Still, I’ve been covering the Raptors regularly since the starting power forward based his lively operation out of a Royal York Hotel corner suite (Charles Oakley circa 1998), and I don’t recall a season that brought as much discussion about the off-court indulgences of the local hoopsters, both in emails from tattling fans and conversations with insiders.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the TMZ age, but as one team employee who was granted anonymity opined: “This year, (the partying) was a little too much.”
Perhaps it’s the double-edged sword of being based here. For most of its 15-season existence, Toronto has been on a mission to sell its merits to U.S.-bred hoopsters. But here’s the truth: most players like the town, and understandably so.
There are NBA wise men who will argue there are reasons for those locations beyond cheaper real estate. Many players in those cities, because they need to be at morning practices in the boonies, don’t live downtown. Not that suburban-dwelling athletes can’t and don’t find late-night entertainment. But maybe partying, when you’re bunking on the fringes, becomes more of an occasional indulgence and less a pastime.
The Raptors’ Air Canada Centre practice court is a don’t-blink cab ride from the Richmond St. club district, and the players mostly live nearby. Pastime distance, for sure. But the Raptors are far more likely to weed the roster than pull up roots for Oakville. And if Colangelo sounded more philosophical than judgmental when he was asked about his team’s lifestyle choices, consider this: Toronto’s GM was an executive in Phoenix when the Suns employed one Charles Wade Barkley, whose late-night tests of his Ruthian constitution are the stuff of legend, not to mention police blotters. Colangelo has seen worse, in other words, and sometimes they played better.
“Every city in the league has temptations,” Colangelo said Tuesday. “Don’t think that Toronto’s any different than downtown Scottsdale, (Ariz.). Don’t think there’s players who played in Phoenix who didn’t go out in Scottsdale all the time. Every city’s got its culture, to where, if you want to go, you can go. It comes down to common sense.”
Today’s Toronto Raptors player review focuses upon the club’s third-string point guard Marcus Banks. To most Raptors fans Marcus is known as the overpaid and underused guard that was thrown into the deal with the Miami Heat to get the contract of Jermaine O’Neal off of the Raptors books prior to the 2009-10 season. Marcus for the most part, rode the pine for the Toronto Raptors, but did find himself thrust into the back-up role when Jose Calderon went down to injury -and stood as much more steady back-up than Raptors fans probably expected. Let’s take a look at Marcus’ limited stats over the course of the year:
I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy, but these last three months have been so painful; looking at a team lost on the defensive boards, struggling whenever its star player is absent and apparently ready to lose that star player in the summer.
Everything went wrong that possibly could, up to and including Chris Bosh’s season-ending facial injury, and in fact it was only on the final two days of the season that the offense which had taken the team so far until January.
That win over the Knicks was fun to watch, and it did prove there is a little depth to the roster, but Toronto will not be scoring 73 points in every first-half, and not every team that turns up next season is going to be defending about as well as the Blue Jays might if they were on court instead.
If Bosh walks and you get the right pieces in return as well as packaging the right assets, and it sounds like a point guard or two will be traded this summer, you could suddenly be a contender. It would make Colangelo’s statement about things not being as bad as they are perceived to be an accurate one. It has always been maintained here that you are never that far away from being a serious contender with just a few of the right moves. But if you consider your GM to be a magician, he better reach into that top hat and pull out a rabbit, and nothing else.
It’s what Mitch Kupchak did in February 1st, 2008 when he acquired Pau Gasol about six months after Kobe Bryant said he was done with the Lakers and wanted to be traded. Now Colangelo did say that Kobe is not available. But the truth is that early on during Colangelo’s tenure in Toronto, rabbit fur was visible in the top hat. That says Colangelo is capable of doing it again but he’d better hurry as impatience is growing amongst some in Raptor nation. Any big changes this summer again bring with it the uncertainty of team chemistry and Toronto may be facing the same issues it did last September. Hopefully they will be able to handle it better this time and locker room cohesiveness won’t be a concern with new faces present.
Major personnel moves also mean spending heavily and Colangelo did acknowledge that MLSE is willing to become a team that pays into the luxury tax if it’s necessary.
The overall message will probably strike most fans as sobering, but one cannot say it was wholly unexpected. Colangelo feels that this team is not as far off as people want to believe from being consistently competitive and he’s throwing his support behind the people that he’s brought into the fold (Bargnani, DeRozan, Triano) to make that happen for the time being. While fans might be clamoring for a tear-down, that was never going to be a likely scenario given how much time and money has been thrown into creating the current core. Of course tweaks will be made and the team has a lottery pick to play with this June, but a massive reworking simply isn’t in the cards for this club. Good teams build slowly, and Colangelo for the first time as the Raptors GM spoke as though he was prepared to live that mantra rather than simply overhaul again to appease the media or the fans. He knows that his reputation and potentially even his job could rest on the line, but sports executives don’t succeed when they take overly-cautious approaches to their job. No one, including Colangelo, is naïve enough presume that this current path the Raptors are on is certain to succeed, but it should be at least a little encouraging to fans that their team is being led by someone with some conviction about his work rather than a dithering executive who acts as though he’s making it all up as he goes along. You may not like the book, but you have to acknowledge that they story is at least consistent.
The Future – Hurts to say this, but I just can’t see how this team is going to improve in the short to medium term. Barring a miracle on draft lottery day (the Raps have a 0.7% chance of winning the lottery), there is no reason to think this team can pick up a major piece given the current salary cap situation. While Bosh may bring something of value back in a sign-and-trade, there is little evidence to suggest that it will be in the form of a great player. Colangelo has committed to trading one of the point guards, but whose going to offer up anything of value for Calderon? And are we really going to get more value than Jack at $5 million a year? One thing is for sure, if this team can’t find players who can excel on the defencive side of the floor, we are headed for further finishes in the lottery.
Bryan Colangelo is heading into the last year of his contract with the Raptors (next season). Given that this is the most important summer in recent memory for the Raps, the MLSE board needs to decide right now what they want to do with Colangelo. You can’t hand the keys to your organization – and your future – to a guy that is in the final year of his contract. Thus, you need to make a decision on him right now. If it were up to me, I’d give Colangelo an extension right now. I know Jack Armstrong feels the same way — we both chatted about this on The Game Plan on Monday afternoon. Colangelo is not without fault. Two straight years out of the post-season is not a traditional time to be handing out extensions either. However, for the stability of your present and future you need to ensure that the man orchestrating and directing that future is a part of it.
By in large, Raptor fans are speaking with their wallets. The Raptors are down almost 1,000 fans per game in average attendance and finished 14th in home attendance. This is the second consecutive decline in attendance. The Men in Red played in front of only seven sell-outs, the lowest since the Babcock era.
Season seat holders have until May 3rd to commit for 2010-2011. Interesting that many I have spoken to are either walking away now or will not put down a dime until the first week of July. Can’t blame them.
My season ticket partner mentioned that he may not renew next season. That’s fine with me. Spending $400 to attend a dozen or so games is very pricey – particularly to watch a lower eschelon on-court product.
Who in their right mind would want to invest thousands of dollars in season tickets within the next two weeks when they have know idea what kind of team they’ll be watching? There are too many unanswered questions.
There are many possible potential moves, but you have to believe that either Jarrett Jack or Jose Calderon, or both, will not be in a Raptor uniform come this October. Popular demand is to see Calderon go, but Jack has a more affordable contract and may be the one to move.
Marcus Banks and his expiring contract is as good as out the door as the Raptors will look to take back salary and potentially remain over the salary cap.
Amir Johsnon and Sonny Weems will both be retained if the price is right, with rumours having the Raptors getting set to offer the MLE to Amir Johnson.
Hedo Turkoglu, who most Raptor fans want to trade, will likely remain with the Raptors as both Triano and Colangelo both indicated that they expect improvements from him next year. There is still a chance he gets dealt in the off-season, potentially as part of a sign-and-trade, but don’t hold your breath Raptor fans.