Lets face it; if youre a Toronto Raptors fan this season, youre also a disappointed fan. Heading into Fridays game against the Phoenix Suns with a mere 23-36 record, playoff hopes looked doubtful. And if wasnt already, it mustve surely been after losing 133-113 to the Steve Nash-less Suns.
There were high expectations for the team coming into the season, especially after acquiring Jermaine ONeal from the Indiana Pacers in July in exchange for former Raptors TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, and Maceo Baston. But at least the Raptors organization got rid of certain useless bodies that didnt help the team move on at any point.
ONeal was expected to add a much needed improvement to the Raptors front court both offensively and defensively. Mainly, his presence on the team was supposed to help out Chris Boshs game and relieve him of the intense defensive pressure his opponents were inflicting on him last season. But the Raptors had to give up a lot to acquire ONeal, losing much of its overall team depth and bench presence it had heavily relied on the last couple of seasons.
As it turned out, ONeal never really meshed well with Bosh, and as a result of that, the team has not only performed inconsistently this season, but their offense has slowed and their defense has showed no improvement from last season. This is ultimately what led Raptors President and GM Bryan Colangelo to trade Jermaine ONeal and forward Jamario Moon to Miami for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. Was ONeal given enough of a chance before getting shipped out? Arguable; and his trade for an aging Marion appears as a questionable piece of business to many.
Indeed, the trade does not seem very compelling at first, as it is essentially two teams exchanging their underperformers. But if you read the fine print, the trade should help the Raptors, in the long run, if of course Marion stays on for next season.
First off, Marion is a very unique and versatile player — able to run the court like a point guard, score from any position on the court, and is an above average defender that can essentially defend all positions from guard to center. Not to mention he is a very aggressive rebounder, averaging 8.8 rebounds so far this season. Compare that to Jermaine ONeals 6.8 rebounds a game. Marions underperformance this season can be explained by the fact that the Miami Heat refused to play transition basketball, a style which helped him flourish as a player with the Phoenix Suns.
His presence on the Raptors line-up also opens up the centre spot and maximizes playing time for Andrea Bargnani, whose minutes were limited because of ONeals presence. Bargnanis performance has tremendously improved this year (14.2 Points per Game, 5.4 Rebounds per Game), especially under coach Jay Triano, which made it that much easier to trade ONeal and acquire a player that can cater more to the Raptors needs. Also, at the starting small forward position, Shawn Marion is a huge upgrade for the Raptors in comparison to their previous small forward Jamario Moon. The Raptors will undoubtedly not miss Moons defensive inconsistency, ill advised shots, lack of aggressiveness, and inability to drive to the basket despite his supposed athleticism.
Only five games into Marions tenure with the Raptors and you can already notice the difference hes making for the team, especially with his ability to cut to the basket, drive to the net, and knack for solid positioning both offensively and defensively. This was evident in their 111-100 win against the New York Knicks on February 22.
The ONeal-Marion trade also gives the Raptors some much needed salary cap flexibility. Instead of having to pay Jermaine ONeals $23-million demands next season (third highest in the NBA), they now have the expiring contract of Shawn Marion who is set to become a free agent this coming offseason. Worst case scenario, if Marion does not work out for the Raptors, they can just cut him loose and let him sign somewhere else, thus freeing up more salary cap space to sign other upcoming free agents such as Carlos Boozer or even Hedo Turkoglu.
No matter how hard it may be, what with all the positive early expectations this season, Raptors fans simply have to look ahead to next season. The salary cap flexibility will allow GM Bryan Colangelo to make some significant changes to a roster that currently lacks much chemistry and depth. As long as the Raptors are able to re-sign Chris Bosh when he becomes a free agent in 2010, the future of the organization still remains promising.