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Lewenberg: Bargnani booed in preseason return to Toronto

Josh Lewenberg

10/12/2013 1:56:27 AM

TORONTO - Andrea Bargnani was asked how it felt to occupy a locker in the visitor's room for the first time, returning to the Air Canada Centre three months after being traded.

"I was here before," he responded, correcting the reporter. He was right.

"I was here when I came to play with Benetton Treviso, my Italian team, a long time ago," he pointed out. That was Oct. 20, 2004, an exhibition game against the Raptors, his future team.

This is Bargnani in a nutshell. He won't sugarcoat. He won't beat around the bush. He marches to the beat of his own drum, on and off the court. He's not interested in playing your game. He plays his own.

Even after watching the former first-overall pick for seven years, he's still a mystery to the fans who booed him Friday, the fans he spoke so highly of.

"The only thing I have to say about the fans in Toronto is that I was lucky to play here for seven years," he told reporters after scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds in 21 minutes of action.

As if it had been rehearsed, over and over prior to the big night, that's all he had to say. "I was lucky to play in this city." No matter how hard the local media prodded for something more, that's all they got.

And that's how this all started. It didn't matter what the team, the city, its fans expected to get out of Bargnani during his turbulent seven years in Toronto, he gave as much as he wanted. And for that, he was booed.

Bargnani was booed early and often in the Raptors' 100-91 preseason victory over the forward's new team, the New York Knicks. He was greeted with boos during pre-game introductions and he heard it from the crowd every time he touched the ball. A well-timed, "you suck Bargnani" rained down from the stands during complete silence in between anthems. Bargnani was booed and no one was surprised.

"It will probably be an up and down moment for him," former teammate Amir Johnson predicted before the game. "They'll probably boo, I just hope it isn't worse than they boo (Vince Carter)."

It wasn't worse than Carter but the two are apples and oranges (or Primo and Italpasta, if that helps) in terms of their place in Raptors history.

In seven seasons with the Raptors, Bargnani averaged 15.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, shooting 44 per cent from the field and 36 per cent from three-point range.
He ranks third in franchise history in scoring, second in three-pointers made and fourth in games played. More than anything else, most fans will remember the injuries that derailed him each time he seemed to be turning a corner and the perceived lack of effort that held him back from reaching his ultimate potential.

"It happens," Dwane Casey said of Bargnani's failure to live up to the lofty expectations that come from being a first-overall pick. "Expectations are tough and I think that's what Andrea got caught (with) here with but Andrea is a very skilled player."

"It just didn't work out here," he continued. "It happens to a lot of players in the league. It doesn't mean it's not going to work out for him in New York, it could be a perfect fit for him. This league is about personnel fits. It's easy to plug in a Michael Jordan and say, hey he fits anywhere but guys that have a certain skill set, sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn't."

Bargnani and the Knicks return to Toronto once more in the preseason before making their first regular season visit on December 28.

Disjointed offence

Once again turnovers were an issue for the Raptors, who threw the ball away 23 times leading to 31 points for the Knicks. For the second time in three games they exceeded 20 giveaways - managing to win both games - after averaging just 13.7 (third best in the league) last season.

"That's alarming," Casey said after the game. "We've got to take care of the basketball... We can't use preseason as an excuse. That's a concern."

Fact is, it is still early in the preseason and Casey's coaching staff has been working primarily on defence. The offence is still very much a work in progress and it has been noticeable.

"We're definitely going to cut them down," DeMar DeRozan said of the turnovers. "We're going to watch film (and) watch the mistakes we're (making)."

Kyle Lowry had six turnovers but the miscues, for the most part, have been spread out. Just as worrisome, the team tallied just nine assists on 32 made field goals with just three of those assists coming in the first half.

Third-string standouts

The offence has been especially stagnant when Casey has gone to his second unit. The game seemed to be lost for Toronto during an 18-0 Knicks run that turned an eight-point Raptors lead late in the third quarter to a 10-point deficit early in the fourth.

Several of the regulars off the bench struggled, as they have through most of the team's first three exhibition games. Landry Fields was 0-for-6 in 20 minutes, D.J. Augustin went 0-of-3 in eight minutes and Steve Novak didn't attempt a shot in six minutes against his former team.

Toronto went scoreless for almost six and a half minutes before Casey made a change, inserting some of his third-string players midway through the fourth. They delivered. Dwight Buycks had 10 points, all in the final quarter, and Quincy Acy - in his first action of the preseason - helped spearhead a 23-9 run to recapture the lead.

"Quincy Acy got our attention," Casey said after the second-year forward changed the game with his energy, scoring nine points - even knocking down a three - in just six minutes. "We knew what he could do, he's been working his behind off and he took advantage of the opportunity."

Opportunities may continue to present themselves for Buycks and Acy if their hard play overshadows their more experienced teammates. Those two have been grouped together as part of a five-man unit for scrimmages in camp. "We've won some games in practice with our energy, over skill," Acy told TSN.ca.

In terms of the back-up point guard position, the rookie Buycks will continue to challenge D.J. Augustin for minutes. Neither has run away with the job.

"It's close," Casey said of that battle. "They're different types of guards, both of them bring something different to the table, that we need. It's probably going to be nip and tuck with those two guys all year, depending on the match-up."

DeRozan: the team's "most efficient player"

In a team-high 32 minutes, DeRozan had another strong game scoring 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.

Again the fifth-year guard had his way in the paint, utilizing a much-improved up and under move, attacking the rim, initiating the fast break and finding his teammates around the basket.

"He's playing big minutes but he's playing at a high level," Casey said of DeRozan. "He's playing efficient basketball, with his passes, with his attacks, with his reads. "(He's) probably the most efficient player we have right now."

Through three games he's certainly been the most consistent and probably the most impressive Raptor. After the game he shared a goal of his this season.

"I was eighth in free throws last year in the league," he stated. "My goal is (to) try to get in the top five, and it comes with being aggressive. That's one big goal of mine."

As a team, the Raptors attempted 39 free throws, making 31 and besting the Knicks who were 14-for-19 from the stripe.

Up next

The Raptors travel to Minnesota to complete their first back-to-back of the year on Saturday, facing a Timberwolves team they beat at home on Monday.