It seemed like it happened already. There was Andrea Bargnani, playing some very nice help defense, blocking shots, playing with energy, bringing home a win with Bosh out of the lineup. Cue Colangelo blathering on about the man’s greatness to a couple of puckhead radio guys. Jay was doing a great job with Bargnani. Andrea was understanding what he could do out there, establishing himself in this league and becoming the player they had all imagined when he was picked at number one. He had definitely turned the corner.
Well, around every corner is another corner. Andrea has shown what he can do. Now he needs to do it with some consistency. Against sub-par teams, and in home games, it’s hard not to be happy with his game. Against stiffer competition, particularly while on the road, the drop-off is dramatic. There is no reason for this team to lose three games in a row, with or without Bosh. But if Bargnani fails to bring any energy to games, then the losing streak could seem endless. He becomes a 7-foot barrier to success. Colangelo goes in hiding. Jay Triano looks like the main character in a Lost spinoff series.
Nobody knows this better than my pal Mochi, the recently neutered wonder-poodle. He pays close attention to all of my bellowing as he follows the squeaky-shoe-goings-on. For some time he looked to be convinced that the name of the guy wearing number 7 was Fuck-Yes. He sees the number 7 and hears “FUCK YES!” again and again. Mochi starts to really like this Fuck-Yes guy. It’s all high-fives and hugs, and when Devlin does his Snickers promo, and I direct my own “get some nuts” at the wonder-poodle himself, it’s like I’m laughing with him, and not at him.
But then confusion starts to settle in for poor Mochi. Is this a different number 7? An imposter? Because now his name seems to be Killme, and this Killme guy brings an entirely different vibe. “Get some nuts” sounds so dark and sinister as to provoke a little bit of nervous retching and a barf stain of the carpet.
There are 82 games in the schedule. Can we please just get the same guy wearing number 7 in each of them? Is that too much to ask? Can they do it for Mochi?
Last night in OKC, the guy was floating through half of the third quarter before he had registered a single rebound for the entire game. I was waiting for Devlin to tell a story about how Marco chose the number zero, because that is how many rebounds he expected his compatriot to register on most nights. And then he finally grabs one, although grab is not the right word. Rebound number one comes when he makes no effort to box out Nick Collison, but the ball comes off long, over Collison’s outstretched hands, and bounces on the floor before Bargnani decides he might as well reach out and get it. KILL ME!
Now some will be disappointed that he didn’t get a lot of shots. But let’s be clear here – the team should not be required to make something happen for Andrea Bargnani. Il Mago should be making something happen for the team, and the team can take it from there. If he decides to be part of this team then good things will happen for him. The touches and shots and scoring will come when he brings some energy and impacts the game by being an active seven-footer instead of a seven-foot pile of sludge that sees Jeff Green driving in from the perimeter, but manages to do nothing but stand to one side and wave his arm in Green’s direction. Green comes in from the right means waving the right arm. Green coming in from the left means waving the left arm. And if a step or two is taken to help out, then forget about rotating back to your man Andrea, just wave one arm and then another. Presto! You’re a magician right? Why do you have that look on your face that seems to want to be able to just make the whole state of Oklahoma disappear? Wave an arm and make it happen, or bring a wand next time.
Now I’m completely with my pal Mochi in wanting the real magic to return. Bring back the high fives. It’s time to see some of that much ballyhooed accountability in action. If it looks like Andrea is going to play a solid five minutes and not a second more, then sit him down. I’m all for him playing through some mistakes, but only if those mistakes require a pulse. Make him pay the price for not bringing a consistent effort, instead of making the team, me, and Mochi pay the price. Force him to turn that final corner and make the magic real and reliable.
When your seven-footer looks like he’s waving a white flag early on, it’s hard to miss. There are 82 games, and there are none left in this schedule that can allow for anymore of that. It’s time for the big man to turn that final corner – making something positive happen anytime he’s on the floor – before this team can head down the stretch into the playoffs, and feel like they can compete anytime against anybody.