TORONTO - The jury was always out on Linas Kleiza from the moment the Raptors dug deep into their wallets and offered the Lithuanian a handsome contract he simply couldn't refuse to sign.
When the Denver Nuggets did the expected by not matching, Kleiza became Toronto's property, a serviceable small forward who became the teamís starter almost by default.
When matched up against smaller defenders, Kleiza could take his man into the post and either score by getting off his own shot or defer.
When matched up against taller defenders, Kleiza could take his man away from the basket and had enough ball handling skills to put it on the deck or help spread the floor with his perimeter presence.
Defensively, Kleiza almost summed up the Raptors as a team in that he wasnít quick enough to chase his man around screens and not physical enough to defend the post when a size mismatch was obvious.
But like any free agent, in Kleizaís case a restricted free agent, the Raptors, given their place as a non-American team, had to overspend, forking over a four-year deal worth roughly $20 million.
Itís now questionable whether the Raptors will ever get the proper bang for their buck in the wake of the news that Kleiza has undergone microfracture surgery to his right knee, a procedure that involves a recovery ranging anywhere from nine months to a full year.
There was no hint of Kleizaís long-term absence at Thursdayís practice, no definite timetable until the assembled media was informed of a release issued by the club.
In a nutshell, the release stated that Kleiza underwent arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday by Dr. J. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., ďto address both a meniscal tear and chondral defect of his right knee ... Due to the nature of the microfracture procedure performed, the recovery time is expected to be nine to 12 months.Ē
It may take that long for the Raptors to repair yet another blow to their image.
By no means was it the clubís fault that Kleiza got hurt in the first place, but his extended absence and uncertain future do pose the big-picture question of the type of players Toronto has brought to town and the financial commitment that was necessary to attract a player.
During his time in Denver with the Nuggets, Kleiza was a decent role player coming off the bench, a guy who could score in certain matchups but had deficiencies on defence.
Before the Raptors extended their offer sheet, Kleiza was the talk of the Euroleague while playing in Greece and he certainly turned heads at last summerís world championships in Turkey.
But European basketball and international play arenít exactly on par with the NBA, where scorers must be able to create.
While Kleiza did emerge as Torontoís best player following the pre-season, in hindsight all it really served was to expose the Raptorsí flawed roster.
On teams with depth, Kleiza would be a good piece.
On a team as thin as the Raptors, Kleiza put up numbers but someone invariably has to post numbers, much like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan have done.
But the numbers that will forever be attached to Kleiza are the four years and $20 million, a painful proposition to stomach now that Kleiza has been shelved for as long one calendar year.
Microfracture surgery is a risky business with players being able rebound, witness Amare Stoudemire in New York, while others have struggled, witness Portlandís hard-luck big man in Greg Oden.
No one knows how Kleiza will respond when he next shows his face on the court.
But we now know that the Raptors over-paid to sign him.
The small forward position in Raptorland is not unlike the point position and centre spot, areas that have never quite been addressed.
Toronto thought it had found its long-coveted small forward in Hedo Turkoglu, but we all know how that went.
Kleiza never pouted like Turkoglu, but he never lived up to his contract.
The bottom line is that the Raptors should never have offered it in the first place.