Colangelo: Building The Raptors For Next Year
Raptors President and general manager Bryan Colangelo has been adamant that he wants to make the playoffs every year even after it had become obvious to most people that the team was heading towards a rebuilding period with the loss of free agent All-Star Chris Bosh last season. Even now Colangelo finds himself easily drawn back into that mindset.
“I expect to make the playoffs every year based on what I would like to do,” said Colangelo at an informal media session on Wednesday. “I would like to win basketball games.”
This year is different however. This year Colangelo has a longer term plan and hired former 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski to keep him on track and away from short term fixes. This Raptors plan is definitely geared towards next season and beyond.
“Every time I get lured back in, it proves Ed’s worth to the equation cause he said I’ll tackle you on the way to the phone if you want to pursue that,” explained Colangelo.
“Obviously everyone up here is very competitive,” explained Stefanski. “When you have some cap space and you have chances to use money and you see names out there, you get excited because you could improve the team quickly, but not improve the team into what we want to be, a championship caliber team.
“It is very difficult and I understand where Bryan is because I have been in the same spot. It is a lot easier as the number two guy to slow the number one guy down because we want to get better as soon as possible but we have to stay the course.”
The first year of the Raptors rebuilding process started in earnest after Reggie Evans injury last season and the team began spending more time evaluating talent than trying to squeeze out a few extra wins.
“Last year, it took a lot for me to say the word rebuild,” said Colangelo. “We are not talking about rebuild anymore, I am stealing a line from Coach Casey, what we are talking about now is building. Everything that we do, in terms of adding pieces and bringing new things in, it’s going to be about creating a new culture, a new system, implementing that system and maintaining and sticking to the plan.”
The first step in changing the team’s culture and building for the future was to hire the defensive-minded coach. New head coach Dwane Casey instilled a defensive system and culture in an offensive-minded team in Dallas and the hope is he can do the same in Toronto.
“We had just as many weaknesses in Dallas as our perceived weaknesses here,” explained Casey. “We have to minimize those with different schemes.
“A lot of pressure has been put on Andrea to be a defensive stopper but that is not his gift.
“What we have to do as a staff is minimize (Bargnani’s) exposure to guys going straight at him in a one-on-one situation where they get a switch or a pick-and-roll scheme where the ball is going directly at him, Amir, or Ed. So with any of our bigs, we don’t want them to be exposed. The same philosophy we had in Dallas.
“To change culture is tough. To get guys who are good offensive players to buy in is tough. It is tough to become a defensive team, we have a lot of work to do. We were twenty-ninth in the league last year and what I have told the guys is one-stop, one more stop per game gets you up to 23, two more stops gets you to around the 13 to 14 mark. So having those building blocks are the steps we have to take to get there.
“The main thing with development is I want guys to earn their position, earn their spots, and earn their minutes, which we will do, and definitely develop on the defensive end.”
The next step in Colangelo’s building plan is to find out what he has in terms of talent and preserve as much flexibility as possible to make changes or additions down the road.
“We have a number of different options we can pursue here but one thing I will tell you is we have a plan in place,” said Colangelo. “And I think you have all heard me say this, we are going to stick to that plan and that plan is to basically remain as flexible as possible, we want to develop our young players, we want to preserve that cap flexibility moving forward, and we want to continue to add pieces, pieces that we think are parts of a championship puzzle.”
Toronto has recently drafted some promising young talent in DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis and picked up more potential with Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson, but they have yet to establish if these are the guys who can help create a championship caliber team.
“We really feel that we not only have those young talented pieces as part of this core but we need to allow the new coaching staff to see exactly what we have, to determine how impactful those players can be, (and determine) where the growth of this team can take us,” said Colangelo.
“We have to see these young guys get a lot of minutes on the floor,” confirmed Stefanski. “Then the coach can make his evaluation, Bryan and I can make ours and we can make a real good decision on who we need and what pieces.”
As of now however, there are five roster spots open heading into training camp on Friday at 5:00 pm, notwithstanding the possibly of veteran center Jamaal Magliore getting a deal signed with the Raptors before practice starts, and the team needs to fill in some holes quickly just to be able to have five-on-five drills.
“We may take this opportunity in free agency to go short, sign some one-year players, or acquire players with one-year on their contract,” said Colangelo. “Sticking to the plan to have as much flexibility as possible.
“We have nine guys under contract, a tenth under contract but not available and we have some holes on the roster. When you look at the three spot, you’ve got James Johnson, basically an open box, and then (the injured) Linas Kleiza. We don’t have a third point guard right now and generally it’s everyone’s philosophy to have a backup third point guard, that’s something Coach thinks is very important. Then look at our bigs, we have four bigs under contract, so we are looking at a point guard, a small forward, and then some bigs to worry about and that brings you to 14 names. Keeping some flexibility, maybe you do keep that fifteenth spot open.”
Everything Colangelo is working on now points to next season.
“To some degree you are competitive and you want to win every game but the reality is this year it is not in the cards,” said Colangelo.
“We are past rebuilding, we are now in the building phase. This is about growth going forward.
“There is so much to be excited about beyond this year. Adding to the players we have right now, adding Jonas Valanciunas next season, adding another draft pick that we have plugged in at a placeholder number. We are going to have a lot of cap flexibility, anywhere from $10 to 20 million. That is a significant opportunity in and of itself but to say we have good young talent, adding two more significant pieces, and potentially a significant free agent or two, it really does lend itself to the thought that this plan is in place and we shouldn’t alter that plan, we shouldn’t detract from that.”
Success for Colangelo and Raptors is being defined differently for the first time since the general manager arrived in Toronto.
“Success this season will be the continued growth and development of these young players,” said Colangelo. Hopefully a blossoming or a breakthrough season out of somebody.
“To put ourselves in a position to hit the ground running the following season, that will be deemed a success.”
This may prove to be a tough season for fans in Toronto who want some assurances they will be able to watch winning basketball as young developing teams only rarely make the playoffs. This plan however should find support from those who recognize that Toronto has been reluctant or unable to buy all-star level talent and must find success through the draft and by developing young players. This season, Colangelo has perhaps his best plan to build a successful franchise since he arrived on the scene.