TORONTO - The strange and complex economics of the NBA finds legendary shooter Peja Stojakovic wearing Raptors white. For how long? Even he doesn’t have a clue.
It may be a month. It may be until the February trade deadline. It may be all season.
“I don’t know,” Stojakovic said, shrugging his broad shoulders and smiling. “I really don’t.”
He is living a Toronto hotel right now, with no plans to go searching for any place more permanent. His wife is in New Orleans. His kids are in school in Louisiana, and without any kind of regret, he is, in fact, happy to be here.
And in the unhappy-to-be-here NBA, where Toronto has been characterized as cable-challenged, educationally inept and strip-club infested — among other things — Stojakovic is not about to offer a discouraging word.
This is kind of a new situation for Toronto, although not entirely.
This city has gotten used to seeing players of considerable talent spend some of their final days here. It happened with Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor, with Alex Mogilny and Joe Nieuwendyk, Jack Morris and Dave Stewart, and in a not very memorable way with Hakeem Olajuwon.
But all those situations were different. They were brought here to take a winning team and make it better. Stojakovic is a chess piece for Bryan Colangelo. And if this situation works out best, everybody can end up winning.
At worst, the Raptors get an expiring contract, Stojakovic gets a chance to play some and attract another suitor, who just may want to sign him up for another chance to shine in the NBA.
When you can shoot, and he can, it’s like left-handers in baseball: There is always a place for you in the NBA.
And in the long and rather troubled history of the Raptors, almost by default, Stojakovic becomes one of their most decorated players.
He says he is willing to do whatever they ask of him. There is no defined role to speak of right now. Jay Triano, coaching for his life, needs to win. That’s his No. 1 priority. The Raptors No. 1 priority, although they may not admit it, is probably to lose.
The more they bottom out, the quicker they can rebuild. Stojakovic is caught somewhere in between. Maybe he’ll play some, at least until rookie Ed Davis returns, but who knows how much? He didn’t see the floor last night until late in the first half.
And that’s the dilemma for the Raps.
The less Stojakovic plays, the less attractive he is to other teams. The less he plays, the less chance he has of getting the new contract he desires. What works best for the general manager may not be what works best for the coach — but that conflict is always apparent with teams looking to retool.
“Besides basketball, this is a good situation for me,” said Stojakovic. “I’m excited to be here. It’s not defined what kind of role I’ll have or what the next move for the organization so I’m like everybody else. I wait.
“Otherwise, I’m happy to be here. I like the city. It’s my kind of city. Hopefully, I can enjoy myself here.”
Colangelo has a tough job right now. He’s trying to sell hope and NBA terminology even if expiring contracts, trade exemptions and mid-level acceptions don’t sell many tickets. Midweek against the rather awful Philadelphia 76ers, there were thousands of empty seats at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors are in a contradictory position financially, over the salary cap and under the luxury tax.
“In the modern day team economics of sports there are clearly deals that are motivated by things that don’t necessarily make sense,” Colangelo said.
“I don’t know what the next move is,” Stojakovic said. “I know they’re trying to develop some guys. I just want to play. At this point of my career, I just want to play. I may not be a starter type of player. If I have another role, that’s something I could embrace.”
In his first game in white and red, there were 183 seconds left in the first half, with the Raptors holding a 15-point lead, before Stojakovic entered the game.
Within three minutes, he had seven points and two partial standing ovations.
And what happens next?
“I don’t know,” Peja Stojakovic said. “I wish I could tell you more. I wish I knew more. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.”