Bryan Colangelo

Multiple sources have confirmed that Bryan Colangelo has signed a two-year extension with a club option for a third year to stay on as the Toronto Raptors’ General Manager. The timing of this announcement is important since the 2011 NBA Draft is taking place on June 23, meaning that Colangelo will be able to focus on the Raptors’ draft strategy once he learns where the team will be picking in the first round after tonight’s draft lottery.

I’ve been on the fence for months about whether the Raptors should keep Colangelo around to run the franchise, but the closer we got to the draft, the more I wanted Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment to make this deal happen so that an established management structure was in place. Whatever you think of Colangelo’s track record in Toronto, I’m sure we can agree that a situation resembling Rob Babcock’s hiring as Raptors’ GM in June 2004 would not be a desirable outcome — the Raptors disastrously picked Rafael Araujo with the eighth overall pick in that draft, passing on Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith and several other superior players in the process.

In five full seasons with Colangelo in charge, the Raptors have compiled a 183-227 regular season record and made two playoff appearances, losing in the first round both times. No amount of sugar-coating can hide the fact that Colangelo’s results in Toronto have been disappointing — particularly when you consider the pedigree and aura of brilliance he appeared to bring to this franchise when he was hired away from Phoenix in February 2006. After he won his second NBA Executive of the Year Award in 2007 when the Raptors won 47 games and their only Atlantic Division title, the team has regressed significantly as a result of a series of poor decisions on Colangelo’s part.

Why am I OK with keeping Colangelo around for the ongoing rebuilding project? Over the past 12 months, I feel he’s somewhat redeemed himself with the drafting of Ed Davis, the contract extension given to Amir Johnson, his ability to dump Hedo Turkoglu on the Suns for Leandro Barbosa, and the acquisitions of Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson in savvy trades. The Raptors’ 22-60 record this season was definitely grim, but DeMar DeRozan, Davis, Bayless and the Johnsons are all under 25 years old and they each showed strong indications in 2011 that they could be strong pieces in the franchise’s future.

The specific length of the contract gives me pause since I wonder if Colangelo will be more inclined to make moves with short-term gain in mind, but we can only hope that he’ll have an understanding with whoever owns this franchise in two years that he’ll earn his third year (and possibly another extension) if the team shows signs that it’s moving in the right direction. Perhaps the benchmark should be a playoff berth in 2013, since it’s probably unrealistic to expect the Raptors to make that kind of drastic improvement next season.

This announcement will undoubtedly cause a certain faction of Raptors fans to wail and gnash their teeth in despair. Without question, Colangelo’s performance with the Raptors thus far has been spotty, at best. But whatever you think about his ability (or lack thereof) to eventually turn this team into a championship contender, I will stand behind him as a man who knows basketball and is widely respected around the league. This extension gives the franchise much-needed management stability and improves the chances that the Raptors will pick sensibly from what appears to be a highly unpredictable 2011 draft class.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my opinion in a knee-jerk response after the June 23rd draft.