Brace yourself, Toronto Raptors supporters, but the road to NBA redemption is still a ways off, according to Bryan Colangelo.
The Raptors’ president and general manager made the pronouncement on Thursday as the team introduced Ed Stefanski as the club’s executive vice-president of basketball operations.
As Colangelo’s new right-hand man, Stefanski arrives with a solid NBA résumé that has included stints at the executive level with the New Jersey Nets and, most recently, the Philadelphia 76ers.
In Stefanski, Colangelo has hired a basketball veteran who is considered a shrewd talent evaluator and will play a key role in helping to rebuild a moribund Toronto franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2007-08 season.
Last year, without any real star talent to speak of after the defection of Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat, the Raptors won just 22 games and had the third-worst record in the NBA.
They are a young group, led by up-and-comer DeMar DeRozan, who has just turned 22.
Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas, the fifth player chosen in the 2011 draft, is considered to have star power but he will continue to play in Europe this season.
The 2011-12 NBA season is in limbo because of a contract dispute between the owners and players, but Colangelo is already tempering any optimism that might exist about the team’s chances.
“We may be looking at a year where we actually take a step back,” Colangelo said, noting that the uncertainty of the labour dispute and the new rules that a new collective agreement will bring will all play a role.
Colangelo elaborated that it really doesn’t make sense right now, with such a young roster, to chase after free agents.
“To go out and spend money this summer just to spend money would be probably swimming against the current of what the plan actually is all about,” he said. “And the plan is to acquire the right pieces, the correct pieces, to keep adding to this young nucleus that we have. Or to put championship pieces together.”
With a new coach in Dwane Casey itching to instill his defensive ideals to new group, Colangelo suggested it makes more sense to let the young players develop as the Raptors take their lumps in the won-loss column.
Stefanski said he likes the Raptors’ current environment and it was one of the reasons he yearned for the Toronto job.
“I think Bryan has put the situation very nicely here where the cap flexibility could come into play,” he said. “So now you can either do it [get better]by trades, cap flexibility for free agents, or by the draft. And then put a little pressure on Dwane Casey, that he’s got to get these younger players better. That’s what it’s all about.”
Stefanski joins the Raptors from Philadelphia, where he has spent the past four seasons in a president and general manager role.
Prior, Stefanski spent nine seasons with the Nets where he was promoted to GM in the summer of 2004 and he helped orchestrate the trade that brought Raptors star Vince Carter to New Jersey for next to nothing.
“It’s going to be fun,” Stefanski said of the new task in Toronto that is facing him. “You’re in a situation where you are rebuilding. But in basketball it’s only five guys that you’re putting on the floor. You get lucky… you get a couple of players on the court that can change the tide.”