A list of the players picked first overall in the NBA draft over the last 15 years would include some of the league's best players, such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Derrick Rose. It would also feature a few duds, like Greg Oden and Kwame Brown. Somewhere in between those two extremes lies the No. 1 pick in 2006, Andrea Bargnani.
Bargnani, 27, is playing in his seventh NBA season, and while he has never developed into the sort of franchise player you'd hope to get with the first overall pick, he hasn't been a total bust either. He's averaged 15.5 PPG in his career, including 19.9 PPG since Chris Bosh headed to Miami in the summer of 2010, and he's an excellent shooter for a seven-footer, with a .362 career 3PT%.
Still, Bargnani's career 14.5 PER is below average, he appears miscast as the go-to scorer in Toronto, he's not a strong defender, and his performance so far in 2012/13 (.398 FG%, 12.5 PER) has been especially disappointing. Throw in the fact that he's currently sidelined with an elbow injury and will earn an eight-digit annual salary through 2015, and it's obvious that the Italian's trade stock isn't exactly through the roof at the moment.
Even if the Raptors wouldn't be selling high on Bargnani, however, it seems clear that they will be selling. ESPN.com's Marc Stein heard last week that Bargnani is a "lock" to be dealt, and Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld echoed that sentiment, writing that a trade appears ineveitable. With seven weeks until this season's trade deadline, there should be plenty of time for Bargnani to return to the court and at least prove that he's healthy, whether or not he improves on his early-season production.
Although Bargnani's aforementioned long-term contract complicates matters when it comes to finding a trade partner, it isn't a major albatross. At a price of $10-11MM per season, Bargnani is overpaid, but not massively so -- over the next three seasons, he'll make less than half of what Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson will earn, for instance. Nonetheless, that third year on Bargnani's deal is problematic. With the free agent class of 2014 looking to be especially star-studded, teams may be reluctant to take on pricey contracts that extend past that summer.
The Lakers have been frequently mentioned as a potential destination for the former No. 1 pick, perhaps in some sort of Bargnani/Jose Calderon (another trade candidate) for Pau Gasol swap. While I think there's some potential in that idea, I'm skeptical that the Lakers would significantly shake up their roster once again, considering how many changes the team has already undergone in the last few months.
The Nuggets represent another intriguing possibility. The Raptors have pursued Wilson Chandler in the past, and are still lacking a real solution at small forward, given Landry Fields' struggles. Denver could use some outside shooting, and it's not inconceivable that Bargnani could thrive in a complementary role. Chandler isn't currently healthy either, and the salaries don't quite work, but it could be an option worth exploring.
In his seventh year in the NBA, it's unlikely that Bargnani suddenly breaks out and becomes the player the Raptors hoped they were drafting. However, he seems like a strong candidate to benefit from a change of scenery. In a Sixth Man sort of role, Bargnani could be a worthwhile addition for a club in need of outside shooting and scoring. Given Bargnani's contract situation, Toronto may not be able to extract as much value as it would like, but I still expect 2006's top pick to be wearing a different uniform after this February's trade deadline.