Yes, worse than their loss total.
The crazy part about it all was that a former No. 1 pick was in the middle of all of it.
That player was Bargnani.
On December 14, 2012, ESPN reported that Bargnani told an Italian newspaper that Toronto was "pretty much the worse team in the NBA."
The Raptors were 5-19 at that time.
That comment might have made sense to somebody that didn't follow the game or its players. A losing record of that magnitude isn't a good thing, so why not say what he did?
Well, to people who understand how basketball and the teams associated with the game work, that comment was about as big of a low-blow as it gets. There's almost never a reason to publicly speak out against your own team in that manner, and it sent both fans and media outlets into a bit of a frenzy.
Toronto's next logical choice was to ship him to a team and get some kind of value back in return. If he wanted to publicly show his displeasure for the team, then it was time to bring in players that weren't going to stoop to that level. Players that were always going to give their all and not publicly criticize the team because of a few losses.
My apologies, a lot of losses.
But then, out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened: The Raptors began winning games.
Winning on the day that Bargnani's comments were released started a stretch in which the Raptors won eight of their next nine games. All of a sudden, Toronto had a 12-20 record. Sure, that's nothing to write home about, but it's significantly better than having a single-digit win total.
The season went on for a little and the Raptors started to get back to their losing ways until they made a blockbuster deal that brought in Rudy Gay. Gay's addition was unbelievably important as Toronto has gone 7-3 since bringing him in, but the trade did something unexpected.
It threw a lot of the attention off of Bargnani and his possible departure. Oddly enough, that turned out to be the best possible scenario.
The center went from telling the media that his team was the worst in the league, to not saying anything at all. He had to watch his team acquire a superstar as he sat on the bench nursing an injury.
It was the definition of a reality check.
Bargnani was one of Toronto's top-two options, but now it feels like he's just another player. A player that has averaged just 6.0 points in 20.5 minutes per game since Gay has arrived. He has been forced to take a step back and understand the big picture and what his role will be.
The man went from knowing that he was going to get minutes and shot attempts in every game he played in, to being unsure as to when he'd go into the game or if he'd take more than five shots. A sudden switch like that really humbles a player and puts the situation into perspective.
There might have been talks about a possible trade involving Bargnani before the trade deadline, but nothing happened. He almost got moved, but did he really feel like there was a team that didn't want him? Who knows, but chances are pretty good that he feels disposable right now. The team that used to be his is now winning game after game and has moved into the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Bargnani wasn't too crucial in getting them there.
That brings up the next logical question.
Why was it good to keep him instead of trading him?
The answer to this one is actually pretty simple: He is still capable of being the kind of player that he used to be.
He might have had some questionable moments with the media, but you can't forget that this guy is capable of being a productive offensive player. Prior to this season, Bargnani had averaged at least 17.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the last three years.
His shot selection continually led to lower percentages than he had the potential of shooting, but he has always been able to shoot the ball. Bargnani is one of a handful of seven-footers that has range out to the three-point line.
It's important to remember all of this because of two reasons.
The first is that it's possible that he shapes his game to fit around the current Raptors core. This would give Toronto yet another offensive option. It would also require Bargnani to shed a layer of his selfish ways and be okay with being the third or fourth option.
The second is the possibility of the Raptors needing him at a crucial time. Who knows if he'll ever become what he once was, but he still has a lot of talent. Talent that could come in handy at a pivotal moment. Bargnani is a veteran who knows how to play basketball. Having him as an option instead of a young fearful player could be the difference between a win or loss.
Maybe even a win or loss that sends them to the playoffs.
Bargnani had the potential to bring the Raptors down earlier in the season, but guess what?
It never ended up happening.
Let's move on and look at what he could do from this point on. Toronto might even give itself a pat on the back for not moving him if he makes plays down the stretch.
Something that he's certainly capable of.
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