Could you tell that trade (rumour) season is upon us?
While every pundit south of the border is finding a way to ship Chris Bosh to their native soil, fans in Toronto are all hot and bothered about shipping a Turkish player off of theirs. Rarely does local and national coverage of any team really align, but the chasm between north and south at this very moment is particularly vast.
For most Raptors fans, the chatter about trading Chris Bosh has become like white noise to their ears. Everyone knows the score: if the Raptors are particularly inept at the deadline, Bryan Colangelo and co. will look to capitalize on their asset. If the Raptors remain competitive leading up to the deadline, Bosh will stay in a Raptors uniform.
In Toronto, though, and really only over the last few days, summer acquisition Hedo Turkoglu has become the scourge du jour. He's had two down games in a row, he's questioning his fit with the team in print and he's making more money than many Raps fans are comfortable with and that has made him a target.
What the reality boils down to is neither one is going anywhere.
Despite what many think, money and familiarity give the Raptors the inside track to re-signing Bosh this summer (it's borderline unprecedented for a max-level free agent to leave a team willing to pay them max money), and Hedo's contract makes him almost impossible to ship off to another team. While the Raptors will move Bosh if they feel they are made stronger by the trade, few teams could make that offer. Also, while some teams could use Hedo's playmaking skills, few would be willing to pay the price tag that comes attached to that attribute.
That doesn't mean, though, that the Raptors are likely to stand pat leading up to the deadline. Despite Sunday's loss to the Celtics this team is red hot and will look to improve the roster with the hope of improving their position in the standings. This team is not perfectly built and there are some key areas that could use addressing between now and February 18th.
The first is dealing with the Calderon-Turkoglu redundancy. For the record, I don't hate Calderon or wish him ill, and I was in full support of re-signing him in 2008. At the time the deal made sense given the roster and the direction of the club. Also, given the information available at that time I'd support that decision again today. The problem is that the roster that surrounds him now doesn't suit him as a player. In fact, it only makes his defensive woes more hazardous because there are no defenders to cover his tracks and his skill set was replicated this summer with the Hedo signing. The Raptors have won two of the three games they've played since Calderon has returned to the lineup from injury, which proves he isn't a disastrous liability, but Hedo's reduced ball-handling responsibility in that time has clearly caused regression in his game and in his fit with the team. That means that one of them is going to have to move out to make way for the other.
If the Raptors can find a taker for Hedo's deal without killing the roster in the process they should go for it. However, what possible deal could that be? It's unlikely that Portland would want him after he spurned them this summer. Orlando's woes don't seem dire enough to get them to reverse their decision to not pay him $10-million-plus per year. Teams without playmaking point guards (Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Philadelphia and Washington) are almost all rebuilding clubs who'd have zero interest in moving good players out for a 30-year-old, unathletic small forward. Plus, when it comes right down to it, he is the team's best and most natural playmaker, and he has proven it when he has been given some control over the offence.
That means that Calderon is probably not going to last the season in Toronto. The club has too many other holes to fill to keep him around and he plays a position too in demand to let rot on the bench. Heck, the fact of the matter is he's too good to be a reserve on this iteration of the ballclub, where Jack and Turkoglu handily covered his absence in December (I also promise to make this the last time I write about this issue).
What needs, though, should the club be looking to shore-up? Well, there are a few.
To my eyes there is no bigger need than bench scoring. Marco Belinelli hasn't proven himself to be a consistent enough option and he, like Turkoglu, needs the ball too much to be at his most effective. The Raptors need a player who can break opposing defences down off of the dribble and score. They need a guy who can shift defences around for his team, a guy who can come in and score ten points in the bat of an eye. This is a solid remedy for slow starts and big leads, alike, with an aim towards creating and protecting leads. Some may say that more scoring is not what this club requires, but it's this particular type of scoring (one-on-one, off of the bench) that the club lacks right now. Calderon may have worked in this role in theory, but his instincts scream 'pass' far too often to make him into the kind of laser-focused scorer the team needs in its reserve arsenal.
This position could also solve the obvious problem that arises if Calderon were to be shipped out, and that is the need for a new backup point guard. Given Hedo's (and Belinelli's) abilities with the ball in their hands, getting a combo guard backup that thinks 'score first' would actually be an efficient use of asset management.
If a combo guard cannot be had, then getting what essentially amounts to a better version of Marcus Banks would suffice alongside this as-yet unidentified scorer. A bullish, defensive-minded guard that can hit open shots and doesn't mind letting others run the offence would come relatively cheap since he'd be a low-minute guy, anyway. The team could even roll the dice and let Banks play that role (letting Belinelli act as the team's third point guard), but that's putting a lot of eggs into one traditionally wonky basket.
Lastly, the team could look to add one more athletic wing defender. While Sonny Weems has been mostly solid this season, his 6-5 frame limits the number of players he can successfully guard. Plus, with Antoine Wright proving to be less-than-reliable in areas other than defence, he has made giving him consistent playing time difficult.
Now, it always seems like fans want a fake trade to rip apart on message boards in pieces such as this, and since everyone loves a good trip to the ESPN Trade Machine, here is a totally fake (but workable) trade that would satisfy all of these criteria:
TORONTO ACQUIRES: Nate Robinson ($4M, expiring), Jarred Jeffries ($6.4M, one year remaining)
NEW YORK ACQUIRES: Antoine Wright ($1.8M, expiring), Kenny Thomas ($8.7M, expiring)
SACRAMENTO ACQUIRES: Jose Calderon ($8.2M, four years remaining)
With this trade, Toronto gets their explosive combo guard and long, defensive-minded player, and neither is tied to a long-term contract (it actually gives Toronto even more money to play with in the summer of 2011). New York gets two desperately coveted expiring deals and Sacramento gets a real point guard to run alongside Tyreke Evans.
What this trade also does for Toronto is put out a message to the NBA and it's followers that it is so confident that Chris Bosh will remain with the team that they have given New York the ability to sign him and another max guy outright and they still don't think he'll go.
Now, of course, that's probably a bit too much hubris to toss around, and Sacramento may balk at having to take on a lot of guaranteed money when they look to be in a position to make a small play in next year's free agent pool, but there is a kernel of sense in this trade for all three clubs. It would never actually happen, and people will rant and rail about including Jarred Jefferies based on a couple of weeks of inspired defensive play, but this trade was concocted just to give y'all something to hate on.
The long and short of it is that as the trade season picks up the Raptors are going to make moves, even if they don't involve their two highest-paid players. Almost any move that does occur, though, will have a direct connection to both parties, be it convincing one to stay or helping the other one to fit in better. I, for one, cannot wait for the deadline to pass so all the talk about Bosh, Turkoglu (and Calderon) can abate and we can focus on the team that is going to close out the season and make a push for a return to the Playoffs. The actual basketball is far more interesting to me, anyway.