Waiting on Bargnani

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

The growing discomfort over this stalled Raptors season points all too easily to the stagnated development of Andrea Bargnani.

What was supposed to happen, what was expected to happen, hasn't.

"Andrea has had a rough year so far," understated the Raptors' coach Sam Mitchell, who hardly believes in understatement. The rough year, so far, is nice of Mitchell to say. The so far part ends with the regular season tomorrow night in Chicago.

At issue now is almost everything about Bargnani's game. There is no simple solution, no one thing to correct. it is all everything and then some.

His game. His frail confidence. His inability to adjust when NBA teams adjust to him. His toughness, both physical and mental. His adjustment to life in North America. His comfort level in his own skin. The hurt he feels from media treatment, not here, but back home in Italy, where he is all but despised.

Where do you to start to begin over?

This was a kid who was supposed to be a star, the only first pick the Raptors have ever made. Now there is much debate -- and serious dissent -- over what kind of NBA player he will turn out to be.

"Andrea is still thinking 'What am I supposed to be?'" said Mitchell, who often has lost patience with the 7-foot shooter while being left to defend him at the very same time.

"He's thinking 'Do I be me? Or should I be what people think I am?' Sometimes you don't know.

"He's still a young player. We all want it for him now. Sometimes it don't happen to everybody that way.

"For whatever reason, he's struggling. Andrea's young. He's still trying to find himself ... He has to work on his game and gain confidence.

"He's young. You all have no idea how hard it is to play in this league."

Statistically, there is hardly a category in which Bargnani has improved in his second NBA season. After opening the season with two strong games -- scoring 20 and 21 points -- little has gone right. Now it takes him six games to reach that level. He's scoring less than he did as a rookie, playing fewer minutes, shooting at a lower percentage, rebounding with almost no commitment and in the midst of all that, the coaching staff discovered he drives off the wrong foot when going to the basket.

Other than that, with the playoffs about five days away, all is almost well.

"Sometimes," said Mitchell, "you have to take a step backwards before you can go forward."

As a rookie, before being felled by an appendectomy late in the season, Bargnani looked to be an emerging player of much promise. And even in the playoff series against New Jersey, where his conditioning wasn't at peak level, there were times when a 7-footer with soft hands seemed impossible to defend.

That was a year ago. A long year ago. One year later, no one can say with any certainty who or what Bargnani will be, and whether he will have any presence at all in this year's playoffs or any in the future.

Much as tries to avoid it, Mitchell still makes the Dirk Nowitzki comparison with Bargnani. It may have worked on draft night or the occasional night since. But the comparison to Nowitzki, another huge man with outside touch, seems like such a reach now.

"In Dirk Nowitzki's first two years in the league, we used to draw straws as to who was going to guard him," said Mitchell. "He was a 7-footer who couldn't go past us and couldn't post up.

"We used to beg to cover Dirk. No one's drawing straws to cover Dirk now."

Sometimes it does take a young player time. Nowitzki took time, although he scored well in his second season. Chauncey Billups, once traded four times in a season, took time to develop into an all-star guard with the Detroit Pistons. Marcus Camby, once a deer-in-the-headlights Raptor, is all but certain to be named defensive player of the year for the not-very-defensive Denver Nuggets.

Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't. But like much of this Raptors season, with interruptions of injury, controversy, altering roles and a team that looks ripe to be altered significantly by next season, Bargnani represents either failure or hope.

And right now, failure is in the lead as this wonky season comes to conclusion.


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