One day after trading for Sebastian Telfair, Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo spoke to the Toronto media after the team’s morning shootaround. Not surprisingly, the media availability session opened with two questions about Telfair and the CBA while the rest of the 17-minute conversation was about the future of Andrea Bargnani.
While the fan reaction to Bargnani is perhaps as bad as it’s ever been — he checked into the game to a mix of cheers and boos during Toronto’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night — Colangelo continues to believe in the player he drafted seven seasons ago. He also stressed that the team was not willing to make a move “just to make a move” with respect to Bargnani.
Telfair is expected to arrive in Toronto Friday evening, but will not be available for the game against the Knicks. He will wear No. 13 for the Raptors.
Linas Kleiza also spoke with the media after a Lithuanian media report made the rounds yesterday saying that his career was in danger and he might need another knee surgery. Kleiza refuted the report and said he is feeling good and has spent the past six weeks rehabbing and building up his quad muscle. He was notified about the report by his brother on Friday morning. “I had no idea,” Kleiza said. “I found out this morning. My brother called me. I feel great. Took the past six weeks off to build up quad strength … but I feel the best I’ve felt since the surgery.
“This article came out saying my career was over, I’m retired. It’s funny, you know … I don’t even know what to say.”
It was clear that Kleiza was upset with the report, especially considering he hadn’t spoken with anyone about the status of his knee.
“I don’t even want to talk about it and I don’t know how you can write something like that out of the blue,” Kleiza said. “It’s funny, but at the end of the day it’s not funny when they talk about you like that.” Kleiza said he is focused on getting back and could return to the court as soon as next week.
Read on for some highlights from Colangelo’s conversation with the media on Friday morning.
Acquiring Gay was Raps’ big move
– On the team’s big move being the trade to bring Rudy Gay to Toronto and where they stand with respect to their record and the postseason moving forward:
“Well, of course a lot of conversation leading up to the deadline yesterday, but we got our work done three weeks ago and that was a very significant trade. Obviously a franchise altering trade if you will. You can see the effect Rudy Gay has had on this organization already. We were already on the path or ascension to respectability…If you look at where we are we feel like we’ve definitely climbed into the playoff argument. Not only for this year but certainly for seasons moving forward. If you look at the start of the year, it was disappointing. We all acknowledged that. We found creative ways to lose games. The team assisted in a few of those losses to their admission, but at the end of the day we dug a pretty deep hole.
“The reality is the season doesn’t start today. The season started awhile back. We’re going to do everything we can to try to fight to move toward the playoffs. Looking at the roster moving forward, the acquisition of Rudy Gay, the organic growth of these players, we feel like we’re a playoff team moving forward. The question of this year versus next year is the only outstanding issue.”
Why the Raptors acquired Telfair
– Colangelo talked about the team’s decision to bring in another point guard to be covered in the event of injury while also praising the job that John Lucas III has done in a reserve role for the team:
“Yesterday did culminate with us shoring up one area that we felt did need some insurance if you will, by acquiring Sebastian Telfair. We feel like we’re getting a player that gives us the necessary depth at that position. (John Lucas) Luke had done a great job filling in on the short term. The ability to score, the ability to man those minutes, he did an admirable job and I don’t necessarily see him getting supplanted right away, but what I do see is a guy that is capable of playing those minutes if need be and if someone were to go down with injury you’ve got a guy that has started I believe 192 games in the NBA who can come in and play this games if need be.”
Financial gains made during deadline
– On the financial bonus of gaining a point guard via trade and being able to shed Hamed Haddadi’s contract, as well as information on the protected second-round pick that was sent to Phoenix:
“Some people have said different things about the transaction we made yesterday. It not only shored up a point guard position need that we had, but it also took a $200,000 commitment off of the books for next year with Haddadi’s contract. It sounds like nothing, but $200,000 over the tax next year is actually a $300,000 tax with a $1.50-per-dollar principle for the first $5-million over.
“It was a $500,000 decision just for next season. The pick that was pledged is a conditional pick. There’s some protection on it. It may or may not be conveyed. At some point, you almost hope that it’s conveyed because it would mean we have a complete falling out next year if (it weren’t conveyed). They’re going to get the least favourable of the two picks, ours and Sacramento. If the idea holds true that we’re a playoff team, you’re looking at something 45 and on.”
Bargnani still a Raptor… for now
– Colangelo on the decision to keep Bargnani in a Raptors uniform for at least the rest of this season and how the timing of his injury affected possible moves that could have been made:
“We talked a lot, and I’ve acknowledged that there’s been dialogue with Andrea and his agent, Leon Rose, about the notion that perhaps a change of scenery would be the best thing for both Andrea and for the organization. However, I think I acknowledged at the same time that we wouldn’t make a deal just to make a deal.
“The reality is that this dialogue began long ago. We jumped into the season. Unfortunately, Andrea got hurt. Once the injury occurred, his return, as late as it was in the process, as near to the trade deadline (as it was), probably did not leave enough runway with respect to a deal being made now. That didn’t stop us from having dialogue with other teams or teams expressing interest. I believe it did affect some of the deals that we were probably discussing in advance of the injury, and even some that we were maintaining connection or dialogue over the course of the last couple months.”
Colangelo defends Bargnani’s season
– Colangelo defended the season Bargnani has had, pointing to the changes to the roster and his role that have occurred over the past couple of months. He did acknowledge that since his return from the elbow injury that kept him sidelined for 26 games, his play has been inconsistent, but said once again that the team still believes in the 27-year-old big man:
“Andrea has obviously been criticized for his play after coming back. I would probably label it, myself, as 50 per cent good and 50 per cent not so good. He’s had a couple of games where coach has stayed with him down the stretch, and we’ve won those games. I think he was very engaged in a few of the contests. You have to understand also that if you look at the team that he’s coming back to, if he appears to be a little bit out of sorts, maybe not fully comfortable, in reality, it’s a different team. It’s an entirely different team. If Andrea was the first option at the beginning of the season, he’s now been relegated to the third or fourth option.
“A couple things have happened: We acquired Rudy Gay; DeMar DeRozan has also elevated his play, much to a number of critics’ question marks, an ability to play alongside of Rudy Gay and thrive. DeMar’s game has elevated to something that you would look back at the beginning of the year that is markedly different. I would also say that Jonas Valanciunas was coming back from an injury. Kyle Lowry is now the starting point guard. Jose Calderon is gone. This is a new team, a new environment. He’s being asked to come off of the bench right now as opposed to start.
“You add all of that up, it’s going to take a while to get acclimated to the new surroundings. I would tell you that we still firmly believe in Andrea’s talent. We obviously want to see him do well in terms of us as an organization achieving what we’re capable of, achieving the maximum potential.”
Fans’ mixed reaction to Bargnani
– The most pointed remarks from Colangelo came when he was asked if he was concerned with the mixed reaction Bargnani has received from fans since his return to the lineup:
“Well, if you keep writing bad things about him probably, but that’s a reality of our business. People criticize me, people criticize the coach, people criticize the players all the time. Andrea has shown he is somewhat … he’s effected by it obviously. I think we all are. But he’s a man and he has to strap on his shoes and play basketball. I think him just even getting the trade deadline behind him and all the uncertainty about whether he will be here or not will probably help a bit. But he’s here, he’s part of the team and we are going to try and get the most out of him.”
What the Raptors need from Bargnani
– Colangelo said he spoke with Bargnani after the deaden passed yesterday. With the stresses of wondering if he’ll be dealt now laid to rest, Colangelo talked about what the team needs from Bargnani in his new role for the remaining 27 games of the season.
“I have already had that (conversation). Again, there has been open dialogue with he and his agent through the process and then yesterday after the deadline I had the chance to speak to him to just let him know he’s here and he’s part of the team and it’s time to focus on doing the things that he needs to do to help the team. Whether that’s starting or coming off the bench, that’s not my decision, that’s something the coach will have to decide, but he should embrace whatever that is and probably do a few things differently.
“Maybe put a little more focus on the game now and start to get a little more comfortable with the surroundings. As I said, there has been a lot thrown at him since he left with the injury and coming back but he’s going to have to step up and again everybody on the team is going to have to step up if we are going to hit our internal goal of reaching the playoffs.”
Colangelo also stressed that there was never a formal request to be moved from Bargnani or his agent, but that both parties have had an open dialogue about where things stand.