Well, go figure that as soon as talk in Raptorland begins gravitating towards the draft, suddenly a list 'appears' to let the world at large know what five teams Chris Bosh will be looking to play for next season, refocusing the attention back on Toronto's lone All-Star.
Clearly, the first thing most Raptors fans did upon coming across the unexpectedly short list was check to see if Toronto made the cut (it did, along with New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles). Then, visions began swirling in their heads as to the ramifications of this sudden revelation.
First off, let's just go ahead and assume that as of right now, this list is legit. While Bosh's agent, Henry Thomas denied giving the Raptors a list of teams, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo confirmed that he had received one, and Colangelo, if nothing else, has always been rather candid about these sorts of issues in the past, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Heck, there is just as good a chance that the Raptors brass actually leaked the list, giving the local and national media an ability to contextualize the Bosh situation, as well as letting everyone know that Toronto remains one of the five teams he's willing to consider at this point.
Of those five teams listed, there are plusses and minuses Bosh will no doubt take into account when selecting where he will sign for the prime years of his career, as well as there being plusses and minuses for the Raptors as it relates to a sign-and-trade, should Bosh prove true to his word by participating in one. Here is a brief glimpse at each scenario.
New York Knicks
We'll get this one out of the way first because it is the easiest to detail and move past. New York has a mountain of cap space, but they are in even worse a place than Toronto is when it comes to winning - and Bosh has said repeatedly that he wants to win.
If the Knicks can get LeBron, things clearly change. If they don't get LeBron (or Dwyane Wade), then there is no reason to give New York another glimpse. Plus, the thought of pairing David Lee (the sign-and-trade target Toronto would probably have to settle for) with Andrea Bargnani would obliterate any hope for the Raptors improving defensively next season or as long as they were a tandem.
If Bosh wants to win there are much better options available to him than one of the most dysfunctional franchises of the last decade, and there are much better available returns for the Raptors elsewhere on Bosh's list.
Los Angeles Lakers
The appeal here is obvious, since the Lakers appear to be on a crash course with a third Finals appearance in a row. That being the case, though, there doesn't appear to be an obvious reason why L.A. would want to muck with the incredible team that they have at their disposal, nor why they would want to take on a tremendous amount of additional salary after balking at Lamar Odom's contract demands last summer.
Basically, as talented as Bosh is, Pau Gasol appears to be a much better fit alongside Kobe and in Phil Jackson's system, so swapping them makes little sense, and a Gasol/Bosh front court (one with Andrew Bynum going to Toronto) offers a lot of duplication in skills (and weaknesses).
While many pundits like the talent swap for L.A. with exchanging Bynum for Bosh, it would balloon an already outrageous payroll ($91 million this season) even higher since Bynum makes only $13 million, versus Bosh who would make just under $20-million. It also takes the Lakers primary defensive force in the post out of the equation for more scoring that they don't really need.
For the Raptors the move makes some sense, in that on paper Bynum would be the ideal partner for Bargnani up front with his size, length and defensive acumen. Plus, it would allow the Raptors to move Bargnani back to his more natural power forward position.
However, Bynum has a checkered past as it pertains to injuries and he has shown a lot of immaturity in L.A. when he hasn't gotten his way on offence, a trait that could become a much larger issue in Toronto without the forces of Phil and Kobe to keep him in check.
If this scenario were to go down, then Bosh clearly wins but it is unclear if L.A. or Toronto improves overall in the transaction.
This is where things start to get interesting for all parties involved. Obviously pairing Bosh with Dwyane Wade makes a lot of sense, especially since Wade's proven to be a more natural leader in Miami than Bosh has been in Toronto. Bosh would finally give Wade a legit All-Star teammate, one that can relieve some of his scoring burden and can step away from the basket to open up the paint for Wade's drives.
Bosh would likewise finally get to play with a fellow All-Star every night, and he would also be able to play with the best creator he'd have ever been teamed with, making his job much easier at the offensive end of the floor. Miami would still have to fill out the rest of their roster (they have only three players slated to return next season) to maximize a Wade and Bosh tandem, and Bosh would have to swallow being a secondary player for the first time in his career, but the pairing still makes a lot of sense from an outside perspective.
As for Toronto, they'd probably vie for Udonis Haslem as a return piece in a sign-and-trade (he too is a free agent), though it's hard to say if Miami would be inclined to part with him (they LOVE him) or whether Haslem would be amenable to playing in Toronto (he LOVES Miami). If they could make that swap work, then Haslem becomes an almost ideal frontcourt mate for Bargnani as a rugged, defensive big man who rebounds, plays smart defence and has a better-than-expected offensive game (he's like a grizzled, veteran version of Amir Johnson with less athleticism).
The thought of Michael Beasley coming to Canada is a slightly nauseating thought at this point, but the Raptors may be forced to take him on in order to sell this trade to fans since Beasley is still seen as a talented player with lots of untapped potential whereas Haslem is moure of an über-role player. The Raps might also be able to get back the first-round pick they sacrificed to the Heat in the Shawn Marion deal. It's not the ideal situation for Bosh and Toronto, but it's not too shabby should this be the way things turn out.
If Bosh were to leave Toronto, this would be the destination that would make the most sense for all parties involved. Bosh would get to play with one of the league's best point guards in Derrick Rose, Chicago would get the big man they've long coveted and Toronto could net an attractive swath of return pieces. In Chicago, Bosh would still be the team's best scorer and the focal point of their offensive attack and he'd be joining a pretty well-built outfit alongside Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. In fact, pairing Bosh with Noah may even be comparable in importance at this juncture of his career as pairing him with a guard like Rose, because Noah is such a strong rebounder and energy player he takes so much pressure off of Bosh as a big man on defence and on the boards that Bosh can really focus his energies on the offensive end.
Having a defensive partner he can trust in the post would be a real first for Bosh and the allure of such a tandem is clear. Plus, since the support crew is already in place in Chicago, the Bulls offer a much clearer picture of their future than Miami does, since they'd still have to construct a supporting cast this summer.
For the Raptors, they'd probably ask for Noah and have to settle for power forward Taj Gibson, but that's not all bad. Gibson was a surprise standout in this year's rookie class, averaging 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in only 26.7 minutes per game. There is a lot of duplication between him and Amir Johnson, with each nearly matching each other's stats perfectly per 36 minutes, but when their skills are defence, rebounding and hustle beside Bargnani, they are skills worth repeating elsewhere on the roster. Plus, Gibson still has room to grow as a player after only one season in the NBA. His ceiling could wind up being a lot higher than Johnson's when all is said and done (though, many thought Johnson's ceiling might be higher than it has turned out to be, too).
To make the salaries work, the Raptors would probably also have to take back Kirk Hinrich, a 'love him or hate him' kind of player that saw his PER dip to a career-low this season despite playing the most minutes per-game that he has played in two years. While Hinrich is a low-percentage guy, he can play both backcourt positions, he can defend both backcourt positions, and he only has two more years on his deal at a de-escalating salary rate. He is another one of those guards, though, that would give Hedo more opportunities to run the plays while providing the team with help in key defensive areas.
Toronto could probably also get the Bulls to throw in the right to swap first-round picks next season in the deal or if not, Colangelo may push for athletic forward James Johnson, a player he was enticed by in last spring's draft.
Of all the scenarios that can occur if Bosh leaves Toronto, this one appears to be the safest route for Toronto to go in as it pertains to talent they can assuredly get in return, and obviously Chicago wouldn't think twice about pulling the trigger on just about any deal that brought Bosh into the fold for the Bulls.
Let's not forget, Bosh has not turned his back on Toronto. The team as built won't be enough to retain his services, but a few tweaks could compel him to stay. The key would be selling Bosh on why he should believe that there is a reason to think that the next six years will be any better for him than the last seven - and that could be a very hard sell at this point.
However, if the Raptors can import attractive talent, then there are a lot of legacy reasons for Bosh to step up and re-sign in Toronto, if that's something that interests hm. Consider that guys who play their whole careers for one team, who become inseparably joined to the image of their club, tend to carry on a longer legacy than the guys that bounce around (especially the guys who bounce around and don't win a title).
If Bosh stayed, he would be immortalized as THE Raptor, for now and for a very long time. While that may not sound like a very tantalizing prospect given the Raptors history, it creates longevity in people's minds. Consider the career of guys who started their careers strong but fell off the radar after moving around some (Mitch Richmond, Juwan Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Damon Stoudamire) against the guys who stuck with their original club for most, if not all, of their pro careers (Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Dirk Nowitzki). Staying with one club doesn't ensure anything in terms of a lasting legacy, but it can certainly help play a part in one.
There is an argument to be made - and Colangelo has made it already - that this Raptors team could stay more or less unchanged for another season and have a better overall record by further developing chemistry with a returning core. The thinking being that there wouldn't be the same issues out of the gate creating so many early losses, that Jay Triano and his staff would be that much more familiar with what they has to work with roster-wise and that management would have a better idea of how to augment this group having seen it play one full season together. That would be a VERY hard sell for Bosh at this point, to be honest, but that doesn't mean that the argument has no merit.
No matter how this all shakes out in the coming weeks and months, at least fans and the media have been given some measure of context to view this whole free agency issue through. The Raptors were no doubt given this list so that they could lay the groundwork on trades with some of the teams Bosh showed interest with now, which helps Bosh gauge the interest of those teams without breaking tampering rules while also giving the Raptors a helping hand going into the draft, knowing what kind of pieces they may get in return in a sign-and-trade.
This may only be the earliest stages of this process, but no doubt Bosh and the Raptors are happy to start making headway on it now after having spent the last two years discussing it to death.