Jose Calderon might have played his way off the trade block for the moment, but his $10.56MM expiring contract is one of the most intriguing assets that could be up for grabs this year. The team acquiring Calderon has the choice of clearing a significant chunk of cap space, or re-signing a point guard who has finished four out of the last five seasons among the top five players in assists per game. That flexibility may pique interest from a wide selection of teams, and the Raptors wisely appear to be trying to package Calderon with another, less palatable asset, like Andrea Bargnani.
Calderon is by no means a game-changing player. While he has consistently proven his worth as a distributor, which makes him popular figure in the locker room, he's proven incapable of carrying the Raptors on his shoulders, as Toronto has only been a better-than-.500 team once during Calderon's tenure. The eighth-year veteran has never averaged more than 12.8 points per game. His career scoring average sits a hair below double figures at 9.9 PPG. At 6'3", he doesn't provide any help on the boards, having grabbed 2.5 rebounds per game for his career. This year his 44.1% shooting is off from the 48.2% form he displayed over his first seven seasons. That decline, however, is likely a product of the fact he's taking significantly more three pointers than ever, at 4.8 attempts per game compared to his career average of 2.1 coming into the season, and nailing 42.9% of them, a rate that would tie the personal best he set back in 2007/08. His PER, at 18.2 this season and 17.4 for his career, helps show his relatively high value to a team.
Nonetheless, the Raptors have shown consistent reluctance to commit to him as the starter over his career, in spite of the five-year, $45MM deal he received in 2008. He's competed over the years with Jalen Rose, T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack and now Kyle Lowry for the point guard job, and while he may have nosed in front of Lowry for the moment, history suggests he shouldn't get too comfortable in that role. GM Bryan Colangelo has been in charge of the front office for the vast majority of Calderon's time in Toronto, and he was in place when the Spaniard got his lucrative five-year deal. Yet with uncertainty about Colangelo's future with the Raptors, much less Calderon's, there's no telling whether the Raptors would re-sign Calderon next summer even if he were interested in coming back.
Even with Calderon's contract coming off the books, the Raptors figure to be at or near the salary cap in the offseason, so they'd receive virtually no benefit from letting him walk. Unless the Raptors intend to re-sign him, they're much better off trading him. While there are a number of possible fits, there's been little chatter about any specific team other than the Lakers, for whom Calderon was the "top target" a few weeks ago, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com. That might have changed, however, as the return of Steve Nash appears to have reinvigorated the team just as L.A. hoped. The Lakers are standing pat for now, with Steve Blake coming back from his abdominal surgery, their need for Calderon lessens by the day. A more intriguing possibility might be the Mavs, though that's just my speculation. Point guard Darren Collison has been a significant disappointment for Dallas this year, and the Mavs have made no secret of their affinity for contracts that expire next summer. They wouldn't want Bargnani or another of Toronto's long-term contracts, but if GM Donnie Nelson is patient and willing to part with two of the team's three draft picks from 2012, he might force the Raptors into moving Calderon without pairing him with a more burdensome contract close to the trade deadline, when Toronto is left to consider the possibility of losing the point guard for nothing over the summer.
Calderon acknowledges and seems to be at peace with the notion that he could be on his way out of the only NBA city he's ever known. Such a stance also hints that he's ready to move on as a free agent next summer. His contract includes a 10% trade kicker that any club acquiring him will have to pay, but I think eventually Toronto will make it worth a team's while to do so. Lowry is five years younger and is on a better deal. He, and not Calderon, represents the future of the point guard position in Toronto, even if he's been benched for the present time.