By OUR ULTIMATE NBA INSIDER, FUELLED BY SYNERGY
SPORTS FANS, his Toronto Raptor team-mates and Andrea Bargnani and his family must have been shocked and stunned by the hostess of Rogers Sportsnet Connected on Monday, November 26. Leading into the 5:00-6:00 p.m. supperhour segment she asked rhetorically, “Has Andrea Bargnani’s time in Toronto run out?”
Thinking it was to be a lead item I waited for the surprising news. And waited. And waited. Finally, some fifty minutes later, she flatly announced with a straight face that Mr Bargnani was on the way out and that “fans have given up on him.” (How she divined this insight only an Insider can figure out.) Our hostess then followed up the shock attack by interviewing one of Sportsnet’s ubiquitous “Insiders,” Michael Grange, to explain it all. Is now the time to trade Andrea Bargnani, he was asked.
Mr Grange said NO!
For a brief moment I thought, wow, Rogers didn’t script this very well.
It was yet another screaming story with nothing to do with sport and a conscious diversion from dealing with the problems faced by the Canadian people.
But the earnest Mr Grange went on, and I became intrigued by the “debate” and its modus operandi.
He pronounced that now was not the time to trade Andrea as his value was low; wait until his value is high again and then make the deal. Athletes are merchandise to be bought and sold. The Raptors usually refer to them as “pieces.” The impressive logic of the Insider (aka Idiot Savant) failed to explain why this corporate franchise would make a deal if his value was high; wouldn’t that mean he was playing exceptionally well? No, the line is that he is to be/should be traded, whether he’s at low or high value. All this is based on a related presumption that there has ever been a seller’s market in the NBA.
Now I smelled a rat. The shock attack “journalism” became further justified with one fact – but who needs more! – a 2 for 19 shooting performance, one of the worst shooting performances of Mr Bargnani’s career, in a hard-fought loss to the San Antonio Spurs in double overtime on November 25th. (Oh yes, José Calderon, who dished out a season-high 18 assists in Toronto’s 97-86 win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre the previous Sunday, was a mere 3-14 and, ergo, a candidate for the 401 out of town.)
Connected then added some footage to pad the segment – interviews their intrepid reporters seemingly shot with several players who play the same position and would presumably benefit from his trade by increased playing time.
Later that night – or the next day – I was watching the daily Raptors Post-Up program on the nba.tv satellite channel in my downtime when I noticed a remarkable visual similarity to the interviews I was originally led to believe were shot by Connected. I smelled that rat. They had been spliced from nba.tv.
In fact, the same questions and answers from players turned up in all the Toronto sports media. It must have emanated as the theme from a post-game, post-up scrum by the enlightened journos. (The scrum is the post game press conference with the coach – similar to the ones on Parliament Hill or during elections – where reporters actually work out together the line on the day’s game. The Post-Up program, produced and paid for by the Raptors, takes in the following day’s practice, with additional interviews with this or that flavour of the day.)
According to the account printed in the Toronto Sun on Nov. 26, both Demar DeRozan and Eddie Davis just laughed, pointing out that Andrea had poured in 34 points just the game before. “Andrea is never going to shoot 2-for-19 again. I think it was a good thing just to know that coach Casey has that trust in him,” Davis pointed out. Confounding the pundits who say the knock on AB is that he cannot play defence, Casey said he had left the player on the floor in the final minutes because, “Andrea did an excellent job of using his length and not getting tricked in the post in guarding [Tim] Duncan.” The three didn’t seem to have read the script, either. So, according to Connected, AB is to be traded regardless of what the coach and the players say but if he can somehow raise his game then the Raptors can receive premium value. Oh yes. The next night he poured in 19 points in the first half before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
But all this is a smokescreen. Here is how “news” is manufactured and becomes justified as TRENDS (i.e., in the world of social media and the twitter universe). Digging further, the “suggestion” that Bargnani be traded was first made on Rogers Prime Time Sports with Bob McGowan five days earlier on Nov. 21 by former coach Butch Carter. According to the account posted on Sportsnet.ca,
“He also said that a trade shouldn’t be held against Colangelo, who drafted Bargnani with the first pick in the 2006 NBA draft. ‘It shouldn’t be an indictment of Bryan Colangelo, it’s the business. You’re in the business of basketball,’ Carter said while explaining that his team was forced to move young, talented players in order to try and move to the next level.”
Neither Mr McGowan nor his cronies on the show seem to have pointed out that didn’t work then so why should it now. I have always enjoyed listening to Mr Carter and could never understand why he was turfed by the Raptors many years ago. Unlike virtually everyone else who passed through Toronto in the Raptor’s 17-year circus carousel, he made his home in Canada. But when have his insights offered up on an afternoon radio talk show turned into “news”?
This time Sportsnet picked up the ex-coach’s speculation and ran with it; “BUTCH CARTER: RAPTORS HAVE TO TRADE BARGNANI,” the sportsnet.ca website declared on Nov. 22. 
So there was a deceptive PR promotion by the Insider in the name of “business as usual” some five days earlier – well before Bargnani’s woeful game. A speculation begins to trend, gossip becomes “news,” retrends on social media, and is announced ipso facto on primetime as “fact.”
In the search for new sources, Sportsnet.ca further orchestrated the “story” with an interview with another ex-coach, Sam Mitchell, on Nov. 27. Given the number of ex-coaches the Raptors have, this is a “story” with legs. Inevitably, not a few of the tasteless comments posted by readers – self-described fans – bash Bargnani.
Then we have another wanna-be manager, Cathal Kelly at the Toronto Star, leaping on the bandwagon: “He is a star, but not the right star for this squad.”
Unable to explain a bitter losing streak by a team they had all collectively hyped to the skies three weeks earlier, the Toronto sports media have dragged out their old goat and begun to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
It’s business as usual and that’s the business of selling hope for the mistake by the lake.
After all, he’s just a soft and lazy 7’ Italian white guy and Jonas Valanciunas from Lithuania is being preened as the next great seven-foot man qua White Hope. And the lackey media designated this season “the Kyle Lowery era” in honour of the latest point guard in town.
Three games later, Mr Lowery was done and gone with an injury. Conversely, José Calderon, captain of the Spanish National Team that defeated the American Dream Time at the Olympics, who has one of the highest assist-turnover ratios in NBA history and who was drafted by the previous general manager, unfortunately seems to be on the way out of Dodge for the umpteenth time. José may have something to say about that – on the court where he does his talking.
But what is the source of Connected’s revelation? For all the people interviewed, the person who makes trades, Bryan Colangelo – general manager, on the last year of his contract, he who doubtlessly shocked Mr Bargnani by drafting him as the first overall pick in the 2006 draft in the first place – is remarkably the one person not approached by Sportsnet nor Mr Grange nor Prime Time Sports. Mr Grange admits this in, “Relationship on the rocks,” a lengthy creation posted at sportsnet.ca on Nov. 26, the day of the shock announcement. He pitches a trade of Bargnani and Calderon to the Los Angeles Lakes for Paul Gasol and Steve Blake as representing top value and “appeasement of the fan base.” From fantasy drafts and fantasy trades to fantasy “news,” giving meaning to the slogan of Rogers Sportsnet that it is “fuelled by fans.” Translated, this means articles are produced according to virtual reality, e.g., what is TRENDING on social media, etc.
Sportsnet is part of the Bell-Rogers media duopoly that now owns Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which operates the Raptors. The following night (Nov. 27), Rogers Sportsnet Connected posted a graphic illustrating the fact that the Raptors were off to the third-worst start in franchise history. Beside it they posted a photo of Mr Bargnani. The MLSE mercenaries are past masters at using reporters who suck at their tit to engineer palace coups, and getting rid of coaches and players, etc. My question is: who pointed co-owner Rogers down this slippery slope of trending news in the first place – or is it all a dream in Mr Grange’s head?
One thing it is not: journalism, let alone journalism addressing the basic interests of people let lone athletes.
1 In the interview, Butch Carter says that professional sport’s training and conditioning program is irresponsible and one of the main sources of the oncourt problems of the Toronto Raptors. An excerpt follows:
He believes that injuries have been part of the reason why the current team has failed to improve.
“You have to understand that in professional sports, your winning teams don’t deal with a lot of injuries,” Carter explained. “They have a window of two or three years where their top guys play 80 games … we haven’t seen that here in a while.”
He also believes Bargnani’s injuries have hindered his improvement.
“The biggest issue for Andrea I believe, is he’s been unhealthy,” Carter said. “I have a bigger concern with him being unhealthy and not being available because if he’s going to be an 18-point scorer a night, the team really needs him to be there to score those 18 points. He has missed a lot of games and I believe for any team to be successful your best players have to be healthy and he has been unhealthy.
“I don’t think that they’ve clearly spent the time with him in the summer to develop his body so that it hardens so that he doesn’t end up injured.”
Carter believes the injuries are not a case of bad luck but because the team has not spent enough time in the summer with its players to avoid injury.
“I think it’s something else, I think it can be avoided,” he explained. “You have to get with the guys and go through flexibility.”
– Kevin Neilsen, “Butch Carter: Raptors have to trade Bargnani,” Sportsnet.ca, November 22, 2012