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Is December 15th Christmas for the Raptors?

Could Azubuike represent an early Christmas present for the Toronto Raptors?

Could Azubuike represent an early Christmas present for the Toronto Raptors?

As I sat down last night to type this piece, I had the pleasure of watching the Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto’s next opponent, take it to the Philadelphia 76ers in a 93 to 84 win.

While the Bobcats early this season looked to be easy pickings for the Raps, the team now looks like the exact type of squad that could give the Dinos major headaches Wednesday night. Larry Brown has his rotations figured out and is effectively using a small line-up of uber-quick guards to torch opponents.

Exhibit A would be the win over Philly, where a backcourt of DJ Augustin and Raymond Felton scored 48 of the team’s 93 points and ran circles around the likes of Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala. Even when the quicker Philly guards of Willie Green and Louis Williams were put on to slow down Charlotte’s pace, they were unable to offer much resistance.

Of course this doesn’t bode well for the already molasses-caked feet of the Raptors’ perimeter D but the whole situation got me thinking; successful teams in the NBA either win with power, size, speed, athleticism, or some combination of them all. It’s a game of match-ups and who can exploit who first in order to force adjustments.

A constant complaint here at the HQ is that it’s the Raptors that are almost always having to adjust to the style of their opponent and part of the reason why I believe, is because except for in very small doses, the Raptors really don’t possess any of the above attributes as a whole.

Sure, Jamario Moon is athletic, Jermaine O’Neal has good size, and Jose Calderon is fairly quick, but none rank at the top of these categories and really the only player on the team who almost constantly has an advantage at his position is of course Chris Bosh.

As a result, we as fans have a team that really is a case of "what you see is what you get," a team in which hopefully the sum of its parts becomes a greater whole.

The problem is, with injuries and an underperforming bench, the sum has not been great so far this season, and the team now sits last in the division at 6-7 with two must-win games this week at home. I say "must win" because after these two, Toronto plays the Lakers in LA to finish the month, and then in December faces the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Cavs, the Spurs and Blazers all on the road, not to mention various other West Coast matches and tough homes games against the likes of the Mavericks, Hornets, and aforementioned Nuggets and Blazers.

It’s scary, but for a team that barely hung on to beat the Bucks and Heat, it’s quite possible that the Raptors hit the New Year five games or more under .500. And as we saw from Chris Bosh on Sunday, it’s doubtful that this team has the mental stamina to withstand any sort of long losing streak.

So here’s the question we’ve all been asking – what’s Bryan Colangelo to do?

Replacing Sam Mitchell may be an option but I’m not sure how realistic it is right now, as much as it may be warranted. Is bringing in a new coach right now really the solution? Can BC even bring one in without some sort of long-term contract in place, something that MLSE probably won’t be willing to do considering the money still owed to Mitchell? Perhaps one of the current assistants could be made intern head coach for the time being but that move reeks of desperation and while we’re all upset with the 6-7 start, it’s not time to hit the panic button yet.

Rather, I think that Bryan Colangelo is waiting for Christmas, or in the Raptors’ case, 10 days before Christmas, December 15th.

If at that point, the Raptors are still struggling or worse, mired in a long losing streak, I expect changes of some sort to come. We’ve already laid out the slim possibilities that exist for trades but perhaps even a small one would shake things up.

So why that date?

For starters, by December 15th, the Raptors will have played 24 games, or almost a third of the regular season. At this point, Colangelo should have a better sense of how competitive this club can be and whether or not he needs to make any changes, big or small.

Secondly, this date marks an important trade date in the NBA. As per the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement:

A player cannot be traded until three months after signing a contract or December 15th of that season, whichever is later.

This means that should BC wish to look at trade options, as of December 15th there will be a lot more options for him to choose from.

Take Golden State.

This is a team that suddenly becomes very interesting to the Raptors as they not only have a glut of swingmen, but many of these swingman such as Anthony Morrow, Kelenna Azubuike, and Corey Maggette, become eligible for trade on that magic December date.

In addition, the Warriors have some spare parts such as Marcus Williams and Marco Bellineli that might be given a second (or third in the case of Williams) chance here in Toronto. Bellineli rarely played under Don Nelson, and that was before Jamal Crawford joined the team, or summer league star Anthony Morrow broke out. And Williams has been Mr. DNP all season.

Would a package of Kapono and Solomon (or Moon) for these two and Azubuike get things done?

While many, myself included, would probably prefer not to give up Kapono, the reality is that with O’Neal’s knee suspect, and Jawai MIA, the team can ill afford to give up Hump. And as deadly a shooter that Kapono is, it’s hard to believe that Bellineli couldn’t produce similar results at a much lower cost, considering how Kapono is not being used to his full extent. No, Kapono is really the Raptors' best trade chip at this point.

A trade as suggested would give the Raptors some much needed help off the bench, a real point guard behind Jose to help spell Roko, not to mention a slashing scorer in Azubuike, and none of these three players would do any sort of damage to the Raptors future cap situation.

However Golden State isn’t the only team that Bryan Colangelo may wish to target. By the 15th a great number of other teams may suddenly decide that they’re simply not happy with their current situation and look to shake things up. As mentioned however, the trick for Toronto will be to get someone to bite on their spare parts. This won’t be an easy task and in many ways BC really has painted himself into a corner here.

If JO is hurt off and on for the entire season, and the club stumbles along, this could very well be a case of "back to the lottery" in an improved East. And yet if that’s the case, will BC simply throw his hands in the air and look towards next year? If paying the luxury tax will only bring minimal improvement, long term, I’m not sure there’s much point. Granted, the constant caveat that we’re "only 13 games into the season" must be given, but JO or no JO, the echo amongst fans has been that this team hardly looks different than it has in the past.

And therefore if the team does get it together health-wise, and looks playoff bound, will that be enough? Even with JO the club was idling around .500, certainly not enough to push past the first round as many had originally expected. If that’s the case, will Colangelo then look to go into luxury tax range?

These are the sort of tough questions Raptors’ management is going to have to discuss over the coming weeks in deciding which path to help guide the club on this year.

Are they waiting for JO to get healthy and for Bargs to take things to the next level?

Or is the team even with those two pieces, still just middle of the pack?

It has to be slightly disturbing for us Raptors fans to remember that Colangelo stated earlier this year that this is the best Raptors’ team yet that he’s been a part of.

I’m not sure he’d say that right now and I think by December 15th he may be ready to concede that things haven’t exactly gone to plan – but that hopefully reinforcements are on the way.