After weeks of speculation, Toronto finally shipped Jermaine O’Neal, Jamario Moon and a conditional first round pick to Miami in exchange for Shawn Mario and Marcus Banks. This deal was first rumored at the start of the month but it appeared things fizzled only to get revived this weekend when both teams met for All-Star weekend in Phoenix.
So, why pull the trigger now on this deal instead of two weeks ago when this could have arguably saved the Raptors season? It turns out the Raptors hesitation was over a player that wasn’t even on Toronto’s roster.
“The draft pick was part of the transaction that was the difference in not making the deal for a long time,” Colangelo confessed. “The pick was something that was asked for, discussed and originally the decision was made not to include a pick. And until there was a notion that the pick was effectively going to be part of a bigger package where not only the players were involved but some cash was involved as well (we had no interest). Picks are readily available and by virtue of acquiring a certain amount of cash in this transaction it all but guarantees that we can replace that pick.”
Now that the Raptors have stepped up and made a bold move to help salvage the season, there is still a considerable amount of doubt about whether this deal came a couple weeks too late. During the past few weeks the team has endured some heartbreaking losses to Milwaukee, Memphis and New Orleans where the presence of Marion probably would have made the difference in the outcome of all three of those games.
While Toronto has won two games in a row heading into the All-Star break, they still find themselves sitting 13 games below. 500 and are five games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. With the team having 11 games remaining against teams between them and the eighth spot there’s still a chance the team could sneak into the playoffs. However, it will take a monster effort for that to occur as the team only has 27 games remaining.
Colangelo doesn’t appear phased by this and welcomes the challenge of having his team attempt a late surge to earn a playoff spot.
“We obviously are trying to make a run for the playoffs,” a confident Colangelo informed the media Friday evening. “For the position we’re seeking we have talked about trying to get better with every transaction that we make. We’ve tried to make transactions that make us better and more competitive as we move towards the playoffs. In the 27 games remaining we have some ground to make up, but we like a lot of the aspects of our team.”
A puzzling aspect of this deal is that it means O’Neal was a Raptor for less than 12 months before getting dealt. Why would the team move such a heralded player so quickly? Because the team was set with Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani as their starting bigs, so O’Neal looked to be a bench player for the remainder of his contract while Marion can step into a starting position while fixing what has been the teams main weakness this season: poor play from its wing players.
Lately starting shooting guard Anthony Parker has seen most of his minutes playing point guard due to Jose Calderon being hobbled. This shift has meant Joey Graham has been the most productive player at shooting guard or small forward. Yes, the same Graham who many fans would cringe at whenever he would enter a game. Sure, some of those same fans are raining down chants of MVP when he has a strong game, but this still a player who has averaged 6.3 points and 17.2 minutes per game during his career.
When a teams best option at small forward or shooting guard is a seldom used bench player you’re in a whole world of trouble in the NBA. Besides the addition of Marion to help solve this problem, the Raptors believe that Banks can help provide the team some help at shooting guard.
Yes, you read that right: Instead of having Banks plays his natural position of point guard, Toronto is looking to play him at shooting guard due to his ability to play gritty defense.
“We are probably now stacked at the guard position because I’m not sure you can classify Marcus (Banks) as a classic or true point guard. But he’s a guard that can handle the ball, score point and defend at that position. His ability to defend will certainly be helpful.”
But even a casual NBA fan knows Banks isn’t the main player being obtained in this deal. The main focus was always adding Marion and now the team has a player who has averaged 17.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game during his career to start a small forward for the remainder of the season.
Besides the scoring spark he’ll provide, he’s also an above average defender and when paired with Bosh and Bargnani will provide one of the better rebounding front courts in the NBA. While Bargnani isn’t known for his rebounding he is averaging a respectable 5.3 this season and the Raptors newest trio combine to average 23.5 rebounds per game.
Not the kind of stuff you dream about as a coach or general manager, but Marion will provide a significant bump on the glass over what Graham (3.7) or Jamario Moon (4.6) were providing.
“Shawn (Marion) is the perfect compliment to this combination of players because he is one of the better rebounding small forwards in the NBA when playing that position,” boasted Colangelo when asked how his new collection of forwards would mesh together. “To average the types of numbers that he has over the course of his career I think it’s safe to say he is going to be someone who thrives at that position because there are going to be a lot of rebounds available. I think we’ve proven that we’re not a great rebounding team so this should address some of that and it should be complimentary (to Bosh and Bargnani).”
Another interesting twist to come from the conference call is Colangelo insisted on numerous occasions that in no way is Marion considered a rental for the next 27 games. While many initially viewed his addition as a way for the team to clear cap space this summer it’s clear the team is interested in re-signing him this summer if he pans out like the team envisions.
“Obviously the net effect of this deal is future (salary cap) flexibility much sooner than with Jermaine (O’Neal),” Colangelo told the media. “But I want to be very clear that this is not a move that is a predetermination that sets up future flexibility for free agency. This is a move to acquire the player of Shawn’s caliber that can come in and compliment Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker in the starting line-up. He’ll develop as we continue to complete this season that we’re in.”
While many viewed Marion as a rental, it’s clear the Raptors front office may have bigger plans. However, that was the case with O’Neal less than 12 months ago and Raptors fans are painfully aware how long that vision lasted.
Hopefully the desire for Marion to prove himself and earn a big contract this summer turns to be the spark the team needs to turn around an otherwise disappointing and underwhelming season.
Photo Credit: Nathan Gilbert