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Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas talks to reporters being taken by the Toronto Raptors with the No. 5 pick during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)
Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas talks to reporters being taken by the Toronto Raptors with the No. 5 pick during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)


Raptors underwhelm once more Add to ...

So that's it then, Toronto: Time to cheer for a long labour stoppage.

Or a trade.

Just days after hiring Dwane Casey as head coach to pretty much a universal thumbs-up, Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo torched much of whatever currency he had left by using the fifth pick of Thursday's NBA draft to select 6-foot-11 centre Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania.

It will not go down as a popular move in a city that has soured on international players due to Andrea Bargnani's benign interest in reaching his potential, Hedo Turkoglu's sullen tenure and Jose Calderon's boyish charm and total lack of defensive intuition.

Casey came down from the Raptors draft war room early, and gave it a good go in selling the choice of the 19-year-old Valanciunas, whose contract with Lietuvos Rytas is subject to buyout negotiations that could keep him away from the NBA for a year.

Senior adviser Wayne Embry is said to have compared him favourably to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, while Casey said Valanciunas is better at his age than Tyson Chandler and that the decision was made "according to our roster," which he added, included "umpteen million guards" but lacked "rim protection, length and athleticism in the middle."

Casey is new to these parts. His most recent experience with European players is Dirk Nowitzki and winning a title this month with the Dallas Mavericks. That's different than the stigma attached to international basketball players in Toronto.

Casey said he "didn't care if he was from outer space," such is Valanciunas' skill-set.

Now, he's done it: Colangelo will probably draft somebody from outer space next season.

The point guard that many thought was bound for the Raptors, Brandon Knight of Kentucky, lasted until the Detroit Pistons took him eighth overall in a draft that took an early detour when Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., was selected fourth by the Cleveland Cavaliers. (In most mock drafts, Thompson was no higher than eighth and as low as 13th.)

Colangelo said the Raptors would have traded their fifth pick had Valanciunas been off the board, although he added quickly that another international project, Bismack Biyombo, was second on their draft board. Biyombo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, went seventh to the Charlotte Bobcats.

The NBA could lose much of the 2011-12 season due to labour issues, so that puts a new twist on Valanciunas's buyout situation and could mean a year of free development on somebody else's dime, which might be to the best.

Valanciunas averaged 11.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in the Lithuanian league and averaged 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in the Euroleague.

Perhaps the best news of the night was a line slipped in by Casey, who said the organization had a "plan in place for the centre position," that involved free agents.

After Thursday's draft, Colangelo better knock one out of the free-agent park as soon as the labour picture clears.

He talked after the Valanciunas pick about all the e-mail and text messages he received from his peers congratulating him and how much they like his team. (Even if that's entirely true, who cares?)

Colangelo reiterated he was not worried about "instant gratification," and soothing the masses.

Brave words, but if you're like me this morning, you feel as if Colangelo owes you one.

You feel more than just a shade underwhelmed.

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