At one memorable point in Bryan Colangelo’s end-of-season press conference on Monday, the Raptors GM referred to Andrea Bargnani, the club’s starting centre, as “the enigma of enigmas, to you and many.” Colangelo called the Italian “far from a perfect player.” And he was only getting warmed up.
“I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a better defensive player than he is. Can he be a better rebounder? Absolutely,” Colangelo said of Bargnani. “And that becomes, I believe, a mindset. It’s something that we talked about. It’s a little late to be having this conversation now, as I indicated to Andrea post-season. We know he can rebound, but he doesn’t focus on it. . . . That’s a desire thing. And that’s something he’s going to have to come to grips with.”
For Colangelo, whose podium appearances often detour into marketing-brochure bafflegab, the realistic evaluation of Bargnani’s weaknesses amounted to a refreshing reversal of message. Colangelo’s Monday message, coming as it did with his contract set to expire and his franchise in a midst of a painful rebuilding process, went something like this: From this day forward, Bargnani, the jump-shooting 7-footer who was once the franchise’s coddled sacred cow, is going to be held to account along with the rest of the replaceable schleps. And if he doesn’t come to grips with defensive desire?
Colangelo spent Monday pointing out, among many things, that no Raptor is untradeable. And just in case you were worried he was sinking Bargnani’s value in the process — well, Colangelo made the salesman’s point, too, that Bargnani remains both a “matchup nightmare” and an unknown quantity, since he has yet to be paired with a legitimately sized centre who could paper over the Italian’s deficiencies.
Nobody knows if Colangelo will be around to trade Bargnani, whom the GM selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft. The folks at parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment do limbo better than many double-jointed Trinidadians. Colangelo’s contract status remains unresolved, as has been reported in this space, thanks in part to anti-Colangelo sentiments harboured by a representative of the pension plan that owns the bulk of the operation. That there’s a swirl of other unknowns in the air — not least the pension plan’s potential unloading of its 66 per cent stake—makes it difficult to handicap the future.
Still, Colangelo, along with acknowledging his many mistakes during his five-year stay in Hogtown, made a compelling case for his re-signing. He pointed out that, with a new set of salary-cap rules on the horizon, he has navigated three previous shifts in the league’s economic system during his 16 seasons as a GM. And he cited this past season’s work to set up the club’s long-term future, wherein he claimed to have resisted the urge to make at least two unspecified deals that could have, in Colangelo’s assessment, made the Raptors a contender for a playoff spot, albeit to the long-term detriment of the picture.
“I think I’ve shown an ability to sacrifice,” said Colangelo.
He wasn’t exclusively self-congratulatory. And the humility — again, not a regular fixture of Colangelo media sittings — was appropriate.
“Overall, defensively, we have to get better. Is it all personnel? To some degree, yes, and I’ll take my share of the blame for that,” Colangelo said. “I’ve made some very good draft picks. I’ve made some bad draft picks. I’ve made some good trades. I’ve made some bad trades. . . . One thing I would say is that continuity in this business is pretty important. The ebb and flow of winning and losing, it happens to almost every franchise, some more than others.”
Was Colangelo, in his media session, guilty of embellishments? Of course. At one point the GM pointed out that DeMar DeRozan’s second-year numbers stand, by comparison, better than the sophomore stats of Kobe Bryant, among others. Perhaps. But Bryant, in his second year, was 19 years old (to DeRozan’s 21) and playing on a 61-win Western Conference finalist; DeRozan isn’t verging on Bryant’s class of player, and there’s no sense pretending he is — which is not to say he isn’t an improving asset. And certainly fans are tired of hearing Colangelo lament the fallout of Jorge Garbajosa’s 2007 leg injury which, incredibly, the GM found a way to weave into his morning meanderings; if a franchise can be felled by a setback to a 6-foot-8 Spaniard who averaged 8.5 points a game, the franchise had foundational issues.
Still, for all of Colangelo’s mistakes — and he held firm to his insistence that there was no acceptable deal on the table for Chris Bosh in the months before Bosh escaped to Miami — he has set the table for the possibility of a turnaround. He’ll need luck. He (or whoever is running the place) will need to endure more short-term pain (because not even Colangelo was willing to offer a guess about when this club will find itself in the post-season again). And he’ll need to hit that draft-day home run (and preferably two, given the expected relative superiority of the 2012 class to this year’s crop).
More to the point, given that he’s the guy in the job, that there’s pressing business to handle in the coming months, and that MLSE has a dubious history of striking interminable search committees that don’t always hit the talent jackpot — well, at this point, is there really a viable option but to allow Colangelo to stay the course on a relatively short-term leash?
“We’re geared up for the future,” Colangelo said. “The question is, is it going to take place? . . . If I’m here, and I’m able to finish (the rebuilding job), that’s my preference. If I’m not here, I’m going to walk out of here with my head high knowing I did everything I could while I was here.”