With the bevy of rumours, reports and general speculation over Bryan Colangelo’s job status running rampant over the last few weeks, we’ve already had plenty of time to assess Colangelo’s actions and words recently. On that note, I’m not going to spend any time on Colangelo’s conference call with the media from earlier today after it was announced that he was being relieved of his General Manager duties.
Having said that, new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke held a much more candid media call on Tuesday morning that is worth talking about, so here are some talking points from that call..
- In seeking out opinions and feedback from his connections around the league, Leiweke says he spent a full day at the NBA office, where he “got a lot of input there.”
Later, when discussing how he got an assessment of the Raptors organization (from a basketball, business and image standpoint) from the NBA office, Leiweke mentioned that he has thought about a potential re-branding of the team, which could include a change in the colour and makeup of the uniforms as well as an image change. “We are Toronto’s team, but I think we have to learn how to be Canada’s team,” Leiweke stated before adding that the organization’s image “should be all about the Canadian flag and Canada.” He also said that being “Canada’s team is an ambition and goal we have not lived up to.”
In continuing with his strong opinions on a possible re-branding of the team and a focus on Canada, Leiweke called the 2016 All-Star game a “must-have” for the Raptors and said that’s a place where the re-branding can be completed. “Toronto’s not bidding on the 2016 All-Star game, Canada is. And that’s where we begin the change,” Leiweke boldy asserted.
My thoughts: The fact that an expansion NBA team in Toronto wasn’t named the Huskies, when the Toronto Huskies took part in the game recognized as the first in league history, is a travesty. Like everyone else, I’ve learned to identify and take pride in the Raptors name, but if Leiweke and MLSE are seriously considering a full re-branding in the future, then Huskies should be the only option.
In terms of the emphasis on Canada and being “Canada’s Team,” I love it. My only issue with a potential uniform change would be that I really don’t know what they can do to make them more Canadian other than getting rid of the black uniforms, and I like the alternate black uniforms. Right now, the primary colours are red and white and the jerseys have a small maple leaf on the back. Again, how much more Canadian can you make them? Plus, the Huskies are traditionally blue and white.
Lastly on this portion of the call, if David Stern or anybody else at the league office is hoping that the Raptors do a better job of representing Canada, I’d suggest an Arnold Rothstein like approach to the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery, if you know what I mean…cough…Wiggins…cough.
- Leiweke says he likes Colangelo’s passion as well as his loyalty to the Raptors, to Toronto and to basketball in Canada, saying he would give Bryan “high marks there.” Unfortunately for B.C., Leiweke also had this to say: “On basketball, I think we all know that there is great debate about decisions made in the last eight years, and in particular the last five years not making the playoffs.”
My Thoughts: Ouch.
- While Leiweke said that Colangelo will be able to listen to offers should a more basketball centric job become available around the NBA, he sounds intent on utilizing Colangelo’s experience within the organization in the mean time, saying that Colangelo will be involved in “a lot of things that will become a priority for the Raptors moving forward.”Among those priorities, the 2016 All-Star game and looking into either building a new team training facility or updating the current one.
My Thoughts: Colangelo will probably get a more hands-on basketball job somewhere in the NBA sooner than a lot of people realize, and this seemingly awkward arrangement won’t last that long. There aren’t any reports out there that suggest this to be the case, but that’s my honest prediction.
- Leiweke reaffirmed on numerous occasions that the new General Manager in charge, whoever that may be, will have the final say on all basketball decisions and that the new GM will report directly to him (Translation: Not to Colangelo). He also said the new guy in charge will make upcoming decisions when it comes to coaches, players, front office members, trades, the draft, etc, saying that a decision on coach Casey is a “decision for the new GM.”
And for those of you who believe that Colangelo’s presence alone means that he will stick his nose into personnel decisions or that Colangelo’s presence will bode well for Casey given that Bryan has publicly supported Casey, Leiweke mentioned that Colangelo will have to accept that someone else is making the basketball decisions, sternly stating that “If he can’t, I’m fairly certain we’re not going to fire the Toronto Raptors.”
At another point, when discussing the full autonomy that the incoming GM will have and how said GM will have his full commitment and support, Leiweke said that “If anyone ultimately disrupts that process, then I’ll clean it up.”
My Thoughts: When is the last time a member of the Raptors organization ever spoke this frankly or this boldly? I understand that there are no guarantees of success for the Raptors under Leiweke and that his tenure is already off to an odd start, but his honesty and bold ambitions are a very pleasant breath of fresh air for fans of this much maligned franchise. Right now, I’m picturing Leiweke going into full Donald Trump/Vince McMahon mode if someone steps out of line and demonstrates that they don’t know their role.
- Leiweke says that there is no budget in terms of how much he can go and spend in hiring the new GM, adding that ownership is committed to winning.
My Thoughts: Might MLSE be prepared to get into a bidding war over a potential candidate of their choice? Remember that Masai Ujiri’s contract in Denver will expire this summer and that Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke is reputed to be one of the 100 richest people in America.
- Leiweke says that a search firm was hired to get some background knowledge on GM candidates, but that he himself is executing the search. In terms of that search, Leiweke says that they’re “in the middle of it” and that there are about a half-dozen names on the list, which includes Ed Stefanski’s name. In addition, the Raptors have already talked to some candidates personally but are seeking permission to talk to some others.
My Thoughts: Leiweke clearly wants it known that he isn’t leaving this search and decision up to anyone else at MLSE and especially not to a third party search firm. Also, I’d imagine the candidate the Raptors are still waiting for permission to talk to is Ujiri. In terms of the half-dozen names on the list, we should probably be able to figure out four of those names just from recent reports, and those four are Ujiri, Stefanski, Kevin Pritchard, Troy Weaver and Rick Sund.
- On the notion that Toronto and the Raptors can’t attract star talent, Leiweke talked about how players love Toronto, but that the next step is to get them to love the idea of playing for Toronto. He also added that “some of the best branded players in the NBA” told him flat out that Toronto is their favourite city.
My Thoughts: As I’ve always said, the Raptors’ inability to attract top notch free agents has little to do with the fact that the team resides in Canada and everything to do with the fact the organization has been poorly run for the majority of 18 seasons. If a team on the rise is put together here, then one of the NBA’s biggest and most cultured markets won’t have an issue attracting stars.
- One of the more popular Leiweke quotes from this morning was his statement that “Bryan’s probably ticked off at me. There’s no probably. He’s ticked off at me.” Leiweke also mentioned that Colangelo “fought like heck” to keep his job running the team and that he wouldn’t have kept him around if not for that determination.
- In terms of what Leiweke is looking for in the next General Manager, it’s someone who can make trades, is good at drafting and development and can effectively communicate a philosophy and style to the coaching staff.
My Thoughts: In short, Tim Leiweke is simply looking for a basketball executive who is competent in the key areas you would hope that any basketball exec is competent in. The fact that he didn’t trust Colangelo to continue making basketball decisions tells us something about how he judged Bryan’s competenecy in those key areas.
- I don’t remember where exactly this gem of a quote came up during the media call, but to me, the most telling passage of them all was Leiweke’s assertion that ”We have work to do in this organization. We’re not good enough.”
My Thoughts: That just about sums it up right now, doesn’t it? Not good enough. Now get to work…