Raptors could've done worse than Bargnani

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:56 PM ET

PORTLAND ó Whether itís at the ACC or here at the Rose Garden, any meeting between the Raptors and Trail Blazers evokes memories of draft night back in 2006.

As much as fans in Toronto want to lament the selection of Andrea Bargnani over Brandon Roy, imagine the angst in Portland, where the hometown hoops team could have had Kevin Durant a year later.

Up until Fridayís loss in Los Angeles to the Lakers, Bargnani led the Raptors in scoring in each of the previous tips, doing most of his damage on the perimeter when many would like to see him become more of a presence in the post.

Maybe Bargnani is forever destined to be an outside threat, a guy who will go virtually invisible on the glass, but heís finally got a chance to expand his game and only in time can Bargnani be properly judged.

At no point in his career will Bargnani be able to justify the Raptorsí trust when they made him the first overall pick, believing that a seven-footer with athleticism and an ability to put the ball on the floor was worth the risk and, as the intervening years have proven, the ridicule.

Five games into the season and Bargnani has yet to be that consistent player at either ends of the floor, but there have been moments and those stretches of taking over games with his offence and being able to rebound the ball should be viewed as encouraging.

You see the inroads made and the potential, but for Bargnani itís all about consistency.

And letís face it: Heíll never be as good as Roy, but the two are different players given Roy can handle the ball at either position in the backcourt and is better off the dribble.

With so much room to grow, you can see why the Raptors coveted Bargnani.

The Greg Oden story is much murkier.

Remember, Oden could have been available in 2006 had the NBA not changed its age eligibility for incoming players.

And just imagine had the Raptors taken Oden, who may go down as the greatest bust among any first overall picks.

Earlier in the week, when the deadline to extend players taken from the 2007 draft class expired, no extension was offered to Oden, who officially joins a list of infamy that features Kwame Brown as the poster child, a fellow first overall pick who was not extended.

Injuries have plagued Oden almost from the beginning of his career, a pick that will now haunt the Blazers, who way back when took Sam Bowie, another fragile big, over Michael Jordan.

No date on Odenís possible return has been set.

Oden and Ohio State teammate Mike Conley Jr. were both lottery picks, but in an interesting twist only the point guard has had his deal extended in Memphis, where Rudy Gay, a member of Bargnaniís draft class, was given a lucrative deal this off-season.

What is left in Portland is plenty of what ifs had Durant, an MVP in waiting, had been picked to play alongside Roy, a wing tandem that would rival any in basketball, even the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combo.

The Raptors knew Bargnani had to get stronger, both mentally and physically, be more assertive and more willing to go into the post.

The hope is that Bargnani will be that dominant go-to guy, but at least heís been injury-free, unlike Oden.

Defensively, Bargnani has to be more of a weak-side presence, be more aware of where the ball is located and his man.

Oden had all the makings of the NBAís next great big man, a shot blocker, defender of the paint and a rebounder whose offence was limited and raw.

No one could have envisioned the cruel fate that has hit Oden, but at the same time no one projected Roy to have the impact he has had.

The bottom line is that the Raptors could have done worse.

At least with Bargnani, thereís hope, which canít be said for Oden.


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