The biggest strength that Masai Ujiri brought to the Toronto Raptors upon his recent hiring was his experience navigating difficult waters. He has had to be a leader through things like health issues of coaches, plus he made the Carmelo Anthony trade with the New York Knicks. When his focus turned to finding a willing trade partner for Andrea Bargnani, difficult waters, he called on a familiar trade partner and pulled the trigger on a deal that will send Bargs to New York.
Raptors fans feared there would be little-to-no market for Bargnani. But in Marcus Camby and Steve Novak, the Raps get a pair of NBA bodies, plus the real positive here is the draft pick(s) coming to Toronto as well. Currently, the rumors have everything from a 2016 first-round pick to a total of three draft picks coming to the Raps. We should know as early as Monday (Canada Day!) what the final tally is. For an organization in the midst of a regime change, and who felt the sting of no draft picks in this past draft, adding picks in exchange for Bargnani, whose days in the T-Dot were clearly numbered, is a coup. For me, the draft picks are the key return assets in this deal. I like Novak, but the draft picks are surely what Ujiri coveted here.
It remains to be seen how the Raps will use either of Camby or Novak. I would think buyouts and perhaps subsequent trades could be options. If Camby does stay, then we could see Dwane Casey use him to anchor his defense in spurts. Sort of how he used Tyson Chandler while they were with the Dallas Mavericks, but of course on a lower level than that as Camby-man is almost 40 and his best days are clearly behind him at this point. Novak is a fantastic shooter. If Casey can get the Raps team defense back to where it was in his first season at the helm, then they can hide a defensive liability like him. That allows them to have Novak camp out behind the three-point line and knock down open looks from Kyle Lowry kick-outs and Jonas Valanciunas kick-outs. Career-wise, Bargnani shoots just .363 from downtown, while Novak is a whopping .433 so we see clear potential here for an upgrade from behind the arc. Recently, Novak participated in the 2013 NBA All-Star Game three-point contest, plus he led the league for best three-point percentage in 2012 with a gaudy .472 percentage (11th last season with .425 percentage).
It is understandable that Ujiri would be looking to put his stamp on this team, and this move allows the organization to turn the page from the Bargnani era and allows Ujiri to add some additional bullets in the draft chamber going forward.
The Knicks have come under some fire for this trade, but they are hardily the first team to try to rejuvenate a player. If they can get Bargs turned around, then they get a legit scorer for their bench. It is true that Bargnani has had three straight seasons where his field goal percentage has been on the decline, and four straight where his three-ball has regressed, but the Knicks seem to believe they can reverse those trends. New York could cut ties with Bargs at some point soon after this upcoming season if things do not work out, but this looks like it has potential to be a win-win deal to me. Bargnani started his career playing well at Madison Square Garden, but the last few years have been pretty pedestrian for Bargs at the Mecca. It will be very interesting to watch him this season in orange and blue. Surely this Knicks team is the best talent he has ever been surrounded by so let’s see what that does to his game. He could become a solid contributor for this team.
As for the Raps, let’s remember that former GM Bryan Colangelo acquired a legit NBA body in Kris Humphries for a non-legit NBA body in Rafael Araujo early in his tenure. Um, let’s hope Ujiri’s era goes on to be significantly better than BC’s era went after early success.