It was a familiar refrain from Bryan Colangelo.
The Toronto Raptors president and general manager said Wednesday that he’s feeling good about the NBA team’s building blocks, has a plan is in place for the future and that player development remains paramount.
But there was one noticeable tweak to his annual pre-season media availability at Air Canada Centre. Colangelo has a new term to describe his vision for a team that’s coming off a disappointing 22-60 season.
"We’re not talking about rebuilding anymore," Colangelo said. "I’m stealing a line from coach (Dwane) Casey. What we’re talking about now is building."
Casey, who was named head coach in June, joined the GM at the availability with Colangelo’s new right-hand man, executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski.
"It’s going to be about creating a new culture, a new system, implementing that system," Colangelo said. "And again, maintaining and sticking to the plan. But we’re past rebuilding, we’re now in the building phase."
What remains unclear is how long the process will take.
DeRozan, who met with the media on Wednesday after taking to the court just hours after arriving in Toronto from California, said he is eager to get working under a revamped defensive system.
“I love it,” said DeRozan, who averaged 17.2 points per game in his sophomore season — including 23.1 per in eight April contests.
Though new head coach Dwane Casey, the architect of Dallas’ title-winning defence is not yet allowed to meet with his new charges, DeRozan knows what to expect.
“I can’t wait to learn the system, see the schemes that he’s got going on. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us and I think it’s going to be fun.”
That’s not to say the noted gym rat isn’t also looking forward to showing off his new offensive wrinkles, even against opposing defences that will now make stopping him a primary objective.
“I had to deal with (defences focusing on me) in high school, I had to deal with it in college, I’ve just got to prepare myself,” DeRozan said.
“I worked extremely hard this summer for whatever comes my way.”
With a team that finished low in the pecking order a year ago, with a 22-60 record, Colangelo has a lot of holes to fill, specifically at centre and guard positions.
But, the GM said, don’t expect the Raptors to go out and try to spend their way out of their problems, at least not this year.
“One thing I will tell you, we have a plan in place … and we’re going to stick to that plan,” Colangelo said during a briefing on the upcoming season with reporters at the Air Canada Centre, flanked by new head coach Dwane Casey and Stefanski.
That plan includes the ongoing development of core players such as DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, along with Jonas Valanciunas, their first-round pick in the 2011 draft.
Colangelo threw cold water on a recent flurry of Internet reports that suggested the seven-foot Valanciunas was negotiating a buyout with his European pro team so he could join the Raptors this season. That’s not going to happen, Colangelo said.
Going forward, the GM said he will be looking to sign or trade for players – “system pieces” is how he referred to them – that have shorter contracts so as not to affect the team’s financial flexibility moving forward.
If all goes according to plan, Colangelo said he expects to have between $10-million to $20-million (U.S.) in salary cap flexibility to play with for the 2012-13 season.
Stefanski was in Latvia where Valanciunas dominated his own age group in the Under-19 world championships. Not only did he lead Lithuania to a gold medal in the tournament but he was an easy pick as tournament MVP averaging 23 rebounds 13.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.
Stefanski was also in Lithuania the following month where Valanciunas joined the senior Lithuanian team and helped them to a fifth-place finish that earned them a berth in the 2012 FIBA Olympic qualifier.
Playing against men this time around Valanciunas did not dominate but neither was he overmatched. Playing in 10 of the 11 games for his home country in front of his countrymen, Valanciunas played just under half as many minutes a game as he did in the Under-19 tournament yet still averaged 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds while leading Lithuania in blocks with 11 in those 10 games he played.
“You can see the kid has a chance but to have a 7-footer like that with his personality is unusual,” Stefanski said. “Usually 7-footers or big men are mostly reserved but this kid shows a lot of energy, is a good leader and on the court he plays with an intensity.”
Stefanski said his leadership was unmistakable at the Under-19 championships but even playing with the senior national team he more than held his own.
Having seen him prosper at both levels, Stefanski sees only positives in having him spend an entire season competing against men before coming over to join his NBA club.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world that he has to play another year over there,” Stefanski said.
The Raptors plan to be tougher minded as a group. Casey spoke of instilling a “pack-it-in, zone-it-up” defensive scheme that amounts to building barricades up the middle. They promise to work harder, which is the sort of thing the last guy you want for the job is always promising.
Like developers holding waterfront property (which they sort of are), the Raptors are inviting fans to buy in cheap before the crowds start showing up.
The (rest of the) downside?
They aren’t holding out little hope of win-loss success. They’re holding out none.
Someone asked Colangelo to define what a “successful” season would mean to this team.
“To put ourselves in the position to hit the ground running the following season, that will be deemed a success,” he said in part.
You hear that sound? That was the sound of a dozen Christmas bonuses evaporating into nothingness at MLSE’s group-sales division.
Though he was precluded from talking specifically about additions to the thinned roster, Colangelo made it clear that there will be no surprise splashes on the Tyson Chandlers of the world.
Whatever human gristle is used to pad out this roster will be exactly that.
“To say that we’re going to race out and sign someone to a significant contract is probably not the case, unless it’s a one-year deal. We have contemplated a few of those scenarios, or acquiring a player in a trade with a one-year scenario,” Colangelo said.
If there was any debate about who is the glue on the Raptors’ 2011 roster, it ended yesterday when guard Leandro Barbosa walked into the team’s practice gym for the first time since last spring.
DeMar DeRozan, who seconds earlier had been busy running drills with teammates, broke away from the pack and made a bee-line to Barbosa, quickly engulfing him in a bear hug.
Then it was Jose Calderon’s turn, followed by Ed Davis, at which point Barbosa finally worked his way into the weight room away from prying eyes.
Barbosa may not like the cold temperatures here in Toronto — he swore it was the chief reason free agent and fellow Brazilian Nene likely wouldn’t consider the city in his future plans — but there is no question he is the heart and soul of the lineup.
The Raptors are inching closer to adding their first Canadian player in franchise history.
While no contracts can be signed until Friday afternoon — and Toronto fans know better than anyone that no NBA deal is done until it’s signed, sealed and delivered — Jamaal Magloire is poised to join the team and give it some much-needed front court depth.
Magloire, the Toronto native about to enter his 12th NBA season, would be coming on a one-year, veteran minimum deal worth slightly more than $1 million a season as president and general manager Bryan Colangelo tries to maintain financial flexibility for a year from now.
Reports from both TSN and the Palm Beach Post have the Raptors poised to bring in Toronto-born Jamaal Magloire on a one-year deal. A source familiar with negotiations told the National Post on Wednesday evening that while the move remains a strong possibility, nothing could be done until Friday. It is believed the league will not allow player transactions to go through until Friday at 2 p.m. The new collective bargaining agreement must be ratified by both the players and the league first.
The Raptors have just 10 players under contract, and president and general manager Bryan Colangelo said on Wednesday that he would be looking to bring in a third point guard, a small forward and two big men, preferably all on one-year contracts. Magloire would qualify as one of those big men. It has long been believed that Magloire would not mind returning to his hometown. He does a considerable amount of charity work in the area.
I’m really curious to see if Jerryd Bayless can play extended nightly minutes and help you win as a point guard in this league. He showed me some good flashes at times last year. He can score – he’s kind of a 1 1/2, 1 3/4 type of point guard. He needs to show that he can run a club and make the necessary reads and adjustments on the floor and make others better and do it without losing his cool and getting baited by opponents. He’s a tough guy and competes – I like that. He has a chance to be a good player. He’s on his third pro team – it’s time to take another step and become a polished lead guard. I’m excited to see him grow and mature as a player.