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What does a lockout mean for the Raptors?

July 4, 2011 1 comment

Billy Hunter and David Stern have been through this before.

According to most, the NBA’s 2011-2012 season is in real jeopardy. Hockey fans will remember this well – a broken system with the majority of owners losing money and a real change in the way business is done becoming a necessity. The difference is that hockey has experienced (and desperately needed) a sort of revival – commonly referred to as the post-lockout era – whereas the NBA is coming off perhaps its most hyped and entertaining season in decades. Here at Toronto Sports Fanatic all we want to know is: How will this lockout affect the Raptors?

The Raptors organization is one of the few that makes a nice profit despite their perennial bottom-feeder status, so I’m sure the board at MLSE is none too pleased to see an entire season go to waste – especially if the rumours are true for any impending sale of the teams. However, with the continued financial success of the Leafs and the hundreds of other projects undertaken by MLSE, ownership can afford to fight alongside their brethren until a favourable deal is reached with the Player’s Association.

As for the team and players this is pretty much a lose-lose situation. The Player’s Association – like that of the NHL’s – is going to have to give back a lot. Salary rollbacks, a hard or flex cap, player amnesties, and lower max years and money for contracts all seem like an inevitability. Also, with one of the youngest teams in the league and the inability for players and coaches to interact, an entire season of development would be lost for the likes of Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, and Demar Derozan. It is up to the players to stay in shape and find ways to work on their games during the lockout – something I’m sure management discussed thoroughly with the players before the lockout began.

The only positive of losing an entire season may sound a bit pessimistic; it’s one less year of pain – one less year of the stress of having to watch this young team throw away leads or get blown out of the gym on the back end of a back to back during another horrendous west coast trip. The contract of Leandro Barbosa would expire and Jose Calderon would become a more tradeable asset with only one year remaining on his contract. Calderon could still function as a veteran leader in a young locker room while helping to groom any young point guard that may be drafted in the 2012 draft before being jettisoned off to a contender for a draft pick. And, Jonas Valanciunas would make his NBA debut after a developmental year overseas and hopefully quiet the wolves who came out after his name was announced on draft day.

Finally, that brings us to the topic of the 2012 NBA Draft. So, what exactly happens if the entire season is locked out? What would the draft order be? Well, according to Larry Coon of ESPN, a system similar to what the NHL adopted after their lockout could be used. Every team would have a chance at the #1 pick, but a weighted system based on playoff appearances over the last three seasons and #1 picks over the last four would determine the division of ping pong bals. That would seem to immediately give the Minnesota Timberwolves the best chance at winning with the Raptors not far behind. And with a talented crop coming through the results of the 2012 NBA Draft could have far greater consequences on the future of the Raptors than this past one did.

The Raptors have been unwilling to go into luxury tax area in recent years, so a hard cap and salary rollback would appease the owners. League management, including perennial overspenders, would have to scramble to alter their philosophies and adapt to any new system. The NBA would then become something similar to that of the NHL – creative and flexible management would determine success rather than simply money and city status. Raptors fans need to ask themselves: Is Bryan Colangelo the man you want in charge in a new system? Are his talents best suited to an NHL type system or could his impatience and seeming short-sightedness (with everyone besides Andrea Bargnani) hurt this franchise for years to come. Lots of questions to be asked, but few answers until pen is put to paper and the future of the NBA’s financial system becomes more clear.

More Questions Than Answers

Valanciunas has a buyout issue with his European club and might not be able to play next season.

Bryan Colangelo needed to make the safe play in order to appease his critics. He didn’t. That wouldn’t be his style.

Instead he chose the 6’11, 240 pound Lithuanian center with a name that Jeff Van Gundy didn’t even bother trying to learn – Jonas Valanciunas (pronounced Val-en-choo-niss).

All reports leading up to the draft had the Cavs favouring Valanciunas with the #4 pick. San Antonio made a late push dangling Tony Parker for a chance to get into the lottery to snap up Valanciunas. None of the lottery teams bit and instead the Spurs traded backup guard George Hill to the Pacers for another name tied to the Raptors all draft in Kawhi Leonard.

However, when the Cavs chose Brampton native Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick there was a sense in the air that the Raptors would follow up with a similar surprise. When David Stern stepped to the podium Raptors fans wanted to hear the name Brandon Knight. A lot expected to hear the name Bismack Biyombo. A very select few expected to hear Jonas Valanciunas. The rest of the Raptor faithful scurried to ironically tweet their anger and seemed to collectively shake their heads that Bryan Colangelo had selected another soft euro.

The questions began to rain down:

Is this guy strong enough to play Center? – Valanciunas doesn’t believe so right now.

Will he even be able to play next season?

The Raptors are drafting another big? What happens to Andrea Bargnani – we aren’t going to trade him???

What is this guy’s ceiling? Is he really anything like Big Z?

And unfortunately for Bryan Colangelo the answers won’t come soon enough. Colangelo has two years to get this team on the right track and part of that process came with this selection. By not making the safe pick Colangelo has hammered one nail into his own coffin.

Brandon Knight fell to the Pistons at #8 (and he certainly wasn’t happy about that). Raptors fans saw him as a long-term solution to the point guard problem in Toronto but apparently Colangelo, and quite a few other teams, didn’t. Knight is going to have a good rookie season in Detroit and Raptors fans will curse Colangelo like they did when Brandon Jennings went off for 55 points and completed a rather solid rookie season himself. At that time fans were upset that Colangelo passed on him but how many would now trade Jennings for Derozan?

The point of this exercise is that none of us know how Valanciunas will turn out. He might end up being a better player than Knight or Biyombo or Kemba Walker. If he does, Bryan Colangelo might not even be around to see it. Colangelo needed to make the safe pick to most likely save his job, but he made the choice that he thought would give the Raptors the best chance to win an NBA title in the future. It’s honourable, risky, and probably stupid. More questions than answers – that’s what it’s like being a Raptors fan.