The HQ looks at GM options for the Toronto Raptors and wonders if maybe standing pat isn't such a bad idea after all...
This article took me a long time to write.
I was planning on posting it yesterday morning, but the research involved took a lot longer than expected, so here we are today, Tuesday morning.
How long did it take to write?
Well in some ways, this whole thing started weeks ago as the Toronto Raptors were concluding a dismal 22 win season, and current Raptors' GM, Bryan Colangelo, had yet to be given a contract extension. At that point we debated Colangelo's future, and after he spoke to the media, debated it some more, along with presenting his "Raptors' Resume" shall we say.
And while I was going over BC's resume, I began combing through other data regarding his tenure, and possible replacements should he be given the boot.
Because really, there are only three possibilities here, ones we presented in Sunday's HQ Poll:
1) The team extends him for another 5 years.
2) The team extends him for a shorter time period as a bit of "prove to us you've still got it" play.
3) The team lets him go.
I guess the fourth option is that Colangelo resigns, but I don't see that happening any time soon.
So if options one and two mean keeping BC around, it's this third that I'd like to explore today, as this is the one that over the past 72 hours, had me looking up names like Troy Weaver and Sam Hinkie.
If the team does fire Bryan Colangelo, who replaces him?
We've heard the Wayne Embry rumours, which have since been refuted, but regardless, at some point a full-time GM will need to step in if BC goes, so who might that be, or better yet, who SHOULD that be?
Well, after a weekend of research, to be honest, I'm not sure.
Originally I thought that this process would point out some obvious candidates to take Colangelo's place, but I found they've been few and far between.
Well for starters, there just isn't much GM turnover.
Look at the top teams in the league this year.
Not much difference, aside from the Pistons, who probably aren't letting Joe Dumars go despite his recent woes, the Nets, who essentially swapped GM's with 76ers a year ago, and clubs like Sacramento and Phoenix, who have fallen on harder times of late.
Most of the league's great teams are consistently so, a statement backed up by the fact that there have been only eight different teams in the past 30 years who have been NBA champions.
Some of the previous statement has to do with economics, market size and other functions of course, but keeping successful management in-house also goes a long way towards ensuring team success, and generally speaking, when looking at the past 10 years or so for this article, I noted that the top brass stays put for the most part.
In fact of the league's current 30 GM's, 21 of them have held their posts for four or more years, many, with the same team for tenures of eight years or longer.
As a result, there simply aren't many obvious choices as the top dogs are still with their same clubs (the RC Bufords and the Donnie Nelsons), and the executives who have had more success than failure, guys like Rod Thorn and Ernie Grunfeld, well they keep bouncing from team to team too.
There are two names though who did keep coming up time and time again; Mark Warkentien and Kevin Pritchard.
Pritchard of course is the man responsible for the Blazers' turnaround near the middle of the past decade, who was unceremoniously let go by Portland before the 2010 draft. During his tenure in Portland he showed a keen eye for identifying talent, grabbing late round draft picks like Rudy Fernandez and Dante Cunningham, while making bold top talent acquisitions that resulted in the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy.
Yes, he oversaw the Greg Oden decision, however it's hard to blame him for Oden's consistent health woes.
Pritchard is currently employed as a consultant to the Indiana Pacers (he played briefly with Larry Bird on the Celtics back in the day), but apparently there is no "official" relationship, and I'd be all for Toronto making a run at him.
I'd also be fine with the team making a run at Warkentien, the former GM of the Denver Nuggets who was the 2009 NBA Executive of the Year.
Warkentien did oversee the decision to bring Allen Iverson to Denver, but also quickly realized where he had erred, swapping him out for Chauncey Billups in a move that took the Nuggets from mediocre to contender over night. He also oversaw shrewd acquisitions like Aaron Afflalo and Chris Andersen.
Like Pritchard, Warkentien is currently employed as a consultant so not completely a free agent, however with the right financial incentive, I'm sure he'd be happy to part ways with the Knicks.
Both Pritchard and Warkentien ended up on many "Top GMs of the Decade" type lists, and really, are the only two executives who aren't running the show with an NBA club at present.
After these two, you've gotta dig a bit deeper, and it's while doing this digging that I noticed an interesting trend in terms of top NBA management; all roads lead through San Antonio, Houston and Portland.
The majority of names that might be of interest to Toronto all have had or have experience with these clubs, and all three have been strip-mined of talent of late.
Take Dennis Lindsey, the VP/Assistant GM of the San Antonio Spurs.
He joined the Spurs in 2007 after 11 seasons with...Houston.
Or Rob Hennigan, Assistant GM/Player Personnel for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He was Director of Basketball Operations with...San Antonio and spent five years with the Spurs before joining OKC.
Even Warkentien worked for Portland for 10 seasons, eventually elevating to the title of Assistant GM.
If I was MLSE I'd give all three of these guys a look as well as Pritchard, however Hennigan is a name that looks especially intriguing. He's a bright young up-and-comer by all accounts who is extremely well-versed in the international game, one that seems to be of such importance to this market.
Other names to consider would include Houston Executive VP of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie, the analytics guru for Darryl Morey and the Rockets, Troy Weaver, Assistant GM and Vice President of the Thunder, and Orlando Magic Assistant GM, Dave Twardzik.
Really, there's no shortage of names out there if MLSE wants to beat the bushes and execute a full-on search, it's just that the Pat Riley's and Jerry West's are few and far between.
In fact, let's look back at that Phoenix Suns club that's "fallen on harder times of late."
At one point Phoenix was a Western Conference juggernaut with only three sub-500 seasons from 1995 to 2006, one of those being a 40 and 42 club that still made the playoffs.
Nine playoff appearances in 11 years in a tough Western Conference?
Maybe the Raptors should make a play for whoever was running that show!
They already have him.
Yep, Bryan Colangelo oversaw a very successful club in Arizona and if you tack on his first two years in Toronto, it's no wonder he was consistently voted as one of the league's top execs.
It's interesting really.
During my search for "the new Colangelo," the one thing that kept smacking me over the head was just how good BC had been.
Has he lost his touch?
Or can we attribute his recent image to simply a matter of sample size?
Because in reality Colangelo still has one of the best records of all GM's, especially those with eight or more years experience. I drew up a spreadsheet of the league's GM's and only the Kings Geoff Petrie has been running a team for as long as him currently, and BC's win percentage of .53 beats out the likes of Petrie, Thorn, King, Paxson and Bird.
Sure everyone wants the next Darryl Morey or Sam Presti.
However they've both been only doing this GM thing for four years, so have a much smaller sample size to work with. Colangelo has seen the highs and lows and maybe deserves a chance to bring back the highs here in Toronto.
Has he made some egregious decisions in the past that are deserving of a pink slip?
But Colangelo also knows this franchise better than anyone else and has already started the rebuild process. I'd argue that while hiring someone like the aforementioned Hennigan or Pritchard makes a ton of sense as indeed a "fresh start," the time to pull the trigger on something like that is now.
It's your move MLSE.
You can keep the man with the proven track record, perhaps on a shorter leash so to speak, or you can hope to land the next Presti or Buford amongst some of the names we've gone through.
Either way, the decision needs to come asap.
The last three years for Raptors' fans haven't been great, but I'd argue there is something much worse here looming; an "in limbo" Colangelo feels slighted and takes his act somewhere else, leaving the Raptors with no plan B, C or D.
If that's the case, welcome to Minnesota East.