The Rabbit Dilemma

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Read Bargnani’s Official Statement

The basketball guy prefers ornate answers and gentle language. The hockey man speaks in six-word sentences and swears a lot.

Now that Bryan Colangelo has signed a multi-year-extension, he and Brian Burke have something in common past the letterhead on their cheques. Both will be charged with making a soufflé out of a donut.

It’s a simple truth that spans the sports: no centre, little chance of a playoff.

The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk reported that Andrea Bargnani told Italy’s Sky Sports that IF he were to leave Toronto he would want to go to a warm-weather city where he could shoot the ball more.

Bargnani has not asked for a trade but said he wasn’t happy with his role, which is to say, his position.

There is little news in this. Most people like warm weather and Bargnani’s desire to move to power forward is well-documented.

The Raptors and Leafs face the same dilemma. I tell my kids about it all the time. It’s called the Rabbit Dilemma.

Here’s how it goes. Look at a small animal. Then ask yourselves some questions: does it have a cute little nose, is it round, does it have big ears and whiskers? If all these things are true, buddy it’s a rabbit. You may want it to be a coyote or a ferret or a dog but calling it something else cannot transform a rabbit into something different.

Which brings us to Bargnani who is seven feet tall. I once asked Chris Bosh if Bargnani could pull down 10 boards a game. He looked at me like I had two heads. “He’s seven feet tall,” he said.

You can call Bargnani a centre all you like. He can give you pretty good on-the-ball defence and a few blocks but he views the backboard like it’s made of poison ivy. And while he has pledged to improve, Bargnani treats weak-side defence as if it were invented by the Athenians.

Bargnani is wholly comfortable working the top of both keys and finding spots to deploy his smooth stroke. He can put the ball on the floor. In other word, he is a forward in a centre’s body.

Raptors’ coach Jay Triano, of course, knows all this much better than I. He is also aware of the alternative, which is represented by the very green Solomon Alabi. That’s why he will continue to see Bargnani as a rabbit until further notice.

The Raptors will have a vexing decision to make at the NBA draft. They have an opening for an explosive point guard to pair with Jerryd Bayless and complement Jose Calderon’s deliberate style. If he is still available at number five, UConn guard Kemba Walker would be an excellent fit. Will the Raptors opt to address their pressing need for a centre with Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas or continue to hope Bargnani can evolve into what they need him to be?

The Rabbit Dilemma perfectly describes the Leafs who this season used Tyler Bozak at centre. Bozak scored 15 goals and acquitted himself well enough. His game ripened as the season went on thanks to better performances in the face-off-circle and on the penalty kill. Bozak will be a more productive player when put where he belongs, on the Leafs’ second or third line.

Mikael Grabovski thrived as the number two guy so the Leafs will leave him where he is. Tim Brent is great in the bottom of the deck, Nazem Kadri has been shifted to the wing and Joe Colborne probably needs more time in the minors.

The job of filling the hole at the top of the line-up could be solved by signing gifted free agent Brad Richards. Problem is Richards may sign with the reconstituted Dallas Stars when the club has processed its bankruptcy. The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, two attractive destinations who have less cap space than the Leafs, are said to be in the running as well.

If they can’t sign Richards, the conjecture starts with talk of trades for Jeff Carter, Mike Richards or Paul Stastny. But instead of losing cap space and no roster players, the Leafs would need to take on money and hand over material in a trade. The Leafs have two late first round draft choices. If no deal is consummated at the June 25 NHL draft, the dominoes should begin to fall with the July 1 free agent deadline.

Burke has spoken of the need for a “true number once centre.” With his most potent offensive player, Phil Kessel, in need of a playmaker he has stopped pretending that Bozak is a number once guy.

Rabbits are still in the picture. It falls to Burke or Colangelo to pull one out of a hat.

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