Home > NBA > It May Be Time For The Toronto Raptors To Let Bryan Colangelo Go

It May Be Time For The Toronto Raptors To Let Bryan Colangelo Go

Happier times for Toronto Raptors’ GM Bryan Colangelo

Bryan Colangelo, 47-year-old son of basketball mogul Jerry Colangelo, has been the general manager of the Toronto Raptors since February of 2006. Since that time Colagnelo has secured his second Executive of the Year Award, taken the Raptors to the playoffs in the first two of his six years with the organization, and accumulated a .433 win percentage over 476 regular season games.

While Colangelo was previously praised during his time as General Manager for the Phoenix Suns, for managerial moves that acquired two-time MVP Steve Nash and the drafting of Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, his time in Toronto has been much more contentious. His contract with the Raptors is up after this season and in light of his recent off-season maneuvers I have my doubts whether Colangelo is the right man for the job of getting the team competitive again.

There seem to be two schools of thought in the NBA of how management should piece together a winning team: 1) through the draft; or 2) by trading or signing for star talent. Being in the most northerly city in the NBA, not to mention the only city outside of the US, Toronto has built in challenges for any GM. Generally, players are not intrinsically drawn to sign free agency contracts with Toronto as a destination to live. Other places like Miami, LA, and New York are blessed in this sense.

This fact of NBA life has left Colageno with two options to build a winning team, draft well or trade well. In evaluating whether Colagelo has done a job so far deserving of an extension, lets take a peek at his draft performance. I am going to limit this to first round draft choices only, as unless you are affiliated with the San Antonio Spurs’ organization the second round of the NBA draft is a complete crapshoot.

Draft Performance:

Pasta Man

Pasta Man

2006: As commissioner David Stern would say “with the first pick of the first round of the 2006 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors select”, Andrea Bargnani. Colangelo started with a bang in his first draft with the Raptors. In picking the 7 foot Pasta Man out of Italy, Colangelo made draft history by selecting the first European player with the number one pick.

In his six seasons and his 398 games played in the NBA so far, Andrea has averaged 15.4 PPG,  4.9 RPG, and 1.3 APG. Bargnani has been criticized as being a classic Euro big man; as in, a tall guy who has a good scoring touch but doesn’t play a physical enough game to be able to play defense and get rebound against North American forwards. This has been extremely fair criticism of his game, but I do have to say that last year under new coach Dwayne Casey, Andrea played a significantly better over-all game.

Although Andrea has not been a complete bust, the real test of time with drafting and player evaluation is how this selections holds up against the other players who were available in the draft. I will admit that from year to year there are anomalies that no one can predict, but after we look at a six year sample of Colangelo’s comparative draft performance, starting with Andrea, we should have a good feel for the decisions he has made at the draft.

The players who have best performed over the last six years who were selected after Andrea Bargnani in the 2006 draft include: LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, and Rajon Rondo. These four guys have all had pretty good careers, with all of them but Gay making the All-Star team at least once. Brandon Roy was great but has since been sidelined with serious knee problems, Rudy Gay has been criticized for being too passive, and Rondo was drafted way down at 21st overall. So looking back after 6 years the only other player that has arguably better value is Aldridge, but he still isn’t in the top-tier of NBA players who can win you a championship. In honest retrospect, Raptors fans should just be thankful that Colangelo didn’t take Adam Morrison who went 3rd to the Bobcats.

2007: The Raptors actually didn’t have a first round pick in this draft, the fact of which has just made my writing of this article a fair bit simpler. The only involvement that the Raptors had was acquiring Giorgos Printezis on draft night after the Spurs’ drafted him with the 47th pick. This Greek never sniffed the NBA so no real draft grade for Colagelo this year, other than the fact that the Raptors may have avoided the temptation of one of history’s biggest draft busts, the one and only Greg Oden.

2008: Again, this year is a bit of a bye year for Colangelo’s draft grade, as he traded the Raptor’s number 17 pick in the deal that sent TJ Ford to the Indian Pacers in return for Jermaine O’Neal (we will save this for later). That 17th pick turned out to be Roy Hibbert, which looking back is a steal at number 17 as Hibbert made the All-Star team in 2012 and is considered one of the top young centers in the league. Since we aren’t grading trades here, we can’t grade this as a Ford and Hibbert for O’Neal draft.

“Double De”

2009: In a relatively weak draft that was highlighted with Blake Griffin and James Harden being selected in the top three, Toronto selected DeMar DeRozan (Double De) with the number 9 pick. In his first three season and 222 games in the NBA DeRozan has averaged 14.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 1.5 APG.

When we look at the players selected in the first round after DeRozan, no one really stands out as a major missed opportunity by Colagelo. Some of the other players who were available at number 9 included Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibbson. In retrospect, while Gibbson has played a big role off the bench for the very competitive Bulls in the last few years and all the other players are carving out nice NBA careers for themselves, none of them can be considered major franchise changers in comparison to DeRozan.

The verdict on DeMar is still out. In the last two years he has shown Raptors fans glimpses of being a top tier shooting guard in the NBA, but a lack of consistency and a bit of a sleepy look on the court has many, including me, doubtful on the height of his potential ceiling.

2010: With the 13th pick in the 2010 draft the Raptors selected Ed Davis. In his first two season and 131 games, Davis has averaged 7.0 PPG, 6.9 RPB, and 1 BlkPG, and while it is still extremely early in his player development we will still take a look at who the Raptors passed up on in favor of Davis.

Some of the prominent second year players who were drafted after the 13 spot include Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, and Landry Fields (who we will also talk about later). Based on the limited amount these guys have been in the league, especially considering most of them are still coming into the league at a young age after one year of college, it is much too early to say anything about the 2010 draft for Colangelo other than that he made the best calculated pick at that time.

2011: We can make this one short and sweet since there isn’t really much to talk about. If all goes as predicted, Colangelo may have absolutely aced this draft. In an extremely weak draft the Raptors took Jonas Valančiūnas from Lithuania with the 5th pick. This was a risky move at the time due to JV’s uncertain contract situation with his pro team back home in Europe. After the draft it was concluded that JV would have to spend one more year in Europe before coming over to play with the big boys. On a recent BS Report with Bill Simmons, ESPN’s NBA draft expert Chad Ford stated that if JV had waited a year and entered into the 2012 draft he would have been selected number 2 overall. That is saying something as the recent draft is being heralded as one of the strongest in years. Speaking of….

2012: In a draft that has only recently taken place and where not a single player has yet touched the floor in an NBA game, it is nearly impossible to judge Colangelo’s decision making. I said “nearly”, so we will still give it a shot. This draft featured three “sure things” in Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist along with one “guaranteed sure thing” in Anthony Davis. Unfortunately for the Raptors they didn’t suck quite as bad as a few other teams during the 2011-12 season and ended up with the eighth overall pick, just on the outskirts of the top tier of the draft.

With the Raptors’ one pick in the first round Colangelo jumped-the-gun slightly and picked up Terrance Ross out of Washington. The initial analysis of this selection focuses on Ross being a great talent but was someone who was slated to go somewhere in the 13-20 range of the first round, not at number eight. Colangelo and Co. have since defended the decision to not trade down in the draft by stating that according to their internal player evaluation tool Ross was ranked 7th overall, resulting in the Raptors “stealing” him where they did in the draft… I think that we can agree that we are obliged to hold judgement on the pick of Ross and the explanation until Ross actually plays a few games for the Raps next year.

Well, I have to say that I am actually somewhat surprised at the drafting that Colangelo has done during his tenure with Toronto. To be honest, before I started doing research on this I was in the mindset that the drafting choices by Toronto had been horrendous over the last few years. Now, with some time under our belts, it is hard to say that Colangelo has done a “bad” job. The only really questionable pick so far has been Bargnani, but when we looked back the other options haven’t really been that great to date.

As I said at the start, GMs have two major tools to use when constructing a winning NBA team: the draft, and player acquisitions. To my own surprise, I would say that Colangelo has a passing grade in the draft so far. In saying that, lets take a look at the player acquisitions that Colangelo has orchestrated in the last six years.

*Note: Winning teams in the NBA need star players with quality assets around them. The core of a team MUST be focused around the stars. So, for the same reason I only analyzed the first round draft picks for the Raptors (as most stars are drafted in the first round) I am only going to analyze the attempt by Colangelo to insert star, or near-star players, onto the Raps roster. There is no point in looking at all the player transactions, because as the GM of the Houston Rockets is learning right now NBA teams are not successful with a roster full of assets and void of star talent.

Major Player Transactions:

Toronto acquired Jermaine O’Neal in exchange for TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterović, Maceo Baston, and Roy Hibbert (via the draft).

While the first big move for Colangelo could have been the trade he made initially after joining the Raptors that sent Charlie Villanueva to the Bucks for TJ Ford, this move for O’Neal was the first move that was advertised to be pushing the Raptors to the next level.

At the time of the trade, O’Neal, who was entering his 13th NBA season, was already on the statistical decline. Four seasons prior, during the 2004-05 season, in 44 of 82 games O’Neal averaged 24.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.9 APG and 2.0 BlkPG. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, but in his last season before joining the Raps those numbers had dropped to 13.6/6.7/2.2/2.1, respectfully, while playing in 42 games.

While O’Neal’s stats in his one year with the Raptors were a mirror image of his previous year, the promise of the “twin tower” act with him and Chris Bosh did not come to fruition. This experiment of a new powerful front court went so badly in fact that it resulted in the firing of former Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell (a media favourite), and the trading of O’Neal mid season.

Toronto acquired Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks in exchange for Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon.

In a direct reaction to the failure of his last blockbuster move Colangelo traded midseason for the four-time All-Star Shawn Marion. In an eerie resemblance to the acquisition of O’Neal, Marion’s statistical prime had come and gone by the time he had joined the Raptors.

In the 2005-06 Marion had his best statistical season while averaging 21.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 1.8 APG; with no coincidence of playing alongside MVP Steve Nash this year. The year before getting traded to the Raptors was a turmultuous one for Marion. He had been traded from Phoenix to Miami and was only averaging 12.0/8.7/1.8 in his tenth season. Not a whole lot changed when he got to Toronto as Marion averaged 14.6/8.5/2.3 in 30 games and helped the Raptors finish with a 33-49 record in the 2008-09 season before being released in the off season.


Toronto Signs Free-Agent Hedu Turkoglu:

The signing of Turkoglu was so atrocious I really don’t want to spend too much time talking about him. Ok, here we go.

In the 2008-09 season in which Turk helped the Orlando Magic make the NBA Finals, and greatly inflate his free-agency value, he averaged 16.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 4.9 APG. After having lots of time to watch Hedu do his thing in the playoffs from afar, Colangelo felt obliged to offer him a five year $53 million contract. Not a great move here.

Hedu went on to take a complete dump on the center court of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre by averaging 11.3/4.6/4.1 in the 74 games of his one season with the Raptors. It is always great when a player only plays one fifth of the term of their new contract before they are traded for a proverbial washing machine (Leandro Barbosa and Dwyane Jones).

These three moves, for O’Neal, Marion and Turkoglu, were all in an attempt to keep Chris Bosh happy in Toronto. As a good indication of how these transactions of Colangelo’s played out, Bosh bolted for the Miami Heat as soon as he was a free agent.

The only positive out of this Turk signing, which is so great it almost negates the atrocities mentioned above, is this video.

The Verdict:

As I said at the beginning, Colangelo’s performance should be graded on how he has utilized the two tools at his dispense as a GM, the draft and player transactions.

If I have to give them a letter grade based on the above analysis it would look something like this:

Draft: B+

Player Transactions: D

While a B+ and a D may resemble my first semester at Grant Macewan College in Edmonton I can’t judge to harshly, but unfortunately for Colangelo I have left out his recent floundering during the young 2012 off season. Since free agency opened up on July 1, Colangelo has swung for the fences and excruciatingly whiffed. With the best Canadian basketball player of all time on the free agent market Colangelo emptied his pockets on the table in front of Steve Nash in hopes of him choosing “retirement fund” over “possible championship”.

It was indeed a valiant effort by Colangelo, but Nash didn’t take it, so it really doesn’t mean anything in the end. What does matter though is that Colangelo, in attempts to thwart the New York Knick’s chances of obtaining Nash, offered a three-year $19 million offer sheet to the Knicks restricted free agent Landry Fields. Fields is a promising enough prospect but is purely a pawn in this whole situation that is poised to benefit massively. The offer sheet by Colangelo was purely an all-in attempt to secure Nash, but is now going to add an expensive third shooting guard to the roster behind up-and-coming DeMar DeRozan and recent draft pick Terrence Ross.

Without Nash on the roster, who has already been dealt to the Lakers, this Fields signing is going to be a lasting terd stain on the already stained resume of Colangelo during his time with the Raptors.

The news of Nash going the Lakers resulted in the following email being sent by me to a friend:

“Ok, so Colageno has to be fired immediately right? There is no way they can keep him! I feel bad as a semi-Raptors fans at the thought of the Landry Fields signing press conference. That is going to be on the top of the top of “all time awkward sports moments” lists.

So bad, so so bad. I applaud him for going after Nash, but throwing that kind of money at Fields is just stupid, especially when they are trying to build a young team up from draft picks and cap room.”

The brashness of my initial reaction gave me the idea for this column, but even after looking at this situation through more rational and informed eyes, I can’t argue with the July 4, 2012 version of myself. The Toronto Raptors’ upper management has a serious decision to make with Colangelo in the next year, and while Bryan has some time to redeem himself I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raptors have a new GM making their 2013 draft selection.

It will probably be a top 5 pick.

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