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Southern California's DeMar DeRozan dunks during the second half of a second-round men's NCAA college basketball tournament game in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone)
Southern California's DeMar DeRozan dunks during the second half of a second-round men's NCAA college basketball tournament game in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone)

Raptors draft DeRozan Add to ...

Bryan Colangelo lives for days like yesterday. He's not in the NBA to protect his retirement or to avoid getting fired. He has twice won the award as NBA executive of the year, and has one of the most famous last names in basketball to soften the fall if it comes to that.

"He loves to make deals," said one NBA executive who knows the Toronto Raptors' president and general manager well. "It's driving him crazy that he's not doing them."

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For all those times when sports fans complain that the build-up to milestones - trade deadlines or the draft, which took place last night - are more hype than substance, there are days like yesterday when it's all happening and Colangelo could only watch.

Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers before lunch, and Vince Carter was dealt before dinner, sent to the Orlando Magic by the New Jersey Nets.

Before that, lowly Washington, poised to welcome back Gilbert Arenas, peddled their No.5 pick to Minnesota for Randy Foye and Mike Miller, two players who will easily fit in the Wizards' rotation. The Atlanta Hawks added Jamal Crawford, another end-of-the-shot-clock scorer on the perimeter whom the Raptors have struggled to cover. The New York Knicks took a flier on the enigmatic Darko Milicic by trading Quentin Richardson and cash to the Memphis Grizzlies, the kind of low-risk move that could help the Knicks contend at the bottom of the East.

Detroit, with loads of salary-cap room, was busy kicking tires. Boston, an apparent rift developing between the club and point guard Rajon Rondo, was making pitches. The San Antonio Spurs reinvigorated themselves by adding Richard Jefferson in a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Phoenix Suns all but hung a for-sale sign on Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

During all of this, Colangelo could only fiddle, caught between not wanting to gut his team of the quality pieces it does have, and other teams not exactly knocking down doors for Joey Graham, Kris Humphries, Roko Ukic and Nathan Jawai.

Those who talked to Colangelo yesterday say he was working the phones as diligently as ever, and when he briefly emerged from the Raptors' preparation room shortly before the draft went live in New York, he looked it, his suit unusually wrinkled as if he'd spent the day slumped in a chair, trying to crack a problem on an exam.

Internally they rate last season's team as capable of playing .500 basketball in the getting tougher Eastern Conference, that's with Shawn Marion - the biggest domino, Colangelo says - at small forward and Carlos Delfino at shooting guard.

They believe the deal they made this month to acquire bruiser Reggie Evans in exchange for Jason Kapono moves the needle past half full (or empty, depending on where you stand), if only by adding some snarl to a front court long on finesse in the form of Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani.

They hope last night's selection of DeMar DeRozan out of the University of Southern California will upgrade the team's athleticism.

And if there are those who longed for Colangelo to tear it all up and build from scratch after slipping from 47 to 41 to 33 wins in the past three seasons, easier said than done.

The Raptors weren't flooded with offers - at least reasonable ones - for Bosh. Trading Bargnani now that he's showing signs of blossoming seems unlikely. That pair's volume-shooting ways mean Marion is a good fit alongside them, and a shrinking market means the three years and $21-million (U.S.) the team has budgeted to pay him might just get it done.

Hitting singles may not be the most exciting way to go while big names are flipped like trading cards. Will Colangelo be able to resist taking a rip for the fences?

"There's a lot of water still to flow under the bridge," Colangelo said last night.

Stay tuned.

 

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