Raps will order Italian

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

And then there were two.

The man with the plan, the dapper deal-maker, Raptors general manager/president Bryan Colangelo announced yesterday that his short list of potential draftees is down to two.

No names were given, but it's almost certain Italian forward Andrea Bargnani is one of the players in question and the other is ... well, it doesn't really matter.

Bet the yacht on Bargnani.

It doesn't make any sense that Colangelo would not draft Bargnani with the team's first pick, whether it's with the No.1 spot overall or lower, if the Raptors trade down.

Atlantic City nightclub owner Skinny D'Amato became famous for hiring fledgling comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to perform at his joint.

Not Martin alone. Not Lewis alone. Together.

So why would Colangelo hire the Red Auerbach of Italian basketball, Maurizio Gherardini, this week and then not draft Gherardini's protege? Would Gherardini accept a job with the Raptors only to sit back and watch the kid he nurtured and developed into a Euroleague star play for another NBA team?

And why would the Raptors spend so much time and money scouting Bargnani -- last month they sent both head coach Sam Mitchell and senior basketball advisor Wayne Embry to Italy to watch the kid -- and not put him at the top of the list?

And remember this -- a few short months ago, Bargnani was playing limited minutes with Benetton Treviso and stood 6-foot-10. Now, the native of Rome is said to have shot up to 7-foot-1 and, at the age of 20, was instrumental in Benetton winning the Italian League championship.

Colangelo said a lot of teams have approached him about securing Toronto's No. 1 overall pick, and that nothing has come close to making him jump.

That's not to say he won't trade down. The general consensus is that even though the Raptors may be in love with Bargnani as a player and a person, the other teams with top-five picks are not quite as smitten. Therefore, it would make sense for Colangelo to trade down a spot or two if he is confident Bargnani would still be available with a lower pick, and he can get a useful veteran in the process.

One deal that has been kicked around, and frankly makes a lot of sense, is Toronto trading the No. 1 overall pick and broken down guard Alvin Williams, to the Charlotte Bobcats for the No. 3 pick and point guard Brevin Knight.

The Bobcats, who apparently don't want Bargnani, are said to be keen on the deal.

One of the unique things about this year's draft is that almost all of the top prospects are forwards -- Bargnani, Tyrus Thomas, LaMarcus Aldridge, Adam Morrison, Rudy Gay -- and it's almost certain Toronto, one way or another, will take a forward. Suddenly, the team's frontcourt is in excellent shape, particularly for the future, with Chris Bosh, Charlie Villanueva, Rasho Nesterovic and the draft pick.

What the team really needs is help at the guard position. Toronto is almost certain to get rid of Mike James in a sign- and-trade, leaving only sophomore Jose Calderon as a legitimate starting point guard. And that's too big of a job for the personable Calderon.

Knight would be a good fit.

Colangelo acknowledged yesterday that, even after tonight's draft, there is still plenty of work to do.

So far, he has earned nothing but passing grades: Managing to find a taker for Brazilian bust Rafael Araujo and getting something useful (Kris Humphries) in return, and securing a long-needed centre in Nesterovic for attitude case Eric Williams and Matt Bonner.

The first major test comes tonight. After that, he'll look at making more trades or signing a decent free agent.

The Raptors have the No.1 draft pick, cap room and a group of players who want to be in Toronto.

Just a couple years ago, no one would have thought this would be happening.


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