Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo says his team isn't as bad as people think.
His ability to convince Chris Bosh of that will go a long way in determining whether the all-star stays in Toronto, or heads elsewhere.
Colangelo was realistic about his team's uneven performance Monday as he met with the media for the first time since the Raptors concluded a 40-42 season that saw them miss the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.
"I would be leaving it short if I called it anything less than heartbreaking to be here talking about the off-season that we're about to embark upon," said Colangelo. "It's never easy to look at a team that you feel perhaps underachieved or underperformed, and that was really the story of our season."
But he also went on the offensive, defending a team that was labelled during the season as fractured, soft and incapable of playing playoff-calibre defence.
"This very negative picture being painted about our situation is not as doom-and-gloom as many people want to make it, and I say that with great confidence," said Colangelo.
"We've already gone through an assessment of where we are, where we fell short, what areas of weakness we have, and what we have to address. And those issues will be addressed and fixed in this off-season. We're starting at a place much further along than people like to think. We have a good core, and we have good young players that continue to emerge."
Colangelo said he would like to retain Bosh, who established career highs in points (24.0) and rebounds (10.8), was voted to his fifth all-star game and became the franchise leader in scoring and rebounding. The 25-year-old will likely opt out of the final year of his current contract, making him an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"It's the biggest unknown in our situation right now," said Colangelo. "I still embrace the notion and fully intend to talk about him staying a Raptor, and talk about the possible success that we can have here, and why Toronto is the right place for Chris Bosh. That will all happen in due time."
Colangelo offered Bosh a contract extension in January, but it was turned down. He hopes Bosh will see enough positives in his role with the Raptors to consider staying with the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2003.
"(It) depends on what he is looking to achieve out of free agency," said Colangelo. "There's been talk he wants to be a No. 1 guy ... we have that. If he's content being a No. 2, there's other options for him.
"This city is a place that has grown fond of him, and that I think he has grown fond of. This is a unique opportunity to market himself to an entire country, not just the city of Toronto."
If Bosh can't be re-signed, Colangelo said he won't hesitate to pull the trigger on a sign-and-trade arrangement that would likely see Bosh get a maximum contract, while the Raptors ended up with players, draft picks or both.
"(Bosh is) the guy that's considered the cornerstone of this franchise for the same reason he's considered one of the top-tier free agents out there," said Colangelo. "If you can secure that asset, then you keep the asset. If you can take the asset and turn it into other pieces, then that's what you do.
"Replacing him is going to be difficult. We might not get dollar-for-dollar, but that's not something that I'm sure we were ever going to get."
The Raptors went into the all-star break with a 29-23 record, and were gearing up for a run at possible home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They slipped back to the .500 mark just over a month later, and dropped four of their final five games to finish ninth in the Eastern Conference, one game back of eighth-place Chicago.
Colangelo suggested that chatter about the upcoming 2010 free-agent barrage - Bosh joins superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire on the market - may have been a distraction to his team. He said ankle and facial injuries that felled Bosh for 12 games in the second half of the season didn't help, either.
"Everybody's talking about opportunities in other places, and free agency is a big issue for a few players," said Colangelo. "We came out of the all-star break with 29 wins. In the first game back, Chris Bosh got hurt, and ended up missing 12 games (altogether).
"(The collapse) was injury-related, and it was a host of other things that affected the overall psyche of our team. But it can't be pinned solely of Chris Bosh. It was a collective spiralling of issues."
Colangelo touched on several other topics during the one hour 20 minute news conference. Among them:
- Point guards Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack, who struggled with inconsistency for most of the season: "The combination of Jarrett and Jose has to be looked at, and it's something we'll talk about. They both want to be here, and have professed to not care about starting, but clearly there was some sort of disconnect there, and we need more consistency at that position. We need to truly ascertain that they can co-exist. That will be something that we will heavily scrutinize this summer."
- Swingman Hedo Turkoglu, who struggled in his first season with the Raptors: "(Hedo) remains a talented player, he made some progress down the stretch with the relationship with the coach, perhaps common ground was met on a few issues. He's a solid basketball player, and he can help this team win games. But he needs to be more prepared next year to do so."
- Centre Andrea Bargnani, who excelled in the first of a US$50-million, five-year deal: "I don't know that he'll ever be ready to replace Chris fully, but he'll have the opportunity to assume a much bigger scoring role. There's times where he gets a little bit lost in the offence, but you're talking about a seven-footer who's 25 years old (who has) gotten better every step along the way. Despite the constant criticism of the contract, it is a very good contract, and a lot of people out there in the league seem to agree with us."
- Head coach Jay Triano: "Jay obviously learned a lot this year ... I think this was a learning year for all of us. As he acknowledged, he would probably do a few things differently. If given a chance, he will address those things going forward. He's young in this business, and every coach deserves an opportunity to learn."