I am not a Raptors fan. Even though I live in Toronto, if anyone asks me I am a Lakers fan. That is the only team I will stand for under any circumstances. I bleed purple and gold. In the end though, I am a fan of basketball, it is that simple. If there is good basketball to be played, everyone wins. I mean, I still get slightly aroused when I see the Spurs play under Pop and see him take this team, that has no place being in the 1st place on paper, to the heights he has taken them. He could take the Bobcats to the playoffs. But I digress. Back to Toronto. Even though I am not a Raps fan, I get to watch them a lot, and I get to hear fan banter a lot. And analyze. And even though this falls on def ears, hopefully someone will hear me and see the Colangelo scam for what it is.
He really sold it. The man has turned what he’s been saying for a long time to mask his own inadequacy into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stand up and give Bryan Colangelo a round of applause.
We have heard this for years from the mouth of the man himself. No one wants to play in Toronto because it’s Toronto. Because it’s a small market team. Because it’s Canada. Because the city itself has no appeal. Sound familiar? I hear Raptors fans repeat the sentiment time after time after time, as if it is some kind of sermon. Yet it is not true.
We are no different than Milwaukee, Golden State, Indiana… keep going. A smaller market team, for sure, but not a smaller market city. Toronto is America-lite in all respects. Our cultures come close and NBA athletes tend to love to come to our city on away games. We are by all means a big city, a city with more appeal to star athletes than the annals of Milwaukee, or Minnesota, or even Utah.
The one thing that remains true though, is that we are indeed a small market team, in a way. Sure, its the only NBA team in Canada, and yes, Toronto is a huge city, but we shall never match the magic of Los Angeles, the appeal of NYC, the huge pockets of Miami. Won’t happen.
But here is something Colangelo won’t say, but something that rings more true than everything he does. The real reason, the true reason players won’t come to our city because they do not see the direction of our team. We have accepted, under our current GM, to stay in the mediocrity, to complain everything that goes wrong and to applaud every bad decision masked as a “stroke of genius.”
The truth is, and this is something Bryan Colangelo needs to realize (but he won’t), is that there is no one fits all blueprint to build an NBA team. It has been proven. You can’t just BUY your way into a playoff run (well, some teams can). There are different approaches. You build through the draft. You build through maintaining financial flexibility. You build through maintaing the right pieces and not falling back on excuses of your location.
Minnesota can do it. Milwaukee can do it. Golden State can do it. Houston can do it. Portland can do it. But can Toronto? Apparently not?
The new CBA is not a joke, it calls for smart management. We’ve seen teams shed some of their essential pieces just to climb under luxury tax and reamin flexible. It will call for even more shrewd operation in the market, and unfortunately the Raps GM is not the appropriate operator.
Let me explain. We rejoiced to get Rudy Gay in Toronto. Hey, a good athletic swing man, a Kevin Durant-lite if you will. But then again, terrible shooting percentage, a very limited game, and a defensive skill that is entirely dependent on what he had for breakfast. More importantly, a gigantic contract that limits what we can do over the next two years.
Now imagine we got Boozer on top of that for Bargiani. An improvement, sure, BUT, let’s realize that with that trade we would virtually be locked into our current roster for two years. Stuck in the forever 7-8 spot, not able to maneuver the roster to get better. And then, when those contracts run out, they have nothing to stay for, because the team once again refuses to move forward and rejoices in staying on the outskirts of the playoffs.
That has been our pattern for a long time. We sign ridiculous players to ridiculous contracts. Limit any capacity we have to shift our roster around. Come close to the 8th seed or so. Then our marquee players, who want to win above all else, wake up and realize that this is the team that’s being managed into nowhere and leave. Just like that. In the blink of an eye.
Now, I want pretend to understand the complexities of being a GM in the NBA, but let’s try something else here for a change. Let’s pretend that the myth Colangelo built for us doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t, and try a different approach.
Shed Bargnani’s contract this summer and ship him out. Get draft picks, trade exemptions, an expiring contract, anything for him. Let’s draft smart this summer, not another euro-ball phenom. Let’s scout NCAA and get a smart pick, a three with an outside stroke to free up space for both DeRozan and Gay, whoever you choose to play. Someone who is good on the defensive end.
Then, let’s find a way to pick up a PF who can replace Amir Johnson. Someone who a midrange stroke, good size and the ability to go in and bang down low. He doesn’t have to be a star, but a serviceable big man in the post. We had someone like that but we gave that up in a trade to get to the coveted 8th spot for 2 more years without moving up.
This is the core: Lowry, DeRozan, Gay, The discussed PF, JV.
Then we have Ross and the above mentioned SF/SG coming off the bench, as well as Telfair at back up PG. Now we make shrewd signings for another swing and a big, on the cheap, 10-15 minute guys who are capable of doing the small things.
That is a 7-8 seed team. Best part of it is, it is flexible financially, and as soon as Gay comes off the books we can bring in more talent. The difference here is that we have the foundation to win, to make playoffs, maybe push for 6-5, maybe even 4. We have the roster flexibility to bring in and replace talent as needed.
That, of course, is highly dependent on how smart we’ve drafted. Assuming we replace Colangelo with someone half-competent to get that done, we’ve drafted smart.
It all sounds too far fetched, too out of this world and maybe some of it is a pipe-dream seeing how I don’t know the first thing about being a GM. But what I do know is that Colangelo is playing with the formula that is not meant for a team like the Raptors. He is playing rich kids’ games with middle class kids’ toys.
The Raptors will never buy or trade their way into contention in the East, that much is true. Unfortunately it is not for the reason’s our incompetent GM has been telling us. That’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy he made happen. It’s because he has done it all wrong. He has wasted too many draft picks. Locked the team into too many bad contracts in the past. Everything else is an excuse to mask that.
The Raptors have to draft. They have to sign smaller players. They have to let go of an illusion of the big superstar saving the franchise. That superstar has no incentive to come here as long as we manage our team like this.
Players want to play for teams going somewhere, for teams looking to improve. Not for teams whose GM tries to justify his mistakes by consistently trying to get to the 8th seed and settle there with no ambition to go further. Yes, maybe the next move is to shed all of what we’ve done wrong and take a good hard look at our position.
We have a great PG, we have a young and athletic swingman who wants to get better and a serviceable big with good footwork in JV. That is a core that can get you 8th seed with the right pieces of the puzzle just waiting to be fit into place. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to get those pieces because of financial mistakes past and present. So, it looks like 8th seed or lower for the next few years yet again. At least if Colangelo stays.
Draft. Build. Remain financially flexible. A Raptors pipe dream.
But now that Colangelo has left, where does that leave us?