Expected by many (including us) to take a step forward in coach Dwane Casey's second year at the helm, the Toronto Raptors have instead leapt backward this season, dropping nine of their last 10 games and sporting the league's second-worst record at 4-19. With the exception of some determined work by third-year reserve forward Ed Davis, their most notable recent in-game happenings have involved a thrown mouthpiece and a referee's commitment to foul-line defense. Despite Casey's commitment to a rise-and-grind solution search, things aren't going so well at the Air Canada Centre right now.
Perhaps nobody knows that better than Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors' much-maligned power forward. After starting the season with one of the worst stretches of play in his seven-year NBA career, the 27-year-old Italian took an awkward fall after attempting a dunk during the Raptors' Monday night loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, suffering a torn ligament in his right elbow and a strained right wrist that the Raptors say will sideline him indefinitely; citing a medical source, The National Post's Eric Koreen reported that Bargnani's absence could last as long as two months.
It's just the latest frustrating development in an incredibly frustrating season for Bargnani, who recently aired some of those frustrations, according to a translation of an interview with Davide Chinellato of the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport:
You got hurt at a bad time, both for the team and personally. What's going on?
Nothing has worked from the beginning of the season. We are pretty much the worst team in the NBA. This summer's moves in the [trade and free-agent] market were made to build a winning team, but we are not winning. We are below all of the expectations. No one is used to playing with anyone. We have won four games: it's a tragic thing. Whatever way you look at it, it is a desperate situation. Since four years ago, we have kept losing. To improve, the only thing we can do is to win, and for now, we have not.
What determines how you evaluate your performance?
It goes hand in hand with that of the team. There are many ups and downs, even if I was averaging 17 to 18 points per game. But I don't care about my individual performance in a situation like this. I could get 50 points and the frustration would be identical. If you're on a team that loses in this way, what you are doing matters only relatively.
Do you feel you are the scapegoat for the situation in Toronto?
This is not the first time I've been criticized [...] it does not affect me even remotely.
Bargnani also offered his thoughts on the myriad trade rumors that surrounded him before his injury — "I am ready for any eventuality. But I have no say in the matter: it is not like I could call one team rather than another, or tell my agent where I want to go" — and his impressions of the system run by Mike D'Antoni, former Italian league star and coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most popular rumored Bargnani destinations ("I've never played in it, so I do not know what to think. Surely right now, it is not working very well").
The frank comments to the Italian publication might seem jarring — it's kind of weird to hear a player plainly and publicly acknowledge that his team really stinks — but it's also not exactly revelatory information. Toronto ranks 24th in the league in points scored per 100 possessions and 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and rank among the six worst teams in the league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounding percentage, second-chance points allowed, fast-break points scored and allowed, and points in the paint scored and allowed. If they're definitively the worst team in the league because the Washington Wizards have a worse winning percentage, then they're certainly in the conversation.
And while there are plenty of reasons for this — early-season injuries to a red-hot Kyle Lowry (now on the shelf again with a partially torn triceps muscle) and wings Landry Fields and Alan Anderson left the Raps short-handed and forced Casey to scramble to try to find lineups that work (no single five-man Toronto unit has played more than 68 minutes together) — a pretty big one is that Bargnani has, well, sucked.
Drafted with the first overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft on some Myth of the Next Dirk Nowitzki stuff and expected to pair with Chris Bosh in a potent, high-scoring frontcourt combo that could lead Toronto to the top of the Eastern Conference, Bargnani has famously fizzled over the years, with his struggles reaching unavoidable-problem status this year. He's taking 4.5 3-pointers per game despite missing more than two-thirds of his tries. He's rebounding at a career-worst (and, frankly, pretty embarrassing) rate. His inability to be a consistent focal point on offense or anything better than awful on defense, all while making more than $10 million per year, has rendered the team largely unable to build something solid for the future; how could it, when the supposed foundation turns out to be composed of ever-shifting sand?
Raptors fans who have spent seven years waiting for those flashes of offensive brilliance to string together into consistent dominance have stopped holding their breath; at this point, they're ready to move on, as many smart people have suggested the team do. Comments like these make it sound like Bargnani's ready to move on, too; unfortunately, even if another team convinced it can tap the wellspring of talent still remaining in the 27-year-old forward was interested in making a deal, the recent elbow injury likely put any trade chatter on ice for the time being. So for now, the Raptors, their coaches, their front office and fans can only wait for Andrea Bargnani. At least they've had plenty of practice.
Hat-tip to Sportando.net.