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So Who's Left?

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In the past few days, some of this offseason's top free agents have changed teams. Peja (who I thought Toronto might take a serious look at) is a Hornet, Tim Thomas has left the Suns for the Clippers joining a re-signed Sam Cassell, Vladimir Radmanovic has gone from the same Clippers to Los Angeles' other team, Nene is staying with the Nuggets, Terry staying with the Mavs and Bobby Jackson is joining his former Sacramento teammate Stojakovic in the Big Easy.

(As an aside considering some of this player movement - two GM's who should be a bit more under the gun right now. First of all, Mike Dantoni. He just lost a key part of his team in Tim Thomas even after trying to clear the extra loot for him and had rebounded with Piakowski and maybe Lindsey Hunter? If Amare can't return to close to his original level of play, this could be trouble. My second hot seat GM believe it or not? Larry Bird. Unless they really felt that Peja wasn't the answer and wanted the cap room to chase (and successfully sign) Al Harrington, the Artest trade now looks like Artest for...cricket cricket. At least Babcock got Joey Graham and players that facilitated moving Jalen Rose and acquiring Nesterovic!)

So besides Ben Wallace, who is apparently being wooed by Chicago, who else is left for Toronto to consider? The Raptors still need position help at the 2/3 and another legit big-man to spell Rasho wouldn't be a bad idea either. In fact, here's how Toronto's current roster basically looks in the wake of the Villanueva trade:

PG - TJ Ford, Calderon, Alvin Williams
SG - Mo Pete, Joey Graham
SF - Bargnani, PJ Tucker
PF - Bosh, Humpheries, Sow, Garbajosa
C - Nesterovic

With a 15 person roster, that leaves three spots if you count Alvin Williams and assume that Mike James, Loren Woods, Darrick Martin and Andre Barrett won't be part of next year's picture.

If Roko is brought over to work his way into the third point guard role and spend some time at the 2, that leaves two spots.

So of the remaining free agents from this year's class, who would be a good fit?

Here are 10 players who've drawn our interest here at the HQ for one reason or another:

1. Trevor Ariza - Ariza could play the 2 or 3 and while not a great shooter, would be the Raptors "above-the-rim" player it so badly needs. His defence would be a welcome addition and his ability to attack the rim would be a good fit in between the outside shooting of Peterson and low-post game of Bosh. He also wouldn't break the Raptors' bank leaving them cash for next offseason.

2. John Salmons - While not the athlete that Ariza is, Salmons is a more polished player who could even fill in some time at the 1. A solid defensive presence, Salmons would also be a relatively inexpensive addition.

3. Deveon George - George is more of a 3 than a 2 but has the experience this team desperately needs. Assuming George's health is ok and he hasn't lost too much of his explosiveness, he would give Toronto another gritty defender who is an excellent rebounder for his size and position. The only question is whether or not Deveon is too much of a duplication of Joey Graham.

4. Michael Olowokandi - Let the laughter begin. You know you've fallen off when you've gone from being a number one draft pick to being table scraps in free agency only six seasons later. The Kandi-man still is a seven foot center though and a decent athlete who could give Rasho the occasional breather and be had for cheap. It might also be a chance for him to get his career back on track (yes, yes, I know, we've heard this before) with a player-friendly coach like Sam Mitchell.

5. Brian Grant - Yep, keep the laughter going. But in all seriousness, even if Brian Grant could give the Raps young forwards some veteran leadership, and 10 minutes a night backing up the 4 and/or 5 spots, he might be worth tossing some coin at after his expected buy-out courtesy of Boston.

6. Lorenzen Wright - Another Candi-man situation in a legit center who although much maligned, could probably be had for cheap and who would immediately be an improvement in terms of Toronto's defence and rebounding. (Guess that says a lot about last year's center options...)

7. Reggie Evans - With the amount of power forwards already in tow, chasing Evans probably doesn't make much sense. But for a team desperate for rebounding help, toughness and defensive intensity, Evans would be a great fit. Now...just how much playing time would he get?

8. Jackie Butler - A real sleeper pick. Butler actually has a decent upside considering his age and lack of exposure and is a legit center option. Larry Brown prefered him to Eddie Curry and his length, defense and athletic abilities at the 5 could be had for a bargain-basement price.

9. Flip Murray - He was great for the Cavs at the end of the year and again adds some depth to the 2. If he still wants to be a starter that could be an issue but if not, would help in replacing the outside scoring departing with Mike James.

10. Bonzi Wells - The real wild card (litteraly) of the ten. On paper, this would seem like the perfect fit for the Raptors to start at the 3. Wells is a good defender, great rebounder and possesses the ability to get to the rim at will. He seems to have mellowed since his Portland days and was key for Sacramento in the playoffs in almost disposing of the Spurs. Because of this however he'll likely attract significant attention as a free agent and may prefer to play for a more immediate contender like Detroit. Toronot could offer him more money than almost anywhere else but is it worth the risk?

It's at this point of the discussion that Howland tells me to simmer down. While I'm looking for the diamond in the rough so to speak, Howland is clearly not impressed with this year's free agent crop and has the following to say regarding it:

- I am pretty much disgusted with the crop this year, and I think that is a big problem for the Raps in terms of filling spots. In fact the more I think about it, the more I think we are going to be saving a big chunk of that cap space for next year or the trade deadline when some guys can be had for 80 cents on the dollar. That being said there are three guys out there that interest me in Wells, Ariza and the Flip Murray.

Ok, ok Howland, I get the point. Besides, it's tough to wade through this year's scrubs when you know that next summer potentialy brings some of the following names:

Nocioni, Varejao, Howard, Pietrus, Kaman, Magloire, Mason, West, Hill, Milicic, Barbosa, Diaw, and our own Morris Peterson. And that's not even mentioning many of the top players who are expected to sign contract extensions in the next few days ala Carmello Anthony's latest max deal. If they do not re-sign, their names will be added to this already robust list.

But there are SOME players out there who may interest Colangelo and I believe the 10 listed above are the most likely candidates for a J-O-B with Toronto. But just for argument sake, here are 10 more free agents and several other "bottom-of-the barrell" longshots on the market:

1. Al Harrington, Hawks - Unlikely he'll consider Toronto, may want to return to Indiana.

2. Joel Przybilla, Trail Blazers - With Rasho now on board, Toronto's previously thought of number one option is probably no longer under consideration.

3. Jared Jeffries, Wizards (restricted) - An interesting option in terms of upgrading Toronto's defence, however his lack of offense probably does him in, in terms of being an option for Toronto at the 3.

4. Matt Harpring, Jazz - Harpring a few years ago might have made sense at the 3. But with his slew of injuries and the style that Toronto is probably going to play, Harpring just doesn't make much sense.

5. Mike James, Raptors - Ironically, Toronto may need to attempt to re-sign James when all is said and done, either for a sign-and-trade or for as a 2-guard option who can play the point at times as well. It still sounds like James is on the way out but if the free agent market dries up at the 2 spot, will Colangelo make an overture to aid the team's scoring?

6. DeShawn Stevenson, Magic - It sounds like Stevenson will be back with the Magic next year and that's probably best for Toronto. Stevenson is a solid NBA player but doesn't stand-out in any one area.

7. Drew Gooden, Cavs (restricted) - Another player that just wouldn't make much sense for Toronto position-wise. Sure his rebounding would be a welcome addition, but where would he play with the current logjam at the 4?

8 . Rasual Butler, Hornets - It sounds like the Jazz are locked-in on Butler and Toronto probably won't object. He's not starter material anyways and right now is a poor-man's version of Mo Pete.

9. Chris Wilcox, SuperSonics (restricted) - Another player who could bring some serious rebounding and athletic help to the Raptors but who probably will be re-signing with his current team.

10. Dalibor Bagaric, Fortitudo Bologna (Italy) - A bit of an unknown but as a legit 7+ footer might get some looks...especially now that Toronto has a much more "in-tune" European scouting system.

Other Restricted Free Agents: Antonio Burks, Grizzlies; Francisco Elson, Nuggets; Jiri Welsch, Bucks.

Other Unrestricted Free Agents: Matt Barnes, 76ers; Greg Buckner, Nuggets; Kelvin Cato, Pistons; Devean George, Lakers; Adrian Griffin, Mavericks; Ervin Johnson, Bucks; Jumaine Jones, Bobcats; Voshon Lenard, Trail Blazers; Walter McCarty, Clippers; Jannero Pargo, Bulls; Scot Pollard, Pacers; David Wesley, Rockets; Darius Songaila, Bulls; Qyntel Woods, Knicks.

Team options: Zarko Cabarkapa; Warriors.

In any event, let's look at a "best-case" scenario in the Raptors signing a "sane" Bonzi Wells or perhaps a Trevor Ariza and a backup center. The roster would look something like:

PG - TJ Ford, Calderon, Roko Ukic
SG - Mo Pete, Joey Graham
SF - Bonzi Wells/Trevor Ariza, Barganani, PJ Tucker
PF - Bosh, Humpheries, Sow, Garbajosa
C - Nesterovic, Olowokandi

IR - Alvin Williams

Could this team compete for a playoff spot in the East? With a Bonzi Wells this should be quite possible but in all likelyhood Toronto will be going to battle next season with someone else as the starting SF. So what about in that situation? It's definitely no lock is it? The dangerous thing is that Toronto owes Charlotte its first-round pick next year (via the Cavs and the Lamond Murray trade) if they fall out of the lottery. Therefore it would be better to either get firmly in the playoffs and forfeit the pick or fall well short to ensure another nice prospect in what is expected to be one of the best drafts ever. Perhaps this is one of the reasons many Raptor fans feel that Colangelo should have also grabbed a draft pick out of the Bucks in the Villanueva deal.

Looking at the current squad, the team is quite young and inexperienced and needs some more help in the leadership and experience departments. As a further illustartion of this, take one look at Toronto's summer-league squad and besides some necessary Can-Con, the team is eerily similar to Toronto's ACTUAL NBA-CALIBRE TEAM as half of it is made up of current Raptors. That's why it seems certain that Colangelo is not done yet in adding pieces.

How many more pieces will he add and at what cost? Well, that's certainly open to speculation and debate...both of which fortunately we encourage...

FRANCHISE