Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Santa's More Believable.

If you don't believe there's a point guard controversy brewing in Toronto you are either very optimistic, severely naive, or perhaps a child under the age of six. While everyone from Bryan Colangelo to Chuck Swirsky has tried to downplay this story during the first 6 weeks of the season, it still looms eerily in the background like Isiah Thomas at a Knicks Front Office Christmas Party. Sooner or later, the Raptors are going to have to make the decision - TJ Ford or Jose Calderon.

It's difficult to find a modern athlete who is willing to backseat their personal stats & notoriety while letting the good of the team ride in shotgun, up front. Finding two of them at the same time, gunning for the same spot? Almost unheard of. The Raps have been THAT lucky so far, with neither Ford or Calderon having any problems (publically, at least) with splitting the position down the middle. But with Calderon emerging as one of the best young point guards in the league (see below) and Ford having an equally impressive season (save for some bad luck), it's hard to believe that this can go on for much longer.

Calderon has quietly become one of most efficient players in the league. Check out his per-48 minute stats through December 14th - 18.7 points, 5 boards, 14.1 assists, 1.54 steals and only 2.4 turnovers. If you want an example of the type of year that Calderon is having, per 48-minutes, he scores more than Jason Kidd, hands out more assists and only turns it over half as often. His 14.1 assist per-48 mark is actually second in the NBA right now, trailing only Steve Nash. And by the way, TJ Ford is fifth on that list.

I know what you're saying. There's a lot worse things that could happen to your team than having two great young point guards and you know what, you're probably right. But in some roundabout cruel way, it's going to be even more excruciating to see one of them slip away, maybe even for nothing in return. It wasn't too long ago when there wasn't enough room in the T-Dot for both Vince and Tracy McGrady and they were cousins for pete's sake. Family, and they still couldn't find a way to share the spotlight with each other. So pardon me if I'm a little cynical when it comes to the chances of this working out and the Raps keeping them both.

And don't we deserve a break as Raptors fans? Ever since Alvin Williams fell apart like a stale wagon wheel, the PG spot in Toronto has been an absolute disaster. We signed Mark Jackson, who was like 49 at the time. Then you had the Rafer Alston experience, which you couldn't forget even if you tried, sort of like the basketball equivalent of your mother dating an abusive alcoholic for 8 months while you're growing up. That season was followed up by the Year of Mike James, where he treated the 05-06 season like it was a personal 82-game shooting practice. Now we find ourselves with two fantastic PG's but all I can think about is which one we're going to lose eventually! You can't win.

Is there any way that this point guard partnership can survive long term? I doubt it. Eventually Ford or Calderon will want to have sole possession of this team and they'll deserve it. I believe that Calderon is satisfied with backing up Ford this season, but what about 2 years from now? He's definately getting offered a starting spot by a team this summer, along with a nice payday. It'd be hard to see him turning that down for a backup role. I only see three scenario's for this situation, since playing them both at the same time is too much of a defensive liability:

Trade Calderon (or Ford) at the deadline this February. All signs indicate that Ford is their guy in Toronto long term, so I'm going to assume that Calderon would be the one to be moved. Don't forget that one of the reasons Ford was brought in is because of his close friendship with Bosh, which is another big reason why he won't be traded. Shouldn't Ford's history of injuries become a factor at some point though? He's already missed an entire year with a neck injury, has had a couple of scares since then, and now this year has already missed a stint of games with a stinger and was taken off the court on a backboard three nights ago. Questions about TJ Ford's long term health have got to be the elephant in the room for the Raps front office. What are the chances that Ford has to retire over the next 5 years? I hate to say it but they've gone up over the last two months. Way up.

Calderon walks this summer. If Calderon keeps playing like this all year, it's hard to imagine his stock getting any higher than it will this summer. He'd be an upgrade at point guard for more teams than you'd think, and is still getting better (only 26). Maybe I am underestimating Colangelo, which now that I think about it... is probably pretty stupid, but I don't see him convincing Calderon to stick around for the mid-level exception and 20-25 minutes a game behind TJ Ford for the next 3-5 years.

Sign-and-Trade this summer. The more I think about it, the more likely this situation seems. In the short-term, Ford and Calderon are both a huge part of what the Raptors are doing this year and there'd be a huge outcry in Toronto if they traded one of them three-quarters into the season. There's still the odd chance that a team with a lot of young talent (Atlanta, for example) would make Colangelo an offer in 2 months that he couldn't refuse, but I doubt it. I'm also giving Colangelo the benefit of the doubt and assuming he has a plan for all of this. That plan may possibly include hypnotizing Jose Calderon but nevertheless, I think he's a smart enough guy not to let him walk away for absolutely nothing.

Deep down I really hope I'm wrong. I'd love for Calderon to accept a permanent backup role and for Ford to say he's okay with never averaging more than 30 minutes, but even in the most optimistic of my daydreams, I find that unlikely. There's sure to be a lot of interesting possibilities out there, and like I said, I trust that Colangelo has a plan. I just pray that it doesn't include Rafer Alston.

No comments: