So You Want to Rebuild, Eh?
I’m not sure what’s more exciting, the realization that Christmas is just 16 days away or the fact that FSLR now covers the NBA, but I guess it’s the reality of the world we live in.
In most sports, rebuilding is a multi-year process. Just ask the Oakland Raiders. But in the NBA, there’s an easy way to streamline the process: Tank.
A top NFL draft pick? He can take years to develop and even then there’s no guarantee he’ll pan out. An MLB one? It’ll be an eternity until he ever makes the pros. But with the NBA, tanking is a completely viable and utterly necessary option. With only 5 guys on your side of the court, a top flight prospect can come in and make an immediate impact literally from day one.
To be really good, you need to be really bad first. But you can’t just be sorta bad, you need to go into full-fledged free fall mode to make this tactic work. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri knows this. He knows it so well that I think he deserves one of those Nike shirts “Ujiri Knows.” In fact, Ujiri’s track record is so impressive that I think he can be classified somewhere in between a wizard and a God. After all, this is the same man that got 100 cents on the dollar for a star player in Carmelo Anthony during his tenure with Denver. No one gets equal value in return for a star player, but Masai did. You know why? Because Ujiri Knows.
At the beginning of the season, two of the NBA’s worst contracts resided in Toronto. Andrea Bargnani was set to make more than $10 million this year and has a player option (that he most certainly will accept) for $11 million next year. What does the wizard do? He unloads him on a Knicks franchise that currently trails the Raptors in the Atlantic Division standings.
But his true sorcery showed this past weekend when Ujiri dumped Rudy Gay and his mammoth contract on the Kings and their naïve fan base. The new Sacramento “star” has a contract that pays him $18+ million this year and $19 million next year on a player option that only Andrei Kirilenko wouldn’t exercise. So unloading that deal was priority number 1 going into the season, and now priority number 1 is crossed off the list. In return, the Raptors receive Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons. Although what makes this trade truly remarkable is the fact that the worst kept secret in the NBA is that Rudy Gay isn’t actually a very good basketball player anymore.
At the peak of his powers (2009-11) Gay was a 19 (ppg) and 6 (rpg) guy while also playing above average defense. That puts him in the league’s top 35 players, but by looking at his contract you would think he’s a top 5 commodity. Do you think there’s a reason that he’s been on 3 teams since the beginning of last season? There most definitely is:
Those stats show Gay’s FG% from 2 point range as well as how many shots he jacks up from that distance. This is the biggest qualm talent evaluators have with the small-forward… he takes way too many 2’s. However, despite that blatant fact, Gay now shoots 2 more per game than he was at any point in his career while also making less than 40% of them. That ratio is flat-out terrible and the main reason why no team wanted any part of the 27 year old, yet Ujiri somehow found a trade partner.
This blockbuster deal also made the Raptors a worse team in the short-term, thus improving their stock for the upcoming draft. But the aforementioned “upcoming draft” isn’t one that comes around very often. In fact, it has been labeled by many as the best class in 29 years. The pool of rookies in 1984 were supremely talented, but this 2013-14 group has a chance to overtake their all-time ranking. And where do you want to be when picking from the cream of the crop? At the very top. Ujiri made sure of that for his team.
The core of Toronto isn’t all that bad either which makes them exciting to watch because of how much better they can become. Jonas Valanciunas has solidified himself as a top 5 NBA center and Demar Derozan is a quality NBA wing. Complementary pieces like Terrance Ross and Griveis Vasquez also have potential to be solid building blocks for this team.
But wait, there’s more. The Raptors now have $18 million dollars worth of cap space to spend which could land them a max free agent this summer. However, a better course of action might be to take on a massive (hopefully expiring) contract from a team looking to unload it and taking their 1st round pick for the trouble. This garners another pick in one of the most stacked drafts in history and will greatly increase the odds of finding top talent while also paying minimum dollar. Although I’m not the wizard, Masai Ujiri is. I’ll leave the decision making up to him. I just hope he knows that Andrew Wiggins is from Canada.