Chris Bosh(notes) will miss at least a week after having surgery to repair his broken nose, and around the NBA everyone is asking the same question: With only four games remaining and his team tenuously clinging to the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff seed, has Bosh already played his final game for the Toronto Raptors?
Bosh will be a free agent this summer and given the Raptors' struggles this season, there's growing sentiment within the league that the All-Star forward is among the players most likely to switch teams. Toronto has one huge card it can play: Bosh can receive an extra year on his contract (worth some $28 million) if he re-signs with the Raptors. Even still, that could only spur him to be that much more aggressive about seeking a sign-and-trade deal elsewhere.
Publicly, Bosh has been noncommittal when discussing his future, saying only that he will assess his options at the end of the season. "I don't know how it's going to go," he said a month ago.
But has the future suddenly arrived for the Raptors? An inadvertent elbow from Cleveland Cavaliers forward Antawn Jamison(notes) to the right side of Bosh's face on Tuesday night has cast into doubt whether he will play again this season. And Bosh's teammates acknowledged they'll have to make their playoff push without him.
Hedo Turkoglu(notes) has been a disappointment since signing a $53 million contract last summer and Jose Calderon's(notes) production and minutes have decreased this season. Bosh's departure would give the Raptors some salary-cap room to sign another free agent – or bring back a package of players in a sign-and-trade deal – but the team's best chance to sustain any type of success may have to come from within. At 24, Bargnani is still young enough to reach some of the potential the Raptors saw when they made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2006 draft.
"Because of where we play, we don't get the attention of other teams and everything," Bosh recently said of Bargnani. "Nobody sees him. Nobody knows him."
Standing 7 feet with a feathery 3-point touch, Bargnani drew comparisons to Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki(notes). When the Raptors drafted him out of Italy, their hope was that Bargnani would form a nice complement to Bosh at the power forward and center positions.
In selecting Bargnani, the Raptors passed on Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) and now three-time All-Star guard Brandon Roy(notes). While Bargnani made the 2007 rookie team, he hasn't averaged more than 17 points or made an All-Star team. Bargnani's playing time increased over the past two seasons after the Raptors replaced Sam Mitchell with Jay Triano as coach and he has tried to expand his game.
"In my first year, I was just a jump shooter," Bargnani said recently. "I'm trying to get a little bit better in the low post because they started to put that small guy on me. So I have to do something different."
Bargnani has considerable work ahead of him if he ever has hopes of becoming a dependable go-to player. It will be something of an accomplishment if he can even help steady the Raptors during Bosh's absence long enough for the team to clinch a playoff spot.
Bargnani didn't get off to a great start when he made only eight of his 22 shots, including just one of his seven 3-point attempts, in Wednesday's loss to the Boston Celtics. When Bosh missed seven games last month, Bargnani averaged 15.2 points and just 4.8 rebounds during that stretch. Gone were the wide-open, 3-point looks he received while playing alongside Bosh.
"It's tough," Bargnani said. "It's difficult to score. It's the first time that they double-team me. I'm not used to it."
Triano also recently admitted Bargnani "hasn't really shown a lot" of leadership ability, and that's understandable. He's young and English isn't his first language.
"It will take some getting used to because he would be the primary scorer here," Bosh said recently. "Everybody goes through a rough period. I'm sure if it happened, he'd have a learning curve to go through. He'd get over it. He'd be fine."
Bargnani, like everyone else connected to the Raptors, obviously hopes Bosh stays.
"He's the one guy I feel great playing with," Bargnani said. "It would be sad if he leaves. I would be upset if he leaves. I play good with him."
And if Bosh does decide to leave? If he has already played his final game with the Raptors?
"If he goes," Bargnani said, "someone else will come."
Perhaps. But a lot more will also be expected of the guy the Raptors had hoped would give Bosh a reason to stay.