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To Roko or not to Roko, That is the Question…

Is Roko ready to take over the back-up reigns?

Is Roko ready to take over the back-up reigns?

On Wednesday, I participated in a podcast with Ryan McNeil of Hoopsaddict along with several other guests. Ryan and I talked mostly about the upcoming Raptors’ season and what the Jermaine O’Neal era may hold for Raptors fans. You can listen to it by clicking here.

One topic that came up centered around the Raptors’ playoff prospects next year and if this team was ready to go right to the Eastern Conference finals as some have been predicting. I wasn’t ready to go that far, particularly because of the lack of depth at what I felt were certain key positions.

And that’s something I wanted to talk about a bit more.

Is anyone else concerned that bringing Roko over now is a huge risk?

There have been no financial details concerning his contract but I’m guessing he’s not coming to Toronto for less than $500,000. Even if it’s a bit under a million, considering the Raptors’ current state of affairs, couldn’t that money be put to better use, by bringing in an experienced backup for Jose Calderon?

I mean, Roko has yet to play a minute at the point guard position in the NBA, perhaps the toughest position to learn in the league. Even point guard luminaries such Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups took a few years to hone their craft. Can we expect Ukic to be able to seamlessly run the show when Jose sits?

I suppose the counterargument is that Roko will barely play so who cares?

Well, Raptors’ fans know all too well what happens when one starter plays 40 minutes a game. Chris Bosh’s health history is living proof. So do we really want Jose, in his first season running the show full time mind you, to start slinging 40 minute games around over an 82 game season, and then be expected to lead the charge come playoff time? Even last year while platooning for much of the season with TJ Ford, Jose looked rundown by the time the post-season hit. Wouldn’t it be better to get him a veteran backup who can play at least 15 minutes a night? For all we know, Roko might not even be able to play the 1! By all accounts he’s a 6 foot 5 six guard who is more apt at getting to the bucket and creating his own shot than acting as much of a distributor. And at only about 190 pounds, he’s likely going to struggle with the physicality of the league.

So I have to wonder if perhaps the Roko experiment couldn’t have waited a year until Toronto had more money to spend and could afford to have him groomed into his new role. Because as it stands, the Raptors with JO are looking at a two-year window to get as far in the possible in the playoffs and you have to ask yourself, is this the time period in which you want your back-up point guard to be a youngster who has never played in the NBA?

No, I’m just not sold on this plan right now.

Therefore I’ve come up with two lists as back-up options for Toronto. The first list is your bargain basement group, three "slipped-through the cracks" undrafted combo guards who could fill in at the 1 or 2 for very cheap. They’re not pure passers, but all three ran their college teams’ offence at various points and would at least give Toronto an option behind Jose besides Roko.

The second list makes even more sense as it’s comprised of veterans who, while slightly more expensive, could give Toronto some much-needed experience running the show.

Undrafted and Cheap:

1) DeMarcus Nelson – G, 6-2, 195. Nelson is no star, but I was surprised a team didn’t take a flyer on him late in the second round. He was one of the best defensive players in the draft, is extremely athletic, and plays with an intensity that most teams covet. He’s not a pure 1, but could be a nice combo option for Toronto.

2) Richard Roby – G, 6-6, 203. I was also surprised that Roby didn’t get drafted considering his successful college career. He’s got legit NBA size and athleticism, great scoring instincts, and can fill it up from long range. His defence is non-existent but he’s well coached and showed some promise as a point forward at Colorado. He might be an interesting option off the bench, not to mention he’s Kenyon Martin’s half-brother!

3) Tyrone Brazelton – G, 5-11, 166. We discussed Brazelton leading up to the draft as he was one of the players Toronto brought in for workouts. He’s undersized, but is lightning quick with deep range. He had a good tournament beside Courtney Lee for Western Kentucky and as a scoring point might be change of pace off the bench behind Jose.

None are perfect, but looking around the league right now, there’s not a lot of perfection to be had at a low cost. Unfortunately because I drew up the list earlier this week, my top choice Jamont Gordon had to be cut yesterday as reports have indicated that he has decided to run with the 76ers this summer. Gordon would have been an extremely intriguing prospect at the 1 and perhaps Toronto can still bring him to training camp if he doesn’t stick with Philly.

So gazing at the flip side of the coin, who might be some possible experienced back-up point guard options? Here are four diverse options:

Experienced and Reasonably Priced:

1) Flip Murray. He’s a combo guard who can score and who probably will be looking for a home now that Indiana has three new guards on their roster via the draft and trades. Off the bench for Toronto he might be a good fit who can slide to the 2 at times.

2) Dan Dickau. Yikes…not exactly my favourite player in the league but he can run an offence. As a defender though he makes Calderon look like Shawn Marion so the Raptors may have to be very desperate to make this move.

3) Damon Stoudamire. Toronto toyed with the idea of bringing Damon back for the stretch run but he ended up in San Antonio when all was said and done. In SA he looked pretty rustic but perhaps given an off-season of rest and recovery and a true role back with his original team (something he admittedly never had with SA), Might Mouse might be a nice scoring back-up to Calderon.

4) Darrell Armstrong. My favourite idea of the four. Armstrong might be approaching Dick Bavetta’s age but he’s a proven leader, still a great defender, and would lend a wealth of experience to the Raptors. Put it this way, he’s Darrick Martin but without the YMCA game.

Franchise thinks Darrell Armstrong could be a nice back-up option for cheap...

Franchise thinks Darrell Armstrong could be a nice back-up option for cheap...

If Armstrong doesn’t decide to call it a career he’s the first one I’d look to speak with. He made only about $800,000 last year so might be available for even less than that this year if he still wants to play. Having him as a security blanket to help guide not only Roko, but Jose as well I feel would pay big dividends. It’s really the same idea I have concerning the forward position. Why not bring in an experienced vet for cheap who wants one more kick at the can? Someone like a Malik Allen could lend some more size and experience up front and could help tutor Andre Bargnani. And I’d love if Toronto could still take a look at Theo Ratliff if the price was right.

The point I’m trying to make is that looking at the current roster, there still seem to be a few glaring holes.

Yes I understand that BC isn’t looking to have 12 nearly interchangeable players like he had last year, but going to battle without experienced back-ups, especially at the point guard position, just doesn’t seem very safe in the NBA.

But hey, maybe I’m the type that needs a security blanket.

After all I’m the same guy who praised Toronto’s depth last year at the start of the season and look where that got the team?

Perhaps I just need to get the Linus out of me and accept the fact that with limited resources, Colangelo and co. can’t bring in anyone else unless they’re willing to play for pennies.

And maybe I’m forgetting the most important thing here, that the Legomaster and his team have watched Roko extensively the past year plus and are quite sure that he’ll be fine behind Jose next year.

Let’s hope so.

Because a quick way to end the euphoria Sam Mitchell must feel about acquiring O’Neal, is to give him a back-up point guard that he needs to spend all year teaching how to play the NBA game.