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Should Raptors Fire Bryan Colangelo?
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On April 21, 2013 @ 7:00 am In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
As Toronto Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo awaits a decision from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment about picking up the option year on his contract, the local media has been generous with their advice on what his future should be.
Toronto missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year during a season when 38 wins was enough to grab eighth place in the Eastern Conference. During the past seven seasons under Colangelo’s guidance, the team has made the postseason only twice and averaged just 34 wins. On the surface at least, the calls for Colangelo’s head on a platter seem to be justified, however, one needs to look at his entire body of work in Toronto before jumping to conclusions.
After Colangelo was hired on March 1, 2006, the team’s new leader started the groundwork for what became arguably the Raptors’ best regular season ever. In the summer of 2006, Colangelo plucked the two best available veterans in Europe, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa to anchor the shooting guard and small forward spots. He acquired Rasho Nesterovic from the San Antonio Spurs for the center spot and T.J. Ford from the Milwaukee Bucks to run the point. He also managed to dump draft bust Rafael Araujo on the Utah Jazz for Kris Humphries. The Raptors won the draft lottery in what became one of the worst draft classes imaginable and took Italian center Andrea Bargnani in his only controversial move that season. Colangelo’s team won the Atlantic Division for the first and only time in team history. Bargnani had a good rookie season right up until he had his appendix out and if Garbajosa had not broken his leg in one of the most gruesome in-game accidents ever, the Raptors were poised to be at least a second-round playoff team. Colangelo won Executive of the Year, head coach Sam Mitchell won Coach of the Year and just maybe they had set the bar too high too early.
The big moves in the summer of 2007 were the signings of free agents Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon and a trade for Carlos Delfino. The Raptors didn’t have a draft pick as previous management had traded away the team’s first-round pick for Lamond Murray in 2002. Kapono was a disappointment despite leading the NBA in three-point percentage and a point guard controversy dominated the season, but the Raptors did finish at .500 and in the playoffs. That was the last time Colangelo saw his Raptors in the postseason.
If anyone wasn’t sure before, by now everyone knew Colangelo wasn’t afraid to make a deal and he went all-in for the 2008-09 season. The Indiana Pacers’ Jermaine O’Neal was supposed to be fully recovered from his knee problems when Colangelo sent Nesterovic, Ford and his first-round draft pick Roy Hibbert to Indiana for the former six-time All-Star with the $21 million annual salary. O’Neal was never 100 percent for very long, but in fairness, a number of general managers have continued to bet on the possibility right up until this season and been mostly wrong. Colangelo did manage to move O’Neal by the trade deadline for Shawn Marion and his expiring contract. However, bringing in players who were injured, became injured or had undiagnosed injuries became the hallmark of many future Colangelo deals.
Perhaps the bigger concern was the firing of Mitchell a mere 17 games into the season to replace him with long-time Raptors assistant coach Jay Triano. Colangelo had inherited Mitchell and it seemed apparent from day one that he was never Colangelo’s choice, but Colangelo let the Coach of the Year award sway his decision to extend Mitchell’s contract and the Raptors ended up paying for two head coaches, one with no prior head coaching experience. This reluctance to make the tough and unpopular decision with Mitchell would show up again when Colangelo had to make the call on All-Star Chris Bosh’s impending free agency and couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal at the trade deadline in 2010.
In the 2009-10 season, Colangelo almost got his franchise back on the rails only to be let down by his big free agent acquisitions from the summer and the All-Star he didn’t trade. Colangelo had acquired free agents Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack and Nesterovic and traded for Reggie Evans, Marco Belinelli, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems. Evans played the fewest games of his NBA career due to injury while with Toronto. Triano had the Raptors on a record pace with 29 wins at the All-Star break and solidly in the playoff picture, but injuries to Bosh and Turkoglu set the team back and an apparent lack of effort after their return sealed the Raptors’ fate. The 40-42 Raptors finished one game behind the Bulls for eighth place. In hindsight, at least part of blame has to belong with the inexperience of Triano in dealing with his veteran stars and with Colangelo for putting Triano in that situation.
Colangelo tried to reload in the summer of 2010 instead of starting a rebuild and at the time, the moves he made looked pretty solid, but the end result was a 22-win season. Turkoglu was traded for Leandro Barbosa, Jack was traded for Jerryd Bayless, and Linas Kleiza was acquired as a free agent from the Denver Nuggets. Kleiza had an outstanding summer with the Lithuanian National team and looked like a bargain signing, but he injured his knee in preseason and three years later, he still hasn’t fully recovered. Barbosa was one of Triano’s best guards, even playing hurt, but he was stuck behind sophomore DeMar DeRozan and played most of the time with recurring wrist and shoulder problems. Bayless showed a lot of promise, but he missed over half a season to injuries in 2011-12 and was never really satisfied coming off the bench. Colangelo was selling Bargnani as the future face of the franchise, but the big man missed significant time to injury for the first time in his career and unfortunately, somewhat strange injuries have become the norm for Bargnani ever since.
The Raptors’ rebuild started in earnest after the lockout. A new head coach, a top draft pick who wouldn’t be joining the team until next year and a collection of talent geared for development or disposal after the season. Colangelo also bolstered his management team by hiring Ed Stefanski, the former president and general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, who is better known in Toronto as the general manager who fleeced the Raptors for Vince Carter when he was with the New Jersey Nets. It would be hard to blame Colangelo for the 23-win record; tanking was the plan. The only issue was they didn’t tank hard enough to get a top-seven draft pick. New head coach Dwane Casey did an outstanding job in a shortened season with a suspect roster and even more suspect objectives. There were signs of a culture change in Toronto, but for a second time, maybe even this limited success set expectations too high for the next season.
This past season was ripe for a return to the playoffs. The competition was weak. Colangelo had acquired up and coming point guard Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets and signed free agent wing Landry Fields from the New York Knicks. Both players were immediately slotted in as starters on a bolstered Raptors’ roster. Unfortunately, as in prior seasons, the players the Raptors were counting on for most of their improvement were quickly sidelined by injuries. Lowry bruised his foot after just four games, missing two weeks and later a bruised shoulder outright cost him the starting job to Jose Calderon. Fields had elbow nerve problems that sidelined him for two months after just five games and it won’t be until next season before he fully recovers. Adding in injuries to Alan Anderson and Kleiza together with Bargnani’s unexplained inconsistent shooting and two elbow injuries and the Raptors season was almost over before it began. Toronto started with a record of 4-19, but played better than .500 the rest of the way to finish just out of the playoffs at 34-48.
The good news from the past season was the acquisition of Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies for Calderon and Ed Davis. Moving Calderon ended a building point guard controversy and Gay gave the Raptors a go-to-guy and a roster that might be better than the 2009-10 team that almost made the postseason. However, this roster still needs work in the off season and a decision has to be made about who is going to be entrusted to finish the job.
Raptors’ ownership has options with Colangelo. They could honor his request to finish the rebuilding process that was started in earnest two seasons ago. Stefanski is a capable and experienced general manager who could assume Colangelo’s duties with little to no disruption with Colangelo staying on as president only or not at all. A third option would be to begin the search for a new general manager and by inference a completely new management team and likely a new head coach, although that would probably waste whatever progress the team has made over this past season.
If Colangelo has proven anything over the past seven years, it is that he can make deals, even if many of the players acquired seem to get hurt soon after they arrive. Despite this, during the current rebuild, the talent level on the Raptors has improved and this team is poised to make a serious challenge at the postseason once again. Under the circumstances, the outright firing of Colangelo would make little sense. Colangelo has a strong board room and public relations presence and is an excellent choice to represent ownership with the NBA Board of Governors. If ownership believes Colangelo’s past moves entailed a level of risk that they are not comfortable with going forward, the better solution would be to give Stefanski a bigger say in future transactions. This team has enjoyed little continuity over its 18 year history; it’s time for some stability in both the executive and coaching ranks.
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