MILWAUKEE – With four Toronto Raptors' personnel surrounding him in the locker room Saturday night, Andrea Bargnani bent his left elbow in a 90-degree angle, showing where his latest ailment persisted. As it turned out, Bargnani was being checked out for simply a deep cut in his elbow, and he then headed to the training room for extensive treatment to prevent infection.
This was a minor injury compared to the torn ligament in Bargnani’s right elbow this season that put him out 26 straight games and off the trade market. For Bargnani now, there’s always something new – from criticism inside and outside the Raptors to continued discussion about his capacity living up to the No. 1 pick Toronto used on him in 2006.
Bargnani has undoubtedly listened to the putdowns, the boos that have showered him in Toronto upon his return to the lineup early last month. Sometimes, his quiet nature gets perceived as dispassionate play, and it leads to a lack of a legitimate leadership role despite being the longest tenured Raptor. His pedestrian rebounding has long been a weakness, too.
Nevertheless, Bargnani is adamant that what’s held him back in playing 11 of the past 12 games hasn’t been lowered confidence or any critic, but rather still recovering from the serious right elbow injury. After some games, he receives treatment in the elbow. On practice or off days, Bargnani works to elevate his conditioning and fitness in the part that’s so critical to his shooting.
“I wasn’t even able to touch the ball for months, had a really bad injury in the elbow,” Bargnani told RealGM late Saturday night. “I just got to keep practicing hard, coming from the injury. I have to try to get back in shape and play hard [because] I didn’t play for two months.
“What I got to do now is practice hard and get back to that shape.”
His “old shape,” Bargnani reiterated, and just last year he established himself as a possible NBA All-Star when he averaged almost 20 points and 5.5 rebounds. Even a year ago, his season was significantly derailed by injury, and he’s been timid at times between then and now.
In the weeks leading up to the Feb. 21 trade deadline, the Raptors and general manager Bryan Colangelo made no secret about the fact they held trade discussions centered on Bargnani. Still, the Raptors felt Bargnani preferred to stay for now instead of a complete scenery change and they never appeared to seriously entertain deals they had on the table.
Support for Bargnani within the organization has been running thin, and Colangelo recently said the Italian forward “needs to strap on his shoes and play basketball.” While some insist Bargnani can still find his way with the Raptors, other officials believe a change of scenery couldn’t hurt him.
Bargnani, for his part, has been noncommittal about the way his mindset swayed at the trade deadline. The Raptors made clear their intent to pursue deals revolving around him, but Bargnani knows he has to get healthy, stay on the court and produce and then allow the front office to evaluate where the two sides stand in the offseason.
“I cannot control trades,” Bargnani said. “All I can do is go out there and play and somebody else’s job is to trade you or [not] in these moments. I just got to focus on the game.
“It’s something you cannot control.”
After scoring a combined 16 points on 7-for-28 shooting over his last five games and going scoreless in three of them, Bargnani was far more aggressive in Saturday’s 122-114 overtime loss to the Bucks. He was shooting without hesitation, posting up with succinct pivots and a plan, and filling in as a starter on short notice due to Gay’s absence because of back spasms.
Yes, he shot just four of 14 on Saturday, but he’s still guarded closely on the perimeter – letting him use pump fakes throughout the game – and gave the Raptors a performance of substance with 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes.
“We talked about getting him going before Rudy went out, and I thought Andrea came in and was aggressive and had his rhythm,” Dwane Casey said. “That’s what we need out of him.”
For long moments Saturday, trainers hovered around Bargnani, fretting all over an elbow injury. This time it was just a deep cut that needed treatment for cleansing. Patience around him has been running thin as three straight seasons of regression go on across the board; scoring to rebounding, shooting percentages to blocking. Yet, Bargnani emerged late Saturday night making it clear: The criticism hasn’t affected him, but overcoming the right elbow injury remains a process.