TORONTO - A new core is quickly taking shape for the Toronto Raptors, who locked up centre Andrea Bargnani to a US$50-million, five-year deal Wednesday and are close to finalizing a contract with free agent forward Hedo Turkolgu.
Along with point guard Jose Calderon, already under contract through 2012-13, and DeMar DeRozan, a swingman taken ninth overall in last month's draft, general manager Bryan Colangelo is convinced he's laid the foundation for a contender in the NBA's increasingly strong Eastern Conference in the coming seasons.
Now it's just a matter of getting all-star power forward Chris Bosh to buy into that vision.
"We hope that Chris will see that this is the right place for him to be and as we continue to evolve as an organization and as a team, that we can continue to add other pieces," said Colangelo told a news conference.
"The better we are and the better we're performing, it's probably more likely that Chris would want to be here."
Bosh can become a free agent next summer and his future has become a key issue for the organization, especially after a 33-49 season that Colangelo described as a disaster.
The addition of Turkoglu should help in a big way and more changes are coming, with Colangelo confirming Wednesday that he's working on a variety of sign-and-trade scenarios for Shawn Marion and hinting the economic landscape may help him build a better bench on the cheap.
"We're not done yet," he said. "We've got a roster to fill, we've got some minimum players to sign at that point, there's still some other things that we might net out of some of the scenarios brewing. ...
"At this stage we're very happy with the way things have kicked off so far."
Securing the services of Bargnani is a reason for that.
The former first overall pick averaged career highs of 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.24 blocks last season, rebounding from a poor sophomore campaign in which people routinely wondered if he was headed straight for bust status.
His game particularly picked up once Jay Triano replaced Sam Mitchell as head coach and entrusted the seven-foot Italian with more minutes and responsibility.
"Jay was very important for me, for my growth," said Bargnani. "He gave me the possibility to stay on the court and my minutes were not dependent on my mistakes. ...
"That was the most important thing for me because I was able to do mistakes, I was able to try to do things that I was not able to do."
Continued improvement by the 23-year-old is being counted on to help the Raptors avoid a repeat of last season's wreckage.
His ability to shoot threes or break down defenders toward the basket make him a unique threat, and the looming of addition of Turkoglu should only help both him and Bosh in that regard.
"It will be great," Bargnani said of Turkoglu. "He's a very good player, he can do a little bit of everything. He can play the low post, he can shoot from outside, he can dribble in, he can play pick and roll.
"He'll be a great fit on our team."
And much like Turkoglu, who was attracted to Toronto in part because of its Turkish community, the many Italians in the city provided Bargnani with a comfort level that helped make him want stay with the Raptors.
"It was very important from Day 1 because as soon as I came in I didn't really feel the transition off of the court," said Bargnani, who will join the Italian national team Thursday.
"The city was pretty, the fans are incredible, there is a huge Italian community that's really close to me. They're coming to the arena, I can see them on the street and the restaurants, so this is they city where I want to play if you're talking NBA, it's the best city for me in North America."