Chastened was the adjective that jumped to mind when watching Bryan Colangelo's state of the Raptors address.
In the recent years he's been defiant (he got all prickly about the idea that he might need to rebuild this time last year). He's tipped close to triumphant on occasion. But this morning he looked a little older, a little worn; less the executive boy wonder and more a guy who has poured his heart into things and realized - as life has a cruel way of reminding us - sometimes all that gets you is a coke and bag of chips, but only if you have three bucks.
My vote is firmly for MLSE to retain Colangelo; the sooner the better and with a contract that shows their commitment to him.
I think the way he handled himself was as good an example as any. As we all know he can spin and lobby for his cause with the best of them; 'you're right, I was wrong' is not a phrase he's ever run through Google Translate.
But in his own way he's been more accountable than he's typically given credit. He never set out to become the face of the franchise when he came from Phoenix, but he very much has been, which has been a less desirable role in the past 18 months than it was before.
And yet he'll answer the questions. He'll make his case - he even invoked the Jorge Garbajosa defense Monday, for old time's sake. The guy will never quit trying.
As absurd as it might seem, he's done some of his best work as a general manager this year. The Raptors pulled a pretty impressive trick as they lost with dignity. It's hard to drop 60 games and not make your fans feel like you're ripping them off and the league want to fine you all the time.
But under Colangelo's watch, with his own contract and the contracts of the rest of the front office staff and the coaching staff hanging in the balance and heading into what will likely be a lockout year, he did what was probably the hardest thing for him to do which was, essentially, not much.
The biggest deal was to move Jarrett Jack's contract for Jerryd Bayless; gaining cap relief and a young player with some potential. Acquiring James Johnson from Chicago for a low first-round pick was also a low-risk move to gain a player with reasonable upside at little cost and no salary cap implications.
But mostly the year was about letting the season run like water down a dry creek bed as an over-matched team with injuries and personel issues found its level and will have the third-best chance to win the first overall pick in the NBA draft lottery. As a man who fusses over decorating touches in the Raptors dressing room and the shade of red on the floor when it was repainted; simply letting things unfold was an act of considerable restraint and sacrifice.
That was accomplished while players like DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson continued to develop; while the roster managed to play hard deep into the fourth quarter most nights. The accusations of his man-crush for Andrea Bargnani have generally been off-base. Sure he made the pick; but the kid has been just good enough to get people fired and will continue to be just that for the rest of his career. Colangelo signed him to a relatively cap-friendly deal of $50-million over five years and there will be no hesitation to trade him now that five years into his career there's a comfort level within the organization that Bargnani is most likely going to be one of those players who looks like an MVP candidate some nights and a decent sixth man some others and shot-hogging stiff everyone once in a while just to confuse things.
Winning is what professional sports is all about; but there's something to be said for an executive who has experienced the heights of industry - putting together 60-win teams; winning executive of the year recognition twice - accepting (perhaps too late or too grudgingly for my tastes) the need to take multiple steps back in order to go forward again.
And, as Colangelo said, there's something to be said for continuity, particularly in a company that simply has no track record of being able to navigate the NBA on their own.
We'd all have more confidence in MLSE if they'd recognized they wanted to fire Colangelo and had an alternative plan in place and made the move in December. That would suggest sports intellects in charge that could plot a clear path and execute.
But that never happened and instead there was the single person most closely identified with a $399-million asset and one of the most influential and respected figures in the sport giving a season-ending press conference qualifying nearly every answer with some version of "If I'm here" and listing his accomplishments like an MBA grad at a job interview: "In terms of passion for the business and dedication to the organization …I would hope people think I am the right guy."
The temptation to light a fire to the whole thing, I'm sure, was real. To just say it's been five years of climbing up hill here; I did some pretty good things; I took some risks and not all of them worked out, but guess what? This is pro sports; not the investment industry. There are no management fees built-in to assure everyone a profit regardless of what happens to market.
Those so eager to see Colangelo move on might want to give a some hard thought to what the Plan B might be.
And as the ping pong balls fall on May 17th and the Raptors end up sliding down instead of up in what is already projecting to be a very weak draft with top prospects opting for the shelter of school rather than the uncertainty of the locked-out NBA, don't be surprised if Colangelo looks around and decides trying to convince the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan that he's the right man for the job just isn't worth a coke or a bag of chips, not for three bucks and a few million times more than that.
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