Rewind to just over two years ago to July 10th, 2013 where one of the best moments in the over 20 year history of the Toronto Raptors was made official.
Andrea Bargnani, the first ever European to be picked first overall in an NBA draft, Bryan Colangelo’s pet project, Primo Pasta connoisseur, and the bane of every Raptors’ fans’ existence was finally being jettisoned out of town after seven painfully disappointing seasons.
His mere departure would have been more than enough of a reason to celebrate. Masai Ujiri, who held the amnesty provision at the time, could have simply waved his hand and made Il Mago disappear without a trace. Instead, however, he found one team desperate and downright stupid enough to give up assets for the defensively challenged big; the New York Knicks.
In the deal the Raptors received two veterans who would never don a jersey in Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson, as well as seldom used sharpshooter Steve Novak. The real prize however in the deal would be a 2016 1st round draft pick along with two other second round draft choices in 2016 and 2017.
The draft pick that the Raptors will receive will be the least favourable of choices between the draft picks of the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets; the Nuggets receiving the better. Ironically enough, that pick swap was originally acquired by Ujiri when he was the general manager of the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade of 2011.
Fast forward to the dog days of the 2015 offseason, just under a year away until that pick will be in the hands of the Raptors, and the complexion of both franchises have changed drastically; for the worst.
The Nuggets after winning 58 games in 2013 without a superstar in the Western conference showed major cracks missing the playoffs in two straight seasons. Last month they dealt their best player, troubled guard Ty Lawson for peanuts handing the keys to talented rookie Emmanuel Mudiay. They are almost an objective lock to be well out of the playoff picture in the somehow improved Western Conference.
While it’s a safe bet to predict the Nuggets’ bottom feeding status considering their competition on a nightly basis, the Knicks are more of an enigma considering they play in the Least-ern conference. The decline of the Knicks has been far more drastic. After winning a division title in 2013 the team has experienced a meteoric collapse over the last couple of seasons winning only 17 games in 2015. The decline was due in large part to the complete decline of former All Star Ama’re Stoudamire and Bargnani not exactly meeting expectations….
And while the blue and orange had an absolute horror show of a season in 2015, their status this season is still a tough one to predict. After striking out on all of the big fish this offseason, the team went after career role players in Aaron Afflalo and Robin Lopez. The signings in themselves weren’t bad, and the team is vastly improved but it still likely didn’t push them into playoff contention. Here’s a breakdown of the Knicks’ projected lineup for the upcoming season.
Centres: Robin Lopez/Kyle O’Quinn/ Luis Amundson
Power Forwards: Kevin Seraphin/Kristaps Porzingis/Derrick Williams
Small Forwards: Carmelo Anthony/Lance Thomas/Cleanthony Early
Shooting Guards: Arron Afflalo/Sasha Vujacic
Point Guards: Jose Calderon/Jerian Grant/Langston Galloway
The team as currently constructed has one perennial All Star in Melo, a couple solid players, and a hole in the ground when it comes to depth of any kind. With teams like the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat set to make jumps up in the standings due to their returning stars the bottom of the East has improved. Let’s see how the Knicks stack up.
Teams 100% better(in no particular order):
Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto, Washington, Milwaukee, Chicago, Miami
Teams that are marginally better:
Boston, Indiana, Orlando
Detroit, Charlotte, Brooklyn (whose pick goes to Boston)
The Knicks are better than… :
By taking an objective look at the East, it seems the Knicks’ ceiling is 9th to 10th in the conference barring any unforeseen circumstances. In the likely event that Carmelo Anthony misses a good portion of time due to the wear and tear that goes with him being the team’s’ only real offensive option, the team could be neck and neck with the 76ers in the dregs of the conference.
Owning another lottery pick opens up a myriad of opportunities for the Raptors this upcoming season. The team could hold onto the hope of a top-10 young talent to give the franchise a shot in the arm should the team remain stagnant in its development this upcoming season. If the team takes a huge dip in the standings and is barely hanging on to the final spot you know Masai Ujiri will act and start to sell off assets. Add in the Raptors own lottery pick and the assets retrieved from trades and you have a huge head start on a rebuild.
Or perhaps the team takes a leap. After adding more defensive specialists and shedding ball stoppers Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams the team flourishes with a new found chemistry. If by February’s trade deadline the team is looking to be on pace for a 50 win season, that pick could be a substantial piece to use in a trade to acquire a real foundational piece from a team looking to rebuild (like say perhaps DeMarcus Cousins?). Another real piece added to this roster could go a long way in keeping the Kevin Durant to Toronto dream alive.
Holding onto the pick however until draft night would be extra special as it would be a decade to the day that Bargnani was picked first overall. For a team and fanbase that has constantly been on the wrong side of irony, picking a franchise level talent would be poetic justice of the highest order.
So get yourself a League Pass account and become the number one fan of any team taking on the New York Knicks or Denver Nuggets as their pain will be the Raptors’ pleasure.
And when the Nuggets take on the Knicks, cheer for the Nuggets, because it’s the Knicks.