Bryan Colangelo has never made a basket since he was acquired from the Phoenix Suns to be the club's new president and general manager in the winter of 2006, but he's lent the franchise a thick sheen of credibility thanks to his track record with one of the NBA's most respected franchises.
For a year he could do no wrong, it seemed, as the engineered the Raptors surprising 47-win 2006-07 season seemingly from nothing.
But from that high-point the Raptors have been in retreat: 41 wins in 2007-08; 33 wins last year. This season was supposed to mark a resurgance and a case made to franchise cornerstone Chris Bosh that Toronto was the place his career goals could be met.
Instead it's been lurches, and false starts, with a playoff position hanging by a thread, speculation about Bosh's departure rampant. And for the first time since Colangelo arrived, polished as a fine gem stone, there is in some quarters the perception that management is as much a problem as anything that happens on the court. Here are five ways that Colangelo's recent mis-steps hurt the Raptors this season.
1) Managing expectations
The Toronto Raptors are on the cusp of a playoff spot one season removed from having missed the postseason badly and, normally, would be basking in their modest success. But general manager Bryan Colangelo deserves heat for setting his team up for second-guessing even as it is 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. But Colangelo was in no mood for underpromising when the team gathered to start the 2009-10 season. Shooting for a target of 50 wins? "Yeah, I think that's what we should be realistically looking at," he said back then. 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 the next 35. But in the guts of the season, the Raptors folded (7-16 in their past 23 before last night) after Colangelo elected to stand pat at the trade deadline, showing faith in a team he assembled, only to be let down.
2) Too much for Turkoglu
The Orlando Magic made it to the 2009 NBA finals with Hedo Turkoglu playing some of the best basketball of his career. And yet, Magic GM Otis Smith made Turkoglu an excuse-me contract offer (by NBA standards) of four years and $35-million (U.S.) 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 last 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."
3) Drafting DeRozan
Colangelo seemed unaccountably confident about drafting ninth overall. He'd had success drafting there before in his time with the Phoenix Suns, he reasoned, citing Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion as examples. Just like it's not accurate to suggest Andrea Bargnani, taken first overall in 2006, is a bust, neither is DeMar DeRozan, the 20-year-old the Raptors selected out of USC last summer. But a draft class that was deemed average in advance has turned out some players who have shone where DeRozan has only glimmered. Point guards Jrue Holiday (17th overall, Philadelphia) and Darren Collison (21st, New Orleans) have opened eyes around the league. Both are the type of water bugs that are thriving in a more wide-open league, and both are considerably cheaper than Raptors guards Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack ($45-million combined over the next three seasons). Drafting a point guard might have allowed the Raptors to avoid signing Jack, preserving salary flexibility going forward.
4) 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 in 2004. DeRozan was drafted to provide bounce and speed in transition, but Toronto has been routinely outplayed at the shooting guard spot this season, too. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks added John Salmons in a trade at the deadline for a pair of expiring contracts (Toronto's Amir Johnson and Antoine Wright would have matched Salmons's incoming deal). Salmons has averaged 20 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists since the all-star break for the surprising Bucks. In need of veteran depth, toughness and scoring? The Bucks are 27-11 since adding 35-year-old Jerry Stackhouse to the rotation last January. The Raptors have tried to rectify their situation from within by starting Sonny Weems, with some success.
5) 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 big men Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh would yield a team that would win 50 games and a playoff round, at least. Instead, by the New Year, the Raptors were already looking like postseason outsiders. An obvious move would have been to begin manoeuvring for draft position. The Raptors resisted, and even finished on a 9-4 run. A 2-11 finish and the Raps would have drafted sixth, with a chance to take odds-on NBA rookie of the year candidate Stephen Curry. A few more stumbles and the Raps would have been in position to take Ricky Rubio, a Spanish point guard tabbed for stardom. Either would have provided the Raptors something sorely missing at the end of a bleak season: Hope.
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