When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to…

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This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Miami Heat. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last Season: Honestly, it could have been a lot worse. I understand that’s going to come as no consolation to Raptors fans who had to sit through a season with no defense yet again, where the team’s biggest star is the fans’ least favorite (Andrea Bargnani), and who never capitalized on the space gained from Chris Bosh’s rapid departure. But really, it could have been much worse.

The Raptors were simply a non-factor last season, and it wasn’t really anything surprising. You knew they would be bad defensively, and they were. Primarily, the players caught the heat for that. At no point was the blame directed at Jay Triano, despite the fact that system has more of an effect on NBA defense than personnel nearly every time. But there was a lot to hate about this team. Bargnani struggled with double teams and continued to be horrid defensively, at least as a help defender. (Research shows Bargnani’s actually pretty decent at man defense, but don’t tell Raptors fans, they’ll throw things at you.) Jose Calderon was overpaid still even if he contributed as much as he could. Amir Johnson was Amir Johnson and not the revelation many hoped he would be. Johnson was better at the things he’s bad at but not much better at the things he’s good at. Jerryd Bayless provided a spark but got lost in the mass and perhaps the most promising player was DeMar DeRozan.

Since we last saw the Raptors: Well, they hired an NBA champion assistant coach, for starters. Triano was lifted from the head coaching position and into a consultant role by Bryan Colangelo, while Dwane Casey was brought in. Casey is expected to bring in the defense he helped oversee in Dallas and focus on changing the culture of the Raptors. Speaking of Colangelo, the big guy was given an extension which almost no one understood as he has seemingly perpetuated the problems in Toronto with personnel and strategic decision making. The Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas who is expected to be the big tough center Bargnani never was, and there’s talk of Bargnani moving to power forward, since moving him is nearly impossible with the extension granted to him in 2010. Valanciunas won’t be available until the 2012-2013 season, however, due to his overseas contract.

The Raptors clear a ton of cap space this season, and a possible amnesty clause could have dramatic effects for them. Leandro Barbosa exercised his option before the lockout and is owed $8 million. But the Raptors will be clearing a lot of excess.

When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to:  Make sure there’s an amnesty clause. The Raptors aren’t in the worst shape financially. But an amnesty clause could do wonders for them. You’ll find a good discussion of their options for the amnesty clause here. Most notably, and this is tough for me to say, they need to find a way to rid themselves of Andrea Bargnani.

I’m a Bargnani guy. I think guys that can score from the 4-5 spot are rare in this league, and despite his terrible tendencies defensively, I don’t see a player beyond hope. I think with Dwane Casey working with him and beside Valanciunas, he could redeem himself for years of apparent apathy and laziness. But the Raptors fans I hear from are simply done with him. They want nothing more to do with him, they don’t want him to be the face of the franchise, and he is, by any and all measure, drastically overpaid. If it’s the amnesty, it’s probably going to Calderon. But Calderon will be movable in 2012. So will Amir Johnson. Barbosa might even be dumpable in a sign-and-release deal at the deadline. But Bargnani is anchored to Toronto due to his contract. He deserves a fresh start somewhere and Raptors fans deserve a reprieve from their frustrations with him.

From there, it’s just about building up. DeMar DeRozan has to make the leap this season. Not start to, he’s got to make it. Otherwise, the Raptors need to move him and aim for a draft pick in this year’s insanely good draft to nab a premier wing. Ed Davis showed a lot of promise, and the Raptors need to determine what they have with him. Casey needs to be supported in his efforts to bring in defensive personnel to reshape the identity of the team and the Raptors need to get to work on forgetting who they’ve been and trying to be something wholly different.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

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Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

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DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.

Report: ‘At the direction of his attorney,’ 76ers G Markelle Fultz to stop playing and practicing, see specialist

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Markelle Fultz said his shooting problems were due to injury, and just a couple weeks ago, he insisted he was generally healthy.

But something is clearly amiss.

The 76ers guard finally appears to be acknowledging it.

David Aldridge of The Athletic:

Should we read into Brothers – usually identified as Fultz’s agent – being referred to as Fultz’s attorney? That sounds ominous.

There has been back-and-forth between Fultz’s and the 76ers about who deserves blame for his struggles.

J.R. Smith: Cavaliers are tanking

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J.R. Smith said he wants the Cavaliers to trade him.

But that was right after they told Smith he’d be shut down. He has been playing regularly lately.

Still, Smith isn’t pleased with Cleveland.

J.R. Smith, via Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”

And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it.

“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.

If that’s what the Cavaliers are doing, that’s smart. They need premier young talent, and a high draft pick is the best way to acquire it. Because they owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder, the Cavs need to tank hard rather taking half-measures.

But I also understand why Smith wants no part of it. He’s 33 years old, and he doesn’t have time to wait around for a rebuild. He wants to win now.

Smith should shame the Cavaliers for tanking. That should be a consequence of their plan, even if it’s the right one. He is a casualty of it. If he shames Cleveland into trading or buying him out, all the better.