Bargnani Era Is Over: Raptors Trade Former Top Pick to Knicks

Harry How

It took probably three years longer than it should have, but the Andrea Bargnani era is finally over in Toronto, and it feels like Christmas for the HQ's Adam Francis.

I'm not going to lie.

I woke up this morning feeling a bit like it was Christmas and I was eight years old.

Almost exactly seven years after he was drafted first overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, Andrea Bargnani is a Raptor no-more, a trade to the New York Knicks sounding like a done deal late last night.

It's almost irrelevant that the Dinos actually got a return for Bargs.

He had become the bane of most Raptors' fans' existence as a consistently underachieving, oft-injured and relatively (or some would argue, completely) unproductive option for the team. Even his biggest supporter, former Raptors' General Manager Bryan Colangelo, the one yes, who drafted Bargnani back in 2006, had seemingly agreed to move the beleaguered big man.

And with Colangelo now well out of the control chair as head of the Raptors, well, let's just say his successor didn't waste any time in moving the one known at times as "Il Mago."

No, it didn't have to be this way. As Sportsnet's Michael Grange noted this AM, Bargnani could have given the Raptors' a superstar presence. Blessed with a unique offensive skill set for his size, the hope when he was drafted was that Bargnani would be a "Dirk 2.0" so to speak; a more athletic version of the Mavericks' franchise player, able punish defenders on the low blocks, or blow past them on the perimeter.

And that was when he wasn't raining long-range bombs obviously.

He appeared to be truly that mythological beast known as the "Stretch 4" that was becoming more and more popular as the NBA's last decade drew to a close, and Colangelo and co. saw enough of it in flashes to award Bargnani a five-year, $50M extension after his third season.

If you could go back in time to the inking of that contract, you probably heard the death toll for the franchise sound at about the same time.

While the loss of Chris Bosh a couple seasons later had the bigger impact immediately, the decision to retain Bargnani I'd argue did far more damage. He was the ultimate millstone, the anvil that kept landing on Wile E Coyote so to speak. Maybe the team never built around Bargnani the way they tried to build around Bosh, but by keeping Bargs as a key piece season after season, the same weaknesses pushed up to the surface season after season.

Horrid defence, non-existent rebounding. These were calling cards for the Dinos during Bargnani's reign and it's no surprise considering stats like the following regarding Bargs abound:

-Since the 1979-80 season, Bargnani has the fourth-worst career rebounding-rate of any 7-footer.

-Bargnani has posted some of the worst advanced stats like "Wins Produced" in NBA history.

-The website Hickory High, has an annual award named after him, given out to the league's most unproductive player that season.

However the team continued to believe in him during that time, publicly, if not privately, and every attempt was made to try and draw that Dirk 2.0 out. The club even went so far as to hire his preferred trainer from his home-country!

Instead of a new-age Dirk, Raptors' fans got 13 games of tease, and increasingly poor shooting percentages.

Oh, and some great Canadian pop-cultural footnotes:


I joked last night on Twitter that the NBA should just send the Executive of the Year award to Masai Ujiri now.

At one point it looked like trading Bargnani, who somehow continued to torpedo what little trade value he had with each passing season, would be nearly impossible to trade, and likely not without Toronto taking back some prickly financial obligations from another club in return.

Luckily the New York Knicks are in the NBA, and the man now at the helm of the Dinos, not only grabbed a useful piece from the 'Bockers in return for Bargs, but somehow managed to squeez what appears to be a plethora of future draft picks from their Gotham clutches as well!

Most reports on this trade have the Raptors receiving Steve Novak (ironically a near carbon-copy of Bargnani in terms of attributes, albeit minus any sort of ridiculous All-Star expectations), Marcus Camby (yes, that Camby!) and not one, not two, but three future draft picks. Toronto receives second-round picks from New York in 2014 and 2017, and gasp, a first-round pick in 2016!

Considering the Knicks' "win-now" mentality, and the age of many of their pieces, that 2016 pick could actually end up being a fairly high draft pick, a nice boost for a club that may sorely need future assets as it potentially begins to tear down the house that Colangelo built.

Said house was unfortunately never built on a solid, or even flat foundation, and Bargnani was the misshaped cornerstone that never seemed to be able to make the individual bricks around him stronger.

In fact, I can't think of a former top pick in recent history in any sport, that was held onto as long as Bargnani was in hopes that he'd achieve the potential many envisioned when he was drafted. Alexandre Daigle in the NHL only lasted four season with the Ottawa Senators. Tim Couch, five with the Cleveland Browns in the NFL.

Other top NBA picks who didn't figure it out, names like Kwame Brown and Joe Smith, they were dealt before their fourth seasons.

So after seven, the Andrea Bargnani era is finally over in Toronto.

How he'll fare in NYC is anyone's guess, but based on his past, it's hard to imagine Bargnani suddenly breaking out under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Likely, he'll continue to be the player he's always been, an uber-talented seven-footer who plays like he's a good foot shorter in size, teasing the Knicks with the odd efficient 30 point/12 rebound outing, followed up of course by a string of 13 point performances starring sub-40 per cent shooting and four to five rebounds. (Last year Bargnani shot a shade below 40 per cent on the season. But he can stretch opposing defences!)

And even if he does excel for some reason in the isolation and Carmelo Anthony-heavy Knicks' offence, I don't think Raptors' fans will care.

Much like the trading of draft bust Rafael Araujo, dealt ironically by the same man who drafted Bargnani, a change was sorely needed. Bargnani had become the living manifestation of everything wrong with this franchise, and it was very clear that for said franchise to move forward, the top pick in the 2006 draft had to go.

The bonus is that not only is he headed to another club, but the Toronto Raptors are actually getting useful pieces in return. As the Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly noted this AM, Masai Ujiri may have been wearing a ski mask when he made this deal.

It may not become official until July 10 when the NBA's moratorium is lifted, but this is indeed a steal in nearly every sense of the word.

Dear NBA, the Executive of the Year trophy is taking up a permanent residency on the mantle of Mr. Masai Ujiri.

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