Keeping Bryan Colangelo?
Usually the decision to keep or replace a team’s general manager is based on results on the floor, possibly taking into account things beyond the general manager’s control. However, the situation in Toronto is hardly business as usual.
"I hope to be back. I want to be back," said Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo at his year-end press conference. "If I’m here and able to finish it, that’s my preference."
Colangelo’s contract with the Raptors expires on June 30, 2011 and the media and the team’s fans have been waiting anxiously for any indication about which way the team may decide to go with their leader.
"No update, it is unresolved at this point but at the same time it is not affecting anything that I am doing," said Colangelo at the end of February. "Those things are handled at the appropriate time and it’s not the appropriate time."
Nothing has changed for Colangelo since then and the reason the appropriate time has not arrived can be found in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ("MLSE") boardroom. MLSE owns the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Toronto FC amongst other sports and entertainment properties and earlier this season the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan ("OTPP") announced they were putting their majority interest in MLSE up for sale.
Since then it has been widely reported that MLSE board member Glen Silvestri, who represents OTPP, has been actively resisting any extension for Colangelo. It is speculated that Silvestri is unhappy with the results of Colangelo’s efforts as the Raptors President and General Manager but it is far more likely this board member is merely looking out for OTPP’s best financial interests in the pending sale of the team. A new deal for Colangelo will likely entail a $25 million commitment that could adversely affect the purchase price of MLSE in the event a new owner wants a different general manager.
Colangelo has good reason to not seem concerned however.
In his corner is MLSE Chairman, NBA Governor, and 20.5 percent minority shareholder Larry Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum holds a first right of refusal in the event OTPP sells its stake, and while it is believed he would like to acquire the OTPP’s shares, it is safe to assume that Tanenbaum would need a financial partner to come up with the $1.3 to $1.7 billion required. It expected that Tanenbaum will remain a shareholder in MLSE even if he cannot acquire OTPP’s shares.
Why would MLSE be concerned about re-signing a two-time NBA Executive-of-the-Year with 16 years of NBA experience as a general manager? Shouldn’t Colangelo be considered the safe choice?
Since winning the Atlantic Division in 2007 with a 47-35 record, Colangelo’s Raptors have not been able to crack the .500 mark as the team compiled a 183 win and 227 loss record. Two early trips to the postseason have been followed up by three straight trips to the lottery and this past season Colangelo’s team amassed 60 losses.
Colangelo has built and rebuilt the Raptors in nearly every season that he has been in Toronto resulting in only Raptors point guard Jose Calderon still on the roster from the 2005-06 season.
Colangelo’s biggest blunders were the acquisition of the highly overpaid one-legged Jermaine O’Neal, trading away the draft rights to center Roy Hibbert, signing Hedo Turkoglu to a massive free agent contract, and losing All-Star Chris Bosh to free agency for only a couple of draft picks. Then there was Colangelo’s controversial first overall draft pick in 2006 of Italian finesse center Andrea Bargnani. During Colangelo’s tenure, Toronto has been known for its offensive prowess and a complete lack of any defense.
No one can claim that Colangelo has not had his successes as well and his obvious mistakes were quickly erased by well thought out trades. O’Neal was moved the same season for the expiring contract of Shawn Marion, Turkoglu was moved for the much shorter deal belonging to Leandro Barbosa, and Colangelo’s last two draft picks of DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis are looking very good early on. It is also easy to forget that it was Colangelo who got Bosh to sign an extension in 2006 thus keeping the All-Star in Toronto for four more seasons despite Toronto’s terrible record and weak roster at that time. While Bargnani may have been a controversial draft pick, he was Toronto’s leading scorer last season and remains easily the second best player chosen in the top five of his draft class.
Perhaps the toughest obstacle Colangelo has to overcome is last season’s 60 losses. While most pundits projected the Raptors to finish fifth in their division after the loss of Bosh, Colangelo had much higher hopes, at least until the end of November.
"We knew on or about November 30 that we were heading down that path," said Colangelo. "We thought it a good idea to go young and maximize our young players.
"I knew at the time Jay Triano and I would be looking at a situation where we would have to check our respective egos, desires, etcetera, at the door and put the best interest of the franchise, both long-term and short-term, ahead of our own."
The Raptors had just lost rebounding specialist Reggie Evans to injury, veteran guard Leandro Barbosa was playing with an injured wrist that was expected to require surgery, and free agent acquisition Linas Kleiza was playing on a sore knee that eventually did require season ending surgery. The veterans Colangelo had acquired to shepherd his young team through the season were simply not available to do the job on most nights.
Overall, Colangelo has shown a willingness to make bold moves in his attempts to make the Raptors a contending team and he has moved swiftly to correct his mistakes. His draft record may be less than perfect but all of his first round picks in Toronto are legitimate NBA rotation players or better. Plus, Toronto has headed into an uncertain off season featuring a roster of young players with solid potential and significant financial flexibility. Colangelo has a good start on the rebuilding effort many people have wanted to see for some time.
Tanenbaum has solid reasons for continuing to support Colangelo.
MLSE and the Toronto Raptors find themselves in a tough position trapped between opposing points of view from board members with conflicting agendas and it is a situation that may prove impossible to resolve until a buyer for OTPP’s shares are found.
Already there is speculation that the Raptors special adviser Wayne Embry could serve as the interim GM once again like he did the last time the team hired a new general manager in 2006. Embry is highly respected and could manage this year’s draft with the assistance of senior director of scouting Jim Kelly and be a caretaker during the anticipated lockout. The likelihood of Tanenbaum agreeing to such a move while he still holds aspirations of acquiring MLSE for himself or his partners seems doubtful however.
For now, the odds seem to be in Colangelo’s favor if he can manage the politics of a franchise that is up for sale. As long as the MLSE Chairman backs the Raptors President and General Manager and intends to remain a shareholder no matter what the outcome after OTPP sells its shares, we should expect to see Colangelo back at the helm when next season finally gets underway.