Roughly six years ago, on February 28, 2006, Bryan Colangelo accepted the position of President and General Manager of the Toronto Raptors — exactly one day after he had resigned from the GM position with the Phoenix Suns. Raptors fans almost universally celebrated this announcement as a reason for great hope for the franchise’s future. Surely, Colangelo would work the same magic in Toronto that he had in Phoenix and the Raptors would imminently become an annual post-season fixture and a legitimate championship contender.
That optimism seemed to be well-founded after the Raptors improved from 27 wins to 47 wins in 2006-07, Colangelo’s first full season at the helm. With a roster turnover of nine new players including savvy foreign signings like Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa, and with the promise of a potential future superstar in first overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani, Colangelo’s second NBA Executive of the Year award in three years was considered well-deserved. The Raptors’ first round playoff defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Nets appeared to be simply an example of the Raptors needing to get some post-season experience before they could succeed at that level.
Colangelo’s first full season has turned out to be the Raptors’ only winning season under his leadership. Their 194-251 record since the beginning of the 2006-07 season ranks 22nd in the NBA over that period. Of the eight teams with worse records — in order from bad to worst: the Bucks, Bobcats, Knicks, Grizzlies, Clippers, Wizards, Nets and Kings — only the Wizards and Kings didn’t change GMs during this timespan.
It’s important to recognize that every franchise situation is unique with its own challenges in terms of personnel, location, finances and the ongoing impact of previous management. Having said that, when Colangelo took this job in 2006, he inherited a team with cap space and a young star in Chris Bosh — and then he lucked into the first overall pick in the 2006 draft. Even the staunchest Colangelo defender would have to admit that he has not made the most of that opportunity.
In spite of the team’s subpar performance, Colangelo was granted a contract extension after last season for two more years with a club option for a third year. This almost certainly means he’ll remain in Toronto until the end of next season, but where should we set the bar to determine if he gets his option picked up or if he should be offered another extension? The obvious measurement would be a return to the playoffs next season — but as we saw after the 2006-07 season, making the playoffs is far from a guarantee of future success.
Ultimately, Colangelo will and probably should be judged by the moves he makes between now and next season’s trade deadline. Will he continue to try to accumulate young talent and easily movable players as part of a long-term vision? Or will he go all-in on an attempt to eke out a 2013 post-season berth in service of his own continued employment? Whatever you think of Colangelo’s management acumen, you know he’s well aware that recently-hired Executive VP Ed Stefanski could easily take his job if certain goals aren’t met.
I’m probably in the minority these days, but I think Colangelo is finally doing right by this team and I’d like to see him given a fair shot to carry out his vision for at least three more seasons. The fact that he’s begun a proper rebuilding phase with this team and that he was savvy enough to select Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth pick in the previous draft has instilled me with confidence that he has the franchise moving in the right direction. I know that many of you think he’s already been given enough time, and I can’t blame you for feeling that way. But I also believe that he’s a smart man who is willing to admit his mistakes and is capable of learning from them. If he ever makes another dumb move like the Hedo Turkoglu acquisition in 2009 (and yes, I thought it was dumb at the time), then I’ll throw my hands up with the rest of you and scream to the heavens, “Off with his head!” I’m confident he won’t make a blatantly obvious error like that again anytime soon.
My main problem with a lot of the Raptors fans who want Colangelo fired is that I never feel like they suggest a replacement that is both an obvious improvement and a realistic option. Could I name five NBA executives I would prefer to have running this team? Absolutely. Could I name 10 execs? Probably not, actually. Here’s the thing. Remember when David Kahn and Chris Wallace were competing for the title of “worst GM in the NBA”? How are their teams doing now? On the other side, how do you feel about Danny Ainge and Joe Dumars these days? The Orlando Magic have won at least 63 percent of their regular season games in each of their last four seasons and they’re on that same pace this season. Would you swap Colangelo for Otis Smith?
Firing a General Manager of a sports team is very different from ending a bad personal relationship. In life, you can choose to enjoy the single life for a while. In sports, you need to try to replace that GM with somebody who clearly has a superior pedigree. Since Pat Riley ain’t walking through that Air Canada Centre door, I’ll stay on #TeamBC for a little while longer.