With every day that goes by, it becomes clearer and clearer why Bryan Colangelo's contract extension took so long. Since the announcement of his deal, we've learned that his contract runs for a much shorter length of time than was expected, and we've seen Colangelo "re-assign" head coach Jay Triano after offering his support to him at the end of the regular season.
MLSE clearly saw a need to stipulate some specific conditions after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and Colangelo - it would appear - is acquiescing to their demands. Up next on the docket is the hiring of a new executive for the front office, most likely with the title of general manager.
Now, to ease any confusion right off of the bat, Colangelo is not ceding control of the Toronto Raptors. He's going to remain as the president of the club, and for all intents and purposes, he's still going to be the man calling the shots with regards to roster and organizational moves. The team did not re-sign him just to neuter him into submission, but they did - it would appear - want him to expand his staff to include a prominent voice that might act as a counterbalance to his approach to team and roster building.
When the first rumblings of this move reached the press in the spring, it was implied that the Raptors were merely looking to replace Masai Ujiri, who left the organization to head up the Denver Nuggets. But when one takes a look at the candidates for the job who have emerged since then, it becomes clear that the team is looking to do much more than simply replace the inexperienced Ujiri.
The three most prominent names associated with the vacant position, as was reported by Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski last week, are Jeff Bower, formally the GM of the New Orleans Hornets, Ed Stefanski, former Nets and current Sixers GM, and Dennis Lindsey, the assistant GM for the San Antonio Spurs. All three of those men carry with them significant reputations, far more than Ujiri did when he was hired by Toronto, and any one of them would be a significantly bigger name than has ever worked under Colangelo in either Toronto or Phoenix. If Colangelo was in fact tasked with finding himself a workmate of near-equal stature to act as his sounding board, then he's got three pretty solid names at the top of his list.
However, despite the impressive resume's that each bring to the job, no one is exactly sure what any of them would do if they were hired by Colangelo. Colangelo has made specific mention of the fact that he'd be using the title of general manager as an enticement to high-profile candidates, but it would be a limited general manager's role when compared to the power most similarly-titled executives wield on other NBA squads. In theory, the job could be tailored to the man hired to fill it, but that does leave the question as to what are the empirical qualifications the team is looking for to give context to their active search.
Considering that Colangelo would still be handling trades, signings and the draft, it would seem that the only overriding qualification that the Raptors are looking for is someone who has the experience and clout to talk Colangelo down from some of his more outrageous trades and signings. A voice in the room with actual managerial experience (Lindsey may not have ever been a GM, but his voice carries weight) that can force Colangelo to consider the advisability of signings like Hedo Turkoglu's $50-million deal from 2009.
When it comes to small moves Colangelo has been consistently solid in Toronto, as has he been with the draft, but when he shoots for the moon, one gets the impression that there isn't anyone strong enough around Colangelo to get him to fully reflect on the move before he signs off on it. While it's hard to say how attractive that job would be for any of the candidates that the team is chasing, it's pretty hard to deny that such a figure is currently missing from Toronto's front office.
To that end, Stefanski actually makes for a slightly on-point candidate. As GM of the Nets, Stefanski was not only involved in getting Jason Kidd from Colangelo in exchange for Stephon Marbury (a move that secured New Jersey two trips to the NBA Finals), but he was also instrumental in hoodwinking Rob Babcock into trading Vince Carter from Toronto for pennies on the dollar.
If you're looking for a GM that can prevent Colangelo and Toronto from making terrible moves, getting a guy involved in the worst move that each made might not be a bad start. It might also help that he is used to acting as GM under a domineering president (Rod Thorn, in both New Jersey and Philadelphia), although he may also be eager to escape from such an arrangement with his next NBA job.
The Raptors are still very early in the process of seeking out this high-ranking executive. With the lockout continuing on with no end in sight, making expensive hires is not exactly a priority in most NBA offices, so Toronto isn't on the same kind of timetable that they set for themselves when they hired Dwane Casey in advance of the draft. No doubt Colangelo would like to have someone in place whenever the abbreviated free agency period begins, but until the serious negotiations begin winding down the lockout, no urgency needs to be placed on this search.
Whenever the hiring does finally go down, though, it will be very interesting to hear exactly what this new executive's actual responsibilities will be while acting as a GM under someone as hands-on as Colangelo. Regardless, if the man hired is one of the aforementioned names it would count as yet another strong hire in a summer of strong off-the-court additions for the Raptors organization. At a time when no players can be traded or signed, it's really all that the team can do for now to improve its fortunes.