For our weekly podcast, Road to the Association’s David Hein spoke with Maurizio Gherardini at the FIBA Europe U18 Championship tournament. Gherardini is noted in NBA history for his status as the first European citizen to attain a high-ranking front office job, serving as assistant GM/VP for the Toronto Raptors for six seasons under Bryan Coleangelo.
Of course, if one says the word “Italian” to a member of Raptors fandom, he/she may recall Gherardini but is far more likely to conjure up the name Andrea Bargnani. Like his compatriot, Bargnani also occupies a spot in the big league’s annals, having become the first European player drafted at no. 1. Bargnani’s stint in Toronto ultimately ran directly in parallel with Gherardini’s: Gherardini was hired less than a week before the 2006 NBA Draft. In offseason 2013, both departed Canada, with the exec landing in Oklahoma City and the player traded to New York.
Naturally, this writer could not resist getting an opinion from Gherardini on what most NBA followers consider yet another no. 1 pick washing out, he who’d amassed so much ire from Toronto fans. Not having to confront the man face-to-face, my proxy Hein threw the question out there; Gherardini’s answer follows, along with some examination of his contentions.
“You call him a disappointment, but still here’s a guy who’s played eight years in the league and has averaged way over double figures – so you have to respect the fact that he has been able to perform [in the NBA], which no one from my country has been able to do during his career.”
From 2006 to the present, a pair of Italians have enjoyed long enough NBA careers to be considered Bargnani’s peers: Marco Belinelli (drafted in 2007) and Danilo Gallinari (2008). The former appears to have finally found a niche in the big league, landing with the champion San Antonio Spurs after five seasons with four teams (including Coleangelo/Gherardini’s Raptors in 2009-10). Reduced to an occasional start – as opposed to his first-five role with the New Orleans Hornets, Belinelli nevertheless set career highs in shooting percentage across the board and, like seemingly every member of the Spurs, played a key part in a successful season.
Gallinari makes for a better comparison to Bargnani: The two have amassed remarkably similar stat lines (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rbg, 1.9 apg, .419/.369/.844 shooting for the Rooster vs 15.0, 4.9, 1.2, .438/.355/.825 for Andrea), but Gallinari’s player card is simply riddled with injuries. While Bargnani has been unable to string together more than half a season since his apparent peak in 2010-11, Gallinari has played a total of two full seasons of a potential five.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for being available the whole year; on the other hand, only Belinelli can boast an NBA title on his résumé.
“In fact, if you look at that draft, I would say only [LaMarcus] Aldrich and Rudy Gay are today at a different level in their NBA career.”
One might also include Rajon Rondo (taken at no. 20), but a glance at that 2006 Draft backs up Gherardini here. Among the top 20 in that infamous selection were Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Patrick O’Bryant, Mouhamed Sene, Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, Rodney Carney, Oleksiy Pecherov, Quincy Douby and Renaldo Balkman – none of whom are currently playing in the NBA.
After Bargnani, Aldrich and Gay, the only top-20s from 2006 currently listed on NBA rosters are J.J. Redick, Randy Foye, Ronnie Brewer and Shawne Williams – and Williams even spent some of 2013-14 playing for the D-League’s Los Angeles D-fenders. As though the weight of expectation from no.1 overall status weren’t enough, Bargnani appears to have been a victim of fate in a year of outliers.
“I think Bargnini has been underachieving for different reasons, but he hasn’t been too lucky with his injuries. Very often, he had injuries which kept his season short. He had a couple of seasons when he was within the top 10 scorers of the league, so he was showing a whole different potential.”
Gherardini is probably specifically referring to the 2009-10 season here, during which Bargnani’s 21.4 points in 35.7 minutes per in 66 games was good for 15th best in the NBA – directly behind, ironically enough, LaMarcus Aldridge. However, the Raptor nation’s hopes that finally their beleaguered no. 1 was coming around proved again to be unfounded and the injury bug settled in soon thereafter.
“I think [it’s a bad] situation because he was never really comfortable in the position that he was, but I think at the end of the day. I think … he’s a great talent with great qualities. Sometimes with players at that level that realize only once their career is over that they could have done more. I think that he’s a great guy who had achieved a lot in his life, but probably once that his career is over, he will realize where his talent could have taken him, which is more than he has accomplished today.”
Perhaps Bargnani is in fact due slightly more respect than the media and blogosphere generally give him. After all, in comparison with a few other no. 1 picks in recent memory – we’re thinking Greg Oden, Andrew Bogut and possibly Anthony Bennett here – Toronto could have done worse. That may be little consolation for some, admittedly…
“But again, we still have to respect what he has done up to now. And I would not be surprised if, with Phil Jackson in New York, that he has a surprising year. So don’t rule it out.”
You heard it here first.
For Bargnani’s sake, let’s hope Gherardini is prescient on this one. Surely, Knicks backers and/or Carmelo Anthony won’t tolerate too much more stuff like this: