Going into this off-season it was hard not see Bryan Colangelo as one of those divers standing on the edge of the cliff in Acapulco. It’s the sort of sight that forces you to hold your breath no matter how confident you might be about everything working out alright, because at a certain level it seems impossible. Certainly for most people the task at hand would be impossible. But like with the divers, it’s what Bryan does, so there has to be some reasonable expectations to go along with the “hold your breath” fears. I had know idea going into the off-season, how Colangelo was going to be able to do more than overpay for Marion as little as possible, and use the resulting MLE and such to bring in some solid depth, with Carlos Delfino being the biggest acquisition. Even in writing that last sentence my brain is thinking - yeah that’s what we’re looking at. But though that wouldn’t have been a belly flop in the Pacific, it just wasn’t enough. He was going to have to pull off more than a simple tuck or pike position, and the entry was going to have to be clean. Last season felt like too much of a wasted opportunity. The clock is ticking on the Bosh signing. The attendance and general interest as reflected in TV ratings declined. Some folks felt inclined to blow the whole team up, even if that meant worse results for a couple seasons yet, due to the fatigue of watching a team that appeared to be on a treadmill that wasn’t slowing down anytime soon. Altogether, there was a collective intake of air and the status quo (plus or minus Delfino) was not going to allow us all to exhale with relief, no matter how difficult going beyond that scenario was going to be.
It was fairly clear that a good player was going to have to go in order to make things happen, and there were big limitations on getting the most of any deal involving any of them. Deal Bosh and you are giving up your best player and likely not getting a best player in return. Deal Jose and you’ve got zilch at the point, so there would be only so much that could be done to shore up weaknesses without fatally weakening the team at that important skilled position. Deal Bargnani and you’re giving up on promising talent and size, with only so much that would be able to come back due to the smaller size of his contract. Marion required a sign and trade, and that would be with the Raptors dealing from a point of weakness since they would be staring down the alternative of losing him for nothing, if they were unable to sign him here.
This team needed a bit of a lucky break in order to add depth and talent to the point where keeping Bosh for another six or seven years was viable and feasible. And that break came in the form of some number cruncher named Fruitman. Fruitman found the way. Bryan saw that the surf was coming in and not leaving barren rocks as it pushed outwards, and he dove into the swelling pool of salt water when the moment presented itself. With a few full twists and somersaults along the way. It was breathtaking. In a matter of days, so many question marks were turned into exclamation points on Bosh’s twitter account. Bargnani signed for five years! Turkoglu signed for five years! And somehow Marion traded in a four team swap that allowed for further signings with Bird rights, exceptions, and the ability to look towards making similar additions in further years ahead! The talent pool of this team not only increased, but was secured long-term! And depth was not only addressed, but solidified!
What impresses me the most is that a verifiable blueprint has been followed through on. Colangelo liked Hedo for many years. I’d say he tried to find his own Hedo in the form of Garbajosa, Delfino, and Kapono, or some combination of the aforementioned. He could have settled for Marion, and I’d have been happy enough with the improved rebounding and defense. There’s is still a little twinge somewhere in my depths at the thought of the defense taking a step backwards. But now if Jack is added to the mix, I feel like defending the perimeter will not be the write-off that makes the entire defense fall apart. And Bryan got his guy.
All that makes this off-season completely different than the off-season of a year ago. Do not fall into the trap of making the comparison, simply because the expectations are raised in a similar manner. We all knew that O’Neal was not a part of the blueprint. He was a means to allowing that blueprint to take shape with that big fat contract of his. Yes - the expectations involved improving the defense almost by default, and thereby improving the record overall. But it was the size of the contract, which expired soon enough down the road, that brought the most promise. And it wasn’t JO that ruined all the expectations. The defensive woes came about directly from Jose being hobbled, AP getting slower, and nobody being able to play behind either of them with any kind of defensive effectiveness. That left Moon and Joey needing to play over their heads every night for the perimeter not to be a lethal weakness on defense. O’Neal could have returned to the All-Star form that he talked so much about and it would not have made much difference. But now we have been able to see the value of his contract get translated into pieces that fill in all the lines and shadings on the blueprint. The full picture is there for Bosh to see. The inevitability of Bosh being traded is no longer easy fodder for columnists the world over. Sploosh! A lovely entry into the emerald waters of Acapulco.
Last season was all about taking on a bit of a short-term risk to buy time for the long-term vision. This season is simply about making that vision come to fruition. And who better to make all the obstacles go away, allowing for fruition to be achieved, than a guy named Fruitman? Was he there every sleepless moment in that turbulent week or two? Did Bryan roll out a sleeping bag for him next to his bed? I can picture Bryan waking up abruptly and shaking Fruitman out of his slumber with some crazy questions. “I know we can’t find anybody that will take on both Hump and Banks in a Marion sign and trade, but what if we made a clerical error so that we could offer them Bump and Hanks? Can we make that work? Would the league go for that?” I can picture Fruitman sitting at Bryan’s side while he fretted nervously to the point of having a nervous breakdown. There’s Bryan spinning around in his office chair and pretending to be Captain Kirk again. There he is wildly texting Maurizio to take the private jet to Lourdes, and on the way back to head to Pamplona for the running of the bulls. “NAKED Maurizio NAKED! If my ass is on the line, then so is yours. AND I WANT PICTURES!”
And through all that Fruitman found the break we all needed to see what needed to happen take place. Thank you man of fruit. I will never again eat a banana, an apple, a kumquat without thinking of you. And I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. Because there is still a chance that it could be unsuccessful. Jose and Bosh still need to prove that they can be durable for a full season. They could all catch the swine flu. Or Dwight Howard might convince God to smite them. But having seen this team look like there was no plan, and wondering where the Colangelo went that pieced together something out of nothing when he arrived, I am very happy to think that there might be very few questions to ask of him in the years to come, and very few dramatic tweets coming from Bosh, outside of perhaps the most dramatic of them all. As a fan there can’t be anything better than to see a team where everyone has something to prove, where they all appear committed to improving together, where there’s a good chance that they will all push each other in good ways, and where there is a good set of roles in place across the board. Colangelo and Fruitman have done their part. Watch for the pictures of Maurizio to hit the internet. And sit back and enjoy the assembled bunch of players figuring out what they have to do.