That was Bryan Colangelo on Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Quelle surprise, I know. It was fairly obvious then, but it warrants examination because it’s kind of a slap to the face of the fan base. It’s no secret I’m generally anti-tanking, and while I understand the other side of the argument, it still drives me nuts.

What’s worse is that in the 2011-12 season, I was a season ticket holder. I paid good money to see more games than the product warranted, and while season tickets bring a lot of benefits, one is the promise of “first dibs” on playoff tickets. Even if it’s just a round, that’s not nothing when a group of five bros is deciding how many seats to split and who wants how many games.

Now obviously Colangelo wouldn’t be so brash as to throw Dwane Casey, his coach at the time, under the bus. That was nice, at least, but he explained what we pretty much all knew was going on:

“I didn’t come out and say Coach, you’ve got to lose games. I never said that. I wanted to establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that. But I wanted to do it in the framework of playing the young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that.”

The basketball gods did not smile on Colangelo that season. It’s hard to say it was karmic punishment given the aggressive tank-job the Golden State Warriors undertook to keep a hold of their pick, which was only top-seven protected, but maybe he had some bad karma built up.

In any case, the final game of the season was The Ben Uzoh Triple-Double Game, where Uzoh played 46 minutes and had 12 points with 11 rebounds and 12 assists, leading the Raptors to a 98-67 victory over the New Jersey Nets, pushing the Raptors record one game ahead of the Nets.

How bad did each team want to lose? Consider the minutes played in this one:

Raptors MIN Nets MIN
Ben Uzoh 46 Jordan Williams 39
Alan Anderson 45 Johan Petro 39
Ed Davis 43 Armon Johnson 34
Gary Forbes 41 MarShon Brooks 31
Solomon Alabi 40 Anthony Morrow 29
James Johnson 19 Gerald Green 25
Jamaal Magloire 5 Sundiata Gaines 23
DeShawn Stevenson 20

Again, I paid money to watch this game. And Solomon Alabi played 40 minutes and then never played in the NBA again. Money better spent on liquor, to be sure.

So the Raptors won, finishing 23-43 and in a tie for seventh-last in the NBA with the Warriors. A lost coin flip later and the Raptors selected Terrence Ross instead of Harrison Barnes, who they reportedly would have taken seventh.

The bigger opportunity cost, however, is that losing that game to the Nets would have had them at 22-44, in a tie for the fifth-worst record in the league with Sacramento. The target was Damian Lillard, who would be drafted sixth overall by Portland with New Jersey’s pick.

Again: lose that game and this team has Lillard instead of Ross. Play your own game of The Butterfly Effect from there and see where the roster would be, but it wouldn’t include Kyle Lowry, it may never have included Rudy Gay and it could still have Bryan Colangelo shaping it.

Tanking didn’t pay off for Colangelo, but it very nearly did.

And the team did “develop” young players, as DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson were top-five on the team in minutes played. They trialed Uzoh, Gary Forbes and Justin Dentmon, too. Nothing really stuck – Johnson was good, anyway, Davis was flipped, and DeRozan’s development actually seemed to take a step back that he didn’t fully recover from until this season.

What’s frustrating in retrospect (and at the time), is that in 2011-12, Colangelo basically decided “we don’t have enough to compete.” Then he decided to go all-in, dealing a first round pick for Kyle Lowry and swinging for the fences with Rudy Gay. If he was rebuilding, he had the core of DeRozan, Davis and Johnson developing, joined by Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. Instead, he pulled the trigger on win-now moves to save his job. It’s hard to fault him as an individual actor trying to save his job, but it’s incredibly easy to fault him for doing a piss-poor job understanding where his team stood at various points in time (a Colangelo-Raptors staple).

Anyway, I know that quote floated around over the weekend but I felt the need to vent further because I spent money and drove to Toronto to see Solomon Alabi play 40 minutes and Ben Uzoh take 19 shots. I suppose Colangelo got his just desserts or whatever, but that probably doesn’t make the fanbase feel any better.

Share this:
  • afrocarter

    I mean…we tanked and ended up drafting Terrence Ross. There were worse possible outcomes.

    • golden

      Well, the worst possible outcome would have been Lillard making the roster just good enough to keep Bargnani on it – with BC still running the show. **Shudder**

      • moderate_observer

        agree. Lillard playing alongside Primo would not be a rookie of the year.

  • Marz

    I don’t care that he said it. I only care that he went “all-in” not a few months later. If you’re going to tank, you can’t just do it for one shortened season!

    • Tee

      They tanked the year before to get Jonas too.

      They picked 5th!

      People love to hate Colangelo.

      • Marz

        And because of that, they were in an excellent position after drafting Terrence Ross. Jose was expiring, we had 3 youngsters in Ed, Ross, and JV. All you have to do is stay the course.

        Instead, we traded away our pick for Lowry in the offseason and tried to swing big shortly after during the season with the gay trade.

        I’m not a Colangelo hater. But I do believe he was impatient.

        • Bryan Colangelo

          It’s a classic case of an executive making bad long-term decisions for an organization to meet short-term goals.

          Happens all the time, in all kinds of business. And like other execs, he was rightfully fired for it.

        • Tee

          That Lowry pick was in the teens.

          How much longer did you want them to tank?
          Derozan lottery pick
          gay lottery pick
          Ross lottery
          JV lottery

          • Marz

            It was in the teens because we traded for Lowry and Gay.

            Anyway, I firmly believe in chemistry and development. Stay the course and keep developing your youngsters.

            Keep in mind I’m anti-tank. But if you’ve started a rebuilding process, you should stick with it.

  • K.J.P

    What were Alabi’s stats that game? LOL.

    • mike, prague

      11PTS on 3-10 shooting and also grabbed 19REBS … always liked that dude, sucked that he never played though

    • peacedawg

      If i remember correctly, Alabi was Masai Ujiri’s pick, when MU was working for BC. He had scouted him in Africa.

  • Nilanka15

    Let that be a lesson to all of us. Don’t buy season tickets when the Raptors have no business making the playoffs. That’s like buying a used car from “Scrappy Joe’s Curbside Clunkers” dealership, and complaining it doesn’t run.

    Need some consumer awareness, Blake 🙂

    • Roarque

      Wow, are you ever arrogant. But I guess other people have already told you that.

      • jakdripr

        Well he is right, why would you buy season tickets to that raptors team?

      • Nilanka15

        I take it you bought season tickets too? lol

        • Roarque

          How’d you know?

  • hateslosing

    I lived in New Brunswick at the time of that game and made plans to go see that game like 8 months before it happened. It is still the only Raptors game I have ever attended in person. You can see how sad this makes me.

    • yolo

      That sucks man I feel for u

    • DDayLewis

      That sucks man. I can’t believe you had to live in New Brunswick.

      • Guest

        Having spent ample time in both locations…. NB > Toronto any day of the week.

        • Guest

          Sorry to harp…
          But I’m not sure if Toronto knows it was a global laughingstock WELL before Ford was smoking crack. Known as a shitty city the world over. Raps are the only good thing in it. And my aunt.

          • NYlivin

            Lol… Toronto is a top 5 North American city and I am not even Canadian..

          • MisterM

            “[Toronto is] known as a shitty city the world over”? Uh, you don’t get out much, do you? I would talk about The Economist and other sources consistently ranking Toronto as one of the best cities in the world, but I think it might be too many syllables for you to comprehend. You probably think Pizza Hut makes good pizza too.
            Thanks for the obtuse and woefully uninformed comment though!
            A Toronto Asshole

        • Nilanka15

          What is this statement based on (other than your opinion)?

  • stretch bigman

    You believe that BC was gonna draft Lilliard? Don’t trust anything he has to say bro!lol

  • moderate_observer

    Tanking is overrated. All the champions since 2000 with the exception of 2006 Heat won through free agency. You can use your superstar that you drafted to increase your odds of pulling a big star in free agency, but thats it. OKC is great, they drafted great players, and have good, player development but most franchises seem unable to replicate OKC and San Antonio in that department.

    • jakdripr

      This is a very good point that I never considered. And it’s looking like the streak is going to continue into this season(unless portland/clippers surprise me in the playoffs).

  • Blair Miller

    WHY aren’t more people reading Colangelo’s recent quote(s) about that season and realizing he was merely describing a rebuilding process – NOT TANKING. Just because he’s grossly misused the term (and has tried to take it back, as Raptors Republic already stated in a Morning Coffee post) doesn’t mean everyone else has to. BOTTOM LINE: Knowing that developing a young roster will bring some losses and/or growing pains (rebuilding) is NOT the same thing as deliberately trying to lose games in order to gain a high draft pick that they probably wouldn’t even get in the lottery anyway. If his comments equate to tanking, then any rebuilding team is tanking.

  • thatpeterguy

    So basically he was equally inept at both winning and losing.

  • RapthoseLeafs

    ” … it warrants examination because it’s kind of a slap to the face of the fan base. It’s no secret I’m generally anti-tanking, and while I understand the other side of the argument, it still drives me nuts.”.

    Ditto here … for the most part.

    I have generally felt strongly about tanking, as I believed it bred mediocrity. But along the way I became able to understand how it might be a great move.

    Take the Lakers for example. They are gunning for a top 5 pick, with a decent chance (plus some luck) to snag Wiggins – who could go 3rd overall. This upcoming draft has potential to be the 2003 Draft’s close shadow. One can imagine Andrew Wiggins being guided by Kobe.

  • Pingback: “I, admittedly, tried tanking.” | Blake Murphy Sports Writing()