Thank goodness for the Washington Wizards.
If not for The Roundball Artists Formerly Known As The Bullets, there would be no one below the Toronto Raptors in the entire NBA.
This is not quite what Bryan Colangelo promised, is it?
Almost seven years after he arrived and immediately made a splash with a division title for which he was anointed NBA executive of the year, we’re getting close to rock bottom.
Who knew that first year would be the high-water mark?
Now, in a season that was supposed to be at the very least better than last season’s death march, things are coyote ugly. Some of the losses have been close, some have been blamed on unfair officiating (a constant on-air lament), and some of the losses have not been close at all, like Tuesday in Houston (16 points) and Wednesday without Andrea Bargnani in Memphis (21 points).
In the first 16 games, there have been 13 defeats. If the Wizards ever break out — and they got their first win Wednesday night — there may be a rung left for the Raps to fall.
Some are still preaching patience and hope. Maybe that’s right. Maybe stability matters more than ever now.
There are, to be fair, some pieces here. Kyle Lowry has turned into a strong acquisition this year, and Colangelo was wise enough to protect the first-round pick sent to Houston with a complicated set of conditions if it turns out to be a top-three selection.
But even if you love Lowry, this is a team with a pedestrian starting five, little in the way of toughness or veteran leadership and no players likely to be NBA all-stars in the future.
Colangelo inherited a franchise player in Bosh, lost him for nothing and hasn’t been able to acquire anything close since. Jonas Valanciunas looks to be a solid bet to be a good to very good player, mind you, and DeMar DeRozan shows flashes, although not often enough to make his flashy new contract make a lot of sense.
First-round pick Terrence Ross finally showed his potential with 19 points on Tuesday. Another first rounder, Ed Davis, has yet to show he’s even NBA worthy.
What’s interesting is that Colangelo, while dogged on social media, continues to largely escape blame for being the architect of this miserable situation, even with the team on pace to win even fewer games than last year’s 22.
Perhaps it’s the overall lack of interest in the Raptors; even without hockey to compete against, many Raptor television audiences fall below 100,000 viewers. The print/broadcast coverage of the team in general is much less than that which blankets the Leafs and Blue Jays.
Still, imagine the outcry if the Leafs were playing and started 3-13 out of the gate. Let’s just say “embattled” would come before “Brian” in every reference to Burke, the Leaf GM.
Yet Burke’s been in Toronto for exactly four years this Thursday, and Colangelo is closing in on seven, and there’s no similar heat on him.
Even this season, the brunt of the criticism for the team’s inept start has been aimed at Bargnani, the No. 1 pick of a bad draft in ’06, who may be a viable NBA scorer some nights but is less than durable and hardly a franchise player. But little venom seems directed toward Colangelo, until now just another losing executive in a town filled with losing executives.
But maybe the standards are a-changing.
The Argonauts have won a championship, proving such a thing is possible in Toronto. Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has upped the ante for GMs in town by moving out of the slow development phase into a hyperdrive for real success by making a series of eye-catching moves.
Things are happening, just not with the Raps. Colangelo tried to do a big deal in the summer but swung and missed on Steve Nash. It was a long-shot attempt to get a bona fide name — an aging one, but a name — in a Raps uniform.
Losing in Memphis to the former Vancouver Grizzlies was just another slap in the face. Vancouver may have failed, but 11 years later the Grizzlies are far ahead of the Raptors as a competitive basketball squad. Their organization is better. It’s not a star-studded squad, but a smart, capable one.
This isn’t a call for Colangelo’s neck. Not yet. This is a young team, and one struggling with a horrible early schedule.
But it is to question how much longer Colangelo can seemingly dance around any and all responsibility for the basketball catastrophe in this city.
Why does the buck never stop there?