After a history of flawed rebuild efforts, the HQ's Scott Campsall wonders if Bryan Colangelo has finally got it right...
Being a fan of the Toronto Raptors is not, and has never been a particularly rewarding experience; actively rooting for the Raptors means rooting for success, but never fully getting the gratification of seeing it take place. It also means buying into plans put forth by management year after year, but never seeing those plans come to fruition the way we anticipated they would. But, maybe because there are no other professional basketball teams in Canada, maybe just simply because we love the game of basketball or for some other reason that remains unknown to us, we talk ourselves into rooting for the Raptors every season.
When you have been a Raptors fan for as long as I have, you start to become immune to all the bad news that comes with the territory. The Raptors have a long history of underachievement, missed opportunities and disinterested superstars.
True Raptors fans will remember what it felt like when Damon Stoudemire asked out, when T-Mac left town, and when Vince got dealt for ten cents on the dollar. That's the very same feeling we had when we heard the name Rafael Araujo for the first time, or when Chris Bosh sat out the final five games of the 2010 season, and then was traded for a couple of draft picks and a trade exception. (Which looks increasingly bad thanks to recent Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony trades.) The same can be said about the way the Hedo signing and Jermaine O'Neal trade turned out. And then there was last off-season's crushing trade that wasn't, involving a game changer in Tyson Chandler who we all saw go on to become an integral part of the Mav's championship run.
For some, that is also the feeling brought about by the last few acquisitions made by the Raptors' brass. To many it feels a little empty and familiar; drafting another Euro, a player that the wont even be seen in a Raptors uniform this year. Free agents additions like Jamaal Magloire and Rasual Butler, both guys that couldn't crack their team's respective lineups for majority of last season, then a career reserve in Aaron Gray. Another potential addition, Anthony Carter is a career journey-man that is memorable only to the true diehard NBA fans. These are all moves that on the surface lack the luster of a Tyson Chandler, or Nene signing and feel more like the familiar signings of Fred Jones and Primoz Brezec of the past.
The general perception of the upcoming season for the Dinos is that it will be just another losing season, a season where the players go through the motions and collect their paychecks; a season in which it's only reward will be to grab their yearly spot in the lottery.
That is the feeling for many, but for me, this time it feels different. The 2000-01 Toronto Raptors team was the culmination of a game plan, built with the proper pieces around a superstar in Vince Carter. This period of Raptors basketball, which could have easily been at least a five year stretch of success, was destroyed when Vince Carter struggled with injuries and was eventually traded out of town. The Raptors squads of subsequent eras--including the Colangelo era teams--have been plagued by reckless roster construction, and deconstruction, with very little attention being paid to chemistry and long term planning. This is something we have seen for years. That is, until this year.
The team may not win very many games this season, but there is something refreshing about witnessing a plan put in place by management, and then an actual commitment to seeing that plan out. Colangelo has never been one to build a long term plan, and has always tried to hit the home run with one big move when a number of small moves would do the trick. But this year, he has made some of those small moves and put the team in position to be successful going forward.
I think Colangelo deserves some credit for his dedication, especially for a guy on a shorter term contract that could potentially be on the hot seat if this team doesn't perform in the next couple of years. He has put his faith in the growth and development of young players and a passionate head coach with minimal head coaching experience.
He has already shown the willingness to make unpopular moves for the long-term betterment of this team. If you don't believe me, you clearly weren't frequenting the message boards when Colangelo used the 5th overall pick in this year's draft on Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is a guy that has the tools to make a serious impact in the league, at a position where not many of those types of players exists. Yet, drafting him meant waiting a season for him to come over, and dealing with the backlash he would surely face for drafting another "Euro".
Going back to last season, Colangelo could have tried to use the trade exception he acquired in the Bosh deal to add a player with a bigger contract that could come in and have an impact right away, but instead, he used it on a number of deals, including the one which landed both a young piece in Jerryd Bayless and some cap flexibility in the form of Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract.
Unpopular moves at the time? Maybe, but they are all a part of Colangelo's plan to build an actual team that will grow together, rather than assembling parts and hoping they come together in a single season.
This offseason, BC hired a coach with limited head coaching experience, but a proven defensive guy; not a sexy hire, but a good solid basketball hire given this team's history of defensive inefficiency, and lack of accountability on that end of the floor.
During free agency Colangelo has added some veteran locker room guys in Butler, Magloire and Carter; and a couple of younger guys that could be a part of the team going forward in Forbes and Gray, all in the name of helping the development of young players, preserving cap flexibility and sticking to his long term plan of improving this team.
Granted, it did take a few seasons for Bryan Colangelo to initiate a building plan of action, and he deserves his share of criticism for that; but if you are going to criticize him for his shortcomings, than as fans, we should acknowledge the change in philosophy and the potential for excitement about what this team could become if it is given the time to develop.
This is why Raptors fans must stick by this team and see this through. We have been through it all, we have seen the ups and the downs-of which there have been plenty-but this time is different. To me, it feels like we are headed in the right direction; like there are more ups than downs in store for the team, and for its fans, in the near future.
It may seem as though we have seen this whole script before, but in truth, this could be the beginning of something we haven't seen in Raptorland in quite some time: a real future.