Bryan Colangelo wants you to know he's changed. He knows there is a growing sentiment that the Raptors and MLSE should divorce themselves from his influence, but he's not the same man he's been over his first four years, and that if people will give him a chance things will be different. He promises.
You know how everyone believes he's overly protective of and attached to Andrea Bargnani? Not true! He made it emphatically clear that regardless of the fact that he drafted Bargnani first overall, he sees no need to hang on to him just to justify that selection. He explained that Bargnani is merely an 'asset' (a word he used to describe Andrea more than once) and that he may or may not be with the Raptors when the next season tips-off.
You know how he has a reputation in Toronto for short-sighted moves like trading for Jermaine O'Neal or signing Hedo Turkoglu? That's not him anymore! This season, he explained, he was presented with two separate deals that could have cashed in on the massive Chris Bosh Traded Player Exception, but he turned them both down. Why? Because even though both would have put the team into playoff contention, both would have also significantly derailed the team's flexibility going forward, and he is no longer obsessed with sacrificing the future so he can prop-up the present. In fact, even though there is $9-million left of the TPE, he's unlikely to spend it because he wants to maintain cap flexibility going forward. He's all about the future now.
Not only that, but he and head coach Jay Triano made the considered decision to focus on the future by dedicating this season to development, even if the inevitable losses hurt their respective reputations. Colangelo made it clear that both of them understood the individual hits they would take for a 22-win season, but he also made it clear that the strides made by DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson were well worth their personal sacrifice. If they get fired for their willingness to put the team first, so be it, so long as the team is better for their efforts.
*Cue the violins*
Look, while Monday's hour-long press conference may have reeked of a public appeal for his job, the fact of the matter is Colangelo was not only right about almost everything he said, but he also showed a shrewd understanding of what people wanted to hear him say and he said it. Not sold on Bargnani? Neither am I. Want a defensive center? Me too. You enjoy up-tempo basketball? That's my favorite. It's like the man hired a team to troll message boards in the wake of the season's end and made them compile a list of bullet-points that he could plow through on Monday morning. He, more than just about any politician currently running for the head job in the Canadian government, was able to stay on point, argue his case with sincerity and balance the big picture and small picture with equal dexterity. Make no mistake, put this man in front of the press and he knows how to sell himself as well as any executive in the NBA.
While that may seem like a cynical reading of Monday's events, it's not (or at least it's not meant to be). Colangelo did exactly what he needed to do in the wake of a 22-win season, which was explain how he got to that point, lay out a plan detailing how he intends to improve the club, and then explain how he'll continue to execute that plan until the minute he's told to stop, be it tomorrow or five years from now. He knows that he has to appeal to the public for his job as much as he has to appeal to his bosses, and he laid out a somewhat compelling case for why we should look forward and not backward when evaluating him. He has done a solid job importing a strong young foundation, he has done a good job securing as much cap space as he could for this summer, and he has done a good job of prioritizing development, which not only helped his existing players grow but also got him a great spot in the lottery for the draft. Does all of that make up for his past missteps? No, but is the organization looking to punish Colangelo for the past or to evaluate him on his ability to build the team for the future? That should be the real question everyone should be asking.
What good does it do to demonize Colangelo for the past? None. Is his inability to surround Chris Bosh with adequate talent or even keep Bosh at all a fireable offense? Yes, by NBA standards that is certainly a fireable offense. So let's say the Raptors fire him, who should they hire to replace him? Obviously someone particularly adept in the draft, someone who can spot undervalued talent on opposing teams and actually acquire it, and someone who can secure (and preserve) cap space to keep the team financially flexible going forward. Who on the GM free agent market would fit that bill? Well, Jerry West, but he insists he's fully retired. There's Kevin Pritchard, but drafting Greg Oden and paying $80-million for Brandon Roy's balky knees have to weigh against him a bit. There are a handful of other experienced GM's with so-so track records like Mark Warkentien and John Gabriel, but none are exactly in-demand executives at this point in their careers. There are any number of up-and-coming GM's waiting to be plucked from the wings, but while going that route could net you the next Sam Presti, it could also net you the next David Kahn or Rob Babcock. Caveat emptor.
Frankly, considering the qualifications that the Raptors would be in the market for, Colangelo stands as probably the best man for the job. He's got a stellar draft record, has shown an ability to secure emerging talent while in Toronto (Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless) and while in Phoenix (Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw) and he's moved several large contracts in cap-clearing deals (including Stephon Marbury and Hedo Turkoglu). There is also the fact that he showed an ability in Phoenix to groom strong coaches (Scott Skiles, Mike D'Antoni), has two Executive of the Year awards under his belt and has a career .528 winning percentage over his sixteen-year career. It should be noted that his sixteen years as a GM ties him for the most years experience of any active GM in the NBA with R.C. Buford, and in that time he's amassed a lot of strong relationships and a rolodex full of relevant executive and agent contacts. Colangelo knows how to play the behind-the-scenes game, and that politicking counts for something in the NBA.
Fans, the media and even some of Colangelo's bosses seem to want their pound of flesh for the way the last three years have gone in Toronto, and in many circles that would spell the end of Colangelo's tenure with the team. I myself have been severely critical of several of his moves (including acquiring Jason Kapono, Jermaine O'Neal and Hedo Turkoglu). However, he's started something really intriguing over the last twelve months and seeing as how there is no obvious name out there that appears equipped to significantly improve the management of this team with their presence, keeping Colangelo seems like the wisest move at this point in the process. Should he have to leave a few dollars and a few years on the table to atone for his misdeeds? Sure, maybe. The fact is, though, he's the most credible person the Raptors could put in charge of their ongoing rebuilding project, and keeping him comes with the added benefit of much-needed year-to-year consistency. Well, at least it comes with SOME consistency because above all else, it's important to remember; he's changed.