NBA

Chisholm: Raps' future looks bleaker with Turkoglu comments

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Tim Chisholm
5/30/2010 2:41:45 PM
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Allow me to offer you a rare glimpse into the first-person:

I have tried (and failed) three times already at concocting a piece about Hedo-gate, and I'm still not sure that I'm going to be able to put too much coherence down before I send this off to HQ at TSN.ca.

I can't really explain why; I'm on record as being against the signing of Hedo since the first rumours of the Raptors' interest in him seeped onto the interwebs last July 3rd. He always seemed like an indulgent signing instead of an intellectual one, a signing made because the team could (he was 'the' free agent get of last summer) rather than because they should. Hedo was a playmaking point guard trapped in a small forward's body, and all his signing did was create expensive roster redundancy given that the Raptors had just re-signed Jose Calderon to a rich extension twelve months before. I pointed this out then, saw that reality derail both Hedo's and Jose's seasons, and I remain steadfast in the thought that keeping Shawn Marion (regardless of his diminished output in Dallas this season) would have been the savvier, if less sexy, move for the team last summer.

Still, when wonderfully irreverent folks at The Basketball Jones broke the story two nights ago that Hedo had gone on Turkish television and laid bare his intention to sever ties with the Raptors, I couldn't wrap my mind fully around the implications. While it seemed like a tacit vindication for my (and several others') skepticism, it was nonetheless difficult to see why. Surely his displeasure didn't come as a surprise after the home crowd and local media turned him into a scapegoat for a failed season, nor after the organization that signed him seemed to unduly assign blame to him for struggles that were easily as much the team's fault as his. Still, some measure of confusion lingered. As I sat down at the computer to pound out a narrative, failed, went away, came back, attempted and failed again and again, something elemental about the whole story proved elusive. There some core issue at work here that insisted on interrupting the flow of my work and like an itch in the centre of my back that I couldn't seem to reach.

The issue, I now believe, was rooted much deeper in the implications of what is going on with Hedo than with Hedo and his gripes themselves. Signing Hedo last year was a statement by the Raptors that went further than one season. Signing a 30-year-old veteran to a five-year contract one year from Chris Bosh's free agency implied that this team was setting themselves up for a future with or without their franchise cornerstone. It said that the Raptors, with or without Bosh, see themselves as a competitive outfit and will move past the Bosh-era if need be without turning their focus away from winning. After all, Hedo is not the kind of player re-building outfits employ. He's not a leader and he's not a mentor, he's just a talented piece for teams interested with deep playoff runs and 50-win seasons. You didn't see Oklahoma City chasing him last summer proclaiming “Hedo will mesh perfectly with our young, athletic core as we look to make the playoffs for the first time in the Kevin Durant era.” No, instead you heard Portland saying “We've proven ourselves as a playoff-caliber outfit, now we need solid veterans to help us bolster our core talent so we can improve.” The thinking in Toronto went that even if the team lost Bosh, they were still focused and prepared for winning in both the short-term and the long-term. Sure, that's a lot to read into the signing of a single player, but the implication is nonetheless there.

Now that Hedo has made it difficult for the Raptors to bring him back, though, the future of the team looks oddly bleaker than it did when Bosh refused to endorse Toronto as a likely destination for his services next season. A solid sign-and-trade for Bosh, a smart draft pick, a wise expenditure of the mid-level exception and a thoughtful trade of Jose Calderon or the team's expiring contracts painted a picture of the future that wasn't as bleak as one would have thought of a future without Bosh. Hedo could have been used more as a playmaker, which would have played to his strengths, Andrea Bargnani's versatility as an offensive weapon would have been on greater display and the dark cloud of Bosh's future would have been eradicated from the minds of the organization and the fan base forever. Without Hedo, though, the team suddenly looks a lot younger, a lot less battle-tested and the future simply looks as unclear as it has at any time since the spring of 1998.

The key to all of this isn't so much whether or not Hedo stays (although I do genuinely believe he would have had a bounce-back year in 2010-11), it's about how staggeringly uncertain the immediate future of the Raptors has become after his revelations.

Looking at the Raptors roster, you can now only say that one player is assured to be with the team when training camp opens in October (Bargnani), and only two others look likely to be joining him (DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems). Colangelo is on record as having said that one of his two point guards is on the way out, so until we know if that point guard is Calderon or Jarrett Jack, you can't pencil either into the rotation. Reggie Evans and Marcus Banks are both $5-million-ish expiring deals, both of which will be in play all summer (and up to the trade deadline) on the open market, so their services are hardly guaranteed. The team wants Amir Johnson back, but he's an unrestricted free agent and will no doubt shop around before committing himself anywhere. Antoine Wright, Rasho Nesterovic and Patrick O'Bryant are also free agents, but the team hasn't appeared as interested in retaining any of the three. Marco Belinelli and Joey Dorsey are sort of fringe players right now, and even if they do both return it is uncertain how relevant that would be to the team anyway.

That scenario is a serious 180-degree turn from where the team found themselves at the end of last summer, crowing about the stability that they'd engineered for themselves whether Bosh stayed or not. Right now, there is next to nothing to anchor ideas about next season to outside of the fact that Bargnani will probably be the epicenter of the Raptors offense next season and in some configuration he'll be flanked by young, athletic wing players and an as-yet-unnamed draft pick. How is anyone supposed to write coherently about the ramifications of Hedo's trade demand under such constraints?

That's the predicament we find ourselves in. Certainly this isn't a 'cry for me' moment so much as a sobering realization that the future of the Raptors on the court has never been so in flux and difficult to contextualize. I know that as far as team-construction goes, I'm a very linear thinker. I see things as A leads to B, B leads to C. If you have Player X as your centerpiece, then Player R and Player N make for logical running mates, especially if they are flanked by Players E, D and P. With so little known about what this team is going to look like next season (I couldn't even fashion a starting five out of the players I feel comfortable saying are returning next year), it's nigh impossible to articulately guess at the implications of Hedo not being with the team, outside of the fact that he has figuratively pulled the plunger on the roster and is letting the whole ball deflate. All we have to analyze right now is a deflated ball in desperate need of air - or to put it more plainly, all there is right now is a roster with no players. That being the case, intelligent analysis simply has too many variables and too few constants in place in order to proceed.

For example, the draft: How do you handicap the draft now? It seemed like the team was either going to go point guard (Avery Bradley, maybe Eric Bledsoe) to replace Jose/Jack or defensive big (Ekpe Udoh, Hassan Whiteside, Daniel Orton) to help offset losing Bosh or Johnson. Now, any and every player projected between 10 and 20 is in play for Toronto. Can they really turn down a talented wing player like Xavier Henry, Paul George, Luke Babbitt or Gordon Hayward anymore if they are in the process of losing their starting small forward? Can they really turn down anyone outright? Are they now not in the classic rebuilding position of having to take the best player available, regardless of need or position? Is their draft now not entirely determined by external factors like what the teams ahead of them do and what players play themselves out of consideration in workouts?

Now, of course that isn't exactly the reality amongst the Raptors brain trust. They have a much clearer idea than outside pundits do as to what areas of the roster they are likely to fill via the draft, via their mid-level exception, via a sign-and-trade with Bosh (if he opts not to return), via a trade of Hedo, Jose and/or their expiring contracts and via veteran minimum deals. Even Colangelo and co., however, cannot avoid having a multitude of scenarios in play based on how the dominoes fall at each juncture of the off-season. There is simply so little certainly for the roster next season that the team cannot afford to plan diligently otherwise.

That, folks, is why it's taken multiple attempts to craft a piece on Hedo (and still, let's face it, this wasn't a piece about Hedo at all in the end). Hedo in this case isn't a relevant force so much as he is a pawn in a larger game, and he's chosen to take himself out of play for the Raptors. Heck, the Raptors may go through the machinations of the off-season only to decide that they're going to force Hedo to honour his contract in Toronto, regardless of all of his posturing. Like everything else this summer, there is simply no way to know how these situations will play out until more pieces begin falling into place.

So, as the Raptors embark on what may or may not be a full-scale rebuilding project, this weekend's revelation about the thoughts of Hedo will fade into the din of all of the other chatter surrounding this club. Clarity may be on the horizon, but the horizon hasn't felt quite so far away in a really, really long time.

Hedo Turkoglu (Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images)
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