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After Colangelo: What’s Next For The Raptors?
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On May 21, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
It seems like every day there has been a new rumor about Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo, but on Tuesday, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) president and CEO Tim Leiweke announced his decision to extend Colangelo as team president, but bring in a general manager who will report directly to himself.
“After thorough evaluation and considering all the options, we have concluded that these changes will be in the best interest of the organization,” said Leiweke. “By splitting the roles and having both men report directly to me, we are adding depth to the basketball operations group and giving the Toronto Raptors the best chance of competing for championships in the future. The new GM will inherit a great situation in Toronto, as all of my due diligence around the League indicates that we have a fine, young core and a few key moves will make us a playoff contender next season.”
As a two-time NBA Executive of the Year (EOY), Colangelo has his allies on the MLSE Board and together with Leiweke, they decided this very polished manager still had value within their organization. Colangelo has always been a great communicator and his input will be valued by the Board.
“Bryan is skilled, knowledgeable and respected across the NBA and will be a resource that we count on to help build the Raptors into Canada’s team,” said Leiweke.
In the meantime, Leiweke took the obvious steps for a major corporation looking to replace one of their senior executives. He hired a big name executive search firm to run background checks and personally began compiling a list of possible candidates. Leiweke said there are a half a dozen candidates on his list, but he has not been able to get permission to speak to all of them from their current teams. It is believed the list includes former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, Nuggets general manager and EOY Masai Ujiri, Pacers general manger Kevin Pritchard, Thunder vice-president and assistant general manager Troy Weaver, the Raptors executive vice president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski and possibly former Pacers general manager David Morway among others. Now that Colangelo’s situation has been resolved, Colangelo will be assisting Leiweke in the search.
Leiweke brought his Los Angeles attitudes and beliefs about building a championship contending team to Toronto and his prior acquisition of soccer icon David Beckham for the Galaxy illustrates his belief in star power. It was star power that motivated Leiweke’s attempt to acquire Jackson to run the Raptors, but if Jackson will not come to Toronto, Leiweke may have to settle for a general manager that has successfully built a winning program.
Ujiri was the Raptors assistant general manager when Denver tapped him to become their general manager just ahead of the blockbuster three-team deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks and proved that teams could trade a disgruntled superstar and be just as good afterwards. Ujiri has been adept at the art of the deal since then as well, but no acquisition better illustrates this than the four-team deal that netted Andre Iguodala this past summer. The team Ujiri built had Denver’s best record in 37 years and won him the NBA EOY. Denver rewarded Uriji by not getting a contract extension done during the season, so if Leiweke can’t land the star power of Jackson, stealing away the current EOY is possible and would make a big splash.
Pritchard took over the lottery bound Trail Blazers mid-season in 2007 and began rebuilding his team with trades and drafted players that summer and two years later, they were back in the postseason. Pritchard was unfortunate to get stuck with Greg Oden as the first overall pick in 2007, but after getting the Trail Blazers into the first round of the playoffs, most of his head-spinning draft day moves didn’t move his team any further along. In 2010, Pritchard was let go, but he has found a soft landing spot in Indiana as Morway’s replacement. Pritchard has experience, but is his track record really that much better than Colangelo’s?
In 2009, in The Starting Five, Interview with Troy Weaver, Assistant GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder Weaver said his goal was, “To be a general manager. I want to see if the experiences and ideas I have can mesh with a staff, a team on the floor and see if it will work. I like team building. That would be an awesome challenge for me.” Weaver has worked his way up through college coaching to NBA scouting, player personal and finally a step below general manager. A respected executive, Weaver is unproven, but comes from a successful program and is the typical manager that gets a shot at the big chair. Somehow, training the next great general manager just doesn’t seem to match Leiweke’s personality.
Stefanski has a resume as a successful president and general manager of two NBA franchises and it was assumed he was originally hired as a possible Colangelo successor. However, Leiweke waited until Colangelo’s situation was resolved to speak with him. It is possible Stefanski becomes the de facto interim general manager while Leiweke negotiates with the guy he wants, but Stefanski has always been the easy choice to replace Colangelo. The Raptors also have five-time All-Star, two-time EOY and Hall of Famer Wayne Embry on their staff as a special advisor and while this very big man still has executive level skills, he is 76 years old and any dreams about him taking on more than an interim role should be tempered by reality.
At the end of this season, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey described his team as being on a similar path to that of the Indiana Pacers.
“I look at Indiana as kind of the example that we should go by or can go by or are a lot like,” Casey said.
While we don’t know yet if Leiweke agrees with Casey or if a new general manager will even keep Casey around, we do know which general manager built the current Pacers’ roster and that’s Morway. Morway was hired by the Pacers in 1999 as vice president of basketball administration and was their general manager from 2008 to 2012. His fingerprints are all over the Pacers team currently in the Eastern Conference Finals. He has made good trades, solid draft picks and good signings. As a nice touch, Morway was the general manager when the Pacers fleeced Toronto in the Jermaine O’Neal trade that netted them Roy Hibbert. Not the flashy pick for a new general manager, but maybe the right pick.
By using an outside search firm and keeping his decisions close to the vest, Leiweke has been able to keep everyone guessing about his preferred choice for Colangelo’s replacement and there is certain to be a significant amount of misinformation circulating as a result. However, we know Leiweke wants a general manager that can build a champion, his strong desire to improve the image of Toronto and the need to avoid failure. Leiweke needs a proven executive with a story that inspires confidence.
It was Colangelo who identified the most important move the Raptors need to make early last season. Former first overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani was unexpectedly in a shooting slump and Colangelo noted the big man might benefit from a change of scenery. A big part of the fan base in Toronto couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, Bargnani got hurt and missed the two months prior to the trade deadline and any hopes of moving him during the season were lost. That was the third year in a row Bargnani had lost a significant number of games to injury and this time the usually reliable scorer also lost his touch. The next general manager needs to be able to trade a 20 point per game stretch forward/center that only averaged 12.7 points last season.
Since Jackson hasn’t leapt at the chance to leave his very comfortable retirement cruising between Los Angeles and Montana, the biggest star available is Ujiri. Leiweke will not be hampered by finances in his pursuit. Denver left the door open, if Leiweke wants their general manager, he can outbid them for his services. There is no budget limit for a new general manager in Toronto.
Leiweke will not be blinded by an EOY award, however and Morway’s ability to trade the injury-riddled O’Neal will not be lost on him with Bargnani’s huge shadow overhanging his team’s next big move. Leiweke will be picking a new general manager that can get deals done and both of these executives have traded players with outstanding results under very difficult conditions. The theme in Toronto this summer will be improving the roster via trade and Leiweke needs his next general manager to have an outstanding current track record at the art of the big deal.
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