In New York City this week, with Andrea Bargnani's move to the Knicks now official, they're using words like 'versatile' and 'match-up problem' to describe (rationalize?) the venerable team's latest addition.

If any of that sounds familiar to long-suffering Raptors fans, it should. They're the same kind of qualities the so-called brains behind the Raps kept waiting for Bargnani to deliver on here. Unfortunately, the more accurate descriptors for the Italian's tenure in Toronto are words like 'disappointing' and 'enigmatic.' While we're at it, 'oft-injured' probably belongs in there, too.

So, good luck with that, Knicks fans. Don't say you we didn't warn you when the Bargnani who takes the court at Madison Square Garden this autumn is more mercurial problem-child than match-up problem. We've been there, watched it, felt the frustration. We know what it's like to wonder about what could be, but never actually find out.

In his first exchange with the New York media, Bargnani spoke somewhat vexingly of the pressure he had faced in being a "leader of the team" in Toronto. Excuse me? That kind of talk might be news to some north of the border. Among his more demonstrative former teammates, guys like Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon, it's hard to imagine Bargnani being considered a leader in anything other than puzzling expressions.

Still, Bargnani certainly endured a bit of a rough ride with the Raptors, with so much expected of him after he was drafted first overall in 2006. The burden of that lofty status weighed on the seven-foot Roman, growing heavier as discontent built over his failures to deliver. Finally, all the fan fury built up to a point where Bargnani became arguably Toronto's most-loathed local athlete, a guy who got booed when all he'd done was come back from injury.

His inscrutability through it all never helped. Other than a few celebratory fist pumps, obvious outward emotion always seemed a completely foreign concept.  In a goodbye photo spread on the Toronto Star website after the trade was announced, photographer Steve Russell wrote about what a challenge Bargnani had been for cameramen because his face was so often a mask, devoid of any expression.

The Knicks are well aware Bargnani slumped badly last season, even by his standards, as he was laid low by an elbow injury. They also know fully well that the words "defence" and "rebounding" have never been a big part of the Italian's NBA vocabulary.

Still, as the wraps came off this week, it was a word Bargnani used that might well encourage the Knicks about his future intent. Having escaped the misery of five fruitless seasons in Toronto, he said he was excited by the move to a playoff contender because he's "starving" to be with a winner. Till now, most Raptors followers probably figured Bargnani was just starving for his next bowl of Primo pasta. Hearing him express that kind of desire, an emotion so clear and strong, seems positively out of character.

Maybe the move to New York will change Bargnani for the better. Maybe the hyper-intense spotlight of basketball in the Big Apple will elevate his mostly-moribund game to a place he never consistently achieved in Toronto. Maybe the trade has woken up his inner New Yorker, a bold desire to begin re-writing the story of an NBA draft bust.

Then again, maybe it'll just be more of the same.

Related >> Bargnani Out, Hansbrough and Stone In | 2008 Interview with Andrea Bargnani

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