Pick, Blog and Roll

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Rob Babcock: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

It will be months before we know how Bryan Colangelo's Summer Magic Tour 2006 turns out. Predictions are all over the map: from David Copperfield making a 747 disappear, to David Blaine drowning in his own urine. In the meantime, we can all feel relief that Commander Rob is out of town, and share in the collective joy known throughout the league as "Babcock-watching".

For instance, check out this little gem on the Mike James signing:

    Rob Babcock was the Toronto general manager when the Raptors traded Rafer Alston to the Houston Rockets for Mike James, the new Timberwolves point guard, last Oct. 4. Now Babcock, back with the Wolves front office after about 18 months with Toronto, was instrumental in signing James, a free agent, to a $23.4 million, four-year contract. "There's a lot of things I like about him. One is he can shoot the three-pointer," Babcock said about James, who averaged 20.3 points last season. "He's got great range, and he's a legitimate three-point shooter, and that is something that you can never get enough of is having good shooters.
    -- Minneapolis Star Tribune
To recap the many reasons Babcock likes James:
1. "One is he can shoot the three-pointer"
2. "He's got great range"
3. "and he's a legitimate three-point shooter"
4. "you can never get enough [...] good shooters"

Having previously confessed that I'm not the bestest at English or Math, it should come as no surprise that I'm a little confused by Babcock's comments. Didn't he repeat himself four times in explaining why Mike James is the new hotness?

I'm probably just not reading it right.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Raptors Poach Salmons from Sixers

I don't really have much to say about this. Salmons is an OK player whose strengths are defensive versatility, and a name that easily lends itself to silly delightful turns of phrase.

In another developing story, the Toronto Raptors are now issuing press releases exclusively in Italian. Which is kind of odd, but indicative of the times, I suppose.

    COMUNICATO STAMPA

    Per Il Rilascio Immediato
    13 luglio 2006
    TORONTO RAPTURRI ANNUNCI DEL CONTRATTO DI JONNI SALMONE

    Direttore generale Bryan Colangelo oggi annunciato che Jonni Salmone ha firmato un contratto con Toronto Rapturri. I termini non sono stati annunciati, ma si crede che il Salmone abbia ricevuto un affare cinque anni, degno appena sotto ₤ 38,000,000,000 (lira).

    Dice Salmone:

    "It was down to the Raptors and Phoenix Suns. I'll be honest with you -- it was a tough decision. But Bryan Colangelo showed me that the opportunity in Toronto is [molto eccellente]. And I'm looking forward to adding more of an international flavor to this team, because most of the players are from Europe and Texas."

    Dice Colangelo:

    "Jonni is a good fit for our squad. He's versatile and a team-first guy. He'll get most of his minutes at small forward and off-guard, but can also play the point in a pinch. This signing strengthens our perimeter defense, and also gives us flexibility to explore trade opportunities for Morris Peterson. Throw in the contract of Alvin Williams, and we can take back close to $14 million in salary. ... Actually, don't print that last bit, ok? Is that thing recording?"

    Per le più informazioni, mettasi in contatto con prego il Maurizio Gherardini, Direttore generale di aiuto.

    - 30 -
And from the in case you were wondering file: Salmons' career high is 23 points, against the Raptors of course (2005-06 season). I almost didn't bother to look it up. I mean seriously, we're all well versed in the scientific method over here. And science is nothing to joke about.

Meet Your New Toronto Raptors, 2006-07 Champions

The Raptors are poised to add two of the best players in Europe to the roster, Maccabi Tel Aviv high-flyer Anthony Parker, and gritty Unicaja forward Jorge Garbajosa, aka "porno" -- so named because, they say, "he does everything obscenely well".

A quick review of the Euroleague's statistical leaders shows Parker and Garbaj ranked #2 and #5, respectively. In other words, these guys look like pretty good pickups. Even more so when you consider the dregs available in this year's NBA free agency market.

Which is why I simply can't hold back my enthusiasm any longer: the Raptors will win it all next year.

Bryan Colangelo is some kind of genius, I'm convinced of it. All that's left for him to do is convince Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to approve the team's transfer to the Euroleagues, and we're good as gold.

What team can match this lineup?

PG: TJ Ford, Jose Calderon
Ford is an upgrade over Calderon. And Calderon was one of the best point guards in Europe. I'm admittedly not very good at math, but if 5 > 4, then I'm pretty sure that means 5 > 3. Which by my count makes Ford an unstoppable force of nature. I can't wait to see Roko Ukic try to guard TJ. I think the word I'm searching for is irony. But then again, I was never very good at English either.

SG: Morris Peterson, Anthony Parker
I cite, as evidence, the fact that Maceo Baston is ranked #15 in Euroleague efficiency as indisputable proof that nobody overseas will be able to stop Peterson from doing whatever he wants with the basketball. Nobody. Baston, you may recall, played 106 glorious minutes with the Raptors during the 2002-03 season.

At the risk of getting repetitive, I cite the now established rule that "5 is greater than 4, 3, 2, and 1".

I'm sure someone out there will read this and feel compelled to inform me that "4, 3, 2 and 1 is 10". And this person will be right. Missing a couple of teeth perhaps, but right.

SF: Andrea Bargnani, Joey Graham
We already know about Il Mago's Euroleague scoring, and his ability to handle big game situations with aplomb. What you may not be aware of is that overseas he can play 30 minutes a game without averaging 7.7 fouls in the process.

If Joey Graham lays off the endless shrimp at Red Lobster next year, he could have a decent season too. But I do know those endless shrimp sure can be tasty, so that may be asking a bit much of Joey.

(Speaking of celebrity sightings, I crossed paths with Susur Lee yesterday, who was pigging out at Island Roti. Pigs are generally considered "cute" in Chinese culture, so I don't think he'll take exception to this description, but I've been wrong before.)

PF: Chris Bosh, Jorge Garbajosa (Porno), Kris Humphries
Who's going to stop Chris Bosh, Dejan Milojevic? As if. Yes, he's the #1 ranked Euroleaguer in player efficiency, but his only other claim to fame is being the fastest moving tree in Serbia.

C: Rasho Nesterovic, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani
Before coming to the NBA, Rasho played professional ball overseas. He knows the European game. He speaks a European language. He's tailor-made for the opportunity that stands before him.

Go Raptors! Go Porno!

Jokes aside, I am looking forward to next season. The chants of "Por-no! Por-no!" reverberating throughout the Air Canada Centre will be the greatest Toronto sporting experience in nearly 40 years. Only slightly less amusing -- the inevitable sea of "I [heart] Porno" signs and "Vote for Porno" T-shirts.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Hey Cletus, is you sure 'bout this Villa-nu-eva kid?"

Most of the press outside Toronto has voted decidedly against Toronto in ratings of the Villanueva-for-Ford deal.

ESPN's John Hollinger called it one of the most one-sided trades in recent memory. The Milkwaukee press gleefully praised the shrewdness of GM Larris Harris for "fleecing" the Raptors. Villanueva's agent expressed shock at at the trade. He's quoted as having exclaimed "that's all they got for Charlie" while yukking it up with his client, and comparing notes about where this deal lands in the list of all time worst trades.

(As if this could come remotely close to losing Vince Carter and buying out Zo for $10mm -- please).

Response in Toronto has been more positive. Dave Feschuk, the Star's resident hoops cynic, had good things to say, as did Doug Smith. In the blogosphere, Scott Carefoot seems content over at Raptor Blog. The folks over at RaptorsHQ were upset that their dream front-court of Bosh, Villanueva, and Olowanaki was not to be. (no comment)

Fans are divided into two camps: those who note that Villanueva once scored 48 points in a game (Group "A"), and those who note that he doesn't play a lick of defense, and costs his team as many (or more) points as he scores (Group "B"). Needless to say, the "A" folks are righteously pissed (being drunk, after all), and the "B" folks are looking forward to seeing the lightning-quick Ford in Raptors red next season.

So where am I going with all this? The 2006-7 season is still months away. Villanueva has yet to play a minute as a Buck. And the second-guessing in the land of Ol' Mil has already started:

    The word is Raptors GM Bryon Colangelo is ecstatic over acquiring T.J. Ford from the Bucks, and his jubilation is certainly understandable. Colangelo wants the Raptors to play a wide-open brand of basketball, similar to what his old team, the Phoenix Suns, is doing. Ford is not only the fastest player in the game, he is unquestionably one of the most talented young players at his position.

    Ford showed what he's capable of doing In his last 13 games with the Bucks. That's when Ford had seven games of 16 or more points, including 34 against the Magic and 26 against the Wizards. In that same span, Ford had six games of eight or more assists, including 15 in a playoff game against the Pistons. And he's just 23 years old. Unloading Ford may go down as one of the biggest blunders in Bucks' history.
No Cletus, Villanueva doesn't score 48 a game. And yes, I quite like TJ Ford too.

Frankly, all talk of "fleecing" and "one-sidedness" ventures into the realm of hyperbole. Both teams filled a need with this trade, and the Bucks do have talent at the PG position, so Ford was expendable. I know there will be nights that I look at the statsheet and will second-guess the wisdom of trading a guy who's capable of racking up 20 & 10 when he sets his heart to it. But I'm in favor of this deal. Defense is still important in the new NBA. And so is having a quick point who likes to share the rock.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Out with the Nueva, in with the New

I was a Charlie Villanueva supporter last year. I even forced convinced my son to buy his jersey at an early-season game instead of Chris Bosh's. It turns out that wasn't a very wise investment, given the end of the CV31 era in Toronto. Charlie has been traded to Milwaukee for TJ Ford.

The writing was on the wall, and frankly, I was calling for Villa to be traded for a while. He's likely to have a decent career as a scorer in the NBA. I'm a little bit worried that he could turn into a great scorer. But he's a below-average defender, is "wildly inconsistent" (as they say over at Raptor Blog), and lacks the tough-mindedness and grit that GM Bryan Colangelo is seeking to inject into the revamped Raptors lineup.

[snip]

Apparently the Milwaukee Bucks also subscribe to the scientifically proven principle that most NBA trades involve teams acquiring players who've achieved career or season bests at their expense. CV31, you will recall, racked up 48 points against the Bucks in March 2006.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2006 NBA Draft Predictions (aka "Pure Conjecture Report")

Now that everyone else has posted multiple revisions of their own Mock Draft Boards, it's time for me to plagiarize their good work throw down my own thoughts on how things will go down in New York on draft night.

In his short time as Toronto's GM, Bryan Colangelo has rid the Raptors of excess baggage while improving the team's summer cap flexibility with small but incremental gains. With that in mind, I'm speculating that the Raptors will be trading the player they take with the #1 pick. Which is convenient, as it makes for more interesting reading.

Without further ado...

1. Toronto: Rudy Gay **
Bryan Colangelo stated Tuesday that the Raptors would almost certainly hold on to their pick. On the same day, ESPN's Andy Katz reported that Rudy Gay was being considered by the Raptors ... and then not. The choice, according to Katz, is down to two. We've heard "Bargnani" for weeks. And speculation about Aldridge is rampant. Are the reports for real?

Here's the thing: the Raptors want to trade down, and everyone knows it. In the absence of sure-fire superstar talent in this year's draft, I suspect that all of the potential offers for the #1 pick are already on the table. Teams have been frozen in drafts past for fear of losing their guy. That's a danger here, and Colangelo alluded to it the other day in an interview.

Colangelo has scouted Bargnani more than any other GM. And he's seen more of the Italian forward than any other player in the draft. It won't send a good message if the Raptors pass on Andrea Bargnani. He could slide in the right circumstances....

2. Chicago: Lamarcus Aldridge
The Bulls are loaded with studs on the wing and in the backcourt. They need a forward who will contribute immediately. Aldridge is that player.

3. Charlotte: Tyrus Thomas
Before he trademarked #23, Michael Jordan was just an athletic and competitive kid from Carolina who made his mark in the NCAA tournament, oozed with potential, and possessed a strong work ethic. Thomas plays a different position and hails from Louisiana, but that's where the differences end. MJ sees too much of himself in Thomas, which is why he's going #3 to the Bobcats.

(On a related note: Jordan recently admitted that he didn't pay much attention to NCAA games last season. Which is another way of saying that he only took in March Madness, also known this year as The Tyrus Thomas Breakout Party.)

4. Portland: Adam Morrison
The most obvious pick of the draft ... unless something else happens, in which case I'll claim the blog was hacked by ESPN's Chad Ford.

5. Atlanta: Shelden Williams
The rumor mill has been churning for weeks on this one. Williams allegedly has a promise from the Hawks. He's a great rebounder, so he fills a need. It seems high, but in view of the press this has already received, I'm not keen on spending any time conjecturing on whether all clocks in Hot-lanta read 4:20.

(Speculation is rampant that the Hawks are picking for Houston here, and will acquire Williams via the Rockets' #8 in a trade. That's the second time I've used "rampant". I need a thesaurus.)

6. Minnesota: Brandon Roy
Kevin Garnett wants to win now. Marko Jaric isn't cutting it, and Rashad McCants is hurt. Roy fills a need, and will contribute immediately.

7. Andrea Bargnani **
The Celtics are just far enough down in the draft to miss out on the players they most covet. Which is why they'll take Andrea Bargnani, and ship him to Toronto along with a point guard in exchange for Gay and the contract of Alvin Williams. Gay probably isn't the #1 player on Boston's board, but he may be the only one in the top 6 who's selection ensures that Bargnani is still available.

I can also see GM Danny Ainge having interest in Mike James. James is not problem child per se, but his play was a distraction this year in Toronto. Ainge hasn't shied away from controversial players in the past (see: Ricky Davis, Michael Olowokandi, Antoine Walker). Any draft-day exchanges involving James will have to wait until July due to NBA free agency rules.

Picks 8-60
I don't have all day for this. You're trying my patience.

The Scientific Method (of NBA draft pick analysis)

The Raptors have continued a favorite past-time in NBA circles of picking up players who've posted season or career-high numbers against them. Here's the recent analysis:

    Kris Humphris
    Career high: 14pts
    Against: Phoenix (Bryan Colangelo era), 11/18/2005

    Rasho Nesterovic
    2005-6 season high: 14pts
    Against: Toronto, 2/8/2006
Which makes it perfectly obvious that the Raptors will draft Andrea Bargnani.

Il Mago is the only player among all draft candidates to have played competitive ball against the Raptors, even if it was only an exhibition game. By all accounts he played very well, and challenged Chris Bosh with his quickness and versatility.

So there you have it: the Toronto Raptors will select Andrea Bargnani in tomorrow's draft. As proven with "real science" that is about as accurate as anything else you're going to read in the coming 24 hours.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I'd like some "Garbaj" on the menu

This isn't recent news, but the Raptors are in the mix to sign Spanish league Unicaja forward Jorge Garbajosa to a contract. The signing was initially thought to be a done deal, until RealGM reported on June 12th that Phoenix is also in the mix. Which, it turns out, isn't all that surprising given that Garbajosa used to play under Mike D'Antoni at Benetton Treviso.

(Yes, another Italian connection. And on a related note, I learned the other day that Rasho Nesterovic also played in the Italian leagues before being drafted by the Timberwolves in 1998.)

Having just watched this video (which also includes footage of another player, who is apparently not NBA-worthy -- I guess he never played in Italy), I'm in favor of the move. Yeah, call me old-fashioned, but I like players who:

a) play defense
b) block shots
c) run
d) slash to the basket

"Garbaj", as he's called by myself and a few of his other closest friends, is the anti-Bonner. He doesn't hoist up as many 3-pointers. But he does everything else.

The Raptors won't find out if they've won the Garba sweepstakes until mid-July. In the meantime, I'll be brushing up on my Spanish visiting Babelfish in preparation of the welcome.

¿Hola Sr. Garbajosa, usted tienen gusto de un contrato?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Raptors buy some defense

The Raptors have traded Matt Bonner and Eric Williams to the Spurs for seven-foot center Rasho Nesterovic.

The Humphries-for-Hoffa swap appears to have been the precursor to this deal. Both trades point to an attempt to bolster Toronto's interior toughness.

While the Raptors will miss Bonner's 3-point shooting, they won't miss his lack of defense. And defense is the one thing that Nesterovic brings to the table.

Rasho's statistics are a bit misleading. He's not a great player and is overpaid at $7 mm per season, but he's reasonably mobile, fills a need, and doesn't immediately impact the team's cap space. He's also played sidekick to some very good players (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett), which has its benefits.

There are better centers available (Joel Przybilla, Samuel Dalembert, Jamaal Magloire), but all would come at a higher cost -- whether the loss of cap space, a high draft pick, or simply missed opportunity to clear the roster of excess baggage. In a sense, the Raptors acquired Nesterovic for free, losing only two players who weren't in the team's long-term plans. A future second round draft pick was also included -- it's not much of a loss, and these types of picks exchange hands all the time.

Toronto "won" the highest opponent shooting percentage contest last year, largely due to defensive lapses and uncontested baskets in the lane. Which is another way of saying that adding Nesterovic is an attempt to fix a very specific, but high impact, problem with the roster.

It should be noted that Bonner and Williams are free agents after next season, while Rasho's contract runs for another three two years. So the trade does have ramifications for longer-term cap flexbility. But if Nesterovic plays a good one-trick pony, this will be a minor inconvenience.