The jolting news Wednesday that Brian Burke had been relieved of his duties running the Toronto Maple Leafs sent shock waves throughout the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. empire.
And perhaps the strongest reverberations were felt in the office of Bryan Colangelo, president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors, Burke’s counterpart in the organization’s basketball department.
“Hockey is certainly at the forefront, so I’m sure a number of people were affected by it,” Colangelo said.
But he denied Burke’s sudden removal would have any affect on how he goes about his day-to-day task of trying to improve a Raptors team that – like the Maple Leafs in the NHL – haven’t exactly been a world-beater within the NBA under his watch.
“I was surprised when I learned of [Burke’s firing],” Colangelo said prior to Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre.
“Other than that, I’m worried about our upcoming game and continuing to execute the plan that we’re executing and making our basketball team better.”
The Raptors (13-22) helped allay some of the tension that had built up within the ACC, dispatching the 76ers (15-22) by a healthy margin, 90-72.
Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 19 points apiece for the Raptors, who snapped a two-game losing string.
The kind folks who run MLSE haven’t exactly been reticent in dispatching the hired help of late. Just a few days before Burke learned of his fate, the company’s soccer team, Toronto FC, fired head coach Paul Mariner after another losing season (and Mariner’s one and only season with TFC).
Colangelo, who took over the top basketball post in February of 2006, has been under more scrutiny of late as the Raptors have missed the playoffs the last four years, failing to finish any higher than in ninth place among the 15-team Eastern Conference.
And when the Raptors lost 19 of their first 23 games in 2012-13, it was felt changes to the basketball hierarchy was just a matter of time.
A recent run of good fortune, during which the Raptors had won eight of their last 11 heading into Wednesday’s contest, has curtailed much of that talk for the time being.
Colangelo’s contract runs out at the end of the season, and the club holds an option on whether to invite him back for more.
“We’re all being evaluated all the time,” MLSE president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi said Wednesday, when asked about Colangelo’s status during the announcement of Burke’s firing. “Bryan and his team are in the midst of a rebuilding process, and that’s what you always want to see, a process.”
Anselmi went on to say: “We’re going to have to make a decision at some point in the next few months” on whether to pick up the option on Colangelo’s contract.
While Colangelo would not comment on Anselmi’s words, he did say he is comfortable in his leadership role and confident the young core of talent, including DeRozan, he has been nurturing the last couple of years will pay off down the road.
“Again, this year was not necessarily about making the playoffs,” the Raptors GM said. “It was make sure we took a step forward. Our goal internally was to try to compete for the playoffs, and that’s what we’re still hopeful to do.”
Colangelo said he has kept the MSLE board informed of his plans all the way along.
“We’re executing a plan that we outlined and defined for everyone 2 1/2 years ago,” he said. “When the new board [at MLSE] came on, I outlined where we were in the process of implementing that plan and executing that plan.
“I’ve given them scheduled updates, I’ve given them unscheduled updates when things got off to a little bit of a rough start. But I know that we’re very comfortable with the path we’re following.”