Andrea Bargnani, Now Or Never, For Real

Andrea Bargnani will need to prove he can contribute to a winning team

By Dan Levine

With the NBA on its way back, the local media landscape actually includes some Raptors-related content.

And sure, there are free agents to discuss and new CBA rules to digest, but it’s quickly become apparent that Bryan Colangelo has no plans to spend much coin in the near future (Eric Koreen, National Post):

“Let’s just say to go out and spend money [immediately] just to spend money would be probably swimming against the current idea of what the plan is all about,” Colangelo said.”

“The plan is to acquire the right pieces, the correct pieces to keep adding to this young nucleus that we have or to put championship pieces together.”

Regardless of what you think of that strategy/sentiment, it means that much of the spotlight will fall on the development of current players and new head coach Dwane Casey. Jonas Valanciunas is still a year away, and wins will ultimately be less important than a sense of direction and individual progression.

Some of the more important players to follow will be DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson. Davis and Johnson could battle for minutes at the power forward spot, while Bayless will look to prove he can handle the starting point guard position. DeRozan is up for an extension at the end of the season and 2012 will be an important year for him.

Still, none of these players present the quagmire that is Andrea Bargnani.

Entering his sixth season, Bargnani seemingly presents as many question marks as he did on draft day. Inconsistent defense and questionable effort are hallmarks of his game, but still, Bargnani has the ability to score at an elite level for a big man. And so, the Raptors continue to look for ways to win with him in the lineup, despite countless frustrating moments along the way.

Many fans want Bargnani gone now. Others wanted him gone yesterday, or three seasons ago. Through it all, we often heard that each season was Bargnani’s “now or never” campaign, only to see him return to his starting role despite disappointing results. But 2011/2012 appears to actually, really be Bargnani’s last chance to prove himself in Toronto.

As Tim Chisolm writes:

“One of the reasons that the Raptors hired Dwane Casey as their head coach was so that he could try to hide Andrea Bargnani on defence the same way that he hid Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. If Bargnani can be so hidden, then his place in Toronto’s future may be cemented. If he cannot be, then the Raptors need to divest themselves of his services. They have to see him play under Casey, though, to know one way or another.

So why the urgency? Because no player on the roster requires as much compensating for as Bargnani; and if Colangelo is to make roster alterations to continue this rebuilding process, he needs to know if Bargnani is a piece worth compensating for anymore or not. This season was meant to be a freebie of sorts for Casey and Colangelo; a year where everyone knew losing was inevitable but they could tinker with their roster makeup before getting a windfall of cap space, a potentially dynamite draft pick in a loaded draft, and the arrival of the centre of the future, Jonas Valanciunas. After next summer, the expectations are going to heat up, and they can’t afford to continue assessing Bargnani in that environment. By next summer they need to know – one way or another – what they are doing with him, and they need this season to figure out what the answer to that question is.”

Chisolm nails this one right on the head. With the Raps expected to completely bottom out this season (if they hadn’t already), there is a mostly pressure-free environment to develop players. Bargnani is out of excuses at this point, and it will be interesting to see whether he can improve under coach Casey, or whether fans will be subjected to more of the same. If Bargnani can really be hidden on defense, it will make it much easier to appreciate his offensive contributions. On the other hand, it may be impossible to properly contend with a defender as putrid as Bargs.

Take this next link with a grain of salt, but Ryan Wolstat of the Sun reports that Bargnani has been working hard on his game during the lockout, including recent sessions in Toronto with personal trainers. As Chris Rock would say, “Want a cookie?” This should be expected from Bargnani… but it’s still nice to see after years of laziness.

Where do you stand on Bargnani? Agree that he should get one last chance, or think the team should ship him out before the season starts? And, can a coach like Dwane Casey really change a player like Bargnani, even after five seasons in the NBA? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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