There’s a long list of free agents who are coming on the market prior to the ’12-‘13 NBA season. Whether any of them might be useful Raptors is a question we’re going to address.
First, let’s talk philosophy. If you are Bryan Colangelo, the way you view free agents is the polar opposite of Pat Riley of the HEAT. Riley was able to retool at warp speed because Dwayne Wade was palsy-walsy with Bosh & LeBron, and persuaded those two to decamp from Toronto and Cleveland, respectively, to form the Big Three in sunny Florida. Toronto is still considered by many American NBA players as a great party town, but not a place to build a career. There’s a witch’s brew of apprehension about playing ball here: “Taxes are too high” “the team is fated to be bad forever” “it’s too cold” “it’s a foreign country” and my favourite, “the market’s too small”. Colangelo made a smart decision a few years ago, for which he hasn’t received enough credit. His rebuild has been contrarian; he has ignored most of the anti-Toronto noise by rolling out the welcome mat to European players, and drafting well. Consequently, he can select a free agent as a capstone, not a foundation piece.
OK, let’s get specific. Where do the Raps need help most? A 23-43 team might appear to have holes everywhere, but I don’t think that’s so. Assuming Jonas V signs, we shouldn’t have much problem putting a respectable front line on the floor. I’m not doing a depth chart today (that will have to wait until after the draft – too many variables at the moment), but our bigs rotation will be Jonas, Bargnani, Amir Johnson, and Ed Davis. These guys are young, and capable of significant growth.
Let’s examine the backcourt. Calderon is our starting Point, and DeRozan is the 2-guard. Behind them we have Jerryd Bayless, a combo guard whom I’d like to see more of, Gary Forbes, who looked OK some nights and invisible others, plus stopgaps like Ben Uzoh and Alan Anderson. I’d guess we’re more likely to draft a guard or two than any other spot, so I’m not sure if we need another one from free agency (unless his name is Leandro Barbosa).
We’re left with the small forward position. The incumbent is James Johnson, a guy I like but not enough to pencil in as the opening-game starter. I’m not a Linus Kleiza fan; he’s had lots of chances but can’t stay healthy, and doesn’t do anything particularly well when he is. Whether we draft a 3 is impossible to know, but even if we did, asking a rookie to start can be big trouble. So a small forward has to be on the free agent radar.
Who’s available to play small forward for us? The FA list isn’t terribly inspiring – Trey Tompkins? Matt Barnes? Jamario Moon? I’m not suffused with a warm, confident glow yet, are you? There’s one name worthy of attention, and that’s Gerald (Crash) Wallace, a hard-nosed and effective veteran. He scores, he rebounds, and he hustles like he’s being chased by Old Nick. Crash has a player option with the relocated Nets at $9.5 million, and to top that salary would probably do some damage to Colangelo’s much vaunted fiscal flexibility. The counter argument is simple: why did you create a war chest, i.e., cap space, if you weren’t planning to use it? Gerald Wallace is a PRO; he would be the clubhouse leader the Raptors haven’t had since…Charles Oakley? Wallace will be 30 when the season opens, so he’s got lots left in the tank. He’s never played for a winner, and one assumes he’d like to. That’s not going to happen in Brooklyn any time soon, but it could with the Raps. Make it happen, BC.