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  The Rabbit Dilemma


May 25, 2011, 12:45 PM

Read Bargnani's Official Statement

The basketball guy prefers ornate answers and gentle language. The hockey man speaks in six-word sentences and swears a lot.

Now that Bryan Colangelo has signed a multi-year-extension, he and Brian Burke have something in common past the letterhead on their cheques. Both will be charged with making a soufflé out of a donut.

It’s a simple truth that spans the sports: no centre, little chance of a playoff.

The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk reported that Andrea Bargnani told Italy’s Sky Sports that IF he were to leave Toronto he would want to go to a warm-weather city where he could shoot the ball more.

Bargnani has not asked for a trade but said he wasn’t happy with his role, which is to say, his position.

There is little news in this. Most people like warm weather and Bargnani’s desire to move to power forward is well-documented.

The Raptors and Leafs face the same dilemma. I tell my kids about it all the time. It’s called the Rabbit Dilemma.

Here’s how it goes. Look at a small animal. Then ask yourselves some questions: does it have a cute little nose, is it round, does it have big ears and whiskers? If all these things are true, buddy it’s a rabbit. You may want it to be a coyote or a ferret or a dog but calling it something else cannot transform a rabbit into something different.

Which brings us to Bargnani who is seven feet tall. I once asked Chris Bosh if Bargnani could pull down 10 boards a game. He looked at me like I had two heads. “He’s seven feet tall,” he said.

You can call Bargnani a centre all you like. He can give you pretty good on-the-ball defence and a few blocks but he views the backboard like it’s made of poison ivy. And while he has pledged to improve, Bargnani treats weak-side defence as if it were invented by the Athenians.

Bargnani is wholly comfortable working the top of both keys and finding spots to deploy his smooth stroke. He can put the ball on the floor. In other word, he is a forward in a centre’s body.

Raptors’ coach Jay Triano, of course, knows all this much better than I. He is also aware of the alternative, which is represented by the very green Solomon Alabi. That’s why he will continue to see Bargnani as a rabbit until further notice.

The Raptors will have a vexing decision to make at the NBA draft. They have an opening for an explosive point guard to pair with Jerryd Bayless and complement Jose Calderon’s deliberate style. If he is still available at number five, UConn guard Kemba Walker would be an excellent fit. Will the Raptors opt to address their pressing need for a centre with Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas or continue to hope Bargnani can evolve into what they need him to be?

The Rabbit Dilemma perfectly describes the Leafs who this season used Tyler Bozak at centre. Bozak scored 15 goals and acquitted himself well enough. His game ripened as the season went on thanks to better performances in the face-off-circle and on the penalty kill. Bozak will be a more productive player when put where he belongs, on the Leafs’ second or third line.

Mikael Grabovski thrived as the number two guy so the Leafs will leave him where he is. Tim Brent is great in the bottom of the deck, Nazem Kadri has been shifted to the wing and Joe Colborne probably needs more time in the minors.

The job of filling the hole at the top of the line-up could be solved by signing gifted free agent Brad Richards. Problem is Richards may sign with the reconstituted Dallas Stars when the club has processed its bankruptcy. The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, two attractive destinations who have less cap space than the Leafs, are said to be in the running as well.

If they can’t sign Richards, the conjecture starts with talk of trades for Jeff Carter, Mike Richards or Paul Stastny. But instead of losing cap space and no roster players, the Leafs would need to take on money and hand over material in a trade. The Leafs have two late first round draft choices. If no deal is consummated at the June 25 NHL draft, the dominoes should begin to fall with the July 1 free agent deadline.

Burke has spoken of the need for a “true number once centre.” With his most potent offensive player, Phil Kessel, in need of a playmaker he has stopped pretending that Bozak is a number once guy.

Rabbits are still in the picture. It falls to Burke or Colangelo to pull one out of a hat.




  A Longshot Pays Off

May 18, 2011, 3:53 PM

The Cleveland Cavaliers own the first and fourth choices in the NBA draft and their mascot is a 14-year-old kid with Clark Kent glasses and a disease named neurofibromatosis that unsparingly creates tumors all over his body.

The Raptors owners of a 15 per cent chance to jump from their pre-draft position of third to first, instead fell to fifth. That’s all we are going to say about that.

Nick’s father is Cavs owner Dan Gilbert who even in the incendiary atmosphere of LeBron James’ defection to Miami last summer showed an appalling lack of grace.

This time the chore fell to Minnesota GM David Kahn who stopped a hair short of accusing the NBA of rigging the event although the hope is retained here that he was kidding.

“This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines,” Kahn said. “Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed.”

It is true enough that the Cavs were ready for some good fortune. And making a kid who couldn’t keep his pants tucked in the face of the franchise was an audacious risk.

Three points.

First: If we know anything about anything, we know that rich successful people say and do as many unfathomable things as anyone else. See Trump, Donald, Schwarzenegger, Arnold, Gibson, Mel, Gaga, Lady.

This is a good thing. We are only as strong as our tolerance for ridiculous notions, conspiracy theories and wrongheaded opinions. The David Kahns, and the Dan Gilberts for that matter, deserve every precious liberty their podium affords them and to censor them, as Commissioner David Stern will soon do to Kahn, spoils all the fun. We don’t tell our grandparents to shut up when they talk crazy about minorities and lotteries and we shouldn’t do it to celebrities on our airwaves.

Second: Conspiracy theories, be they about 9/11 or the NBA lottery have one failing: THEY ARE CRAZY.

People who see goblins under their beds do not understand that the underpinnings they believe have been compromised, can’t be. You can’t have pro sports if you think the verdict is fixed. Remember, these scandals speak to a deep-seeded conspiracy that goes to the bone. So the NBA is willing to risk destruction of a multi-billion dollar industry because it feels benevolent towards Cleveland?

Finally, here is the real problem. A longshot paid off, a little kid who could have looked like a cute novelty instead enjoyed a moment that will define a life strewn with difficulty. A city that needed a break got one and our first instinct was to disbelieve.

What’s not to like perfectly summed up the optimism that has been eroded by the player collusion that leached hope from Cleveland and Toronto.

Those four words uttered by a joyful kid speak to something spontaneous, and true, a place where a longshot is a bounce away and a good day is a smaller tumor.

Are we so darkened by life that we can’t even conceive of a windfall for a beleaguered city and a sick boy in an ill-fitting suit?

And if we doubt this story, how many others do we doubt? Here’s another quote that speaks to the story as well as ‘what’s not to like.’

“And a little child shall lead them.”




  An Up And Down Day For Colangelo

May 17, 2011, 10:25 PM

What’s not to like?

Dropping to fifth in the NBA draft lottery. That’s what not to like.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, with 14-year-old Nick Gilbert acting as official mascot, won the lottery, Tuesday. On the day the Raptors announced GM/President Bryan Colangelo had signed a contract extension, the Raptors, third going into the event learned they must watch four teams draft ahead of them June 23.

Colangelo, a committed optimist was delighted with his new contract but disappointed with the drop in the draft order.

The night belonged to the Cavs who seem destined to draft dynamic point guard Kyrie Irving. Owner Dan Gilbert, who scorched the airwaves with a bitter rant when LeBron James left town, now has a feel-good talisman who has become an instant darling. The teen suffers from a neurological condition but his kiddie dress shirt and goofy glasses made him a poster boy for goofy optimism. When asked about representing the club, Gilbert responded “what’s not to like,” thereby creating an instant tagline and YouTube touchstone.

And while the Cavs are planning a rebirth, the other team that lost a premier player to the Heat must get by in a draft whose quality diminishes quickly after Irving.

Still, the Raptors have enjoyed satisfying results with picks that were further down the line. Coaches are delighted with the play of Ed Davis, drafted 13th in 2010 and DeMar DeRozan drafted ninth the year before.

“We obviously knew there was a chance we would move from number three back to six,” Colangelo said. “The top two (Irving and Derrick Williams) being fairly definitive, number three or four or five, I’m not sure there’s a lot of difference there.”

“If there was a year to drop down to fifth, this was probably it,” he said.

With Andrea Bargnani’s status at centre increasingly untenable, the club’s most pressing need, Colangelo said, isn’t necessarily an explosive point guard.

“The biggest weakness might be at the five position and I’m not sure we are going to get a quick fix there,” he said.

Colangelo said he looked forward to being able to move forward and begin evaluating the organization from coach Jay Triano on out. Colangelo heads out Wednesday morning for the first NBA combine workouts.

“I’m really happy for a lot of people who were affected by the uncertainty,” he said. “Now that there is resolution, we can get on to basketball matters.

“I am fortunate to say I am happy to be back, committed to this organization and this city and I am very proud to call Toronto home.”

As for young Nick Gilbert.

“I am very happy for the young man,” Colangelo said. “He is obviously a special young man and for him to have the kind of experience he had tonight was great.”




  Raptors, Colangelo Agree To A Multi-Year Extension

May 17, 2011, 2:55 PM

The Toronto Raptors are staying the course with GM and President Bryan Colangelo.

The team announced today that Colangelo, who came to the club from the Phoenix Suns in February of 2006, has agreed to a multi-year extension.

Colangelo is in New York to participate in the NBA draft lottery and was unavailable for comment until after the event.

In his first full season, Colangelo refashioned the team with nine new players. The Raptors boosted their win total by 20 and won an Atlantic Division championship and the franchise was infused with the prestige of one of the sports industry’s foremost families.

Playoff runs in his first two seasons remain the high-water mark of Colangelo’s tenure but misfortune found the team when pillar forward Jorge Garbajosa suffered a catastrophic leg injury. Last summer, all-time scoring leader Chris Bosh left to become a third wheel with the Miami Heat.

Colangelo has drafted well, landing DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis as well as leading scorer Andrea Bargnani.

A host of bigger-name players, Shawn Marion, Jermaine O’Neal and Jason Kapono passed through town but Colangelo and his hand-picked coach, Jay Triano, have been unable to return a winner. The Raptors went 20-62 this season and own a 15 per cent chance of landing the first overall choice.

“I am pleased to inform you that Bryan will be staying on as Raptor President.,” CEO Richard Peddie said. “Bryan and the board worked closely to help create a winning plan for the Raptors and today the board gave Bryan their 100 per cent support to continue the rebuilding job he started this year.

“I can tell you that it was a very healthy process that definitely has everyone understanding what it will take to create a winning basketball team.”





  Thoughts On The NBA Draft


May 13, 2011, 4:25 PM

At 3M they call it the 15 per cent solution and it is responsible for such life-changing products as quick seal-glues and Post It notes.

The 15 per cent solution is simple enough: devote 15 per cent of your day to thinking about things that don't necessarily apply to your job. The results can be magical.

Art Fry was a Midwesterner working for 3M who liked to sing in the church choir but he ran into a consistent irritant. The scattered pieces of paper he used to index the hymns kept flying out. He took in an in-house seminar about a new glue another employee had developed and soon after Post It notes began informing, guiding and irritating people.

Decision makers from the Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, are mulling over the 15 per cent solution with all the concentration of a cipher deciphering a wartime code.

What to do? At this telling, the Raptors own the third pick in Tuesday's draft lottery. They have a 15.6 per cent chance of jumping up to first or to second. They have the same chance of falling two notches to third but an elevated chance (22.6 chance) of finishing fourth. The percentage of dropping two spots to fifth sits at 26 per cent. There is a .040 per cent chance of dropping to sixth.

Here is where the Post It note inspiration has to come through.

The ping pong balls tell you who you can draft, not who you should.

The Raptors have assembled a young athletic core thanks to DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis and those two would be nicely complemented with a similarly talented and frenetic point guard. That guy is Kyrie Irving, a gifted point guard from Duke who was limited to just eight games because of a toe injury.

Talented Arizona small or power forward Derrick Williams offers an overwhelming package of offensive skills. Assuming the order of picks remains intact (a sketchy proposition), the Minnesota Timberwolves would have their pick between Williams and Irving. Cleveland has the second pick, and would take Williams or Irving.

That leaves the Raptors who, if you go by the online projections are interested in Enes Kanter, a power forward/centre who at 6-11 brings size, an excellent motor and impeccable rebounding skills. Kanter's presence might allow the Raptors to satisfy Andrea Bargnani's long held desire to move to power forward and perhaps compensate for Bargnani's well-known rebounding deficiencies.

It's a nice theory but wouldn't you know it, there are some hitches.

That the Raptors drafted Andrea Bargnani isn't a compelling reason for them to select Kanter who grew up in Turkey. The players are profoundly different but after years of watching Bargnani struggling on defence and eschew any rebounding duties, the guess here is that Colangelo would like something a little different, thanks.

Plus the Raptors also have a profound need to keep up with a league that has been importing spectacularly athletic point guards wholesale. While their rebounding numbers (19th from the top) aren't inspiring, peerless rebounder Reggie Evans has indicated a desire to re-sign here. Meanwhile, Davis matured beautifully in his first year so a presence in the post isn't the team's primary need.

IF they can't get Irving, the Raptors might deal down, perhaps to fifth where they could land Brandon Knight a heady six-three combo guard.

So many scenarios, so many decisions and evaluations. The devil is in the details but the genius lives in the vision that comes from a combination of science and hymnbooks.