'd have a pretty compelling League Pass option right there.

That's why, for Colangelo, it's about either snagging a major piece or no piece at all (unless it's a move to rid the books of players like Bargnani or Linas Kleiza). While Colangelo has proven more than adept at securing great complimentary pieces while in Toronto, he's done just about all he can do in that regard to help this team. What plagues the club now is an ability to compete in terms of pure talent against the better teams in the NBA. What he has is good but not good enough.

The Raptors are stuck in one of the worst places to be in the NBA: good enough to take themselves out of the running for a top draft pick but not good enough to realistically make the playoffs. In all likelihood, Colangelo has about five weeks to change that reality or someone else will be given the chance next season. Tick, tick, tick...

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