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Jump Ball: The Free-Agency Debate

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Last night's Vegas summer league action saw the Raptors suffer a 111-62 loss to the Boston Celtics who apparently outplayed Toronto in every possible way. Joey Graham led the Raps again with 20 points but was only five for 13 from the field. Most of his points were the result of free throw shooting which saw him go 10 for 12. Kris Humpheries chippped in 12 points and Andrea Bargnani had 10 however without his free throw shooting (he went six for seven) it would really have been ugly for Il Mago who only made two of seven shots from the field. In fact the entire Raptors squad shot only 30.5 per cent and failed to hit a single three point shot. The Raptors also turned the ball over a ridiculous 21 times and were badly outrebounded. Gerald Green led the Celtics with 23 points.

Of interest to teams and their fans, the NBA announced this year's salary cap yesterday setting it at $53.1 million. This would give the Raptors a bit less than $14 million to play with in effort to sign free agents. The two main players reported to be putting pen to paper today are of course Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker, both of whom have enjoyed great success playing in Europe.

The other player it appears the Raptors are targeting is 76er guard John Salmons. As we've discussed here in the days leading up to free agency, Salmons would be a seemingly perfect fit for the Raps due to his ability to play numerous positions thus providing support and depth to a young and inexperienced Raptor squad. Salmons is no "cagey veteran" himself but has been unable to really show what he can do as he's played mostly behind Allen Iverson his whole career to date. Unfortunately it seems that Colangelo's former squad, Phoenix, is making a slightly stronger push for the guard's services.

One player Toronto is certainly not retaining - Mike James. This was somewhat expected however with Colangelo's arrival and James will now sign a four-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for around $25 million. James was obviously not impressed with Toronto's offer and feels that he can help Kevin Garnett get back to the playoffs in the Western Conference.

So how do we feel about all this activity? Read on as Howland and I have "slightly" differing opinions on Colangelo's moves so far this off-season...

Jump Ball

Howland: Since BC has taken over this franchise, the hopes have been high and I have been very pleased with some of the moves he's made (Hoffa and Rasho deals.) However, I am turning sour pretty quick these days and at the core of my displeasure is the free-agency period. More specifically I have two pretty big beefs as of late. The first is the use of cap space (in terms of the signing of Parker and Garba) while the second is the Mike James fiasco. I am just not a big supporter of how BC has decided to use the financial flexibility at his disposal. Ever since the Jalen deal, there has been so much discussion on having cap space and how this team could really make a play for a significant player. Of course Bosh's extension will be large (will he go the way of Lebron now though??) and TJ Ford HAS to be re-signed considering what was given up to acquire him, but now the money is being spent on guys like Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker. These guys are simply not NBA tried, tested and true. My beef is not with the individual players per se but the risks associated with each based on their lack of NBA experience. As a result, the risks in signing these guys, and to substantial deals at that, is high. I understand that this is the cost of having someone who thinks outside the box and is aggresive but my original enthusiasm when Colangelo signed on is being tempered as of late. Maybe this is just the natural result of perhaps being more adverse to risk than the man in charge.

Therefore my main concerns to date are as follows:

Garbajosa - If the contract is as rumoured and we are paying in the range of $10-12 million over three years or so, this is a substantial investment on someone who has never played a minute in the NBA and seems to be an undersized forward with mediocre rebounding skills and athleticism. Many of our Spanish readers have been singing his praises, but I'll say it again - he has never played one minute in the NBA. Until he shows that his game transfers to the league, I am hesitant to applaud such a signing. Especially if he is essentially a better version of Matt Bonner because he's going to be paid substantially more.

Anthony Parker - Although one of the better players in Europe, in his first NBA stint he did not exactly excel. Obviously his game will have improved since then but again, he is being paid almost as much as Mo Pete! There are other NBA players that I would much rather see on this team. Why the constant focus on players abroad? In many cases there is a reason why these players are not earning NBA paycheques! I am concerned that BC may have a bit of a Napoleon complex. It's forseeable that during his raiding of Europe he may suddenly realize all of these signings have amounted to his version of the Battle of Waterloo. What is somewhat interesting however, is that the players in Europe whose rights the Raps currently own (Slokar and Ukic), are perhaps surprisingly not even on the summer league squad.

To me there are a lot of mixed signals being sent by BC's regime and I am really unsure as to what the "plan" is. Sure it's to be aggresive but to what end?

Franchise: Woah long had you been holding all THAT in? This is supposed to be a jump ball - you know, where they throw the ball up slightly before it comes down, not a moon launch! In any event, I don't share your opinion. You like Jessica Simpson, I like Anna Beatriz Barros. You listen to BEP, I'm more of an Ivy fan. And in this case, you hate the moves, while I'm looking at them with tempered enthusiasm. I still think that based on Colangelo's track record, you have to wait to see how things play out before jumping on him. So let me address each thing in turn.

Free agent acquisitions: The bottom line here is that we just don't know how Parker or Garbajosa will perform in the league so I understand the concern in terms of risks. But is that really any different than if BC had gone after Nene and payed Denver money (aka way overpaid?) I think fans get too caught up in "names" and since Colangelo's two signees are unknowns in North America, it's easy to dismiss them or think that they're an elevated risk. Howland would you have been happier if we had spent our money on Nene? I just don't think there was anyone worth spending a substantial amount of our cap room on from this summer's free-agent crop.

The Plan: I think I DO know Colangelo's plan. With the braintrust he has and his own experience in tow, I think he believes he's got an advantage over almost the entire league which is so reliant on current NBA'ers for free agents. By plucking some gems out of Europe for a reasonable price (none are getting even what Jarred Jefferies will be getting after this summer) he can improve the squad in the short term without sacrificing its long term growth. If a couple of these experienced players can come in and help the youngsters grow, than he notches a few more W's in the win column without sacrificing the youth movement.

Howland: Yeah I am concerned. I understand that we have some great new basketball minds in the head office, in particular when it comes to the Europeans, but there is such a thing as moderation. Think about it. Rasho (Euro, again I like this move as he's played with some of the leagues best big men), Bargnani (Euro), Garba (Euro) and Parker (might as well be since all his game time has been there.) Right now there are still some players out there that could help such as Fred Jones and to a lesser degree Trevor Ariza. The other thing that bothers me is the message that Colangelo's moves are sending to Joey G. Both these apparent signings to be are guys who can play the SF position, albeit with different styles. What message is being sent here? I guess the whole thing for me is that I thought Babcock had a pretty good plan and now I am not sure if BC's is any better.

The other thing about this Eruo invasion if you want to call it that, is the players in Europe whose rights the Raps currently own (Slokar and Ukic), are surprisingly not even on the summer league squad!

Oh and when it comes to Nene, no, I would have no interest in signing him, not after drafting Bargnani.

Franchise: Ok so here's the part where I agree I guess. It is curious that NEITHER Slokar or Ukic were brought over for the summer...but perhaps there is some reason or rationale behind this...and it may simply be politics. I also agree that I did like Babcock's plan...he took a lot of heat and some of it I never thought was justified. The funny thing is, Babcock looks less like a bad GM by the day! Even though the Vince deal still looks quite lopsided, at least he got some pieces in return...which is more than you can say for Indiana and Larry Bird at present. And interestingly Babcock was given a lot of grief for not being able to get SOMETHING in return for Donyell Marshall...which is the exact same situation that Bryan Colangelo now finds himself in after Mike James' announcement yesterday that he was going to the T-Wolves...THE TEAM THAT ROB BABCOCK NOW WORKS FOR. How's that for irony?

I still believe in Colangelo's plan...I'm just want to see a bit of it on the court that's all.

However in terms of Joey Graham, all bets are off. I still think Danny Granger should have been the selection at Joey's spot in the '05 draft and now the pressure is on Joey (and rightfully so) to show just why he was chosen at that spot. I don't think it's entirely a "bad message" being sent to Joey though. If Joey feels the heat from the signings so be it and perhaps that elevates his game. If not, than Colangelo hedges his bets to ensure that the SF/SG positions are covered. Precisely the reason I'd love to have John Salmons here now that Mike James is gone.

Howland: Right and here is where my second beef comes in - Mike James. Now that he has signed with the T-Wolves to play with the Big Ticket, there will be no fact, no consideration at all, not even CASH! Never once through the whole process did Toronto seem like they were in the running to retain James' services and James interview on the Score seems to prove that. James stated that the offer from the Raptors was essentially a smack in the face. The main thing here for me is not that Mike James is elsewhere, but that it appears little attempt was made with the T-Wolves to do a sign-and-trade and that BC had no interest in a potential defensive stopper in Trenton Hassell. I would much prefer Hassell and his contract to the $4 million that is being spent on Parker. I think it is safe to say that Hassell could have brought more to this team than Parker. I may have to pull another "Channing Frye card" at the end of the year but Hassell is a hard nosed, defensive minded player and someone who I fell would be a great compliment to Mo Pete and Joey Graham.

Franchise: Hassell's contract pays him over 4 million through 2009/10. Are you sure that's a contract you want Howland? Parker will be getting less money each year in all probability and has a year less in his deal. Yes Hassell is known as a good defender...but that's about it. Parker is being brought in for his ALL-AROUND game and has back-to-back MVP seasons in the Euroleague to prove it! No, it's not the NBA, but if Bargnani can be the top pick based on his play in the same situation, it's nothing to scoff at. Before Minnesota gave him his current ludicrous contract, Hassell was a bench player with a Chicago Bulls team which was one of the league's worst! He's a niche player at best and is just not the talent that Parker is. The only problem I have with the signings is that it's possible that they get over here and Mitchell refuses to play them. That's when Colangelo will have to turn his attention to the coaching situation. I think you just wanted more from the Jalen Rose cap room moves...

Howland: Yeah not being happy with the signings to date makes the Jalen Rose move look like a bad one in my eyes. It was the Jalen move that was the impetus for all the talk about bringing in a really solid addition. I don't think we have done that. If the whole purpose of trading Jalen was to free significant cap space, and you don't use it to do more than solidify the bench, then what was the point of trading Jalen and giving up that first round pick? Could we not have used that number 1 on say someone like Marcus Williams? Would Jalen not have some value to this team? He's obviously worth more than AD was/is. Further, Jalen comes off the books at the end of this upcoming season, the same year we will need money for Bosh, TJ and Mo P. Sure there's the argument that maybe BC would not have come to Toronto without the space...but it's not like he is out there spending any sort of significant dollars to significantly upgrade the roster. Look BC has proven to be genius before, and if any one hopes lightning strikes twice it's me, it's just that I am not nearly as enthused now as I was on Day One of his arrival, or even two weeks ago. Here's hoping this pans out and that his moves really have sped up the process in terms of turning this franchise from bottom dweller to contender.

Franchise: Well I guess I'll cap this off by reiterating that I still believe in the majority of the moves he's made. Sure grabbing big name players would be great for fan interest...but would it necessarily make the team better? Look at some of the teams who have tried to do that in previous off-seasons. Philly, Golden State and Denver all come to mind and look at the situations they now face. Denver has the most upside of all of them but here's a team who only a few years ago was crowned the "big off-season winners" for their acquisition and long-term signing of Kenyon Martin. Now Denver is trying to move him out as fast as they can! Getting John Salmons would be a coup but other than that, let's just see how the team fares come the fall. After all, the team can't start at one and 14 again can it?