Would you be willing to pony up that much for Mike James?
The Minnesota Timberwolves this off-season didn't quite ante up to that point, but did sign James to the most financially viable contract of his career - a four year $23.5 million deal.
During the latter part of the season last year and into the summer, there was a lot of discussion regarding James and his future with the Raptors. It was fairly obvious that he wouldn't be returning to the Raptors, and fans seemed to believe a "pass-first" or "true" point guard was the direction GM Bryan Colangelo was going to go.
TJ Ford is now manning the point and many believe that the team is now better off without James. But will this be the case? Obviously it will take at least one season to play out before we know the answer to that statement, but something I witnessed last week courtesy of RaptorsTV gave me reason to pause.
In fact, it was the playoff performance of none-other than Alvin Williams.
As many of our readers have mentioned, Raps TV has been replaying some classic Raptor games in the past few weeks, in particular the playoff series' against the Knicks and 76ers from a few years back. I caught some of the action late one night and while it was thrilling to see Vince actually driving to the hoop in a Raptors uniform, it was the performance of Alvin Williams that really stood out for me. Here was a player who just kept making clutch shot after clutch shot. And that made me think...
...who is going to be that "clutch" player on Toronto this year?
In the past, players like Alvin Williams, Dell Curry and yes, even Vince Carter delivered in the clutch. Morris Peterson makes some crazy circus-esque buckets and buzzer-beaters...but he's not really the type of "shot-clock winding down" player who you want to give the ball to in those moments. And Chris Bosh...well...he's not really that type of player either...not yet anyways.
My point here is that Mike James was.
For all the randomness he spewed in TV and print media, for all the cries of "pass the ball Mike" from his team-mates at times, Mike James was without question Toronto's most clutch player. How many times can you remember James shredding the perimeter defence and dropping in a floater to tie the game back up? How many times can you remember yelling "nooooooooooo" at the TV while James jacked up a three with someone in his face, only to have it swish through...
Yes, for all the issues we had with James, someone's going to have to take on this role for Toronto next year.
Watching the replays of the Raps in the playoffs hammered this point home even more for me and lead me to think about the recent playoff success of teams like Dallas and Miami - if you want to win close games, you need to play great team defence when it counts, and have someone who can hit key baskets. Even Phoenix, which is not exactly known as a defensive juggernaut, displayed these same two abilities throughout the playoffs. Without a certain 3-pointer from Tim Thomas, would Phoenix have gotten past the first round? How about without a few Shawn Marion blocks and rebounds on the defensive end?
Hopefully some of Toronto's off-season acquisitions can help shore up the defensive end of this equation...however my worry still is with having some players who can create off the dribble and sink a jump shot when the team needs it the most. Fred Jones might fit the bill...and maybe the real Joey Graham will stand up or Andrea Bargnani develops faster than expected...but I think in this capacity the Raptors will miss Mike James.
82games.com presents basketball fans with some very interesting statistics. Among them, is a look at players' various efficiency ratings. Of all the members of the Toronto Raptors last year, Mike James had the third highest net rating after Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva. And besides post career averages of 20.3 points and 5.8 assists last year, James also accounted for 3977 more Raptor points while he was on the court, then Toronto scored while he was off. That's a lot of offence...and according to these stats, efficient offense at that. In fact James shot nearly 47 per cent from the field last year and 44 per cent from beyond the arc. Like Alvin in his prime, James could break ankles with his cross-over dribble (just ask Marbury) giving him enough space to get off the jump-shot needed. Neither TJ Ford nor Jose Calderon have this ability and teams will prepare their defence against the Raptors based on it.
Now let's look at James with the Timberwolves. As of now, the T-Wolves starting line-up appears to be:
1 - James
2 - Ricky Davis
3 - Trenton Hassell
4 - Kevin Garnett
5 - Mark Blount
Randy Foye, the Wolves top pick in the past draft, will undoubtedly get heavy minutes, especially with the injury to Rashad McCants. But will the Wolves be able to play a backcourt of Foye and James? Foye has a very similar game to James and both are essentially undersized 2's. In fact, I'm not sure why the Wolves wanted to sign James and draft Foye! If the Wolves can't play both together, playing James excessively could hamper Foye's development and we all know how much James will like it if Foye starts getting the crunch time minutes in front of James...
So would I pay $9.62 Million to have kept James if I was Colangelo? No. In fact, that number is simply what 82games.com calculated his worth to be, based on his efficiency and performance from last season. We all know that this is an inflated number based on a mediocre player taking a starring role on a bad team (see Lamond Murray's career with the Cavs.) However I think James should have stayed in Toronto and accepted a sixth man role. I know he's worked hard for his shot in the league, but Toronto could have given him financial security and a chance to do what he does best for a decent price.
Also, having Mike James to backup either the 1 or 2 spots would have been ideal in my opinion because he brings certain intangibles that I'm not convinced the Raptors replaced in the off-season. Sure Fred Jones brings some aerial excitement...but I'm not at all sure that a career 41.5 per cent shooter (35 per cent from beyond the arc) is the answer here in terms of clutch shooting. And we can only hope that Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa bring the same intensity and passion to each game that Mike James did.
And as previously mentioned for James, I'm not really sure how a move to Minnesota makes him happy in the long run. Even in a sixth man role with the Raptors he would have gotten a great deal of playing time, and helped lead a young team on the rise to playoff contention in the East. Does anyone see the Timberwolves as "an up-and-coming" team in the West?
So is Toronto better off without Mike James and likewise, James better off without Toronto? This writer's not convinced this is the case...but by the time they play on December 27, I'm sure we'll have started to get a good idea.