If Raptors head coach Jay Triano was being 100% honest at Thursday’s season-ending media availability, this rebuild is going nowhere.
Poor defence is the reason why the team has missed the playoffs the past three seasons and if the Raptors remain serious about round-pegging Andrea Bargnani into the square hole that is the centre position, well, expect a third-consecutive last-place finish in defensive rating next season.
All of what ails the club defensively can’t be placed at the feet of the 7-foot Roman – it’s not his fault most of his teammates can’t keep anybody in front of them, or that they aren't big or strong enough to match up with many opponents.
But having a centre who rotates well enough to make up for the mistakes of his pals – think Kendrick Perkins, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Al Horford - or if you're as lucky as Orlando, Dwight Howard - is often enough to turn a decent defensive squad into a good one or a terrible one into a passable group.
“The good teams, everyone has a dominant guy in the back there, that anchor,” Triano confirmed.
“He understands he has to get better at the defensive end, as far as the help side, and being aware and being an intimidator back there.
“He's got to become that for us. Is that asking a homerun hitter to bunt? Maybe, but he has to add that to his game if he's going to become successful.”
That’s never going to come to pass, coach, and if you’re truly counting on it happening the league might as well just give the Raptors a permanent chair at the lottery in New Jersey.
Bargnani certainly doesn’t seem to think he’s the man for that role. And he’s right.
“My natural position is power forward, always has been,” Bargnani said after earlier noting how tough it is to play good team defence.
“I think we could use a legit centre,” added Amir Johnson, throwing his two cents in.
Regardless of where he plays, Bargnani knows his help and overall defence must get significantly better if his reputation is to evolve into more than just a one-trick pony.
“I have to learn quicker, be more focussed.”
Defence and rebounding don’t come naturally to Bargnani and other than effort, he isn’t quite sure why.
“Rebounding, it’s not something you learn in the gym,” he said.
“I do things that are much more complicated than rebounds and defence (in terms of what he does offensively), that should be the easy part.”
But it’s not and with solid, younger, lower-paid power forwards Ed Davis and Johnson on hand, the time has come for the franchise to deal its only No. 1 overall selection.
Continuing to masquerade him as a centre would be a recipe for further disaster.
This is not the first time we’ve heard Bargnani say he needs to get better at rebounding. It never happens and there is no reason to think it will now.
His offensive abilities make him a valuable asset though, just not here, not with this group.
Even Bargnani seems to recognize as much, though he’d prefer to stay in Toronto.
“Nobody can assure you what’s going to be next year,” he said, referring both to an impending lockout and questions about his long-term status with the Raptors.
Incumbent point guard Jose Calderon also is a major factor in Toronto’s poor defence – defending the initial point of attack better negates the need for help defence and prevents the attacker from picking out open teammates when help comes.
But Calderon’s hefty contract and injury history likely puts his trade value far below Bargnani’s.
The team can make do by flip-flopping Calderon’s minutes with Jerryd Bayless, a much better defender.
What it can’t do any longer is rely on Bargnani to be its man in the middle.
Replacing Bargnani’s scoring and finding a 7-footer to lock down the paint won’t be easy.
But it will be less difficult than trying to turn Bargnani into something he is not and dealing with the fallout of that futility.