With Oliver posting his case for keeping Bryan Colangelo yesterday, it’s time that I dig into the case against extending Colangelo.
I probably maintained faith in the man they call B.C. longer than most, and in truth, am always one shrewd Colangelo move away from being back on the B.C. bandwagon, as it seems most others are as well. There’s something about him that makes you at least want to believe. As a teenager myself when Colangelo arrived in Toronto, he restored respectability and relevance to my beloved Raptors. When the team won 47 games and its first division title in his first full season at the helm, it seemed the heights of our future successes were as tall as his trademark collars.
But alas, while Colangelo seemed to have a Midas touch for that first year on the job, nearly every major transaction Bryan has signed off on since then has backfired, and while deep down there is probably a Colangelo fan waiting to reemerge in many of us, the decision of whether or not to extend or fire a sports executive comes down to business. And from a business perspective, we’re talking about a team that looks destined to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season for the first time in franchise history. And that’s really saying something considering how futile this franchise’s history has been.
Of course, losing faith in Colangelo runs much deeper than simply missing the playoffs again…
Whether it was Jason Kapono or Jermaine O’Neal or Hedo Turkoglu, a string of Colangelo acquisitions just seemed to dig the Raptors deeper and deeper into an inescapable hole. Sure, he was able to quickly rid himself of those mistakes and you can also point to some poor coaching and injuries as scapegoats for failed seasons between 2008 and 2010, but they were his mistakes in the first place and the coaches were put in place by Colangelo himself. He decided to keep Sam Mitchell on once he got here and he decided that Jay Triano was qualified to be a full-time head coach in the NBA in a season that held the team’s franchise player in the balance, so even putting those under-achieving seasons on the coaches’ shoulders is still putting the blame on Colangelo’s decision making.
In recent years Colangelo has bounced back by drafting well, but the team was able to draft DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis because of those two seasons of failure (2008-09 and 2009-10). Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross were drafted after seasons where the team was openly rebuilding, which is fine, but with Valanciunas, let’s remember that he fell into the Raptors’ lap when the Cavaliers made the ridiculous decision to pass on him (regular RaptorBlog readers know that while I think Canadian Tristan Thompson has a bright NBA future, the Cavs missed the boat by passing on Valanciunas since Cleveland still would have had Kyrie Irving on the court in 2011-12 while Valanciunas was overseas) and it’s still too early to tell whether Ross was the right pick at No. 8 in 2012, though I do like his potential as an athletic wing who can shoot and defend.
Then there’s Colangelo’s rush to not only extend but also overpay his own guys. Andrea Bargnani received a five-year extension worth around $50 million in the summer of 2009 despite struggling through plenty of inconsistency through his first three NBA seasons. Most recently, DeRozan was handed a four-year extension worth $38 million despite many obvious holes and flaws still apparent in his game. Don’t get me wrong, DeMar has shown some encouraging improvements this season on his quest to become a more complete player, specifically with his passing and court vision, but his current level of play still isn’t worth $9.5 million per year and the fact that another team might have offered him as much this summer doesn’t change that. Heck, at the rate Colangelo was handing out extensions to his own lottery picks, one can only imagine what kind of offer Ed Davis would have received had he remained a Raptor, since he’s probably more productive right now than Bargnani or DeRozan were through three seasons.
As for Colangelo’s latest big moves to acquire Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay, I’m hopeful but also realistic. I’m a big fan of Kyle Lowry’s overall game, maintain that he can be a top-10 point guard in the NBA and also don’t think that any draft prospect in the Raptors’ range this season would have been any better than Lowry going forward. But until Lowry’s impressive individual numbers translate into a successful Raptors team or until the Raptors can lock him up as their point guard of the future with an extension, it’s still too early to unequivocally call the acquisition a win.
With respect to Gay, he arrived with a bang by knocking down a couple of game-winners and leading the Raptors on a 7-3 run that got the team back into playoff contention in the East for a couple of days, but since then fans have seen some troubling signs of the same old Raptors, specifically in disappointing losses to the Wizards and Cavs. As I wrote last week, trying to judge a trade of this magnitude this early is just an impossible task and I’m nowhere near ready to call it a failure. But I also don’t understand how some fans can view it as an absolute success when the Raptors, who are 8-7 with Gay in the lineup, went from really bad to merely mediocre while the Grizzlies, who were already the vastly superior team, have gone 11-4 since the trade.
Before I conclude, no Colangelo piece can be written without mention of the incredibly frustrating patience and dedication he’s shown to Bargnani through the years while the rest of the basketball world saw a supremely talented player who would never capitalize on those talents in the NBA. More than anything, the fact that it took Colangelo seven years to recognize what most of us figured out long ago with regards to Bargnani is probably his most fatal error in Toronto.
At the end of the day, I’m probably more optimistic than most about the athletic young core Colangelo has assembled here, but I’m also realistic to know that it’s far from talented enough to be a slam dunk success. Right now, it remains only “potential,” “promise” and “hope,” and in recent years, potential and hope haven’t translated to anything tangible for Colangelo and the Raptors.
This situation may very well play out the way it has for Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs, where a team almost entirely built by Burke is now proving to be a team on the rise in the NHL while he watches from afar after being let go. Perhaps Colangelo will be in another city next season watching this young Raptors core rising the ranks of the NBA.
It may seem unfair for the guy who put the core together, but sometimes that’s just the way the business goes. After all, in the business of professional sports, how often does a General Manager who’s missed the playoffs for five straight seasons and who’s on track for a 45-50 loss season without a draft pick to show for it get to see that core through to the next stage?
UPDATE: Just hours after I posted this, Bill Simmons posted his take on the worst contracts in the NBA. While I’m aware that Simmons’ opinion isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to the NBA, I found it worth a share that three of the 10 worst contracts according to Simmons were concocted by Colangelo. Landry Fields is No. 10, Hedo Turkoglu is No. 9 and Andrea Bargnani is No. 5.
If you’re wondering, Rudy Gay comes in at No. 25 and Simmons writes that “this trade could still work out for Toronto if Gay ever stops throwing up bricks” before ripping Colangelo over Marc Spears’ report that the Raptors are already looking to extend Gay.