Archive for the ‘Ed Stefanski’ Category

With the Raptors mired in another losing streak and sitting 11 games under .500, now a nearly insurmountable 6.5 games out a playoff spot, much of the talk among fans and observers is about what the Raptors have to do to improve, specifically in the short term.

Much of the talk is about what moves have to be made. But if you ask me, the real concern for a team at a delicate stage of a rebuilding process should be more about what moves have to be avoided.

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NBA.com released the results of their annual General Manager’s survey on Tuesday, and from a Raptors perspective, there were quite a few interesting responses.

I’m always intrigued by the results of this survey, because after all, these are the men making personnel decisions for the 30 NBA teams, so it’s interesting to see how they view certain players and other teams.

Below, I’ve provided every time a Raptor was named in the results of the survey. Remember that according to NBA.com, GM’s are not allowed to vote for their own players/coaches, so when you see a Raptor appear in the results in a positive light, it’s not just Bryan Colangelo stuffing the ballot box.

- DeMar DeRozan received a vote for player most likely to have a breakout season. With how DeRozan played in the latter half of last season and the amount of work he was reported to have put in this past summer, this wasn’t a crazy vote, and it looked decent through six games of the shortened season. Since then, not so much.

- Jonas Valanciunas was tied for second (behind Kyrie Irving) with Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams in the “Which rookie will be the best player in five years” category

- Valanciunas also received a vote in the “Which rookie is most likely to be a sleeper success” category and most impressive of all, was the number one vote-getter (with 36 per cent of responding GM’s voting for him) in the “Who is the best international player not in the NBA” category. Looking at the praise other general managers have for Valanciunas and at his performance in Lithuania over the last year, it’s hard to find many people still disappointed in Bryan Colangelo’s draft night selection.

- Andrea Bargnani received 7.4 per cent of the votes (tied for fourth) in the “International player most likely to have a breakout season” category. It’s easy to argue that Bargnani should have received more votes in hindsight, but come on, realistically, I’m guessing no one expected Bargnani’s early season performance outside of Dwane Casey.

- Bargnani also received a vote for “Which player does the most with the least?” This is either a GM who has never really watched Bargnani play and just assumes a big Italian guy has limited natural basketball talents or it’s a GM who misread the question as “Which player does the least with the most?” In another clue that general managers didn’t understand the question, Dwight Howard received a vote. Um, have you seen Dwight Howard? Nothing about him says “least.”

- Speaking of Dwane Casey, how’s this for a shocker? Casey did not receive a vote in the best defensive schemes category, but did receive a vote in the “Which coach runs the best offence” category. I’m thinking a random general manager voted for this after watching the Raptors play the Cavs on opening night.

- Jose Calderon received a vote for best passer in the NBA. Perhaps this bodes well for the sell high mentality I think the Raptors should have with Calderon.

- Anthony Carter received a vote in the “Which active player will make the best head coach someday” category. As if we needed any more proof that Carter is just a reincarnation of Darrick Martin.

- The Raptors received a vote for the team that is most fun to watch. I kid you not. A general manager not named Bryan Colangelo voted your Toronto Raptors the most fun team to watch in the NBA. Can someone check to see if maybe Ed Stefanski got a vote but was listed as 76ers GM? Other teams on this list, in order, were the Heat, Clippers, Thunder, Nuggets, Warriors, Pacers and Timberwolves.

Recently, a loyal reader and commenter, Tim W, posted a comment after one of our “Six Personal Thoughts on the Game” posts.

Tim basically asked why, given the Raptors’ history, fans get so excited any time this franchise shows a positive sign or two.

Tim has a point, and speaking to Raptors fans or reading twitter timelines, you can quickly see that he is by no means alone in his thoughts and was voicing an opinion that a number of Raptors fans have.

We all know the history: 16 seasons, only five playoff trips, only one series victory and 11 total playoff wins, just four winning seasons. Not to mention, a list of stars who have fled for greener pastures the minute things went south in Toronto. Quite frankly, you could make the case the Raptors are on a crash-course with a “Clippers North” label, if they haven’t already attained that moniker.

A high school history teacher often reminded me that the best eye into the future is a look into the past, and if that is indeed the case, basketball fans in the Big Smoke, and in Canada in general, are in for a long and cruel existence.

My problem with this way of thinking though, is that it doesn’t allow for the basic premise of what sports is about: hope and promise.

I don’t believe in blind optimism and homerism, but I’m just as opposed to blind pessimism. What I’m into is realism, and this is the realistic picture facing the Raptors right now:

- They have a potential franchise centre, who’s just 19-years-old, playing overseas. There is no way to judge Jonas Valanciunas on an NBA level until he plays a game in the Association, but what annoys me are pessimists who cast off his domination as bogus, simply because he isn’t playing in North America. Fans get giddy and throw out ridiculous comparisons to all time greats for teenagers who put up slanted numbers against fellow teenagers in the NCAA, but when a teenager dominates grown men the way Valanciunas does, we’re supposed to ignore it because he did it on another continent? Sorry, I’m not buying that. No one can guarantee Valanciunas will succeed in the NBA, but if there is stock in NCAA performances, then there is stock in JV’s professional performance. And that performance indicates the Raptors drafted a stud at a position that is in major demand in an NBA devoid of many truly dominating fives.

- They should have a top-ten pick in one of the best draft classes in years. Even if you want this year’s edition of the Raptors to over-achieve, you have to admit, things are bad right now record-wise (4-10), and are about to get a whole lot worse. Of the Raptors next nine games, only one (a road game against the Nets) can be counted as “winnable,” and that’s against a team that has already beaten the Raptors in Toronto this season. The other eight games are against the Celtics (twice), Blazers, Clippers, Suns, Jazz, Nuggets and Hawks. There is a good chance that in a couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about a team that has just four-to-six wins in 23 games. With how young the team’s core is and how demoralizing a start like that would be, not even a late improvement and surge would be able to save the Raptors from great lottery position. Is it a little messed up that I’m talking about a stretch of one or two wins in a three-week span as a positive? Yes. Welcome to Toronto. I can hear those ping pong balls already.

- They may actually have a young-ish All Star on their roster. For years I wrote about Andrea Bargnani’s potential, and how incredibly infuriating it was to watch him waste it. Call it a coming-of-age, call it the “Casey Effect,” call it whatever the hell you want. But what we saw from Andrea Bargnani through the first few weeks of the season was All Star caliber play. Does an impressive 11-game stretch undo a frustrating five years? Of course not, but Bargnani has finally proven what a lot of us already knew. There is All Star potential in that seven-foot frame. He’ll make an average of $11 million over the next three seasons after this one. That’s nothing if Andrea can play the way we now know he can. And he’s still just 26. There is no reason (aside from unexpected injuries) that he can’t stay around this level of play, or even elevate it, for the next five years. Now only if the Raptors had a good rebounding, defence-first centre on the way…oh, wait.

- Trade-able assets and salary cap space. Regardless of what you think about Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa, and regardless of how bad the former’s contract looked just a year ago, both Calderon and Barbosa can be solid trade chips for the Raptors over the next year or so. With the way Calderon has been playing lately, who knows, maybe management thinks he can still be the starting point guard when this team’s ready to compete, but I don’t think so. I say sell high on an above average point guard that currently contending teams would love to have. Same goes for Barbosa, whose frustrating out of control play shouldn’t take away from the fact that the man has proven for years that he can score off of the bench, and I’ve never seen a contender that isn’t looking for a guy like that. Barbosa is nearly an $8 million expiring contract this season. Calderon is a $10.5 million expiring contract next season. Whether Barbosa and Calderon are traded for younger pieces or draft picks or whether their expiring contracts simply become part of the $10-20 million in cap space the Raptors should have over the next couple of off-seasons, I look at those two guys as indirect positives for the future.

- The Raptors have a real NBA coach…no, seriously. With all due respect to Jay Triano’s significance for Canadian basketball and his good nature, the guy looked out of his league as an NBA head coach, and that was with a young team expected to lose a lot of games, let alone with a talented team expected to make the playoffs. Sam Mitchell was a great motivator, but didn’t seem to have a great grasp of X’s and O’s. Realistically, the Raptors haven’t had a really good head coach (Lenny Wilkens’ stroll into retirement doesn’t count) in over a decade. Dwane Casey seems to be the rare breed of coach who can both motivate (without scolding a player) and teach from an X’s and O’s standpoint. The Raptors may have taken a short-term step back on offence, but what Casey has done with Bargnani and the team’s defence can’t be praised enough. Imagine what he can do if the Raps do assemble a talented team in the near future…

- The Raptors have a plethora of young players we still don’t know enough about. This is the point that raises the most questions and the point that might be the deciding factor in what the future holds for the Raptors. Between DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson, Toronto has five players between the ages of 22 and 24 that we still aren’t sure about. Can James Johnson be a legitimate defensive stopper on a contending team, or will he flame out as a careless turnover machine? Can Jerryd Bayless become a legitimate point guard or impactful combo guard, or will he forever be lost in the middle? Can Amir Johnson become a consistent first big off of the bench, or will his propensity to get into foul trouble and inconsistency always leave us wondering about what could be? Can Ed Davis evolve into a legitimate starting big man, or will his limited offensive game hold him back his entire career? Lastly, can DeMar DeRozan capitalize on his All Star potential and athleticism on both ends of the floor, or is he simply going to be a poor ball-handler who won’t play defence but can give you 15-20 points on any given night? These five questions are key in determining both what the Raptors can be as early as next season and what they can be years down the road.

As currently constructed, the Raptors are a very poor basketball team stocked with a ton of untapped young talent that could either come together to form something special or could evolve into nothing more than a perennially under-achieving team (see Chris Bosh-led Raptors teams).

You could look at the above points, not like what you see, and decide this team isn’t worth your time. That’s an honest opinion and your right as a fan. Just as looking at the above points and thinking, “hey, this team might have something here,” is just as worthy an opinion.

But not even giving this team a chance based on the failures of previous players and teams who have come through Toronto over the last 16 years isn’t fair and doesn’t make much sense to me.

Management finally seems to have realized that the old way wasn’t working, and they have at least tried to do something about it. This is a new team with a new philosophy, a new coach and a new vibe. At least give them a chance to prove that before dismissing them in Year One.

One-on-one with Ed Stefanski

TheScore reporter Glenn Schiiler talked to the Raptors’ new Executive VP of Basketball Operations, Ed Stefanski, about the Raptors’ young talent and what he thinks will be his day-to-day responsibilities with the team.

Ed Stefanski

If you’re a basketball news junkie, you can probably guess who broke the news on Twitter this morning that the Toronto Raptors are about to hire former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Ed Stefanski as their Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. Yahoo! Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the news this morning and followed up with a more detailed article shortly thereafter. Wojnarowski pretty much breaks all the significant NBA stories — but I don’t want to get carried away in calling this story “significant”.

My colleague, Joseph Casciaro, detailed Stefanski’s less-than-impressive resume in a Raptorblog post a couple of weeks ago. Most notably, he was responsible for doling out monster contracts to crippled Elton Brand and second banana Andre Iguodala. Brand has three years and $51 million left on his deal while Iguodala will collect $56 million over the next four seasons. Clearly, this isn’t a man who should be entrusted with the coffers of an NBA franchise.

Luckily, Stefanski won’t have that kind of power with the Raptors. He’s reporting to Bryan Colangelo, “who will still have final say on basketball matters,” according to Wojnarowski. Stefanski is essentially replacing Masai Ujiri, who is kicking some ass as the Denver Nuggets GM these days. Colangelo likes to collect a range of opinions and insights from his underlings when he makes his decisions, and Stefanski will simply become another voice in the chorus.

In spite of his questionable contract signings, Stefanski has a reputation as a decent talent evaluator — as demonstrated by the solid mid-round drafting of Marreese Speights and Jrue Holiday with the Sixers. The 2012 draft is expected to be jam-packed with talent, so perhaps Stefanski’s opinions will prove valuable with that process.

Ultimately, this hiring shouldn’t really change your opinion of the Raptors’ front office, since Colangelo is still the man pulling the strings. By this point, most Raptors fans have made up their mind and will be set in their ways in terms of how they feel about his tenure in Toronto. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to change your views on him now.