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Final Draft Day Thoughts

Welcome to Toronto, Jermaine O'Neal...

Welcome to Toronto, Jermaine O'Neal...

With the 17th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select…

Thanks to the ever-more serious sounding "rumours" concerning the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, those words, surely uttered this evening by David Stern, now take on a whole new meaning.

What started out as a breaking news flash on Yahoo Sports (look at Yahoo breaking the big deals before "the World-wide Leader!") has now become a full-on "agreed to in principal" deal that would see the Toronto Raptors acquire six time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal in exchange for TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and the 17th pick in this year’s draft.

So now, in all likelihood the Raptors will be picking for Indiana tonight at 17, although the deal of course could always fall through before July 9th, the earliest it can be consummated for various contractual reasons.

Anti-climactic? Perhaps a bit as this makes two years in a row that Toronto is without a first-round pick.

However reports have come in that indicate that Toronto will receive Indiana’s second-round pick, 41st overall along with O’Neal. This means that Bryan Colangelo will be looking to grab a player early in round two with some upside as a cheap means of filling out their bench.

And frankly, doesn’t he almost HAVE to?

Before getting into the "pros and cons" of this deal, let’s just look at it from a numbers perspective.

The Raptors are giving up three current players from their roster for O’Neal (Rasho, Ford, Baston) which would leave Toronto with only eight players under contract, assuming of course that Calderon is re-signed; Bosh, Bargnani, Kapono, Moon, Parker, Humphries, Graham and Jose. And considering the salary attached to O’Neal, the Raptors aren’t going to have a lot of room to work with financially to fill out their bench.

So grabbing some cheap talent, especially in a deep draft like tonight’s that may see first-round talent suddenly drop into the second round, may now be tops on Colangelo’s list. JaVale McGee, Nicolas Batum, JJ Hickson, Serge Ibaka and even Chris Douglas-Roberts could all drop into the early first round and other potential second-round picks could present some great value at 41. (Hey, after all the scouting and draft watching we did this year, we’re just happy that Toronto now has a pick!)

And suddenly, what was somewhat of a yawn of a free agent camp takes on a whole new meaning. Players like Rod Benson, Hassan Adams, Pooh Jeter and Dahntay Jones could very well find themselves completing this roster for next season.

As for the trade itself are we fans of the trade here at the HQ?

Without a doubt.

From Howland last night:

"So long mediocrity.

As reported it looks like the Raps will complete a blockbuster trade
bringing six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto. Well, no-one can say that Bryan Colangelo isn’t a gutsy GM as he certainly hasn’t followed in the footsteps of what the Sport Guy would refer to as the "No Balls Association."

Ever since the rumour first hit I couldn’t stop thinking about the deal and all the various pros and cons. This is a franchise changing trade and after a ton of thought it’s one that I support 100%. When you look back at the past few seasons one of the main questions we here at the HQ have asked time and time again is "Who is the second best player on the Raps?" Well ladies and gentlemen we now not only have an answer to that question, but we also now know who is third in the pecking order. By adding O’Neal not only do the Raps now have two multi-time All-Stars manning the front court (both under the age of 30) but they have now made the decision to let a young PG, who off the bench was considered as an All-Star, take over as a full time starter.

By bringing O’Neal into the fold suddenly the scouting report on this team has to be re-written. Teams can no longer focus on stopping one player. It is no longer Chris Bosh and everyone else. The Raps now pose serious issues for opposing defenses. Who do you double and CAN you double considering guys like Kapono, Parker and Calderon are waiting to nail the 3? Now with Toronto it really is a case of opposing teams having to pick their poison. We will obviously be discussing this in more detail as the off-season works itself out, but even today the offensive possibilities are endless.

The other topic we’ve discussed ad nausea is the Raps lack of defense and rebounding. The O’Neal acquisition is a strong step in the right direction when addressing these concerns too. Save for the last few seasons, since his arrival in Indiana, O’Neal has either been, or been close to, a 20 and 10 player. Over his career he has averaged close to 8 boards with over 2 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. His rebounding alone is a much needed addition. Further, the Raps now have an athletic shot blocker to anchor the defense. You can’t tell me players won’t be more hesitant to drive to the hoop knowing O’Neal and Bosh are both waiting to swat their shot away.

The other major positive in this acquisition is that the Raps are getting a player looking to re-establish himself as an elite player in the League. O’Neal needed a change of scenery and Bryan Colangelo looks to be more than willing to provide it. O’Neal will be motivated this season. Further, as a reader mentioned yesterday, this team is starting to look like a Sam Mitchell team and that can only be a positive.

Yes there are injury concerns. O’Neal has never actually played 82 games in a season and he has had knee issues. The talk however is that he is finally healthy and you have to believe that Toronto wouldn’t have made this deal if they had major concerns when they conducted the physical. After all, this is no juco medical staff. The Raptors’ crew are the ones who first reported the Nicolas Batum heart issues after all so I fully trust their judgement.

Here’s the thing though, even with the injury concerns I love the move and here’s why…

Provided Ford and Rasho were on this team the Raps were destined for mediocrity. To think that a Robin Lopez and a player earning the mid-level exemption were going to make the Raps even more than marginally better than last season is simply wrong. If you watched the second half of the season you saw an average team. The Raps were not going to be in a position to make a serious run this season without some big changes.

If O’Neal stays healthy, the Raps snag a decent back-up PG, and another complimentary piece or two in free agency, they are way further ahead then they were yesterday. On the flip-side even if suddenly O’Neal goes down circa Vince Carter and doesn’t get up I’m also ok with that.

In fact I don’t think it is a stretch to say that O’Neal’s health and performance means the difference between advancing in the playoffs or the team finding itself back in the lottery. As a fan I would prefer to be at one of those extremes than somewhere in the middle. I want to support a team that has a real chance, or one that is starting from scratch which in turn breeds a different sense of optimism. Mediocrity to me is the sign of a floundering franchise and it makes it hard for me to cheer when I feel like I already know the end result.

As a Dinos fan it’s hard to complain with the move. Ford had to be moved anyways (and it was revealed yesterday that after the season he was told by BC that he would be moved in favour of keeping Jose), Rasho was only going to play another three quarters of a season with the team in all likelihood, and the 17th spot was likely going to result in a project big man. Oh…and let’s not even get into the Maceo Baston experiment mercilessly coming to an end.

When the alternatives being tossed around were Diaw and Malik Rose, as a fan you have to think that O’Neal is a much superior alternative, regardless of what else might have been out there that we’ll never know about.

And on top of everything, this trade is a move that even in failure gives Toronto potentially $30 million in cap space for 2010, which given the free-agent crop expected to be around that year, is not a bad consolation prize.

The one final note I had though is that BC now must ensure that Toronto doesn’t get itself into a Carlos Boozer type situation with Jose. The Raptors have shown their hand so if Jose’s new agent wants to, he can hold Toronto for ransom to certain degree. Toronto has no other options at the 1 now so Calderon’s agent could float out an outrageous salary demand and if another team is willing to pay that, then Toronto now has no choice but to match regardless."

Howland and I don’t agree often on the site but this is one case that I’m with him step for step. Also, I think what now intrigues me most about this deal is that it finally allows the Raptors to build a tiered club. That is, instead of having 8 guys who should all be coming off the bench yet posing as starters, now we can see players fitting better into roles.

For instance I think the starting line-up should now be:


With Moon, and Bargnani off the bench, that’s not a bad first seven, and maybe now there’s more room for Humphries and Graham to show their stuff.

Also, now instead of trying to add more depth for the sake of adding depth, Toronto can use its mid-level exception to target certain key players to fill niche roles. How would a shot-blocker like Diop look coming off the bench behind O’Neal? Or now how about looking at a Mickael Pietrus? Going one step further, what about using the entire mid-level for James Posey? Last week after workouts, a very candid Sam Mitchell discussed Posey as a very interesting player to look at this off-season so perhaps Toronto will take a run at him?

It’s early to talk free agency but the player I think Toronto should throw its full force at is actually Kelenna Azubuike. He’s a slashing scorer that would be a great fit in Toronto off the bench and considering he made under $700,000 last year, would hardly break the bank. He is a restricted free agent, but considering that Golden State has to think about re-signing him, Biedrins, Ellis, Barnes, O’Bryant, and the aforementioned Pietrus (not to mention the Baron Davis situation), they aren’t going to be able to overpay someone like Kelenna.

So for daydream’s sake, let’s suppose you split the mid-level on Azubuike and a back-up point guard like Chris Duhon, bring over Roko and grab a second-round pick and a few players from the free agent camp. Here’s a potential look at next year’s roster:



Rest of Active Bench:


Injury Reserves:

Rod Benson,
Joey Dorsey

Wouldn’t you say that’s a BIT of an upgrade over last year? Suddenly Sam Mitchell isn’t trying to play 12 guys either as the bulk of minutes would go to the first nine, with Humphries and Graham having lots of opportunities to prove themselves.

Could the Raptors steal a player with some potential in the second round like Bill Walker?

Could the Raptors steal a player with some potential in the second round like Bill Walker?

Of note, I grabbed Joey Dorsey as the Raptors’ pick in the second round but there are four other guys I’d love to see there at 41 when Toronto picks…

1) Bill Walker. Knee injury or no knee injury the guy still has some of the best upside of ANYONE in the draft. If he’s there at 41 I’d love to see Toronto snatch him up.

2) Richard Hendrix. Having seen Hendrix quite a bit at Alabama, this is another "huge upside" guy. He’s a beast down low and simply gets it done. Jonathan Givony in our interview posted on the site yesterday likened him to the "potential Paul Milsap" of the draft and I completely agree. If he’s there at 41, he’s worth a shot.

3) Devon Hardin. The Raptors are definitely going to need a back-up option for O’Neal besides Bosh and Bargs, and Hardin would make a lot of sense if the team doesn't acquire a "big" through free-agency. He’s a physical specimen at the 5 and while he hasn’t quite put things together on the court, his upside is tremendous in terms of being an Erick Dampier like shot-blocker and rebounder. If you can get that in the mid-second round, you take it.

4) Jamont Gordon. Gordon is a real sleeper pick. He’s a very athletic and strong combo-guard and for a team now needing a back-up and some help defensively at the 1-2, he could be a great value pick.

Toronto incidentally worked out all of the above except Dorsey and Hendrix so I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them selected at 41. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Raptors look to package someone like Humphries or Graham with the 41st pick to move into the late first round or earlier into the second. As we discussed recently, teams like Seattle, Minnesota, and Portland all have multiple second round picks and may wish to move one or more of these. These three teams are of particular interest because they offer picks at the top of the second round. Therefore if one of the projected first round picks tumbles into the second round, it’s a great chance for a team to snatch them up without having to offer a guaranteed contract.

And on the Indiana side, I think this is a rare case where a trade helps both clubs. John Hollinger of this morning posted as much and it seems like there are few who aren’t fans of BC’s maneuvers, even if it does represent a change in ideology perhaps.

The unfortunate part of the O’Neal trade of course is that it blew several articles we had planned out of the water. Mock draft discussions concerning Toronto’s 17th pick with other Raptor bloggers like HoopsAddict, Cuzoogle, and the Arsenalist are now essentially immaterial (although of note, every one of us had Toronto choosing Robin Lopez if he were available), and various other blog draft discussions have lost their value as well.

However our annual draft bash is still on so feel free to drop by Harbour Sports Grille tonight at 7 PM. Harbour Sports is located at 10 Yonge Street here in Toronto. (Click here for a link to their website.)

Enjoy draft day everyone, it’s our favourite day of the year here at the HQ and hopefully we’ll see a draft like 2006 with lots of wheelin’ and dealin’.