Being a sports writer in Toronto is like being an extra on one of those CSI shows - one post-mortem after another.
But there was an added twist to Bryan Colangelo's end-of-year spin-fest Monday, because he was speaking as the general manager of the one Toronto team that categorically, totally, completely, 100-per-cent underachieved.
"Underperformed," was the word of choice the Toronto Raptors general manager preferred to use for his team and, yeah, that's okay, too.
You can split hairs about whether Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke promised playoffs or contention for playoffs or whatever. But just as last season, when Colangelo said that his Raptors were the "best team" he'd had in his time in Toronto only to see them fall out of playoff contention with seven games left in the schedule, there is no doubt that Colangelo expected much more from the 2009-10 edition of his team.
And he struck out again. Colangelo said he "didn't expect to win 50 games," but he wanted to win 50 because it would guarantee a home seed for the playoffs.
This was the team that was supposed to end this city's playoff drought. A motivated franchise player heading into a money year - Chris Bosh - and a free-agent acquisition (Hedo Turkoglu) whose signing was heralded at the time by everyone as a masterpiece of creativity? Coupled with a bench that was certainly more athletic and savvy than in previous seasons? What was not to like?
"Frustrating," "very disappointing," and "heart-breaking" were the phrases Colangelo used to describe his team. That was the case last season, maybe. This year, most Raptors fans would add a pejorative to those phrases.
It is natural when a team underperforms to look for elements that stick out - things that vary from the norm. Two things immediately jump out about the Raptors: they rely on internationally trained players as a large part of their core (Turkoglu, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon are regulars) and they have a Canadian-born coach. International players are a fact of NBA life, but few teams seem to rely on as many international players at one time as do the Raptors.
Draw from that what you will. As I wrote earlier this year: the Raptors' season was so remarkably messy that even those among us who are so jaded as to think "chemistry" is an overused cliché began to second-guess that idea.
Colangelo was candid in saying that Bosh's impending free agency had an impact on the locker room - that it "couldn't help but take its toll on the locker room." But more telling was his unsolicited observation that he underrated the impact of Anthony Parker, a North American-born player who played in Italy and Israel and who joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent.
"One thing that goes unnoticed and unwritten was we really failed in bridging some of the relationships, per se, in the locker room," Colangelo said. "There might have been a guy in the past - like Anthony Parker - who did a great job in kind of understanding what the international players were going through and understanding what the North American players were going through. We didn't have that 'glue' guy who could make it happen."
That is not an admission by Colangelo that his team is too international or too Euro-centric. But it is an admission that sometimes the winds of change need to be controlled. Colangelo said he will resolve that matter in the off-season - neat trick: who do you quantify as a "guy who plays well with others?" - and that he will also end the Raptors' three-year trip through the point-guard desert.
Colangelo has tried to get by without a bona fide centre and bona fide point guard - admitting the obvious about his tandem point guards, Jose Calderon and Jarret Jack.
"Jose didn't play with a whole lot of confidence," Colangelo said. "The combination [Jack and Calderon]is something to be looked at. Both want to he here. Both profess to not care about starting."
Colangelo made that sound as though it were something good. Frankly, I'd rather get rid of both Calderon and Jack and do whatever I could to find a point guard who isn't interested in a job-sharing arrangement. That would be a start, no?
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