But away from the spotlight that follows any NBA No. 1 draft pick, there was another side to Andrea Bargnani, says former teammate Amir Johnson, and whether he was playing poorly or not, the Toronto Raptors always had his back.
"A lot of people don't know this, he was a real cool dude, funny. Always lively," Johnson said. "Quiet sometimes but if he said something, it was just the funniest thing. He was a real cool guy to hang with."
Bargnani and the New York Knicks played the Raptors on Friday night, marking the much-maligned centre's first trip back to the arena where fans loudly booed him last season.
"We were pissed, man," Johnson said of the booing. "No matter if he was playing well or not, as fans they should just be supportive, and for us no matter if we win or lose. We were kind of upset about that."
The Raptors traded the seven-footer after an injury-shortened last season that was his worst since his second year in the league. He'd become a lightning rod for a struggling Toronto team that missed the playoffs this season, spending 47 of 82 games on the bench with elbow injuries. He played just 35 of 66 games the previous season because of calf injuries.
Bargnani is just the latest former Raptor that Toronto fans love to hate, following in the footsteps of Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, who are booed whenever they play at Air Canada Centre.
Talking to the media after Friday morning's shootaround, he said it was a "weird feeling coming back to this building," but dodged questions about the booing, saying he had nothing but good feelings for his former home.
"I was lucky to play here for seven years, this is a great organization, great fans, that's all I've got to say, just positive stuff," Bargnani said.
The Raptors had hoped to trade Bargnani before last season's trade deadline, but any interest disappeared when he got injured.
When asked if it was time for a change, Bargnani said "Seven years is a long time, there was a lot of talk about trade definitely in the last year. It was a tough season, I had injuries, didn't even play half the games I was supposed to play so it is what it is. You have to move on and be motivated and take the challenges."
Johnson said he felt Bargnani unfairly had to carry the organization on his shoulders after Bosh left for Miami.
"Everybody was looking for him to do a lot more and fans became heated, he wasn't doing as well as he was supposed to," Johnson said. "When you that on your back, it just feels like it's time for a change."
Johnson joked that he did miss Bargnani's Primo Pasta commercials.
"They don't play those no more before the game this year," Johnson said. "I loved them. We teased him every day about that. 'Do you got some Primo for us?' 'No, I don't eat that.' The secret's out."
The seven-foot, 256-pound centre was drafted first overall by Toronto in 2006, and went on to average 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game over seven seasons the Raptors. Toronto made the playoffs twice since drafting him.
His best seasons were two and three years ago when he averaged 21.4 and 19.5 points a night.
When asked if he can get back to playing at that level with the Knicks, Bargnani said "I'm not 45 years old. I'm 27, if I can stay healthy, I should be able to get back into game shape."
Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he's not interested in looking back at what happened to Bargnani in his final two poor seasons in Toronto.
"I like everything about him, I think he gets into the scheme of what we do here in New York and how we play. We're just going to put him in the best position possible to be successful, to me that's the name of the game.
"Everybody's tried to reach out and help him," Woodson added. "I like what he's done since he's been in, he's been unselfish in terms of how he's played offensively, he's trying to pick up our schemes defensively. I think everybody that's on this team likes everything about him."Suggest a correction