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Old 12-14-2012, 08:00 AM   #1 (permalink)

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Default Grange: The Future of Colangelo

Colangelo is approaching his seventh anniversary running the Toronto Raptors. His contract is up at the end of this year, though the franchise can exercise an option to bring him back.

This year is shaping up to be the worst of his tenure, which is saying something given Toronto is four years removed from the playoffs. In recent interviews Colangelo's questioned the team's focus and attention to detail, not so subtly shifting the spotlight to head coach Dwane Casey, the third head coach of Colangelo's tenure and the guy he just inked to an extension. But Colangelo is taking most of the heat and rightfully so.

Twitter gives voice to some of his critics, the Raptors 4-19 record -- second-worst in the NBA -- is all the amplification required. His handcrafted club has lost 12 of their last 13 games and 10 straight on the road after losing at home against the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night.

Colangelo's is a rebuilding project that is giving every appearance of coming unglued. The down side of being a hands-on; detail-oriented manager (Colangelo touches everything from where the team stays on the road to what shade of red the home floor gets trimmed out in) is that there is no one to point to finger at when it all falls apart.

What the Raptors are is what Colangelo has wrought.

But does removing the architect fix the building? And if not does the club and its fan base have the appetite to undertake another renovation if someone new wants to sweep away the past and start fresh?

First things first: while the record speaks volumes, it shouldn't obscure the fact that Colangelo has made moves that can't be completely written off; they're sum is ugly but there are some interesting parts.

- Was Jonas Valancuinas a bad pick at No. 5 in the 2011 draft? Quite the opposite; the Lithuanian rookie may not be a future MVP candidate, but he seems as advertised: a high-energy, high-character big man who should deliver double-figure points and rebound totals for a decade.

- Was Ed Davis a bad pick at No. 13 in 2010? No. In fact Davis is giving the appearance of being a fantastic pick, especially for a big man taken that far down the draft. The third-year power-forward is averaging 14.5 points and 12.5 rebounds a game on 53.6 per cent shooting on a per 36 minute basis.

- Was DeMar DeRozan a bad pick at No. 9 in 2009? No. You can blame Colangelo for not steering a bad team into a better draft position at the end of a lost season and perhaps grabbing budding all-star Stephen Curry at No. 7 as Golden State did; but DeRozan has provided a reasonable return. Enough to justify extending him for four years for $38 million? Time will tell if that deal is Colangelo reaching or if it's locking up an improving player in a tight market, but again it's not a move that gets guys fired.

- Was adding Kyle Lowry for a lottery-protected first-round pick a mistake? Obviously the cost of this deal increases significantly if the Raptors keep losing. The pick will stay with Toronto if they end up picking in the top-three; but it will be a tough pill to swallow if the Raptors end up in position to pick fourth or fifth and watch the Oklahoma City Thunder (who got the pick from Houston in the James Harden trade) get another good young player and the Raptors end up with nothing. The Raptors slide has created a potentially worst-case scenario but at the time it seemed a reasonable risk to land Lowry, a 26-year-old earning $6 million over the next two seasons whose high energy, defensive-minded, hyper-competitive nature was widely viewed as a necessary ingredient for the Raptors to contend for the playoffs. Complicating matters is that Lowry has performed well statistically but has been banged up regularly -- the latest is his triceps injury from Monday night might keep him out two weeks -- as well. Still it's hardly the kind of desperate trade that GM's get hanged for.

The Raptors roster has blemishes. Landry Fields and Linas Kleiza represent too generous Colangelo contracts, arguably. And then there's Andrea Bargnani, the first-overall pick whose biggest failure is that he has never lived up to his talent and biggest attribute is that at $10 million a season for a big man who has played long stretches at an all-star level, he doesn't have a bad contract.

But for its blemishes the current Raptors roster isn't a great advertisement for those who would have Colangelo hang.

The reality is that the best argument for letting Colangelo walk, or sending him running, isn't what's happened in Toronto this season but mistakes of the past that echo still: His unwillingness to head into a rapid rebuild as soon as it became evident that Chris Bosh wasn't likely to commit to a long-term deal. That way thinking brought the Raptors Jermaine O'Neal; Shawn Marion, Hedo Turkoglu and ultimately saw Bosh leave and the Raptors get little more than air and some salary cap space.

And so the issue is what the Raptors can do to get out this mess as the playoffs seem a distant goal for a fifth straight year.

Colangelo put them in it. The simplest way to get out of it might be cashing in the franchise's chips, gargle on the tailpipe of two more lost seasons and hope to come up with the No. 1 pick in 2014 when Toronto's Andrew Wiggins -- hailed by some as the best basketball prospect since LeBron James -- is ready to save his hometown franchise. Such is the NBA way of doing business that tanking is a legitimate and perhaps even necessary path to contending.

If that's the strategy then Colangelo might as well leave now as it will take more than three years for that lottery ticket to pay off and there's the added factor that in one of the next five drafts the Raptors will have to forfeit a lottery to the Thunder.

That alone almost makes pushing forward imperative. And if the plan is to somehow keep accumulating assets that could see Toronto be a playoff team next season the irony is that Colangelo might be the best man for the job. Some of the pieces on his roster now -- young, big, decently-priced -- represent his best work.
Grange on Raptors: The future of Colangelo - sportsnet.ca
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