This offseason is going to be a big one for the Toronto Raptors.
First and foremost, they are coming off a 23-43 season that saw lots of positive steps forward, but not enough to avoid missing the playoffs for another year. The Raptors need to take the next step forward.
They have money to spend and tradeable assets that could net them a talented young player or two on the open market. Most importantly, though, is that Bryan Colangelo is entering the final year of his contract extension and needs this team to make significant strides forward if he hopes to return to his current post.
With all of these factors in place, it is no surprise that the Raptors have been linked to all kinds of players already this offseason. Steve Nash, Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Goran Dragic, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and Nicolas Batum are just a few names that have popped up on blogs and message boards over the last few weeks.
Jose Calderon will be front and centre this offseason as the Toronto Raptors try to rebuild their franchise.
While any and all of those players would be welcome additions, it does beg make me wonder about some of the guys we already have. With many point guards appearing on the list of players the Raptors are linked to, one has to wonder where, if at all, Jose Calderon fits into the Raptors future.
Mind you, Calderon is a very humble player and has happily embraced a backup role when asked by his team in the past. But one has to figure with a Nash or a Lowry in the fold, Calderon may have seen his last game in Raptor red. Such a thing is almost unimaginable. He is the longest-serving Raptor, a fan favourite (for the most part) and is coming off of one of his most important seasons yet. This season he raised his game (10.5 points, 8.8 assists in 34 minutes per game) and became a leader in the locker room. He also became a different player under the watchful eye of Dwane Casey.
Casey is widely credited with finding a way to make Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki fit into a successful defensive system. He was asked to do the same with Calderon, who was thought by many to be one of the worst defenders in the league. This season Casey helped Caldeorn adjust to a new defensive system and minimized those defensive miscues that had Raptor fans calling for Calderon’s head a couple of years ago.
Casey trusts Calderon with the team on both ends of the floor which is evidenced by the number of minutes Calderon played this year. He gave everything he had on the floor and led the team by example throughout the entire year.
Calderon showed marked improvement across the board and worked hard on his defensive game under coach Casey. He became the leader of the Raptors team this year.
So, if Calderon plays a key role on the team, is coming off one of his better years as a pro, has taken to Casey’s defensive system, and the fans love him, why then are we looking for point guards? Obviously the talent and allure of a Steve Nash or Jeremy Lin is too much to pass up if you are Colangelo. And Calderon provides a host of other possibilities for the Raptors boss.
Calderon could become part of a point guard tandem, something that certainly is not unfamiliar to him. He broke into the Raptors starting five by battling TJ Ford for the starting point guard spot in 2007. That tandem, colourfully called “Forderon” by many, was not as successful as the Raptors had hoped. Calderon was solid in a starting role, but Ford couldn’t handle what he saw as a demotion and the whole experiment crumbled.
Calderon and Jerryd Bayless were not able to find harmony either as a tandem this past season. Bayless, like Ford, was only able to raise the level of his game as a starter despite the fact his skill set appears more suited to coming off the bench. In both instances, Calderon eventually returned to the starting lineup.
To his credit, Calderon has shown a willingness to step aside and let others contribute. Bayless had a pretty solid stretch of games, where he looked like the heir apparent and Calderon stepped aside without incident or noise.
Can he do the same if the Raptors acquire a Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin or Kyle Lowry? Would he be okay sharing the time? Would the team benefit from having two point guards of different abilities on the court? I mean, we’ve already seen this story, right?
Calderon is a Ying to most Point guards’ Yangs. So while a Nash or Lowry might push the tempo up and take larger risks, the Raptors can always depend on Calderon to come in and slow things down and play it safe when need be. This is something he has been one of the best in the NBA at over the last few years. Assist to turnover ratio is one of the beacons of light from Calderon’s stat line every year. He provides a good contrast to the younger, flashier point guards the Raptors appear to be targeting.
He could also be a great teacher and veteran presence to a young point guard like Jeremy Lin or Kyle Lowry. He could help them develop ways to protect the ball, teach them when and how to play in control and would provide that veteran presence off the bench when the younger point guards make the mistakes that young point guards do. Or provide extended backup minutes to allow the aging Nash to rest.
The only issue with this creating a tandem is Calderon’s large contract. Calderon will be paid $10.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. That’s an awful lot of money to be paying a backup point guard. It’s also a lot of money coming off the books at the end of the year and, thus could be very appealing trade bait for another team with a small forward or a shooting guard to spare. It wasn’t long ago that Calderon’s contract was considered one of the worst in the association, but now it is gaining popularity with each passing month and may be worth packaging with a draft pick or even keeping until the deadline.
Calderon, then, presents a conundrum for Colangelo. He has value if he stays and a lot of potential value in a trade. What is the Raptors boss to do with the popular point guard? If a Calderon package (with a draft pick and Ed Davis) could attract a top flight shooting guard or small forward, then the decision to move Calderon becomes more logical. His value may never be higher than this year because of the 10.5 million coming off the books, and the opportunity to acquire an Iguodala, Batum or Rudy Gay may be too tempting to pass up.
Be assured that the point guard position appears to be one of the first areas Colangelo intends to address when he is finally able to start (officially) making changes to the roster on July 1st. No matter what happens for the Raptors this offseason, Calderon is sure to be right in the middle of the action.
It is also assured that whether he ultimately stays or goes, “Numero Ocho” will be a big factor in the Raptors’ next step forward.