The Toronto Raptors are on the cusp of a playoff spot a season removed from having missed the postseason badly, and normally would be basking in their modest success, enjoying being feted rather than fried. But Colangelo deserves heat for setting his team up for second guessing even as they're grasping for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. After flurry of off-season activity the Raptors came to training camp on a ripple of wait-and-see optimism for a lineup that was intriguing but unproven. But Colangelo was in no mood for under-promising when the team gathered to start the 09-10 season. "So are you shooting for a target of 50 games? Yeah, I think that's what we should be realistically looking at," he said way back when. Those words were ringing hollow when the Raptors started 7-13 but seemed somehow justified when the team righted itself and went 24-11 over their next 35 games. But in the guts of the season the Raptors folded (7-16 in their past 23) after Colangelo elected to stand pat at the trade deadline, showing faith in a team he assembled only to be let down.
Too much for Turkoglu
The Orlando Magic made it to the NBA Finals with Hedo Turkoglu playing some of the best basketball of his career in the playoffs, and yet Magic general manager Otis Smith made Turkoglu an excuse me offer (by NBA standards) of four years and $35-million and then traded for Vince Carter of all people, in an effort to get Orlando a championship for aging owner Rich Devos. Smith denied comments attributed to him - "You're not missing anything" -- he was said to have told the Portland Trail Blazers after Colangelo swept in with a dramatic late bid to sign Turkoglu from under Portland's nose this past summer. But as Turkoglu's worst statistical season in six years comes to a close with four years and more than $40-million remaining on the 31-year-old's contract, perhaps Smith should step up and say 'I told you so.' In a depressed free agent market good players - Linas Kleiza for example - were available for a fraction of the cost and with much less long-term risk.
Colangelo seemed unaccountably confident about drafting ninth overall. He'd had success drafting their before, he reasoned, citing Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, as examples. Just like it's not accurate to suggest Andrea Bargnani, taken No.1 overall in 2006 is a bust, neither is DeRozan, the 20-year-old taken out of USC. But a draft class that was deemed average in advance has turned out some players who have shone where DeRozan has only glimmered. Two point guards Jrue Holiday (17th overall, Philadelphia) and Darren Collison (21st overall, New Orleans) have opened eyes around the league since the all-star break, Collison in particular, with averages of 18.3 points, 8.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds on 47-per-cent shooting while filling in for injured Chris Paul. Both are the type of waterbugs that are thriving in a more wide-open league, and both are considerably cheaper than Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack will getting paid $45-million (US) over the next three seasons. Drafting a rookie point guard might have allowed the Raptors to avoid signing Jack a free agent, preserving salary flexibility going forward.
Failing to find a two guard
It is the most dynamic position in the NBA, but the Raptors have been without a top-tier shooting guard since Vince Carter was traded. DeRozan was drafted to provide the bounce and speed in transition Anthony Parker lacked, but Toronto has been routinely outplayed at the shooting guard spot this season too. Meanwhile the Milwaukee Bucks were able to add John Salmons in a trade at the deadline with Chicago for a pair of expiring contracts (Amir Johnson and Antoine Wright would have matched Salmons incoming deal). Salmons has averaged 20 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists since the All-Star break for the surprising Bucks, one of the NBA's best teams in that stretch. In need of veteran depth, toughness and scoring? The Bucks are 27-11 since adding 35-year-old Jerry Stackhouse to the rotation in January. The Raptors have tried to rectify the situation from within by starting Sonny Weems with some success.
Neglecting to tank when the tanking was good
In a sport where a single player can have a massive impact, drafting future stars is essential. In 2008-09 the Raptors started the season even more optimistically, with Colangelo hopeful that pairing Jermaine O'Neal with Chris Bosh would yield a team that would win 50 games and a playoff round at least. Instead it was a match that didn't work and by the New Year the Raptors were already looking like post-season outsiders. An obvious move would have been begin maneuvering for draft position, the Raptors resisted and even finished on a fool's gold 9-4 run to finish last season. A 2-11 finish and the Raptors would have drafted sixth with a chance to take odds-on Rookie-of-the-year candidate Stephen Curry, son of popular former Raptor Dell Curry and a rare rookie who would have relished playing in Canada. A few more stumbles and the Raptors would have been in position to take Ricky Rubio, a rangy Spanish point guard tabbed for stardom and taken fifth overall by Minnesota.
Either would have provided the Raptors something sorely missing at the end of a bleak season: hope.
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