By Joe Osborne
Well, here we are again Raptors fans. A not so uncommon place. As the Toronto Raptors prepare for the 2010-11 season expectations are anything but high. This off-season, they said goodbye to Chris Bosh, the teams best player and easily their only superstar. In return, the team brought in not one impact or high profile player. So, I guess they’re rebuilding. Again. How does a team get to a place where it has a roster of players that combine for zero all-star game appearances and hardly any significant playoff game experience? The answer starts and ends with one man – Bryan Colangelo.
Colangelo was brought in to bring the franchise to the next level, but he’s done the exact opposite by directing the Raps to the NBA’s basement. Prior to taking over the team as GM and President, Colangelo was viewed as one of the league’s sharpest minds due to a few good drafts and his willingness to pull the trigger on high profile trades in Phoenix. Colangelo got off to a great start with the Raptors. He made an early splash by trading Charlie Villeneuva for speedy point guard TJ Ford, and also brought in European league players Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa. The roster over-haul that included nine new players paid major dividends for the team and Colangelo, as the Raptors won the Atlantic Division and Colangelo was awarded the NBA executive of the year for the 2006-07 season. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, this was as good as things would get.
Since the best season in team history, things would go downhill thanks to a series of bad signings and over aggressive trades. The last three seasons have seen the team combine for a very mediocre .465 winning percentage, while playing in the NBA’s inferior conference. The first bad contract that Colangelo gave out was to Jason Kapono; a four-year, $24 million dollar contract, signed prior to the 2007-08 season. In his two years with the team, Kapono averaged just 7.7 points per game. The three point specialist was supposed to be an important part of the Raptors up-tempo offense but failed to have the impact that the GM hoped he would.
Colangelo’s next lapse in judgment came before the 2008-09 season when he traded for the washed up, and injury prone Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal was expected to team with Chris Bosh to form one of the NBA’s best sets of big men, but the trade turned out to be a major flop. By the midway point of the season, O’Neal had missed a significant amount of time and even when he was playing seemed to be bothered by one injury or another. With the team ranked 14th in the conference, Colangelo decided to end the O’Neal experiment by trading him to Miami as a way to free up salary space.
Another poor decision from that off-season was the contract given to Jose Calderon. The Raptors rewarded Calderon for a breakout season with a five year deal worth over $35 million. At the time, the deal didn’t look too bad, but since then Calderon has seen lots of time off due to injuries and was even the subject of trade talks this off-season.
The 2008-09 season also seen the firing of Sam Mitchell, the 06-07 NBA coach of the year. The firing came after only 17 games and an average 8-9 start. Mitchell was replaced by Raptors assistant Jay Triano who had zero NBA head coaching experience. Triano has been criticized for being too soft and has led the Raptors to a 65-82 record.
After a disappointing season that seen the team miss the playoffs, it was obvious that their current roster wasn’t strong enough and the team needed to add some more talent. The need for more talent resulted in possibly the worst contract in team history when the Raptors acquired Hedo Turkoglu for a five year, $53 million dollar deal. Turkoglu was coming off a strong season in Orlando which resulted in a trip to the NBA Finals, but it was unclear of how his point-forward style of play would fit with the team as Jose Calderon was already the teams primary ball-handler and set-up man. Things got off to a shaky start when Turk missed time during the pre-season, and things only got worse from there. He seen significant decreases in most major point categories and his minutes per game was his lowest in five seasons. The season ended ugly for Turk as he was benched when he pretty much called in sick and missed a game, but was later seen out at a Toronto night club. From there, he trashed the team in the media, asked for a trade and is now a member of the Phoenix Suns.
Things Colangelo can’t exactly be faulted for, but can certainly be second guessed for were the first overall pick of Andrea Bargnani in the 2006 draft, and the handling of Chris Bosh’s final season in Toronto. If there was ever a year not to want the first pick in the NBA draft, 2006 was it, and luck would have it that the Raptors were ‘lucky’ enough to land the top spot in a draft which didn’t have a clear stand out player. The pick of Bargnani wasn’t a horrible pick, but other top prospects from that draft have gone on to be better players. The Raptors would have been smart to trade down a few spots and pick a proven college player like Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay. In his four seasons in the league, Bargnani has gone on to be a good, but not great player. He shows glimpses of excellence but shows almost zero emotion on the court and doesn’t have the leadership skills that you’d hope a first overall pick would develop. As for the Bosh situation, Colangelo should have traded him for some assets when he had the chance, rather than wait to see what happens and get nothing. Given Bosh’s desire to be in the spotlight, it was pretty obvious that he wanted to play on a larger stage than what Toronto provides. As a GM who has a reputation for not being afraid to pull the trigger on blockbuster trades, its surprising that Colangelo didn’t roll the dice and make a deal that would have brought some assets to the team, rather than hanging on to a player who showed no signs that he was committed to the team. For a guy who makes a lot of roster moves, this is the one move that he didn’t make that has clearly already hurt the team based on its weak roster.
Rebuilding is a term that’s overused in sports, and the Raptors always seem to be rebuilding. Instead of saying that they’re rebuilding, maybe they’re simply not a good franchise. Should the Raptors be lumped into the likes of franchises like the Clippers and Grizzlies, or have they just run into some bad luck with poor roster moves? Like Rob Babcock before him, Bryan Colangelo simply hasn’t been able to come up with the winning formula in Toronto. By trying to mimic the exciting seven seconds or less Phoenix Suns style of play with a heavy mix of International talent, Colangelo has managed to put together one of the worst teams in the league and one of the league’s least desirable playing destinations. Of all his seasons with the team, this is obviously the worst roster he’s put together to start a season. Sometimes starting over is the only option and you have to hit rock bottom before you reach the top. It’s just unfortunate for the franchise and their fans that the team is constantly starting over and never comes close to reaching the top.
Joe Osborne is a sports and entertainment enthusiast who resides in Halifax, NS. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit his blog - What Up Sports.