Jose Calderon Needs A Fresh Start With A New Team

Beginning this past Saturday, players signed this summer are now available to be traded, and even though we haven’t seen one as of this writing, there will be some moves before the New Year. Now that there are more players available, and GMs call sheets just got a lot longer, who could be making a move before the next deadline on January 15? One player who has spent his career north of the border could be the final piece for a franchise in need of backcourt help. But the question of how effective Jose Calderon can be is still up for debate.

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.

So Calderon was again the point guard in Toronto to begin the 2010-11 season, and he again failed to live up to his earlier production. At that point, Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa were getting time at the point while Calderon again only appeared in 68 games. He only started 55 of those and shot his lowest percentage since his rookie year, at 44.0 percent and 36.5 from deep. That’s still above average, but it was the third straight year his shooting and three-point shooting percentages dropped. His free throw shooting was back up over 85 percent and he was dishing better than he ever had (10.4 assists per 36 minutes), but Calderon’s offense was still regressing in the third year of his deal. With Jay Triano still the coach in Toronto, and Calderon still getting most of the starts at the point, the Raptors would finish the 2010-11 campaign at 22-60 and miss out on the playoffs for the third consecutive year (also the third year into Calderon’s new deal).

Last season, the Raptors got rid of Triano as coach and brought in Dwane Casey, which meant their defense got a lot better, but their offense wasn’t as productive as it had been in season’s past. They were still in the cellar for most of the lockout-shortened season. Some of the blame has to fall to Calderon who was again their starting point guard in 53 out of 66 games. The team finished 23-43 under Casey and missed the playoffs, but they weren’t as awful as the year before, and Calderon showed some signs of improvement. He shot 45.7 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc, both up from the year before. It was the first year during Calderon’s $45 million contract where he didn’t shoot worse than the year prior, and he was still averaging over eight assists and 10 points a game.

So where are Calderon and the Raptors through 25 games this season? Well, he’s only started 10 of the team’s 25 games while appearing in all of them. As mentioned earlier, Kyle Lowry took over the starting point guard duties, which makes Calderon either the most expensive backup point guard in the league or a very well-compensated third guard who can move over to the two when DeMar DeRozan needs a rest. Calderon, for his part, has thrived in a backup role again. His three-point shooting in particular has been excellent at over 44 percent, and he’s still dishing over nine dimes per 36 minutes and shooting over 90 percent from the charity stripe. Those are all improvements from the 2011-12 season, but he’s shooting worse from the field than he is from long range, 42.6 percentage, which is down significantly from the 45.7 percent he shot last season. Looking at that low number, it’s primarily at the rim where he’s missing this season. He’s been at 60 percent or higher for his career from that distance, but a dreadful 52 percent this year (via Hoopdata). Look for that to improve, and his shooting percentage to raise as a result.

The Raptors are 6-19 and only ahead of Cleveland and Washington in the Eastern Conference. Kyle Lowry, when he’s been able to play, has actually been getting it done. Lowry has a top 10 PER among all guards averaging over 20 minutes a night, per Hoopdata, and with Calderon’s contract set to expire this summer there are plenty of teams that need backcourt help (ahem, the Lakers). Calderon is available, but the Raptors might force a team to also pick up Bargnani and his dreadful shooting. But for the last three quarters of the season, Calderon would be helpful and Bargnani would just be part of the price. Both can stretch the court, even if Bargnani makes Antawn Jamison look like a legitimate defender.

Signing Calderon to an extension this summer is something that should give every GM pause, though, even if he helps a team like Los Angeles achieve postseason glory. If you look at his body of work since signing that initial deal with Toronto in the summer after his 2007-08 season, he’s been on a steady decline until last season, and he’s no longer a young man, having turned 31 years old in September this year. Sure, he still has a few years left in the tank, but he’s not the hyper efficient statistical marvel he was earlier in his career. Calderon may just be a prime case of the law of diminishing returns. The moment you expect him to play 36 minutes a night as a top-10 point guard, is the moment when all his percentages drop and he becomes another ho-hum guard on a terrible team. Not an awful point, but not an All-Star, either. But if you’re say, the Lakers, and you need a point that will protect the ball, knows how to initiate an offense, and can shoot a high percentage from long range, you might want to think about giving Bryan Colangelo a call. They’ve only been trying to trade Calderon’s contract since the summer of 2010, so I’m pretty sure they’d listen to whatever offers Mitch Kupchak is thinking about. Still, the Lakers should also think twice about exchanging Pau Gasol for Calderon and Bargnani.

There are no easy predictions for the next few years of Jose Calderon’s career because we don’t even know where he’s gonna be next week. But we can safely say he’s worn out his welcome in Toronto. What once was a promising future in Canada turned into the cold truth that Calderon might not ever be the starting point guard Toronto thought he was after that miraculous 2007-08 season. It’s cold enough in Toronto without their basketball team and franchise point guard making things colder. Hopefully this spring will thaw the chill of the last few years, and give Calderon a fresh start elsewhere.

Should the Raptors trade Calderon?

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