Wednesday, February 18, 2009

5 Steps For Success

Recently, I came across an article on in which two opposing journalists outlined the five moves they would make to turn their local teams into contenders, one rebuilding the Los Angeles Clippers, the other the Golden State Warriors. Both made as strong a case for change as Barrack Obama, and similar to the aftermath of listening to the President speak, I came away from their stories awe-inspired and ready to contribute to the Raptors society. So inspired in fact, that I devised my own way to change the culture of the Raptors using the same amount of steps and to those reading this, I invite you to do the same. Here now, I present MY 5 Steps to Raptors Success:

1.) Trade Anthony Parker and Joey Graham to Golden State for Monta Ellis. Maybe wishful thinking on my part, but I believe this trade benefits both teams. For Toronto the payoff is obvious. Ellis is exactly the kind of guy the team needs: he can pay defense, distribute the ball, is athletic with blazing speed, and most importantly can create his own shot. I challenge all of you right now, besides Chris Bosh, name somebody on the team that can create and get his shot whenever he wants? Anybody? I didn't think so. The Raptors have been lacking that since Vince and Tracy skipped town and haven't found a substitute yet. Given the minutes, Ellis can be a 20+ scorer in this league, and on top of that, he has the ability to play the one AND two-guard position. Having him instantly makes Toronto younger, more athletic and more talented.
For Golden State the deal has it's perks as well. Anthony Parker helps them out in two ways: providing instant leadership and production, plus a soon-to-be-expiring contract. Their team is young and doesn't have a lot of quality veterans to help the young guys get better. They also don't play defense. Parker does. He is getting up there in age, but when his contract expires the team can use the cap space. Same goes for Joey Graham. He is athletic and developing, something Don Nelson loves, and when he puts his mind to it, I believe he can be a top-notch defensive player in this league. Essentially the Warriors would be giving up a little bit of offense(something they have plenty of) for some consistent defense(something they have nothing of). The condition of Ellis's knee may also sway the Warriors to pull the trigger and sign off on this deal.

2.) Trade Will Solomon and Nathan Jawai to the Wizards for Javale McGee. This one may not have the star quality of the Ellis trade, but it is practical. With the trade for Marion and Banks, the Raptors now have a logjam at the point and Solomon is the odd man out. There simply aren't enough minutes to share between Calderon, Banks, Ukic and Solomon, not to mention Will hasn't been producing. Jawai is a project player and has played about as many minutes as I have for the Raptors all year. Washington has a need for a point guard and some big guys to retool their team. The core of Arenas, Jamison and Butler will not be together much longer and the Wizards will once again find themselves in rebuilding mode.
Javale McGee is also a project player but his upside is far greater than Jawai. He is a legit 7-footer, has some shooting range, can rebound and play defense. The problem with him currently is that he's frail, weighing slightly above two hundred pounds on a tall frame, and that is why he isn't getting any minutes with the Wizards. He is simply over matched physically and though athletic, is getting bullied and pushed around by stronger, more conditioned big men. If the Raptors training staff can get him to add some weight and muscle to his frame, they may have a diamond in the rough. If they can't, they only traded a pair of spare parts for him and the deal is a wash. Solomon and Jawai aren't seeing the court anyway.

3.) Trade Jason Kapono and Kris Humphries to the Jazz for Matt Harpring and Paul Millsap. This one again, is more practical than awe-inspiring and basically just fills a need for both teams. As good as Kapono is as a spot-up shooter, he is a gigantic defensive liability when he's on the floor and doesn't possess the ability to create his own shot. I am honestly, how many more times are NBA defenders going to fall for his head and shoulders fake? The guy is a pure shooter in every sense of the word and needs to have the table set for him or he can't eat, simple as that. Having him and Kyle Korver to kick to once teams double-down on Boozer can be a very appealing option. Humphries was traded for Rafael Araujo a few years back. I'm sure Utah would love to press the reset button on that deal.
For Toronto, this fills two needs for them as well. Paul Millsap is an All-Star waiting to happen and Utah can't afford to pay him All-Star money along with Carlos Boozer. One of them has to go, and in this scenario, it's Millsap. He provides depth in the front court, can play the four and the five, and more importantly, provides the Raptors with some insurance in case Chris Bosh gets dealt or decides to skip town. Granted Bosh is a much better player than Millsap currently, but the potential is there for him and he can be a solid contributor right away. Harpring provides some leadership and grit, as well as solid defensive play. The importance of his acquisition will become clearer later on.

4.) Hold your breath Raptors fans, here comes the big one: Trade Jose Calderon and Matt Harpring to Phoenix for Steve Nash. This deal speaks for itself. The Suns badly want to rebuild, get younger and dump salary. They accomplish all these things by swapping Nash for Calderon. Calderon has shown he can run an offense very well, is a great passer and a solid shooter. He also has six or seven years more service in him than Nash, who is in the twilight of his career. Remember when I said Harpring's importance would be become more clear later? Well here it is. His contract is perfect to match up with Calderon and equal Nash, plus he plays great defense, something Phoenix doesn't have. His deal is also set to expire soon, so if he doesn't it into the Suns plans, they would get some much needed cap space to get somebody else.
For Toronto, just the marketability of Nash alone is enough to make this deal. Having "Kid Canada" playing for the country's lone NBA team is a dream come true! Imagine the boost in ticket sales and jersey sales, endorsements and merchandise! True, Nash doesn't have that many years left in him, but his style of play and leadership are a perfect fit for this team, not to mention his past relationship with GM Brian Colangelo.

5.) In the upcoming NBA Draft, use the picks on PG Brandon Jennings in the first round, and Tyler Hansbrough in the second. Here's why: The Raptors want to run, that much is apparent. But in order to do that, you need to have the speed and players to do so. Anybody who has ever seen Jennings play high school and European ball know his speed is world class. The guy could be the fastest guy on the court at any time, and that includes if he was playing against Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and Devin Harris. He is that quick. A year in Europe and skipping college may have hurt him in the short-term, but in the long-term I think the sky is the limit in the NBA. Right now he is similar to a Micheal Conley type of player, but sitting behind Nash and learning from the one of the best to ever play the position could turn him from Conley to Derrick Rose. That makes him a very dangerous player to have, and a great guy to run the point in the Raptors new up-tempo game.
Tyler Hansbrough may slip to the second round of most mock drafts, and if he does Toronto should be more than happy to snatch him up. All his pundits out there that say his game doesn't translate to the pro level are in for a rude awakening. "Crazy T" may not ever evolve into a franchise player or perennial All-Star, but I would want him on my team any day. There is an old saying that my high school coach used to tell me, and in fact I still have it written down and folded up in my wallet, carrying it wherever I go. Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard. Hansbrough is the personification of this phrase. A lot of talented guys go through the NBA and many of them don't have the mind or the maturity to survive. They jump around from team to team and league to league, never understanding why they never lived up to the hype or why they fell short of expectations. Toronto will not have that problem with Tyler. This guy will out-work you, out-hustle you and out-think you, all areas where the Raptors would love an upgrade.

Just to recap, here is what the Toronto Raptors roster would look like after completing all of these moves: C: Andrea Bargnani
PF: Chris Bosh
SF: Shawn Marion
SG: Monta Ellis
PG: Steve Nash
Bench: Marcus Banks
Javale McGee
Paul Millsap
Roko Ukic
Jake Voskuhl
Brandon Jennings
Tyler Hansbrough

Banks and Voskuhl can then be dealt or released , but that would take me past my allotted 5 steps. Perhaps replacing them by calling up SF James White and G Joe Crawford from the D-League? This edition of the Raptors is a younger, faster, more exciting and cheaper team and I believe enough to challenge in the East and convince Bosh to stay past 2010.

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