For most any recent Raptors fan, you can say "thirteen games" and they immediately know what you're talking about. It's been referred to incessantly for almost a year, as a reason for hope and optimism and as a justification for six long years of meager returns.
However, it now looks like those thirteen games will serve as an indictment rather than an exoneration. Those thirteen games that should have pushed people out of their cynicism will now only sink people further into it. In typical Raptors fashion, those thirteen games that should have been the start of what is, instead represent yet another case of what could have been but isn't.
That's why it's time to trade Andrea Bargnani.
For thirteen games to start last season, Bargnani finally showed what he can be when he puts it all together. He reached the apex of his personal mountain, the pinnacle of his potential and showed the basketball world what had so enraptured Bryan Colangelo when he drafted Bargnani first overall in 2006. He was a terror on offence, he was committed on defence and he was a true on-court leader for the first time in his NBA career.
He was also apparently incapable of sustaining that level of production.
Bargnani was famously injured after thirteen games last season and played just 18 more the rest of the way, averaging 16.1 ppg on .403 shooting and just 5.1 rpg before being shut down for good with a bothersome calf injury being cited as the reason for Bargnani's downturn in production.
Well, through eight games this season Bargnani is averaging 16.3 ppg on .357 shooting and just 4.6 rpg and he has no calf injury to blame as a reason for his lack of production. Opposing power forwards are averaging a blistering 20.5 PER against him according to 82games.com and the team is allowing a whopping 11.4 points per 100 possessions more when Bargnani is on the court.
Instead of working over defences with his strong mid-range game, he's once again drifting out to the three-point line and staying there, averaging a career-high 4.5 attempts per game from behind the arc. He's currently sporting a career-low in rebound rate and true shooting percentage, with his PER is sitting at 12.7, his lowest since 2007-08.
The difference now, versus all of the other times in Bargnani's career when he's looked underwhelming, is that he's shown people his best and now that's what he's being measured against. No longer are we talking about Bargnani's ephemeral potential, but instead we are talking about the actual production that he demonstrated and is now not living up to. Those thirteen games have gone from being Bargnani's breakthrough to his cross to bear. Bargnani was kept in Toronto for so long because he was supposed to still have higher to climb as a player, because he still had heights that he hadn't shown the world yet.
Well, he's shown those heights now, and he doesn't look anywhere close to being able to replicate them on a consistent basis, which is why it's time for the Raptors to sever ties and move on.
Bargnani is a relic of a different time in Raptor-land, a time when offensive prowess was valued above all else, a time when the team was defined by a different cast of characters and a different guiding philosophy. For fans, he is a nightly reminder of what this team is supposed to be moving away from. The club wants to be seen as a gritty, defence-first outfit that wins with heart and hustle, and Bargnani is simply the antithesis to that style. He no longer belongs. Like so many Raptors before him, he has teased fans with what he could be and has refused to live up to that standard.
Perhaps more than anything, that is the reason the Raptors have to trade Bargnani. They can no longer shrug their shoulders at players that don't work to max-out their talent. That can no longer be a defining characteristic of the club. They cited DeMar DeRozan's work ethic as a big reason why they felt obligated to extend his contract. They cited Jonas Valanciunas' heart and hustle as big factors in not only drafting him fifth but being willing to wait a year for his arrival. They love the intensity of guys like Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson. Those guys represent what the club says it wants to be about, which by extension has to mean that Andrea Bargnani does not.
If this club is so eager to move into the next phase of their evolution, then they have to admit that those thirteen games didn't mean what they thought they did. They have to work to expunge from the roster the pieces that don't fit the personality that the team so desperately wants to adopt, and that that process has to start by - finally - moving Bargnani out of Toronto.