July 1, 2010.
The significance of that date is no lost on NBA personel or fans alike.
It's the day that all suitors come to woo the likes of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and the Raptors own Chris Bosh.
I don't envy Bryan Colangelo this summer. Why? He has the unenviable task of trying to read someone else's mind and has to plan accordingly.
Chris Bosh has been steadfast in his desire to test the waters of free-agency this summer. He and the other big name members of the 2003 draft (save for Carmelo Anthony) signed extensions with their respective teams which included a player-option for the 2010-2011 NBA season. The deals were one-year shorter than the maximum allowed under the NBA's current Collective Barganing Agreement. The result?
One of the biggest free-agent crops in years.
Having offered CB4 an extension during the season (declined) Colangelo is now left with a decision to make - approach the off-season trying to do everything in his power to convince Bosh to re-sign, or, in the alternative, make moves assuming Bosh will be elsewhere.
There is no middle ground and this decision needs to be made now. Constructing a team with Chris Bosh as its cornerstone is very different from constructing a team without him.
Let's take a look at the two scenarios.
Scenario 1 - No Chris Bosh
Without Chris Bosh it is hard to know what team the Raptors will have next season. As far I can tell the Raptors will get little in return in a sign-and-trade and it's possible that after the deal Colangelo will have little room to work with, in particular if below the cap and without the MLE to work with.
Obviously if CB4 leaves there is a mammoth hole the rebounding department and the team will have no-one who can draw or demand a consistent double-team. Strong rebounding teams have success. So do teams that can create mismatches and force defenses to adjust. Without Bosh the Raps have neither.
Rebounders, in particular guys who can grab 10+ rebounds a game, don't exactly fall off trees. Players who grabbed 10 rebounds a game last year?
13 (not including Earl Barron who did so while playing 7 games for the Knicks). Not exactly readily available.
If Bosh should walk they will need to replace 25% of the teams rebounds per game or perhaps even more telling, 50% of the starting front-courts production on the glass.
Suddenly the need to find a rebound hog becomes increasingly important.
Also, unless Colangelo can unearth a player who demands a constant double team, the Raptors are going to be a breeze to defend. For all of the offensive punch this team has, without Bosh making space and creating open looks for others I can see a major drop-off coming in terms of offensive potency.
Without Bosh the entire offensive philosophy - one that no-one can complain about - will need to be adjusted and that's no easy task.
Of course without Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu's desire to have the ball in his hands more often will be met. It is difficult to forecast what the results of this could be but it would provide Hedo with the opportunity to make good on his public apology and have a bounce back season. If anything it should help increase his value and perhaps make both him and his contract more appealing to other teams.
Further, without Bosh the Raptors will actually have a true opportunity to determine what Bargnani is all about. Can he be a franchise guy? It's unlikely if his past performances without CB4 are any indication, but without Bosh commanding the ball 20+ times a game Bargs will have every opportunity to prove his worth.
The other big missing ingredient for this team if Bosh is not around? Someone who can regularly get to the free-throw line. Without Bosh this team rarely got to the charity stripe.
If Colangelo forecasts a team without CB4 the order of priorities for this off-season should look something like this (in order of importance):
4. Shot Creator/Free-throws
5. Stability at the PG position
6. Veteran Leader
(*Note that these are not mutually exclusive. For example, defenders and stability at the PG position are connected).
Trying to do address all of these needs is going to be a difficult task and it will take time. It is a long laundry list (perhaps too long). If this is the forecasted scenario BC needs to get to work right now, even if it is just exploring opportunities with the teams who are currently not playing. Moves will need to be made sooner rather than later.
Scenario 2 - With Chris Bosh
If Colangelo assumes Chris Bosh can be convinced to re-sign with the Raptors the team needs shift and priority number one goes from rebounding to finding some big-time help on the perimeter, in particular on the defensive side of the ball. Despite Hedo's signing last summer this team still lacks talent at both the 2/3 both offensively and defensively, either because of "fit" or lack of experience. Although one of DeMar DeRozan or Sonny Weems could take the next step this upcoming season neither has proven to be a consistent threat thus far.
Keeping Bosh also means that Hedo Turkoglu is, at best, the third banana on this team. With Bosh and Bargs demanding the ball just how much can Hedo improve if his game requires him to dominate the ball?
The help on the perimeter will also need to come from rectifying the PG situation. This season it became clear that Jose Calderon is too much of a defensive liability to play starters minutes and if you take Colangelo at his word during the press conference he wants a PG that can average 10+ assists a game - Jack does't exactly fit the bill.
Franchise can see Colangelo trying to move at least one of Jack or Calderon. I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that he moves both.
If Colangelo forecasts a team with CB4 the order of priorities for this off-season should look something like this (in order of importance):
3. Shot Creator
4. Stability at the PG position
5. Veteran Leader
Frankly this is a much more do-able list which is not surprising given the retention of an All-Star power forward. The Raptors offense is a well oiled-machine as is and with a few solid defenders and a change in attitude then its possibly things could be fixed rather quickly.
The problem is, at least it would appear, that Colangelo is not going to have the luxury of simply making small tweaks on the grounds that Bosh will be back. Should he do so and Bosh walks there is much less time to fix all of the a forementioned issues and it could leave this team in quick the predicament.
There is however a third option. Colangelo could always approach Bosh and his agent and work with them to come up with an off-season plan that satisfies all of Chris Bosh's criteria on the understanding that if certain things or done, Bosh will re-up.
That approach is rife with issues, let alone unlikely as I simply can't see Colangelo bending to the will of Bosh to such a degree. What if Colangelo can only achieve part of what Bosh wants? What if after meeting the list of demands Bosh decides to go elsewhere none the less? If you think that's unheard of just ask Cleveland fans about Boozer breaking his promise. Is it right to give this sort of 'say' to a player who is not good enough to carry a team into, let alone deep into, the playoffs?
No matter what happens Colangelo will need to do a lot of work before July 1. By then he will need to have come up with more reasons for Bosh to stay then simply more money, and if he decides to operate on the grounds that Bosh won't be back he needs to start working on that long laundry list.
I think we will know which way Colengelo thinks this is going to play out well before the July 1 date is upon us - and so will Chris Bosh.