In what unfortunately has become routine for the Toronto Raptors, Bryan Colangelo spoke to the media yesterday afternoon trying to explain what went wrong in what was supposed to be a promising season. RaptorsHQ was there to capture all the gory details...details which they break down piece by piece over the next two days...
When Bryan Colangelo took the reigns of the Toronto Raptors some four seasons ago, I was ecstatic.
Here was one of the league's most respected General Managers, willing to head north to provide some much needed swagger and guidance to what was at the time, one of the NBA's most rudderless teams.
Results were immediate.
Players were shipped out, vows of "cultural change" were made, and the team made the playoffs in his first full season, jumping from 27 to 47 wins and capturing the Atlantic Division title.
However to a certain extent, it's been all downhill since then.
Yes, the team won more games (40) than last year, but this season was perhaps twice as crushing as fans saw a talented club play its way out of the playoffs in the final games of the season.
And the moves by Bryan Colangelo, whom I once dubbed "the Legomaster" due to his ability to constantly move the pieces of the team around, haven't worked out to say the least.
-Nathan Jawai and PJ Tucker
Nope, it hasn't been pretty.
That's why yesterday's press conference hosted by Colangelo, was such a frustrating experience from a fan perspective. BC took no blame for perhaps the most disappointing season in Raptors' history, and again claimed that the club was "close."
As some of our readers said via Twitter - "close to what?"
Yes, close to what indeed.
I've decided therefore to really get into Bryan's chat with the press yesterday, transcribing most of his key points and providing some commentary on them.
Note - BC talked for over an hour yesterday so there was a LOT of content to go through. I decided therefore to break this into two parts; part I today and part II tomorrow. The full bunch of clips can be seen here.
Heeeeeeeeere we go...
BC opened with this description of the season:
"...Frustrating season, very disappointed, I'd be leaving it short to call it anything anything less than heart-breaking to sit here and talk about the off-season we're about to embark on. It's never easy to look at a team that you think perhaps underachieved and underperformed, and that was really the story of the season."
He then went on to compare the season to a game of basketball, saying that "in the first quarter we didn't get off to a very good start, middle two quarters we played very well and probably beat down our opponents. And in the fourth quarter we couldn’t finish the game..."
Ok so nothing much to hit on here. The team did indeed under-achieve and bookended its season with some terrible play, costing them a shot at the playoffs.
Here's where things get more interesting:
"...but it’s important to acknowledge that a team with 29 wins going into the All-Star break, which ties a franchise record for wins at that moment in the season, is not a bad basketball team. It's important to note that a team that is able to put together a 25 and 11 stretch during a 35 stretch of games is not a bad basketball team. It's an inconsistent basketball team to end up with just 40 wins, but it's not a bad basketball team."
Here's where my issues start.
We're talking about a club that put together its best string of wins (8 and 2) against some of the league's worst clubs. Yes there were wins over the Lakers, Mavs, Magic etc...but we're still talking about a Raptors team that had only one more win against .500 teams than did the Clippers! How is this NOT a bad basketball team? 40 wins isn't good - in fact, considering 42 wins is .500, this isn't even an average team. And for those who say "a bounce here, a Bosh put-back there and this team could have won 45 or more," you could say that about most teams in the league.
The saying goes, "you are what your record is," and I truly believe this year was a great example of that. Next...
"It's important that this so-called frenzy that's occuring right now, this very negative picture that's being painted about our situation is not as doom and gloom as many want to make it. And I say this with great confidence. We have already gone through an assessment...of where we are, where we fell short, what areas of weakness we have, and what we need to address. And those issues will be resolved and be fixed in this off-season. And we're starting at a place much further along I woud say than some people would like to think. We've got a core of players who are very talented, we've got good young basketball players that continue to develop and emerge...look at some of the situations that happened this year, the emergence of Amir of an Amir Johnson, you look at Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan, and the continued evolution of Andrea Bargnani. We've got a good group of young players. We also have very tradeable and marketable players, and we know that because of conversations we've had, at or near the trade deadline and througout the season when we're discussing personnel matters with other teams. I'm confident to say that we've got multiple assets on this team that will either continue to play for us and develop as players, or be part of things to address some of the areas of concern we might have."
First of all, who are all these so-called assets and "tradeable players?" Most of Toronto's big contracts look untradeable unless BC gives up some of the team's upside pieces like Weems and DeRozan. Perhaps he means the expiring contracts (next season) of Marcus Banks and Reggie Evans etc but those types alone aren't going to bring in the necessary pieces this team needs.
And as a fan, how can you not feel a bit as if "doom and gloom" is upon this team?
The club just did its best crash and burn job yet, is likely losing its franchise player, and doesn't have any money to work with to replace him! Um...moving on to the Q and A section...
Q: What happened after the All-Star break?
BC: We all saw it unravel, but to put your finger on one particular thing, there’s been a lot of talk of outside influences and Chris in fact acknowledging that there are outside influences. It was perceived that it was only about Chris Bosh. Our entire team came back from the all-star break a different team with a different mentality. I’m not pinning this solely on Chris Bosh for this team’s demise down the stretch, but it would be somewhat remiss not to acknowledge we’ve had this on-going issue off free agency and discussions among the media and question marks surrounding his status going forward, it can’t help but take it’s toll on a locker room.
The notion of going to a convention of sorts and all the NBA voices talking about opportunity in other places – free agency is a big issue for a few players. We came out of the all-star break with 29 wins. In our first game back Chris Bosh got hurt and ended up missing 12 games – a significant amount of the remaining schedule. It was injury related but there was a host of other things that affected the overall psyche of our team. This can’t be pinned on Chris Bosh. This can’t be pinned solely on the injury. This was a collective spiraling of issues. Unfortunately it was tough to get back on track and when we didn’t get on track, another injury occurred.
Anyone else satisfied with this response? Didn't think so. The "collective spiralling of issues" doesn't sound much different to me than what certain other teams had to endure. I think it's safe to say there was a lot more going on than "free agency issues" or "outside influences," and this is confirmed later on in the presser. On to Bosh talk...
Q: Are you still inclined to build around Chris?
BC: I’ve said this before: We remain Chris Bosh’s best option to maximize his contract potential. Whether that’s re-signing here or goes out in the market and we work out a sign and trade. Chris said it best: Whether or not he stays, we’ll be working together, discussing what options we have. But it’s not often an athlete walks away from a significant amount of money that’s the advantage we have with him either signing with us or working with us on a sign and trade. But there will be no answers until sometime after July 1st and it may take several weeks after that. We’re still looking at a three-month window as to when all of those things work themselves out.
Q: How do you respond to the allegation that maybe Bosh isn't a franchise guy?
BC: ...there are probably only three or four guys in the league who are franchise guys worth maximum contracts but quite a few more receive maximum contracts. Chris Bosh is our maximum contract guy, who is considered the cornerstone of the franchise because of his abilities for the same reason he’s considered one the top players out there – a top-three if not top-five. He’s a guy I think if you can secure that asset, you keep that asset. If you take that asset and turn it into other pieces, that’s what you do. It’s going to be difficult and I’m not sure you get dollar-for-dollar, but I’m not sure we would ever have gotten that, even if we had gone to the market a year ago or a year and a half ago. Contract are not always justifiable in sports, they’re just not. But it’s a situation where Chris Bosh is considered a maximum contract player for multiple reasons and I would assume he would do that if he stays here.
I'll save my comments here till after my first two questions of the day:
RHQ: If Bosh does leave, can you just talk about Andrea Bargnani, how ready do you think he is to possibly replace Bosh to take over that lead role?
BC: I don’t know if he’ll ever be ready to replace Chris fully, but he’ll have the opportunity to assume a much bigger scoring load, he’ll have the opportunity to emerge as a more a dominant scorer within this team. There’s times when he gets a little lost in the offense and he gets a little anxious when he does touch the ball. But you’re talking about a seven-footer who is 24-25, he’s gotten better – with the exception of maybe staying flat the second year – he’s gotten better every step of the way. Despite the constant, constant criticism of the contract, it’s a very good contract. There are a lot of people out there in the league that seem to agree with us. That it’s a very good contract for a kid with that kind of production and that kind of potential. For another $15M more you can get 1.2 rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge, and arguably they're in the same category. Maybe it's neck-and-neck right now, LaMarcus is a little bit ahead but we're talking about guys in an equal talent area and it’s a very good contract. There’s a lot of value there and there’s a lot of interest in him. He’s going to have a chance to emerge if Chris leaves and if Chris stays then we’ll find way for him to get better at things he needs to get better at. You could say rebounding's a concern, he’s got a little bit better, but it’s not good enough.
Defensively, he’s one of our best post players. He averages over a block per game or one and a half blocks per game, whatever it is. He’s become very effective at that. Is he a good weak side defender? No, he needs to work on that, instinctively. We need to be collectively a better group defensively because we don’t have really solid man-on-ball defenders. We need to be better, especially if there are straight-line drives coming from the top. We need to work on our interior defence or weak side defence, people coming over to help and being more of a presence.
Andrea is going to have an opportunity to grow as a player for sure.
RHQ: Do you think the fit's still there between Bosh and Bargnani though, playing together?
BC: Yes. As he gets more and more accustomed to or comfortable with playing in the post, which he has gotten much more comfortable at doing, he’ll be even that much more effective in situations where he can thrive.
It’s the miss matches we have at both positions and their interchangeability that make them effective together.
So first off, I get the feeling from this that Bosh is a goner and BC knows it. I just didn't feel from his answers here, and to some of the questions that followed, that Colangelo was ready to do whatever it took to keep Bosh. That's not necessarily a bad thing in terms of overpaying or promising the moon to a non-LeBron type, however you could argue that BC's backed himself into a corner now, and there's nothing much he can do.
And you knew I had to get into the Andrea stuff. It seems that BC either is doing one hell of a job of trying to keep Bargs' trade value high, or he's still got the blinders on in regards to his prized first-overall pick. I did take some comfort in his answer to my question regarding Andrea replacing Chris, however the defender stuff makes you queasy. Averaging a block a game does not necessarily mean you're a good defender. Not to mention that Andrea has barely improved over the past few seasons statistically, or that we've seen very little evidence that he's best served playing with CB4.
What I really found interesting though is that unprompted, out came the Andrea contract talks. From this one has to think that Colangelo is quite sensitive about the issue and this line in particular really made me scratch my head:
"There are a lot of people out there in the league that seem to agree with us."
Isn't this akin to a guy talking to his friends about a girl he's unsure of dating and saying "you guys think she's hot...don't you?"
Our GM is supposed to be confident in his decisions! There are always going to be folks who disagree and criticize you Bryan, that's what many in the media get paid to do! So why feel the need to validate your actions by making statements like this?
Really for me, this was a first as one thing I had always respected was the authority and confidence that BC carried himself with. Yesterday it all seemed to lose its luster and in many ways I felt I was looking at pyrite...the proverbial fool's gold.
What I really wanted to follow up with was a third question then regarding the timing of the contract, both his and Marco Belinelli's in fact. Thanks to Bargs' extension, he now has what capologists refer to as "the poison pill provision," meaning he can no longer be traded individually for another player with the same salary. Instead, his salary essentially must be averaged out along with a group of other players' salaries in any trade scenario. It's not as bad as him not being "tradeable" until after December 15th as I originally believed, but it's yet another restriction BC had prematurely put in place.
Unfortunately we had moved onto another topic...Jose Calderon.
Q: What happened to Jose Calderon this season?
BC: He missed his first free throw (laughs). It might have been an omen. It might have been a bad sign. He didn’t seem to play with a whole lot of confidence. There were some minor injuries that affected him throughout the year. The combination of Jose and Jarrett has to be looked at. It’s something we’re talking about. They both want to be here. They both have professed to not care about starting. Clearly there was some sort of disconnect there. We need more consistency at that position. It’s just that simple. That’s probably an indictment of both of them. At the same time, it’s an acknowledgment that we’ve got two very talented players that are capable of playing and starting and leading the team. Jose did it during stretches and Jarrett did it during stretches. We need to truly ascertain whether they can play together and co-exist. If we come to that determination that something needs to be done, we’ll make a move. That’ll be something that we heavily scrutinize this summer, this off-season.
This might have been the biggest tip of the hand all afternoon.
From Colangelo's response it seems quite clear that either Jack or Jose are gone next year...however it's hard to say which one it wil be. BC expressed a desire to have "a starting point guard who averaged 10 assists a game" and unfortunately Jose is the only one of the two that fits that bill. His value is likely much lower than Jack as well due to performance, health and...oh yeah...that giant contract.
However on a team needing major defensive upgrades, it makes a lot more sense to move Jose.
What puzzled me was Colangelo referring to a "disconnect there" regarding the two point guards. Unlike the Jose and TJ situation of years' past, I didn't think there was any issue other than the fact that Jay couldn't decide who to play when, and that Jose simply underperformed. To me it's quite simple; the team has two back-up point guards disguised as starters, both of whom are unfortunately locked into long-term deals. If I was a betting man, I'd say that moving one of these two players is the surest trade scenario this off-season.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow...