If we look at Calderon’s career, he played just good enough to warrant a starting spot for some franchises, but never realized his full potential as an All-Star. While that might not matter for teams who just need him for their stretch run and the playoffs, GMs should be cautioned against looking at anything with Calderon long term. His history proves he’s a bigger risk when handed more responsibility.
This past weekend, Calderon recorded his second career triple-double during short-handed Toronto’s victory over the Houston Rockets, 103-96. It was another strange blip of excellence on Calderon’s equivocal career thus far. The Raptors point guard of the future was supposed to be Kyle Lowry, but injuries (not to mention Calderon’s presence as a substitute) have largely thwarted any future All-Star plans for Lowry, and playoff contention for the embattled Raptors.
Now with Lowry again out – this time with ligament damage – the Raptors may actually hold off on moving Andrea Bargnani, as well as Calderon. But they shouldn’t because teams could use Calderon, and the man needs to find a new home.
Jose Calderon first popped up on the NBA radar in a big way after an incredible 2007-08 season when he took the starting job from T.J. Ford in Toronto. That season, Calderon would submit one of seven seasons ever with the famed 50/40/90 percentages in field goals/three-pointers/free throws, and a PER over 20 (per Basketball-reference). The Raptors rewarded him with a five-year, $45 million contract in July of 2008; they had their point guard of the future locked-up. Ford was traded for Jermaine O’Neal, and they had the backcourt and frontcourt (with “superstar” Chris Bosh, teamed with O’Neal) to be players with the Heat, Celtics and Magic in the East. That future, which looked so bright in 2008, has crumbled since, and it’s worth looking at whether Calderon’s own play was a factor or just an addendum to Toronto’s bad luck.
Sam Mitchell and Bryan Colangelo were named the Coach and General Manager of the Year after a 2006-07 season that saw the Raptors go 47-35 and finish first in the Atlantic Division. Nut that hot start to their partnership did not last long. The following year, after finishing 41-41 during Calderon’s breakout 2007-08 season, the Raptors again made the playoffs, but were thwarted in the first round by Dwight Howard and the Magic. The next season, the first of Calderon’s new contract, the Raptors started off by winning three straight, but they eventually fell to 8-9, and Mitchell was let ago. Long-time assistant Jay Triano attempted to resurrect the now-faltering Raptors. Triano didn’t help, and the Raptors finished 33-49 to miss the playoffs.
Despite firing their coach and missing out on the playoffs, Calderon’s first season with his new contract was still excellent, but not quite as efficient as the historic season before. He finished the ’08-09 campaign shooting 49.7 percent from the floor, 40.6 percent on three-pointers and 98.1 percent from the line. He also achieved a PER of 18.8, which is solid if not spectacular. But he was only three tenths of a percentage point from having back-to-back 50/40/90 seasons (something only Steve Nash and Larry Bird have done). Not bad right? Well, Calderon missed 14 games that season, and as mentioned, Toronto failed to make the playoffs with him as their regular starter.
The next season, 2009-10, got worse for both Calderon and the Raptors. Calderon again missed time due to injury (after his breakout year in 2007-08, he’s never again appeared in more than 70 games in a season), and began to lose heavy minutes to Jarrett Jack, who actually averaged more playing time that season. Not only that, but Calderon’s efficient shooting – something the ’09-’10 Raptors team sorely needed since they were the worst defensive squad in the league – again dropped: He shot 48.2 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from beyond the arc, both of which are still well above average, though beneath his earlier marks. But he had a drastic fall at the free throw line, shooting just 79.8 percent. That’s almost 20 percent less than the year before. Not only that, but the one part of Calderon’s game that had improved in his first contract year while his shooting percentages had dropped, his assist rate, went from 9.4 per 36 minutes to just 8.0 during the 2009-10 season. It wasn’t just Calderon’s shooting that was suffering.
Chris Bosh got injured after the All-Star break that year as well, when Toronto was seven games above .500. When Bosh went down, Calderon, second-year forward Andrea Bargnani, and the rest of the Raptors team couldn’t pick up the slack. The 2009-10 Raptors failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, losing out on the eighth seed in the final weeks of the season, finishing 40-42. It was also the second year of Calderon’s contract.
Things were not going well after the first two years of Calderon’s five-year deal: the Raptors had lost more than they’d won, and his shooting and passing numbers had all gone down. So management tried to trade him before the 2010 season began. They lost Bosh in free agency to Miami that summer, and then, as part of a reported larger trade proposal, Charlotte would’ve received a package of Calderon with Reggie Evans and Hedo Turkoglu for Tyson Chandler, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw (Dallas ended up getting Chandler and had some pretty good success with him as their defensive anchor). It’s worth guessing that Charlotte might not have been so comfortable paying Calderon the remaining $30 million he still had left on his contract.