Last summer, the Raps tossed an insane amount of money at Landry Fields, a wing player who cannot shoot at all, partly as a means of blocking the Knicks from trading for the player Toronto really wanted: Steve Nash. The Lakers and Nash’s desire to win a title saved Colangelo from paying Nash something like $10 million per year over three seasons. The Nash-Fields pairing, the team’s intent, would have been a cap catastrophe (captastrophe?).
Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan will earn a combined $20.25 million next season, and though DeRozan is only 23, he hasn’t yet played up to his $9.5 million annual salary. But he’s a good kid, and a hard worker, and Mike Conley’s ascension is a reminder that young guys take some seasoning sometimes.
The Bargnani and DeRozan extensions speak to something of a lack of creativity and/or aggression when it came to Colangelo’s own guys.
It would have taken rare courage for a GM to recognize a sunk-cost no. 1 pick early — to deal him when his value was still relatively high, or to offer him a much lower extension, dare him to take the one-year qualifying offer, etc. But the best GMs make moves that occasionally surprise us, because they are working two steps ahead or have come to some internal conclusion, even an uncomfortable one, about one of their own players. Colangelo struggled to do that with his own guys, and now the Raptors are stuck either paying Bargnani way too much or dealing him for nothing.
And that’s almost surprising, because Colangelo is a smart basketball thinker who has done creative, aggressive stuff in the past. He helped build Phoenix teams that literally changed the league. He had Toronto on the forefront of the international game, in terms of both executives (Masai Ujiri, Maurizio Gherardini) and players (Jorge Garbajosa, Jonas Valanciunas). He made a worthy bet on Kyle Lowry, perhaps the league’s most mercurial talent, and saw early the kind of defense-first leader Amir Johnson might become. He was ahead of the game on Tyson Chandler, very nearly closing a deal for him in 2010 that would have given the Raptors a defense-first center who has changed everything for two franchises since then. (The Bobcats pulled out at the last minute.) He invested early, and aggressively, in advanced analytics.
All of which is to say: Colangelo’s record is spotty, just like the record of basically every GM who sticks around long enough to make a lot of decisions. There is more bad than good, especially with the team’s recent use of cap space, but it’s easy to see how things might have turned out differently had the Raptors won the lottery in the right season. Even so, the Lowry-Gay-Johnson-Valanciunas-DeRozan five-man core has promise; the Raps outscored opponents by nearly 13 points per 100 possessions — a larger number than Oklahoma City’s league-leading margin — in 343 minutes with those five on the floor, and it’s fun to think of how good that group might do on offense if Valanciunas develops and the Raps dare to flip DeRozan — one of their own — for some real outside shooting.