These are strange times at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, as the organization exists in a profitable sort of limbo. The owners are just putting the finishing touches on the For Sale sign — the fine print says “Best Offers Only,” one suspects — and soon, they will find out whether anybody is interested enough to hand over $1.3-billion or so for two-thirds of the pie.
It’s the kind of contest that will involve colossuses, either individual or corporate. It will re-make Toronto’s sporting scene, if an actual sale ever comes to pass. It will, quite obviously, be big.
Which makes the fate of Bryan Colangelo seem a little small, even if the short — and potentially long-term future of the Toronto Raptors depends on it. His contract is up at the end of June; ownership has not yet seen fit to extend it. There is said to be resistance at the board level, thanks in part to Teachers Pension Plan representative Glen Silvestri, who believes it’s time to let Colangelo go. The general manager has his supporters, sure. But Teachers, until they sell, is in charge.
“It’s unchanged,” Colangelo said Monday. “The status is unchanged. A week ago it was unchanged. Today it was unchanged. I cannot share with you more. It’s kind of pointless to speculate what I might be doing or where I might be. Right now I’m here and I’m focused on what needs to be done to make this place better.”
And so, limbo. Colangelo continues to prepare for the draft and free agency, which may not actually happen until after a lockout rewrites many of the rules; ESPN’s highly respected basketball reporter, Marc Stein, wrote Wednesday that MLSE is ready to install the 74-year-old Wayne Embry in as a temporary measure, perhaps even before the draft, if need be.
Embry, of course, is the wise man who foisted Jalen Rose off on New York in his brief but productive stage-setting turn before Colangelo got here in the first place. Whether he’s ready to run a draft, nobody knows; if he can, since a lockout may result in the NBA shutting its doors for rather a long time, maybe a temporary GM wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario. But as the Leafs demonstrated, when you enter a new ecosystem, you’d sure as hell better have the right man in charge.
So there are two questions here: One, does Colangelo deserve another shot at rebuilding this team? And two, how much does that matter?
First things first. You can argue over Colangelo’s tenure. His first year was a triumph; everything since then has been a decline that eventually forced him to utter the word “rebuilding.” He’s had bad luck — and the fact that the Raptors could be headed for a top-five pick in what looks like the worst draft since the one in which they selected Andrea Bargnani at No. 1 might qualify — but mistakes have been made. They’re rebuilding because he helped run the place down.
If you’re defending Colangelo, you point to his draft record — most recently DeMar DeRozan at No. 9, and Ed Davis at No. 13. You accept that Bargnani is probably the fifth-best player from the 2006 draft (Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Paul Millsap, with Brandon Roy’s knees forcing him from the conversation). You point out that he’s a driven competitor, a plugged-in operator, and that he nearly stole Tyson Chandler last summer. He makes creative trades, and he drafts well. That, in a new NBA environment, is probably going to be how success is achieved.
If you’re Glen Silvestri, you point to his belief in the big Italian — saying “we know he can rebound, but he doesn’t focus on it” is not unlike me saying I know I can eat cat food, but I don’t focus on it. Really, you probably just say: “Jermaine O’Neal,” then “Hedo Turkoglu.” You point to Jose Calderon’s contract, and maybe Bargnani’s as well. You point to a lot of things.
Not 22-60, necessarily. This season went about as well as possible, of course, even if that wasn’t what Colangelo had in mind. He only arrived at rebuilding late — “the reality called for us to rebuild this team,” as he put it — but he put the best face on it, shedding salary and panning for gold in guys like Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson. The team tried, but failed. Exactly as it should have been, aside from the draft being a scrap heap.
But then we come to the second part of the equation: Does it matter if he deserves it? Teachers runs its businesses like businesses, and businesses generally don’t add long-term fiscal commitment to their books while those books are being compiled by Morgan Stanley in order to entice somebody to part with an awful lot of money. If you’re selling a house, you don’t add a waterslide before putting it on the market. If Colangelo had spent the last four years covering himself in glory, there would be no debate, and he’d be a slam dunk. He didn’t. He’s not.
So yes, MLSE is doing damage to its reputation by letting a respected general manager flutter in the wind. Yes, they should make a decision one way or the other, since one little general manager shouldn’t do much damage to the sale price. And no, there is no consensus on Colangelo. He wants to stay. It’s hard to say for certain that’s the right thing, but it wouldn’t be the worst one.
But this is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. There is business as usual, and there are strange times. It’s a bad time for both.