On Friday, the Air Canada Centre greeted Rudy Gay with a standing ovation. He promptly connected with DeMar DeRozan for two alley-hoops. The crowd was delighted, even willing to entertain thoughts of the playoffs this season, and the possibility that we had just acquired a superstar capable of taking us to new heights.
Meanwhile in Memphis, the team came out flat in their first game after the trade. The ownership group, front office and coach appear to be at odds about the trade.
Which speaks a lot to the thing about these type of trades where large dollars and above average talent are exchanged. On one hand, there's just on-court impact. The Raptors added a dynamic wing scorer. The Grizzlies, just a level below the top contenders in the West, lost their starting forward in the middle of what they hope to be a championship season. On the court, we saw the very early returns of the deal.
But on the other hand, and the reason that motivated Memphis's front office to make this move, there's the issue of dollars, and that the Raptors have just absorbed a player being paid almost $20 million over the next two years.
To look at these two perspectives in isolation would be to ignore the potential long-term damage to the Raptors. Consider that the team as currently constructed has almost $44 million committed to just Gay, DeRozan, Landry Fields and DeMar DeRozan in 2015. This figure assumes that Bargnani will be moved - as Colangelo has publicly suggested - and doesn't account for any extension which Lowry will receive.
So when DeRozan is throwing alley-hoops to Gay, and he's soaring above the rim and bringing the promise of better days in Toronto, it's hard for me not to see that connection as the two financial constraints that will limit the team from being any more than a fringe playoff contender for the foreseeable future.
Colangelo's tenure in Toronto has been filled with misses. But up until Bosh's departure, he was building a team that with a few correct moves, could've vaulted itself into a contender in the Eastern Conference. It's easy to rehash the mistakes in acquiring Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Marion and of course, Hedo Turkoglu. You can also criticize him for both believing that Bosh was worth building around, and being convinced that he would stay instead of trading him in his contract year for value.
But the moves could be justified at the time. Remember, the Raptors won the Atlantic Division in the first season under Colangelo, and the conference was a different landscape at that point. The Celtics would form their Big Three that off-season, and this was before Miami assembled its current team. Also, the thinking behind pairing O'Neal and Bosh could have been rationalized at the time, and Turkoglu was coming off a post-season where he was so effective as a point forward in the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard that there was reason to think it could be replicated in Toronto with Bosh.
I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to Colangelo for those moves. But after several years of patience and showing restraint as the team rebuilt after Bosh's departure, the risk-taker in Colangelo returned too pre-maturely for my liking this off-season.
The ill-fated pursuit of Steve Nash was a red flag, and even though we did end up with the better fit for the future in Kyle Lowry, management basically fell onto the right decision by mistake.
This continued with the extension given to DeRozan, even though he was headed to restricted free agency, essentially giving the Raptors an entire season to take a free look before matching any offer he might've received.
And then, the Rudy Gay trade.
Colangelo speaks about the need to acquire the talent, while being aware of the salary implications, which is fine. You could look at the acquisition of Gay in isolation and understand the need to add such a player to the core, even at that price. But when you start looking at it together with all the other moves that's been made, it's hard to get too excited, and it's worrisome as to whether Colangelo is the right person to handle a rebuilding process that may have already been damaged with all the moves in the last few months.
I have no doubt that Gay will give the Raptors a short-term boost. There will be nights like Friday when we'll be reminded of what above-average talent looks like on the court. But I worry about the long-term, and if we're an organization that truly wants to lay the groundwork for a championship, and not something less, then there's been a lot to be discouraged about with the recent moves.
And yes, Colangelo has publicly said he is by no means finished with tinkering with the team. And who knows, perhaps he will extract value for Bargnani, or find a way to create some financial flexibility for the team. But looking at the roster, and the history of Colangelo's moves, it's hard to think that these next moves will just be like his previous ones: necessitated by the need to correct his past mistakes.