Umm, this might be hard to take for a certain strain of Toronto Raptors fans, so grab a seat if you need to, or at least hold on to something steady.
Here it goes: Your new-look Toronto Raptors are shaping up to look a lot like your old Toronto Raptors. Yup, the crummy ones.
Yes, you heard that right. Change is not coming, at least for now.
Masai Ujiri is over a month into his new job running the woebegone Raptors and his solution to fixing a team that has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons is to do not much.
So far his biggest move has been to trade away the franchise’s symbolic stain, Andrea Bargnani.
In return Toronto got Steve Novak — a one-dimensional shooter and helluva nice guy introduced Wednesday afternoon; some distant draft picks and two veterans — Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson — who don’t want to play here and probably wouldn’t help all that much if they did.
Expect Richardson to be bought out and Camby to be shopped for a second-round pick and an expiring contract.
Oh, and Ujiri is in the final stages of signing free agent Tyler Hansbrough, an undersized power forward last with the Indiana Pacers who comes heavy on sandpaper and light on talent who will likely come off the bench.
He averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds a game in just 16.7 minutes for the Pacers, but saw his minutes drop in the playoffs this past spring.
Hansbrough has been known to take a hard foul and plays hard enough to irritate his more talented peers and this is at least part of his appeal — that plus he works cheap, his deal worth $3 million this season with a team option for 2014-15.
Ujiri has been a bit vague about how he’s going to reconstruct the roster he inherited, but he was clear about the Raptors being a harder team to play against in the short-term.
“I’m tired all the people coming here and calling the team soft or pushovers or all the stupid names they have mentioned,” said Ujiri. “You come to Canada and you come to play. That’s the identity we’re trying to build here. This is our team, this is Canada and we’re going to be tough out there.”
But as for changes, that’s pretty much it. Ujiri may eventually prove to be a fantastic general manager, but he’s not exactly the type to oversell when it comes to hype.
“If something reasonable comes our way, we’ll do it,” he said with regard to his plans for the rest of the off-season. “But other than this we’ll keep plugging away.”
Soooo this is the club he’s ready to go to training camp with?
“That would be fine; that would be completely fine,” he said Wednesday before heading to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League that begins next week.
Can you really build a season ticket campaign around not having Andrea Bargnani?
We’re about to find out apparently.
Staying the course may not be sexy and it may not be what fans enthusiastic about trolling the dregs of the league this season in hopes for salvation in the form of Andrew Wiggins, or another franchise-altering talent in what is viewed as a very deep 2014 draft class.
In fact staying the course sounds an awful lot like the route Bryan Colangelo was advocating before the Raptors previous architect was pushed aside to make way for Ujiri, his former protégé.
But upon further study it’s the sensible path for the moment and one that Ujiri is probably wise to head along, even though he has the license to turn the team upside down.
Just because he can doesn’t mean he should.
Having had time to survey the market he’s probably come to realize that there’s no point conducting a fire sale in the name of a hurried tank and rebuild if there is no one who wants what you’re selling, other than at rock-bottom prices.
When the best offer for Rudy Gay is a pair of expiring contracts in Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey from the Detroit Pistons, what’s the point?
The Raptors don’t need cap space; they need assets in the form of draft picks or good young players.
For now Ujiri is dealing from a weak hand.
There may be interest in DeMar DeRozan, but the young swingman is entering the first-year of a four-year contract extension that pays him $9.5 million a year.
He may grow into the deal, but why take back a contract or a player that’s not to Ujiri’s liking?
Why try to solve a perceived problem simply by creating another one?
“I’m looking at this situation and we’re going to take it as it comes,” said Ujiri. “We’re going to be aggressive out there but we’re also going to wait and see what we have on our team instead of doing something stupid and quickly … what are we going to do? Throw players away? We’re not going to do that.”
It’s a no lose situation, really.
The simplest path to middling success in the NBA is continuity and chemistry. If a good coach can get a consistent group of players to play harder and smarter than other teams it’s not that difficult to go .500 in a league where the schedule will always hand you a chunk of wins and high effort, error-free basketball will earn you a good chunk more.
Bringing back Dwane Casey as head coach and most of the same roster, minus Bargnani, will give the Raptors a chance at that.
If that comes to pass, the value of the Raptors’ assets should increase, giving Ujiri more cards to play as he goes along.
And if it doesn’t the Raptors are no worse off than they are now. They can sink into the lottery by way of natural causes.
Staying the course will be win-win. Or lose-win.
In either scenario there will be plenty of time for a fire sale then.