It's all up to Bargnani

Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani leaves the Air Canada Centre following season-ending interviews....

Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani leaves the Air Canada Centre following season-ending interviews. SUN MEDIA/Michael Peake

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

The Raptors are doomed to years of Leafesque mediocrity unless general manager Bryan Colangelo makes a daring move or two in the off-season.

And one of those moves has to involve Andrea Bargnani.

The Raptors either have to trade the big Italian and get something valuable in return, which would be difficult given his rather mediocre season. Or they have to figure out a way, once and for all, to light a fire under his sedere and convince him that his game doesn't begin and end with his jump shot.

Because as long as Bargnani continues to under-achieve, the Raptors, as a team, will continue to be a middle-of-the-road club.

Not very long ago, the Raptors were considered one of the up-and-coming teams in the NBA. But they have been passed by some other emerging young squads in the Eastern Conference, including the Orlando Magic, who just eliminated Toronto from the first round of playoffs in five games, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Bargnani situation is a huge quandary for the Raptors. And the clock is ticking.

As an organization, they don't want to give up on the Rome native or, as Colangelo put it yesterday in a season-ending interview, "throw him out with the bath water." He is, after all, seven feet tall, athletic and capable of scoring from long range. And he's only 22 years old.

But if he doesn't become the guy that Chris Bosh can lean on in the frontcourt, in terms of sharing the scoring and rebounding responsibilities, the Raptors are going nowhere. And for a long time.

"I think a lot rests on his shoulders," Bosh acknowledged yesterday.

But don't count on Colangelo trading him. Dealing Bargnani at this point would be tantamount to admitting that he was the wrong pick in the 2006 draft. And quite frankly, the Raptors probably wouldn't get a lot back.

The key for Colangelo and the Raptors is to figure out a way to get into Bargnani's head and convince him that when the jump shots aren't falling, he has to get his nose dirty and play with his back against the basket and rebound.

Colangelo has talked about sending Bargnani to a couple of camps this summer to improve various aspects of his game. But the kid's biggest problem seems to be between his ears. The Raptors organization has protected Bargnani from the minute they drafted him first overall in 2006, and Colangelo and head coach Sam Mitchell were at it again yesterday. They insist that he is not soft. But his hustle numbers suggest otherwise.

And no Big Man camp in Las Vegas or weeks spent with John Lucas this summer will turn Bargnani into a good rebounder or a tough guy. Only Bargnani can do that.

"With his talent level, he can definitely improve his game. It's on him. It rests on his shoulders," Bosh said. "If he puts the forth the effort, I think he can do great things."

That's the key -- if he puts forth the effort.

"If he doesn't work, it's not going to happen," Bosh admitted. "Some nights, if he doesn't shoot the ball well, he's not a factor. He has to develop the mentality to get down low. Because he's seven-feet. Get down low, get some easy baskets, block some shots, get some rebounds -- be a force in the game even if you're not making shots."

If Bargnani takes heed of all that, and develops into a Dirk Nowitzki-type player, the Raptors will become an elite team. If he doesn't raise his game, just qualifying for the playoffs in the years ahead will become a problem for this team.

"We need to do a better job nurturing what we have, and not just Andrea Bargnani," Colangelo said.

Bosh suggested that Bargnani needs a pat on the back. Someone else suggested that he needs a kick in the butt.

"Pat on the back, kick in the butt, it's all the same thing to me. It's all love," Bosh said.


Videos

Photos