April 26, 2012
Bargnani's the real deal
By Steve Simmons, QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - The cornerstone’s eyes were open wide, his expression no longer blank, distant or uncomfortable. Andrea Bargnani stood where he has been at the end of almost every season, trying to explain what went wrong. But this time it felt and he looked entirely different.
“I came here six years ago and I was just a kid,” Bargnani said, after his exit press conference interview. “The first thing was language. My English wasn’t good. It’s different now. Maybe English is my first language now, Italian my second.”
We stop for a moment in mid-sentence. That is was what constitutes a Bargnani joke. We chuckle and move on.
“I came here at 20, now I’m 26 about to be 27. You grow up a lot. It feels good to get your game to this point, to do the things I want to do on the court. I don’t like losing. Nobody likes losing. But I’m happy with my career. Every year, I’ve gotten better. It’s not good to look back. The first two years, I didn’t play much. One year I played about 23 minutes a game for whatever reason. That slowed down my growth.
“But this year was a losing year but not a wasted year. There’s a difference in that.”
A difference in the big bust who isn’t anymore. It may not have happened overnight, the first pick in the NBA Draft finally playing like a first pick, but it began to emerge in this uneven and now concluded Raptors season. Some things didn’t change this season. The Raptors still lost, just not enough of the time. The team isn’t in the playoffs, again. The franchise remains on the outside looking in when it comes to relevance in the NBA. But the big news other than the arrival of Dwane Casey was the emergence of Bargnani as a major force in the NBA.
In the U.S., where they never talk about the Raptors, there was talk of Bargnani this season. How he was a force. How he was unstoppable. How teams didn’t know how to defence him. A year ago, two or three years ago, he was just another guy, that big wasted pick, too often unengaged. Now the guy is bordering on stardom, assuming he can stay healthy, assuming he can duplicate what he showed in his first season playing for Casey.
“I’m not happy losing, nobody’s happy losing,” said Bargnani. “But this year changed a lot. It was not a wasted year. It was a frustrating year with the injury. I was happy and frustrated. Happy with the way I played. Frustrated that I got hurt at the worst possible moment ... I hated sitting on the bench in a suit. You don’t want to be there for games. I hated watching practice. Nobody likes that.”
When healthy, which he was for about 19 of 66 games this season, Bargnani averaged 24 points a game. Only four NBA players — Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Love — scored more than that. When Bargnani played more than 30 minutes for the Raptors, which he did 24 times and at least five of those games he shouldn’t have played, the Raps had a winning record: 13 wins, 11 losses. That’s a .541 winning percentage.
That’s playoff basketball.
“I’m not happy with my game,” said Bargnani, who appreciates the improvement he has made but wants to go even farther. “There’s no point talking about what I can do. You have to prove it every year. You’ve got to keep believing. I know I can drive more. I know I can play better D. I know I can use my left hand more. These are all things to build on. But I can’t sit here and say ‘I don’t want to play on this team, I’m tired of losing.’ You can’t have that attitude. You want to be part of something. It’s not just sport, it’s life. You don’t quit. You try to be part of the solution.
“Before the injury, I was among the top (scorers). That’s where I need to be and I know I can be there. Now I have to come back next year and do it.”
He will be back, along with the improving DeMar DeRozan, likely Jose Calderon, excited by additions Jonas Valanciunas, the still to be determined first round pick and whomever Bryan Colangelo uses all that salary flexibility and cap room on. “That makes us better,” said Bargnani.
“This year was about building. Next year is about playoffs.”