Yes, that was literally my immediate reaction that my colleague, Derek Snider, reported on Twitter when I saw that the Raptors selected 19-year-old Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. I didn’t react that way because I’m convinced Valanciunas will be a bust. I reflexively responded like that because I knew that he won’t be able to play for the Raptors next season because of complications with his buyout clause.
Whoever Colangelo picked, I was looking forward to seeing him in a Raptors uniform next season. I reacted like a little kid whose parents told him that we were skipping Christmas this year but I should be OK with that because next year’s present is going to be AMAZING! Yeah, not so much, Dad. If I tell my three-year-old that in December, she’ll throw a fit. I guess I haven’t matured much beyond that stage.
Now that I’ve calmed down a little bit, I suppose this is the part where I’m supposed to give you my “expert opinion” on whether or not Valanciunas is going to one day lead the Raptors to that elusive championship. Well, if you’re a diehard Raptors fan like I am, then you have as much to go on as I do. I’ve seen the same YouTube highlight reels you have, and we all know you can make almost any player look good if you pick out the plays that make him look good and string them together.
There’s nothing new I can tell you about him that I didn’t already describe when Holly, Joseph and I profiled him yesterday. He’s got great potential as a defender and rebounder, but he’s currently too skinny and weak and nobody really knows if he’ll ever fill out and gain the strength necessary for him to succeed as an NBA center. By the time we know, Bryan Colangelo might not be around to answer for this pick.
And when you look at it that way, that’s what makes this selection so bold. I know I wouldn’t have had the balls to be in Colangelo’s position and draft a player who won’t provide immediate justification of my supposedly brilliant talent evaluation skills. Colangelo obviously believes in this kid, and we have no choice but to hope that he knows what he’s getting even though Valanciunas never actually worked out for the Raptors.
When I consider Colangelo’s history, I really shouldn’t have been so surprised that he was willing to take a chance like this. He clearly takes great pride in past successes like the drafting of Amare Stoudemire in 2002 and the signing of 30-year-old Steve Nash to a long-term contract with the Suns in 2004. Those were decisions which were widely derided at the time but delivered huge payoffs. Colangelo wants to win a championship and it’s obvious that he feels the Raptors will never reach that goal if he plays it safe.
Drafting Kemba Walker would have been the “safe” pick. And I know that there are a great number of you who believe that would have been the right pick, regardless of its perceived safety. For whatever reason, Colangelo believed that Valanciunas was the best player available at the Raptors’ pick and he followed his instincts regardless of how that decision would go over with an increasingly impatient fanbase. There’s a certain admirable nobility in that. There’s also a certain reckless, arrogant impetuousness in that. At the moment, my emotions steer me towards the latter assessment, but that’s the reaction of my inner three-year-old.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll hear and read a variety of justifications about why this was actually the smart, reasonable decision to make for a franchise that is striving for ultimate success, no matter how long it takes. I look forward to those defensive justifications, but in the meantime my adrenaline is tapped out and I will slink off to bed, bewildered and defeated. Christmas is cancelled for this upcoming season, and I’ll lay my head on my pillow with visions of an impending lockout dancing in my head.
Right now, I feel like Santa Colangelo brought me a stocking full of poisonous spiders, but you can hardly expect me to be reasonable about this so soon after such a bitter disappointment. Just as I feel like I know what’s best for my children, I have little choice but to hope that Colangelo knows what’s best for the Raptors. Being a parent is hard, and so is being a General Manager for a team with a fanbase as starved for any kind of success as this one. No matter how this turns out, we’ll have to go hungry for a little while longer before we find out if Valanciunas can provide us with the feast of success we’ve all dreamed of.