Andrea Bargnani, earlier this month (Getty Images)
It’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen Andrea Bargnani’s last game in a Toronto Raptors uniform, which is kind of weird considering that we’re talking about a 27-year old about to enter his ostensible prime that was also selected as the top overall pick in the NBA draft seven years ago. Bargnani, who the Toronto Raptors announced on Wednesday will miss the rest of the season with a right elbow injury not related to the one that kept him out of most of the middle part of the 2012-13 season, is a prime candidate to be waived under the NBA’s amnesty provision.
The lanky scorer is due over $22 million over the next two seasons, and though the Raptors aren’t in danger of hitting the luxury tax with Bargnani on board next year all signs seem to be pointing to the team waiving their hoped-for star and moving on after a disappointing season. Signs that would be able to be signed off upon if GM Bryan Colangelo weren’t still in charge of the team, we should submit, because Bryan has been reluctant in the past to admit personnel mistakes and cut the cord.
Like, that one time when he signed Andrea Bargnani to a five-year, $50 million contract extension after three underwhelming years as a pro. A bad move that almost felt like Colangelo was attempting to talk himself into Bargnani’s stardom, using his bosses’ chequebook. The Raps have been paying for it, literally and figuratively, ever since.
The contract isn’t Bargnani’s fault, it was Colangelo that overvalued him in 2009 and paid him like a star, but a good portion of his tailing off as a player is. Touted as a lights out shooter upon hitting the NBA in 2006, Bargs has only hit for above 40 percent from long range once in his seven-year career, overall hitting for the NBA’s average mark from behind the three-point line. This would be fine if Andrea was absolute money from mid range, or got to the line often, or could score in the post in a pinch (like Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, whom Bargs was unfairly compared to all those years ago), but he does none of those things with regularity.
Bargnani is a terrible defender in all regards, which actually could be overcome if he weren’t a historically-bad rebounder from both forward positions. Slow-afoot players like Nowitzki and Carlos Boozer have always managed make up for defensive shortcomings by at least following the ball as it bounced off the rim, but Andrea never had that eye for things. And rebounding, weirdly, truly is the one NBA thing that just cannot be taught – you either have that knack right away, or not at all.
This is why it would make sense for 29 other NBA teams to cut ties this summer, but summertime always tends to turn NBA GMs into glass half-full types. And given Colangelo’s history, couldn’t you see the Toronto GM talking himself into two more years of attempting to reshape Andrea, at below luxury tax prices?
If he stuck, it would be a sharp turnaround for Bargs just to get back to middling. Andrea had a nice 2011-12 before hitting the shelf with an injury, he got to the line more often and worked better as a defender under first-year Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Things fell apart badly this season, though, with Bargs shooting 40 percent from the floor, 31 percent from three-point range, and contributing a criminally-low 4.6 rebounds per 36 minutes of play.
And now he’s coming off of two injuries to his shooting elbow? The thing that vaults the one thing he purportedly does well?
It’s worth hoping that Bargnani does well to turn things around. As hinted at above, he’s not set to turn 28 until right before next season starts, and a change of scenery can go a long way toward improving without the catcalls of frustrated Raptor fans distracting him 41 times a year. The Raptors just committed around an average of $28 million a year to two other low efficiency wing scorers in Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, and with a big chunk of salary cap space due after Bargnani’s waiving, it seems like the obvious thing to do.
Then you realize that Bryan Colangelo has to be the one to fax the papers to the league office. Stay tuned.
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