Archive for February, 2006

House of the Guiding Sun

Somewhere in the Arizona desert, Bryan Colangelo is packing a couple of warm sweaters and a sharp suit for the upcoming news conference. He can’t help but grin into the mirror as he shaves and hums a terrible rendition of Nelly’s Must Be The Money. Money has a way of lifting spirits.

The Toronto Raptors have finally got their man, pilfering him from the back pocket of Robert Sarver and the Phoenix Suns. In assuming the role of president and general manager of the Raptors, Colangelo inherits a club in much better shape than that of his recently booted predecessor. The franchise boasts a rising young All Star in Chris Bosh, a core group of solid rookies, money in the war chest, and a city of fans anxious for some action.

Some critics have been quick to denounce the deal as a desperation move on the part of Richard Peddie and the Raptors management, forcing the club to over pay for Colangelo’s services. Some would have liked to wait until the end of the season to entertain other potential GM candidates. Others are content on riding the Wayne train as far it will go.

Colangelo’s hiring not only brings a proven track-record and basketball proficiency to the front office; it also brings credibility and clout to the organization’s name. The Raptors will be looking to attract free agents in the off-season to a city, which by and large has been disfavored by NBA players in the past. People want to be part of a winning environment, and championship institutions are built from the top.

With the season over halfway done, it’s unrealistic to predict immediate results as Colangelo moves into the GM office. However, there already is a buzz in the air, one which hasn’t been felt since the birth of the club. People are suddenly excited again and the black cloud seems to be receding from above us. We may look back years from now and pinpoint this day as the turning point in the franchise’s history. Because from small stirrings come big ripples, and maybe it’s finally time for a Sun to shine down on us.

Toronto holds it’s breath

I’m going to take a different view than Jay on the Colangelo story. Regardless of whether or not he decides to take the GM position with the Raptors franchise, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment stands only to benefit from the publicity.

After the firing of Rob Babcock, the Raptors needed a solid, experienced general manager to head the club. Kudos to them for going straight to the throat of the issue and working to pry Bryan Colangelo away from the Phoenix Suns. At this junction in the team’s history, it’s critical to pull out all the stops to set the club back on the right track. The Raptors are willing to pay a premium for Colangelo’s service, and it shows the league that Toronto absolutely means business.

The media may try to spin this story any way they can while they wait for the boom to lower. The lastest development has Colangelo working the Raptors like a new girlfriend in attempts to breed some jealousy in the desert. Don’t get caught up in the hype.

Let’s understand the underlying determinant - the triple salary increase.

Is there tension between the Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and Bryan Colangelo? By all accounts, yes. Sarver is painted as a self-absorbed, vainglorious executive that is intent on leaving his fingerprints everywhere within the Sun’s franchise. Colangelo, who’s been quite accustomed to running the club the way he deems fit, has suddenly seen a decline in his control since Sarver entered the scene.

This explains why Sarver granted the Raptors permission to interview his man. Not that Sarver has any reason to break a sweat if he loses his current GM; long-time friend and basketball junkie Steve Kerr is waiting in the dugout and would easily fill that vacancy.

So if you’re Colangelo and another employer woos you away from a job where you detest your boss, with a substantial paycheck increase, what would you do?

You’d take a good look.

So here it is. The Raptors and Colangelo have met and a deal has been worked out. Sarver doesn’t want to look like a complete jackass by letting another club waltz in and steal his best employee, so he’s putting word to the media that he’s doing the very best he can to retain his general manager. Colangelo is pretty much set to sign with the Raptors, barring an absurd counter-raise by the Phoenix Suns (which he would crazy not to take if it indeed ever came through). And now everyone is playing the waiting game.

But the one intangible that is most important here is that the Raptors are getting great publicity. The word is out on the street that Toronto is ready to play some serious ball, and the league has raised it’s eyebrows. In a worst-case scenario where Sarver empties his coffers to retain Colangelo, you can bet other potential GM candidates will be vying to make their way north of the border. The Raptors have achieved more this past month than they have in the last 5 years.

Toronto is no longer a funny-sounding name of a basketball club that plays in that other country. It’s a legitimate franchise on the move that will be a serious division contender 2 years from now. And suddenly, people may want to be a part of it.

MLSE…Setting up for disaster

So what happens if Bryan Colangelo doesn’t make his way to Toronto? What if this whole jump ship to the Great White North thing doesn’t actually pan out and Colangelo and Phoenix managing partner Robert Sarver actually work things out (there is a perceived riff between the two)? What if Colangelo says something like, “After reviewing my options, I realized that my heart is still in Phoenix and I would like to see my dreams of a championship realized with the team I helped develop.” I’ll tell you what happens then: the Raptors look like chumps again.

I don’t know why MLSE has to make it so difficult on themselves every time there is a decision like this to be made. Knowing that no big deals were going to be made before yesterday’s deadline and also knowing that Wayne Embry is as competent as they come, the Raptors should have just kept quiet, had a LIST of names and gotten to work at the end of the season before the draft.

But no, of course, there is a need to focus on one guy, leak it to the press, create a big circus and set yourself up for what could be a crash with serious waves…I’m talking fat uncle in the deep end doing a cannonball kind of waves. Even though this isn’t one of the major American basketball cities, the media in Toronto is as tough as they come and if there is one thing they are good at, it’s smelling blood in the water. If this doesn’t work out, they will play it for all it’s worth and good for them too.

Why so much focus on one guy? As Lang pointed out, he has had a good track record, although it took him a little while to get it going. Why put all your eggs in one basket, especially when that basket is being held together with a few pieces of tape?

I’m hoping that Colangelo does sign here, simply because I don’t want the Raptors to have to deal with another controversy. I don’t want to have to see Sam shaking his head in a press conference, saying, “sometimes that’s how it goes basketball, it’s a business”.

If Bryan Colangelo is using this as a method to get a better contract for himself in Phoenix, I applaud him. You can never fault a guy for working a deal that is best for him, even if it means using somebody (or a collective group of somebody’s…who are actually basketball nobodies).

Me? I’ll be sitting on the edge of the pool, waiting for the gasp when uncle Ted hits the water.

Autistic basketball star - video footage

As a follow up to the previous story of the autistic high school basketball player, here is a video of Jason McElwain in that unforgettable final home game where he scored SIX 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes and was carried off the court by his team.

This truly is an amazing story. Comments are welcome.

You can download this movie by clicking here.

Tumbleweeds on trade deadline day

Before I continue with my post today, I just wanted to mention this fantastic feel-good story about a 17 year old autistic kid in New York who was inserted into the final home game with his team up 20 points, and proceeded to drain SIX 3-point shots and set a school record. Prior to this, he spent the season helping out with various drills, handing out water bottles, running the clock, and pitching in on anything else the coach required. What a great basketball story. You can also read another article here.

The trade deadline has come and gone like Christmas in the desert, and aside from one four-team trade and a couple of yawners, Eric Williams is still a Raptor. There was no doubt management exerted considerable efforts to move him to another club, but teams were reportedly weary of his 4 million dollar contract. And let’s all nod our heads together on this one - Eric hardly commanded any attention during his brief playing stint prior to the All Star break. Williams is just going to have to brave the Raptors bench, and Toronto’s wacky weather, for the rest of the season until he enters his contract year (2006-2007) before he’ll find any takers.

Management won’t be losing any sleep. The Raptors have suddenly found themselves in a position that doesn’t require a finger on the panic button. With a fairly big front court, backed by Mine James and Show Peterson, Toronto’s rotation is quite robust. Bonner, Calderon, and Graham will be logging major minutes off the bench, which may very well spell the demise of the Eric and Darrick show this season. Loren Woods will continue to wear out his headband on the bench unless the Ents roll into town, and The Brazilian Civilian has officially been forgotten by Raptors fans. That may be a good thing for Hoffa’s career right now.

This marks the first time this season that the Toronto Raptors have some semblance of stability. With the reported hiring of Bryan Colangelo on the horizon, the consistent development of Charlie Villanueva, and Bosh’s continued on-court dominance, there is reason for newfound optimism. And let’s not forget the team is far removed from the dead last spot so many media outlets were hastily predicting in the pre-season. A strong push into the final 20 games may just be enough to bring back basketball excitement to Toronto, and give the fans something to finally cheer about.

Colangelo moving to Canada?

If you paid me an extra two million dollars to shoot the moon down with elastics, I’d be the first one scaling Mount Everest with a hockey bag full of rubber bands. So it comes with no great surprise that league sources are whispering through the cracks that Bryan Colangelo is set to replace Wayne Embry as the permanent general manager of the Toronto Raptors. I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would turn down a salary offer that is triple what they currently brought home.

Colangelo’s reputation speaks for itself. His family name carries tremendous merit in the NBA, and Bryan hasn’t done too bad for himself as GM of the dash-and-dish Phoenix Suns. Unlike Rob Babcock, his tenure has moments worth mentioning. In 2002, he selected Amare Stoudamire 9th overall in the draft. In 1996, Phoenix drafted Steve Nash 15th overall. Other players that were drafted under the Colangelo era include Shawn Marion, Michael Finley, Luol Deng, Stephon Jackson, and Nate Robinson. Let’s not forget he’s the reigning Executive Of The Year as well.

In recent years, through great team management and wise player signings, Colangelo has succeeded in building a Western Conference powerhouse and solid contender for the NBA championships.

But to jump ship in the middle of the season so abruptly has to raise concerns about professionalism and loyalty. Sure it’s a lot of money, but a general manager must project a sense of stability and endurance to his franchise. Blowing off the Suns mid-season shouldn’t be something Raptors fans should overlook amidst the excitement. The revolving door to the Raptors brass is historically quick to usher people in and out, and the last thing we need is someone to ride through in a great flash.

Bryan Colangelo may very well be the best thing to happen to this franchise since Vince Carter took us within smelling distance of the Eastern Conference finals. Let’s not deny Colangelo any credit he deserves. Ten seasons, eight of which continued into the playoffs is a statistic the Toronto Raptors would love to be able to boast. But an individual’s character is just as paramount as their working skills. Colangelo may be a great basketball mind, but will his heart truly wrap itself around the city of Toronto?

The foundations of this team are now in his hands to either shift into place or dispose. The re-signing of Chris Bosh and Mike James, Sam Mitchell’s future as the head coach, and Hoffa’s rotting player value are all things Colangelo can immediately impact. The Raptors franchise is barely a decade old, yet it’s clear we are entering a new and crucial chapter in the club’s tale. Let’s hope that revolving door has made it’s final revolution so we can create stories worth telling down the road.

The Raptors Today

As a follow up to Lang’s post on ball in Toronto before the Raps came along, I figured I would post a ticket from today, just to contrast where we’ve come from and where we are today.

If you want to have a quick look at the game as it was compared to today, just look at the difference in body language. The old school ticket has the player with the ball above his head, looking about as non-threatening as a man could possibly look in sports. On the new ticket, Duncan has the ball low and there is aggression all over the photo. The game has completely changed and one of the big changes over the years has been the sheer power behind it.

While I wouldn’t consider Duncan a “power” player (he has far too much grace), he is still a force and can throw down over you if he has to. We are seeing players like KG and Shaq change the face of the game and I fear we aren’t realizing it as much because they’re not flying through the air like MJ used to. The big men are deceptively quick, sort of like defensive linemen in football. Hand speed and that elusive “first step” we always hear about is becoming more and more important for big men.

What is the game lacking? Well, other than the obvious (players with good fundamentals…who aren’t European), where have the big time rebounders gone? Sorry to bring him up in another post, but where are the guys like Rodman who lived just to rebound? Michael Cooper was as skinny a dude as you’d ever see in sports, but he knew how to position himself and come down with the ball, starting the break with a quick outlet to you know who.

A quick note on tonight’s loss to the Memphis…er…Pros? Hey, if you’re going to go old-school, it has to be cool. Memphis Pros with those bad unis? Not cool. That was almost Charlotte Bobcats bad. Anyway, if Chris Bosh wants to become a perennial All-Star and a real superstar in this league, he is going to have to give up that curl and finger roll move and turn it into a curl and slam-it-in-your-non-All-Star-face move. Down the stretch, Chris is going to have to take over games not only by scoring, but by setting the atmosphere. Hurt somebody Chris. Remember when Starks dunked over Jordan? Remember that? Starks saw his opportunity, his eyes lit up and years later I’m still talking about it.

Another note on tonight’s game: Mine James misses a layup down the stretch. Pass the ball Mike. This dude needs a hypnotist. Pass first…pass first…

What came before the Raptors? The Huskies.

Opening Game

Before the inception of the Raptors in 1995, Toronto once boasted another professional basketball team.

Turn back your clocks to 1946. The United Nations had their first meeting, an organization called UNICEF was founded, the Flamingo Hotel opened in Las Vegas, and the Toronto Huskies were born in the Basketball Association of America (BAA).

Playing from the famed Maple Leaf Gardens and wearing the blue and white, the Huskies lost their first official game to the New York Knickerbockers 68-66. It was a spirited game, although much different from the high-flying NBA action fans are accustomed to today. That particular game was played without the 24-second shot clock and the 3-point line. In fact, the jump-shot was discouraged as coaches barked at their players to keep their feet on the ground during shots.

Toronto spent a considerable amount of time and money to promote the game, running newspaper ads with a picture of their tallest player, 6-8 George Nostrand, and offering free admission to any spectator taller than Nostrand. As for the ticket prices? They ranged from 75 cents to $2.50.

The first quarter was a quick exchange of running and easy baskets. New York led the game into the 2nd quarter with a score of 33-18, but Toronto’s 6-5, 240 pound player-coach Ed Sadowski, rallied the team and cut the lead to 37-29 by the half.

Three minutes into the 3rd quarter, Sadowski committed his 5th personal foul and subsequently fouled out in accordance to league rules. Big man Nostrand came into the game to replace Sadowski and lit up the scoreboard, helping Toronto take their first lead at 44-43.

The Huskies were able to extend their lead before the Knicks rallied back in the 4th quarter with a field goal and a free throw to seal the game.

The Toronto Huskies went on to finish the season with a record of 22-38 and the franchise folded, never to see their second year in the league. The Basketball Association of America later merged with the National Basketball League to become what is now known as the National Basketball Association.

To view the roster and player statistics for the Toronto Huskies, you can click here.

Another Charlie Villanueva Hater

You all know the story. With their 7th pick, the Toronto Raptors chose Charlie Villanueva from the University of Connecticut and the league reacted with a collective, “WTF.” His list of detractors was long, led most notably by Steven A. Smith. Naturally, Charlie has been playing with a chip on his shoulder this season and recently remarked in light of his selection to the All-Star Rookie Challenge, “When they drafted me, people criticized me and I carry that with me. It’s a good accomplishment, I proved my critics wrong and playing in that game is an honour.”

Count in another critic, and Torontonian to boot, who earlier this month told Charlie V. to just shut his mouth. According to this writer, only four NBA’ers are permitted to shoot their mouths off: Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Chauncey Billups.

Although this article was written only two weeks ago, how things have changed. Charlie V. is now starting for the team, his numbers are all up, his play has gained consistency, and he just happened to lead the Rookie Team in scoring and rebounds at the All-Star Game.

I would love to see Charlie play with more passion and spend time honing his defensive skills, but as far as the season goes, he has my green light to say whatever the hell he wants. He got dogged and he came out on top. Good for you, Charlie.

Pape Sow - Worst Starter

Pape Sow, the only Raptors player with eyes in the back of his head (and none in the front), has been through it all. From riding the bench to running the D-League, Pape’s finally been recognized with his first all-important award: Worst Starter.

Mike Kahn of Foxsports.com had this to say about Pape Sow - OK, all together now … who? He’s just the latest futile attempt by the Raptors to have what we may loosely refer to as a starting center. They signed him from the Arkansas RimRockers of the NBA’s Developmental League. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but suffice to say he’s still in the developmental process.

Two things to note. Antonio Davis has been starting at center the last few games, and this article was posted just yesterday - should have did some current research before finishing that article, Mike. Secondly, Sow was already part of the Raptors roster, but thanks for pretending to give us the time of day.

That aside, you can’t really disagree with the premise. If Pape is supposed to be rough around the edges, imagine him as a giant ball of sandpaper strips. He’s like the new kid down the street you invite to play streetball. He doesn’t care what team picked him - his mission is to destroy the ball and everyone else around him.

Pape Sow may not be the savior of Toronto basketball and subsequently not play many minutes, but why waste his talent? Lets think outside the box. I think we should unleash him into the community as a crime fighter.

Being bullied around at school for lunch money? Toss a basketball at the punk and tell Pape to fetch. Just lost your parking spot to a mean old lady? Get Pape to set a screen in front of her car door.

I think it’s a dirty shame that Pape Sow jerseys aren’t manufactured with a mandatory cape.

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