Time is running out for Andrea Bargnani in Toronto.
Recent events have made that clear.
Assuming the maddening Roman sticks around until whenever the NBA starts up again — no certainty, but a likely assumption — he will have one more chance to validate Bryan Colangelo’s faith in him.
With 7-foot centre Jonas Valanciunas — he of the massive upside and gaudy statistics, particularly when facing off against those his age — waiting in the wings, the Raptors will finally have another option in the middle sometime down the line.
If newly installed defensive taskmaster Dwane Casey can’t solve the Bargnani riddle and get 2006’s top selection to compete with passion and purpose — particularly defensively — Bargnani will be out of chances.
Bargnani has lasted this long because scoring 20 points a game on decent percentages as he did this past season (21.4 points on 47.1% of two-point attempts, 34.5% from three) takes talent.
But if one’s flaws so thoroughly trump his positives, as has been the case with Bargnani (the team is out-scored and out-rebounded by a wide margin when he is on the floor) the options are simple.
Or pack your bags.
If Bargnani doesn’t get it under Casey, he likely never will. Former coach Sam Mitchell drew Colangelo’s ire when he didn’t treat Bargnani with kid gloves. The same won’t happen to Casey, who has the same contract term as his general manager.
Bargnani will be Casey’s biggest challenge. His skills are not suited to the former Dallas assistant’s defensive schemes, particularly his stifling zone formations, the ones that caused so many problems for opponents this post-season.
Bargnani is and has always been a power forward, not the centre the Raptors tried to mold him into. He even said as much in April, at the end of Toronto’s 22-win season.
Unless Valanciunas comes over 20-30 pounds heavier (and even IF he does), a frontcourt pairing of Bargnani-Valanciunas isn’t going to work unless Bargnani makes himself at least an average help and rotational defender and puts more effort into rebounding the ball.
Bargnani thrived when Reggie Evans rebounded for the two. While a strong rebounder himself, Valanciunas won’t fill Evans’ role. There is far more to his game and he can’t waste his time compensating for what Bargnani lacks.
But that pairing is a ways off still. There are no guarantees Bargnani will remain a Raptor when Valanciunas arrives for the 2012-13 season.
In the meantime, it seems that Bargnani will get a taste of his revised role as a power forward should the NBA manage to get on with at least a part of a 2011-12 campaign
Casey has hinted strongly that the Raptors will actively pursue a free agent centre.
The bulk of those efforts will likely go towards reeling in Tyson Chandler, the anchor of Casey’s defence in Dallas.
If that fails, and it’s hard to see Dallas letting Chandler go, Canadian Samuel Dalembert could be a fallback.
Marc Gasol, Nene and DeAndre Jordan are extreme longshots. Memphis and the Clippers can match on Gasol and Jordan and Nene will be looking to go to whatever contender can best line his pockets.
A stopgap could be signed to partner with Bargnani until Valanciunas is ready to man the middle.
In his dreams, Colangelo might envision the devastation a Bargnani-Valanciunas frontcourt could unleash on the rest of the league.
In his nightmares he surely sees unloading the only No. 1 overall selection of his long career for .25 cents on the dollar.
Eventually, it will all be on Bargnani to make sure his biggest backer sleeps soundly.