June 30, 2008
Last week, two of Toronto's best sports scribes - the Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk and the Globe and Mail's Michael Grange - both busted out with a bit of a rip job on Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo. I'm not exactly sure why.
Both were tactfully prepared, there appears to be no pretense or agenda and neither writing was reaching much. Both columns made sound points and didn't have to rely on duplicity or specious arguments to get to said points. Neither relied on any sort of Nipsey Russell-esque rhyme scheme. Neither used the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid." Both are telling us that the luster has rubbed off of Colangelo, as he enters his third season as Toronto GM.
And I don't get it. I don't get the analysis, to start, but I also don't know why or when this sort of cloud settled over the Toronto area proper. Some sort of gas or mist, obviously invisible and otherwise imperceptible, seems to have descended over the town, taking away the Michael Grange and Dave Feschuk that I once knew.
(Or, they could have a sound opinion that I just happen to disagree with. I do much prefer the nefarious mist idea, though.)
Both Grange and Feschuk seem a bit dubious about the impending deal that will send T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, and the 17th pick in last week's Draft (the Raptors selected Georgetown's Roy Hibbert) to the Indiana Pacers for former All-Star Jermaine O'Neal.
The two mention the fact that O'Neal can barely load his pipe at night without spraining his knee, that he's owed oodles of cash over the next two seasons, that the move further highlights the fact that selecting Andrea Bargnani first overall in the 2006 Draft may have been a massive reach, and that Colangelo doesn't seem to be the future star we once pegged him to be.
And, to me, it just seems like a needless bit of hand-wringing, when the time could be spent putting public pressure on Sam Mitchell to use his new big man the right way. And Bargs seems so pointless to bring up at this point that any unexpected bit of contribution would seem like tasty, tasty gravy. I've moved on.
I mean, I wrote a bit last week on Toronto's chances and why the team would work well even with O'Neal playing just 60 games out of 82, and in the excitement, never even thought to mention Andrea Bargnani. Not because I was trying to cover up a Colangelo mistake, mind you, but because the rotation in place can do wonders in the Eastern Conference even without Bargs playing a major role.
Would it be nice or proper and reasonable to expect 2006's number one overall pick not to act the part of a Brian Cook clone? Of course. Did Colangelo drop the ball on this? Sure, Bargs hasn't shown much at all outside of his many gifts. That said, it's akin to ripping on Joe Dumars in the midst of a piece detailing his acquisition of Rasheed Wallace back in February of 2004.
Should Dumars have taken Darko Milicic? Hells no. A regrettable choice? You bet! Does it do much to dissuade us from thinking that the team in question has a future worth cooing over? Not at all. Do it look like I enjoy setting up my own questions and answering them in the sentence following? You got me.
Plug Bargs in as the taller Brian Cook. Take in this rotation. Understand that O'Neal will miss a series of games and be a bit gimpy for others. Bemoan the lack of a backup point guard. Really bemoan the fact that the backup might end up being Chris Duhon. Wonder aloud as to just how Sam Mitchell pulled in that 2007 Coach of the Year award. Take another antihistamine; because, boy, are you sneezy today. Throw all the negatives into that Raptor stew. You'll still come out with this:
This team, as presently constructed and with all the qualifiers accounted for, can top 50 wins. At least.
There was a reason those Indiana Pacer teams were so consistently overrated, and it had to do with O'Neal being able to cover for a week's worth of defensive miscues in a quarter's time, while stacking win upon win even while others - present company included - gave credit to others when they hardly deserved it. Those Pacer teams really won way more games than they should have, and O'Neal was the biggest reason why.
And, at the same time, O'Neal somehow became overrated in quarters. The same thing happened to Jason Kidd a while back, scribes would overrate the guy's offensive influence while ignoring the biggest reason behind all the games Kidd won for the Nets: DE-FENSE.
O'Neal was constantly mentioned as the sort of "low-post scorer" that turned teams around, SI's Ian Thomsen even went as far as to put together an expected deal that would provide Chicago with their missing low-post piece, sending O'Neal (already decked out in a Bulls uni in the pages of SI) to Chicago for Kirk Hinrich and a high draft pick.
What they overlooked, of course, is the fact that O'Neal isn't all that great (or good, even) in the low post. Yes, he's tall, and yes he scores a bit, but if these guys (not Thomsen, I should mention) deigned to watch more than the national TV games and not drooled over the scoring average that resulted, they would see that O'Neal much prefers the face-up and/or perimeter game, that his shooting percentage (45.9 percent, career) hardly befits a low-post scorer, and that his real contribution was moving his feet, cutting off penetration, blocking shots, defending the low post, and pulling in rebounds.
That said, most NBA observers sort of caught up to where they should have been years ago in 2007-08, seeing O'Neal for what he is, and just in time to underrate the guy.
Remember, O'Neal doesn't have to be forced into the low block. He doesn't need shots. Good coaching can make sure Jermaine doesn't shoot too much, or isn't asked to do things he shouldn't. Yes, Sam Mitchell was prattling on about Chris Bosh and JON averaging a combined 40 points and 20 rebounds, but it's also late June, and things tend to get out of hand at this point in the summer. Even O'Neal, blessed with a sound offensive outfit for once, will know that he probably needs to keep his shot attempts in the low double-digits.
Should Mitchell force-feed the guy, then it might be enough for Colangelo to finally convince his bosses to eat the remainder of SMitch's contract and move on to a coach who knows what he's on about. And even before that, any bit of inefficient offense will be more than made up for by O'Neal's defensive strengths. The guy is that good, even without leaving the floor.
And, really, what did the Raptors give up? Sure, they're taking on a big salary, but they sent just as much salary off the team to get O'Neal as they brought in, and it's a move that will end up saving cash should O'Neal go elsewhere when his contract is up. The team dumped a point guard that it didn't need while sending out a solid center for a massive upgrade.
Eliminated the superfluous while turning a trade-in into something special, all for the price of having to go out and find a backup point guard later this summer. I'm having a hard time finding fault in that, even if O'Neal misses 25 games.
While we're at it, these weren't really rip-jobs. They were solid pieces that didn't say anything that wasn't true, or that shouldn't be considered. I fully concede that the gaseous cloud may never have existed.
That said, we're awfully close to underrating O'Neal nearly as much as we overrated him in years past, and that's just as criminal. I'm not saying Feschuk and Grange are leading the charge, far from it, but I am saying that I've seen this stuff before, and there's no reason why we should be able to find a nice middle ground.