3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Hawks



25 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, four steals, four blocks, nine for 13 from the free-throw line and two 3-pointers.

Those are the numbers put up by one Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks last night against the Orlando Magic, a game the Hawks coincidentally won.

For fantasy basketball enthusiasts, Smith is a fantasy monster – a six category stat-stuffer whose value seems to only increase each year. There have been few in the history of the game in fact who have been blessed with his combination of skill and athletic ability.

But would you want Smith on your team if you were an NBA GM?

Earlier this year Smith made headlines as one of the local press overheard him shouting at team-mates as he wasn’t getting enough touches on offense. Considering Smith plays on a squad featuring a gaggle of swingmen like Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Josh Childress, this shouldn’t be too surprising as there is only so much basketball to go around. However this apparently wouldn’t be tolerated by Smith who lit into his club only to deny that it ever occurred later on.

And of course this isn’t the first incident involving the high-flyer and many wonder just when he’ll start to "grow up." While he never lived up to Jay Bilas’ draft night billing as his draft class’ "potential biggest bust," his attitude and maturity level have never caught up to his amazing skill repertoire. Yet his talent alone will surely fetch top dollar this off-season and other teams will undoubtedly come a calling.

Could the Raptors be one of them?

Yesterday in the wake of our talks about the point guard situation for the Raptors, I began scrolling through the league’s clubs looking at trade scenarios and folks right now it is sketchy. There are really only a handful of teams that are desperate for point guard help if you want to think about moving TJ or Jose.

I see the main candidates for help at the 1 as being:

-Miami
-Houston
-Cleveland
-Minnesota
...and our opponents tonight, the Atlanta Hawks


Other teams like Sacto, Denver and Washington appear to be making due, Rondo has been fine for Boston at present and who knows what the heck the Knicks are thinking. So there really aren’t a lot of options.

Then on top of that, as one of our readers mentioned, it's going to be really hard to land someone of similar value to Jose due to his low salary.

And if you go the TJ way, it gets even tougher as you'd think BC looking to deal him rather than Jose would be an admission that Toronto overpayed for Ford.

That might not bring teams running.

Atlanta and Toronto working together does make some sense however as Toronto has two solid true point guards and a lack of athletes and Atlanta has no true starting calibre point guards and lots of guys who have trampolines for legs. The Josh Smith for Jose ideas have been one of the most popular fan trade scenarios but I just can’t see the Hawks dealing Smith unless they were getting CB4 back. And furthermore, I’m not sure BC would want to take on such a wild card. Smith just doesn’t seem to fit the culture Colangelo has been building here in Toronto.

But just for fun, let’s say BC decided he wanted to take a chance on Smith and let’s say the Hawks decided they were only missing a starting quality point guard to take the next step. The team is after all playing .500 ball for the first time this late in the season since the ‘Nique era and is only a game behind Toronto. A straight up deal of Jose for Josh Smith would work under the NBA’s salary regulations. However I think Atlanta’s asking price would be a lot more so what about a deal involving TJ Ford and other instead?

A trade of Ford, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Kris Humphries for Smith, Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue and Shelden Williams would work under the cap.

At first glance that looks like a lot to give up for Smith but let’s look a little closer. Right now Toronto is going to have to clear more than just Darrick Martin and Juan Dixon (who come off the books next year) to make space to re-sign Delfino and Calderon. Therefore to keep both it’s essential that Toronto get some cap space in a deal like this and both Lue and Johnson are both in the final years of their contracts. Either could probably be kept for a minimum amount in a back-up role if so desired as well.

Smith replaces Moon as the starting three. Carlos Delfino would move to the 2 beside Smith. He’s proven to be just as good if not better a defender than Parker and while not as consistent a three-point threat, is a better rebounder. Shelden Williams would replace Hump off the bench and therefore the only issue would be clearing some money to re-sign Josh Smith.

But that’s where it gets really tricky. Smith is probably looking for a big deal, something that Toronto wouldn’t be able to take on next year without moving Rasho. Nesterovic has a player option next year and while we call BC the Legomaster, he’d have to be Houdini to get Rasho to give up the almost $8.5 million he can earn if he exercises his option. He’s not likely to get that dollar figure ever again at this point in his career so that means that unless the Atliens decide they want some Rasho or another team gets involved, this trade, even IF both teams decided to move their key pieces, is going to be very complicated financially in order to be a success.

And would Toronto want to let Rasho go? They’d really have to see a lot of improvement at the 5 from Bargs before they could entertain that option.

So for right now, I think we can close the lid on that scenario.

In fact it is way too early still to talk trades as we’re not even at the trimester mark of the season yet. If I were to look at trade ideas the ones that might be most plausible would be dealing Jose for a blue chip prospect like a Corey Brewer in Minny in a simple one for one. High draft picks from the past two years still have relatively low salaries that would match that of Jose’s and may have the upside BC would be willing to take a gamble on. In Brewer’s case he looks more like a Jamario Moon clone than anything else right now but has the potential to be a better offensive player and might end up being cheaper in the long run. (If Moon keeps starting and bringing those intangibles to the floor, he's going to command a lot more than Brewer's current $2.5 million salary.)

But before we get into too much trade discussion, let’s worry about the task at hand – beating the aforementioned Josh Smith and his Atlanta Hawks tonight before a tough game tomorrow night against Dallas. Here are our HQ "3 keys:"

1) Defence, defence, defence. We saw just how effective Toronto can be when it gets down and dirty on the defensive end. The commitment has to come from each and every player on the team and when they do that, they can be quite successful. Such was the case in the second half against Houston and hopefully we’ll see a repeat performance of this tonight. Most importantly, Toronto can’t let Atlanta get into the paint. This is the fifth worst scoring team in the league and worst three-point shooting club so Sam Mitchell’s game-plan should be to force outside jumpers. Hopefully Mitchell will use lots of zone looks tonight to prevent easy access to the hoop and force Atlanta to beat Toronto with the long-ball, something that’s obviously not their forte.

The Hawks as mentioned are packed with athletes who love to get out on the break too so I’m hoping for some nice transition defence from the Dinos this eve. If they can get this type of all-around defensive effort, it should be win number 12 for Toronto.

2) Get to the rim. Atlanta will be looking to do this too so the Raptors need to both prevent a parade by the Hawks to the free-throw line and get their themselves. We saw the difference with Chris Bosh leading the charge from the charity stripe last game and I’m hoping tonight is no different.

"Yes, drafted by Chicago!" "No - not the Hawks!"

This is a young Hawks team that plays on raw emotion at times and too many crams could raise their game to another level...one that Toronto will have a hard time keeping up with.

FRANCHISE

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