Mackenzie on Raptors: Time to break up with Bargnani

December 6, 2012, 10:58 PM

With the losses mounting, it looks more and more doubtful that the answer involves Andrea Bargnani remaining in a Toronto Raptors uniform.

In fact, in the wake of the latest 107-100 loss to the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night, it’s become glaringly obvious.

Front office needs to figure out a solution for the Bargnani situation they have on their hands and they need to figure it out soon.

It’s not that the blame for this season’s struggles falls squarely on the shoulders of Bargnani (there are a lot of things going on here), or even that he did anything particularly damning in the fourth quarter in Sacramento. The reality is it has been nearly seven years and the Bargnani + Toronto equation has not produced the answer each side wants.

Against Sacramento, 2010 first-round draft pick Ed Davis performed well — not the first time this has happened in recent weeks. Davis finished the game on the bench and watched Bargnani play out the loss on the floor. The scoreboard showed the team trailing by 12 when Bargnani left the game and Davis entered. It later showed the Raptors ahead by one in the fourth when Davis exited and Bargnani returned. When it was over, the scoreboard showed a seven-point defeat — the Raptors eighth loss in nine tries.

The problem with having Bargnani on this roster — something that wouldn’t be a problem if he were on another team with more offensive options where he hadn’t been peddled as a face of the franchise for the past few years — is that while he is here, he has to play. It’s hard to keep a player as talented as him on the bench when the team is struggling. It’s also hard to play him when he is struggling.

Sitting him brings another problem, though. If the team is indeed trying to move him, he cannot be moved if he doesn’t play, but playing him while he plays badly also doesn’t help the team’s case.

It’s a vicious circle that leads back to Bargnani being on the floor in crunch time, even if he hasn’t proven successful in that role.

Mix in a fan base that is sick and tired of losing leads late in games with Bargnani on the floor and you have another reason why it is time for something to be done. When the relationship appears to be strained, sometimes the best practice is to simply part ways.

The team has taken steps forward in the rebuild — most recently by committing four years and $38 million to DeMar DeRozan. It got the draft right by recognizing and selecting Jonas Valanciunas as an important piece of their future. But the defensive combination of Bargnani and Valanciunas — both starters — is not a good one. That defensive identity the team carved out last season and is currently searching aimlessly for? That was created and cultivated while Bargnani was on the sidelines for all but the first 13 games of the season rehabbing from his calf injury.

Who Bargnani is — and who he is not — no longer fits with what this team is trying to do and working to become.

It is a shame that things couldn’t work differently because Bargnani is a talent. He has flaws, all do, but he remains an exceptionally skilled basketball player. He showed that during that 13-game stretch to start last season before going down with a calf injury. He’s had his moments where he makes scoring 30 points look effortless and, as we’ve been reminded so many times over the past six seasons, he is a nightmare match up. After sinking six years into him, it’s understandable why Bryan Colangelo and the team didn’t want to entertain talks or offers for him a season ago; you want to collect returns on all of the time invested. It’s a bitter thought to picture Bargnani going elsewhere, finally figuring things out and flourishing there.

Perhaps this does happen. But whether it does or does not isn’t what matters. What matters is the truth and the reality of the situation is that Bargnani is not flourishing with the Raptors and the Raptors franchise is not flourishing with Bargnani.

After a double-overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in which Bargnani had a dreadful offensive performance, shooting just 2-for-19 from the floor, Casey said he understood why people would second guess why he didn’t go with Davis, who was having a career night, over Bargnani, who had been flat all afternoon. He summed it up simply, saying, “I’ve got to go with Andrea. Come hell or high water, he’s our guy.”

Sitting at 4-15 on the season, Casey’s words speak more truth than he might have intended. As long as Bargnani is on this roster, he will be the guy. The difference between hell, high water and where this team is remains a man-made disaster that needs fixing before further damage occurs

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