If Jay Triano is fired this season, it's clear he's going to take some folks down with him.
Twice this week, the Canadian-born head coach of the Toronto Raptors has been pointed in his criticism of Andrea Bargnani, abruptly ending a postgame interview by saying the game of the often invisible big man was "not where it needs to be." Then, on the eve of Friday's preseason finale in Montreal, Triano responded with a terse "no" to a question about whether Bargnani had followed through on his pledge to become a better help-side defender.
The Raptors open their regular season Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre against the New York Knicks, and because of his size and fear of the lane, Bargnani is going to be a lightning rod for fan discontent. But Bargnani is too easy a target. The greater concern has to be the team's weakness at the point, because this is no time to be mixing and matching with the Jose Calderons and Jarrett Jacks of the world.
Last season, 21 point guards averaged five assists a game and 22 averaged 10 or more points a game. The numbers show that an elite NBA point guard ought to be able to average 16 to 21 points and six to 11 assists. Do that, and you get a place in the top 15. In 2009-10, Calderon averaged 5.9 assists and 10.3 points; Jack averaged 11.4 points and five assists.
Add them up and it looks deceivingly okay. At a time when point guards are becoming what Raptors assistant P.J. Carlesimo calls "one-man fast breaks," and at a time when the NBA's all-rookie team, as chosen by the league's coaches, includes four point guards (Tyreke Evans of Sacramento, Brandon Jennings of Milwaukee, Stephen Curry of Golden State and Darren Collison of New Orleans), clearly the point guard's spot has evolved.
The Raptors? They appear to have devolved.
Optimists will say that with Chris Bosh gone, there will be a greater opportunity for other Raptors players to fill their hats and that will mean Calderon's and Jack's numbers will go up. In a perfect world, maybe. But it is telling that just two games after he was essentially said by Triano to be the Raptors' point guard, Calderon fell out of favour to Jack after a rocky offensive performance against the Chicago Bulls. And remember: Calderon was all but traded to the Charlotte Bobcats last summer. While the deal collapsed, human nature being what it is, you wonder if Calderon hasn't already checked out.
The one thing Calderon does do is take care of the ball; his assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.08 was third best among NBA point guards last season. But on too many nights, he is not up to the task physically, and so far this preseason he seems to miss Bosh more than any player. His hesitancy against the Bulls was alarming, almost rookie-like.
Carlesimo has been around the game nearly 40 years as a coach and broadcaster, and he noted after Thursday's practice that the NBA has entered a "third" generation of point guards. "Now people look at point guards and they're starting with size," said Carlesimo, who is in his first year as a Raptors assistant. "They are an offence unto themselves."
There is a chance that in time the Raptors will be forced to use a shooting guard - DeMar DeRozan - against some of the more dominant, athletic point guards. During Carlesimo's brief tenure as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, he sometimes used Kevin Durant against Brandon Roy. But that doesn't solve the issue of offence.
To go along with a big guy who isn't engaged, they have point guards who are, in more ways than one, men out of time. Tough to see hustle and moxie actually working when the team is a mix of guys who can't and guys who won't. What the Raptors need is some sense of certainty at one position, at least. They won't get that from Calderon or Jack. You might say it's pointless.