In celebration of the Toronto Raptors' 20th season, we'll be taking a look at some key moments in the team's history. What was the context of the moment? What was its significance? And what song were you listening to as it happened? Welcome to the XX-Files.
July 10, 2013: The Toronto Raptors officially agree to trade Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a 2014 second round pick, a 2016 first round pick, and a 2017 second round pick.
Finishing with a meagre 37-45 record, it could still be said that the 2012-13 Toronto Raptors were an improved team. (They finished the previous lockout shortened season at 23-43.) This was the Rudy Gay year, in which the team looked to reshape itself once again on the fly and shoot its way back into the playoff discussion. It didn't quite work out.
Two significant things happened in the off-season that will forever be linked in Toronto team lore. One: the Raptors decided to hire Masai Ujiri as the General Manager of the team - forcing long-time GM Bryan Colangelo into an awkward presidential role (before ushering him out the door completely). And two: Toronto traded the aforementioned Andrea Bargnani, the franchise's first and only #1 overall draft pick, who had been selected by Colangelo seven years earlier.
If ever there was a moment in Raptors history that signified the closing of one door and the opening of another, this was it. The next season said goodbye to Gay, begat #WeTheNorth, and kickstarted one of the more improbably successful runs in Toronto sports' recent history.
Your number one song of summer 2013? "Blurred Lines". It's the song that probably felt like such a good idea at the time and now seems to grow in ugliness the farther we get away from it. From its controversial lyrics to its legally-wrangled creation, there is nothing positive in my memory of this song.
Is this the perfect Andrea Bargnani metaphor or what?
Despite its presence as a sequel (with a third film on the way), and its hundreds of millions in box office earnings, I can't for the life of me figure out what the hell Despicable Me 2 is supposed to be about.
Not to dogpile on Bargnani too much here (but I mean, come on): doesn't the entire Bargs era feel this way? For seven years we grappled with this Italian enigma and at the end of the road, we still don't know anything about him. All this, and the man held this franchise in his hands - he was the lynchpin!
There's no way to really dance around this fact: the Raptors had to take Andrea Bargnani with the #1 pick of the 2006 draft. You can gaze at that top 25 and pick out six intriguing names. No way do you take Rondo, Lowry or Gay with that pick. Aldridge was a player the team already had (Bosh). And Roy had significant (and totally legitimate) injury issues. So yes, the seven foot big man with the three point shooting stroke is the player you take at number one. Toronto had to do it.
But then you get the next seven years and the most mystifying player in Raptors' history.
It's hard to quantify what exactly Bargnani meant to Toronto. He was present for two playoff "runs" and became the enigmatic second option on teams led by first Chris Bosh and then DeMar DeRozan. He played with an eclectic mix of talent in Hedo Turkoglu, Rudy Gay, Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry. After a few strong seasons in which he managed to play more than 70 games, Bargnani's body started to break down, his skills atrophied and his value as a franchise cornerstone was gone. Fans went from hoping for the day when Bargs would put it all together, to praying for the day he could be shipped off to another team. Unbelievably, the Raptors managed to trade what had become their biggest contract albatross to New York, getting way beyond market value (despite two of the three actual players in the deal being immediately cut from the team). Fans were elated.
At a recent game against the Knicks I watched as an injured Bargnani worked out before the game. He was eventually greeted at centre court by Amir Johnson, his teammate of four years. The two talked and appeared to laugh about something. There was even a brief embrace. What were they talking about? What relationship could exist between the two? Between Bargnani and anyone? Will we ever know?
Search through pictures of Bargnani and his signature look is not hard to find; the classic glazed stare looking off into the middle distance, the mouth slightly agape, the beard forever half-formed. We will never know what thoughts wheel behind those eyes. We will forever stare back into the abyss that is Andrea Bargnani and wonder what, if anything, was staring back.