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Old 02-12-2012, 07:03 PM   #1 (permalink)

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Default Chisholm: The Bargnani/All-Star angle the Raptors are selling

In the hours leading up to the All-Star reserve selections Thursday night, the Raptors PR machine was in full force, with stories and opinions popping all over the map about how, had Andrea Bargnani been healthy, he'd have been an All-Star reserve at this year's game. That line of reasoning goes that Bargnani - he of the 23.5 ppg average, 22.1 PER and improved defensive focus - would have used those individual improvements to sneak his way into the group of seven Eastern selections made by coaches around the NBA. It's a fanciful story and one of the few positive pieces flowing out of Raptor-land in recent days.

It's also pure fiction.

Look, Bargnani has played in 13 games so far this season. Thirteen! In those games, the Raptors are a sub-.500 team and have registered losses to New jersey and Washington. Look at the Eastern reserve selections for a moment and you'll see two different categories of players: established stars (Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams) and key players on winning clubs (Luol Deng, Roy Hibbert and Andre Iguodala). Bargnani does not slide into either one of those groups. He's by no means an established star and his team isn't winning. At 6-7 (the team's record with Bargnani in the lineup), the team is only at a .461 winning percentage. Extrapolated over the length of the team's season, that only gets you a 12-15 record. While as of today, that would put you in the East playoffs, it hardly gets the attention of the coaches selecting the teams. Consider that guys in similar situations like Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving also missed out and you see why the odds were long that Bargnani would have made it even if he was healthy.
This may all sound really cynical, but it's not meant to be. This is very smart and proactive management of the narrative by a club that is very good in that area and is rarely credited as being so. For the Raptors to execute the kind of slow-burn rebuilding that they're (finally) trying to accomplish you need to be able to keep the fans and the media pushing as much positive narrative as you can. As the losses pile up and the young players look like they'll never get better (even though they probably will) it's up to the organization to sell the positive stories that exist beneath the surface. This week, Bargnani as the All-Star who missed his shot is a great story to sell. There is no way to fully disprove that he wouldn't have been selected to the team his year, and the fact is he was playing quite well when he was playing, but that is such a convenient interpretation of available information that it isn't hard to see the gears turning behind the scenes.

The point here isn't really whether or not Bargnani would have been selected as an All-Star reserve or not, though. It's that the team can sell that story and get it taken seriously. At the start of this season you had people calling themselves savvy for putting Bargnani's name into the conversation for amnestying, and now not two months later the team is able to successfully sell him as a potential All-Star. When people start asking Colangelo at the end of the season how he plans to get an All-Star to Toronto now he can say that he already has one, at a reasonable long-term deal, and that his job is to surround him with the right pieces. If Bargnani had been healthy and not made it to the All-Star team that narrative would have been a much harder sell, but with him effectively ineligible from making it the team is going to work that angle for all its worth.
Chisholm: The Bargnani/All-Star angle the Raptors are selling
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