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The Legomaster – Bad Building Blocks or a Lack of Pieces?

BC - Overrated or being examined within too small a time period?

BC - Overrated or being examined within too small a time period?

"Bryan Colangelo hasn't done a thing without his daddy there to show him the way. Yeah he turned the Phoenix Suns from a 30-win team to a contender. But he's also the one who turned them into that 30 win team. Past gems include moving fan favourite Dan Majerle and a 1st for a washed up Hot Rod Williams. Don't forget that he initially traded Nash away too. He flipped Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury- nuff said there. He lowballed Joe Johnson and was forced to trade him away. Yeah everyone loved Diaw and the picks at first but now they're trying their hardest to dump Diaw. Imagine the Suns the last 2 years with J.J. He dumped multiple picks to save money- one of those picks amounted to Luol Deng!! Then he spends the money he saved by throwing ridiculous contracts at Quentin Richardson, Boris Diaw and Marcus Banks!! What a complete joke!!

Yeah he's done a great job in TO. Came in with huge cap space (thanks to Rob Babcock ironically) and a 1st overall pick and turned TO into a team that will be lucky to make the 8th spot in the East next year. Would you trade TO's roster right now for Philly's, Atlanta's, Chicago's or Miami's? Unless you’re incredibly biased you do that in a second. These are all teams that have passed/will pass TO on Colangelo's watch.

Please explain how any of the above moves show that Colangelo is a great GM. I think it speaks more to how pathetic the Exec. of the year and COY awards are (yes S. Mitchell I'm talking to you).

Any response Doug?

Bryan Colangelo is as overrated as JP Ricciardi and we all know how that's turned out.

Unkle Zeke"

This was a comment posted to Doug Smith’s blog a few months ago after Toronto’s second straight early playoff exit. One of Doug’s readers had questioned some of Bryan Colangelo’s recent decisions, and Doug had responded explaining the many ways in which BC had turned this franchise around.

Now while I agreed with Mr. Smith in terms of the impact BC has had with regard to changing the team’s culture, chemistry and marketability, I wasn’t quite sold on his take on the various on-court personnel moves. I never quite understood the Joey Graham extension, was questioning the handling of the Andrea Bargnani and TJ Ford situations (although who knows who was really pulling the strings in those cases), and therefore scanned the comment section to see if anyone else out there in blog-land was scratching their head a bit.

Much to my surprise, there were in fact a good number of posts which articulated my feelings and therefore I decided to do the old cut and paste, thinking that at some point I’d want to discuss this issue in more detail this off-season.

With the recent talks on the site, now seems about as good a time as any.

At first glance, I found it tough not to agree with almost all of "Unkle Zeke’s" comment.

Remember, this was prior to any Jermaine O’Neal trades, Elton Brand signings or Josh Childress Greece defections. Put yourself back in your own shoes as of June 1 and think about the Raptors, especially in comparison to squads like the 76ers or Hawks. (Even with the top pick I’m not sure would have wanted to swap places with the Bulls but that’s another story.)

Would you have swapped teams?

Weren’t you somewhat confused about the direction of the club?

I know I was.

When Colangelo came in he preached an up-and-down style and while I thought the whole Phoenix East thing was a bit much, the team was looking to run-and-gun more than in previous years. Players were signed, drafted and traded for to support this plan (Ford, Kapono, Delfino and Bargnani in particular) and yet after less than two seasons, it was painfully obvious that things weren’t quite working as planned.

On top of this, the TJ Ford situation was still looming large, Toronto was obviously suffering from a lack of talent around Chris Bosh, and all of a sudden Andrea was looking like a suspect top pick. You had to ask yourself just what Colangelo was going to do to get this team back to the caliber of play he had surely envisioned upon coming to Toronto.

So I guess my question to everyone now is, have things changed? Is the Jermaine O’Neal trade enough to silence the critics? And furthermore, does Colangelo really deserve the criticism he now finds himself getting?

Almost a month ago Yahoo Sports’ Kelly Dwyer drew his own line in the sand and took the latter position; the position that yes BC has had some blips on his radar, but generally he’s done a great job with what he’s had to work with.

This line of thought could further be backed-up by arguing that Kapono and Bargnani were simply never used correctly, that Ford was given too long a leash, and that bad luck struck in terms of the injury to Garbo. So in that sense, and as many of our readers mentioned recently, the real culprit here could very well be Sam Mitchell couldn’t it?

However before we transfer the blame or start up that discussion, I think it’s worth digging a bit deeper into BC’s past moves. One of our readers on Wednesday made some very interesting observations about the current Toronto make-up that I think are worth repeating:

"I know everyone has drank a lot of the BC Kool-aid in the past (myself included) but is anyone else concerned that BC seems to be a little out of his depth here? I mean there isn't a single significant player on the roster that he has brought in (not including O’Neal whose contributions we won't know til the seasons starts). Calderon is Babcock’s baby, Bosh came from Grunwald, and that really is all that you can rely on with this team. Parker is too hot and cold at times and his best season was his first. Garbajosa got hurt (which you can't blame BC for), and there are a number of players who BC has brought in whose contributions are both sporadic and suspect. He has now had three drafts and has only two active players on the roster to show for it (yes I know he wasn't to blame for the Lamond Murray fiasco but getting a guy from Greece who may never be seen cannot be the best he can do). Even Ukic isn't his player (another Babcock child). Even his trades and free agent signings have been weak. Yes he got $1.50 for Araujo but that is like saying you got a yen for a peso. John Salmons balked, Fred Jones was a bust, the Peewee Herman he got for Jones didn't work out and Brezec, although midly entertaining, was only useful for his expiring deal. As much Vilanueva hasn't worked out for Milwaukee, there is no doubt now that trade was a mistake. Kapono looked decent down the stretch last year and that one may turn out ok but no one can deny that he is being overpaid for what he has given so far (anyone remember how the Raptor party line after the signing Kapono instead of a swing who can create their own shot, play d and rebound was that if they hit more shots, they wouldn't need to rebound as much, how did that work out). The final nail in the coffin is that he extended Graham. I scratched my head last off-season and could only reason that it was standard operating procedure (i.e. everyone re-ups their 1st rounders). The problem is that if he intended to keep Graham and develop him instead of just dumping his salary, then why go out and get Moon, and Kapono and Delfino in a trade, thus burying the kid deep on the bench? Maybe he thought the competition would set a fire under Joey but then why extend him? Wouldn't the fear of not being under contract after 3 years have done the same thing and maybe more effectively? If I understand how these things work correctly, even if Joey blew up last year, the Raps still would have had the right to match option should other teams show interest..."

Some great points and whether you are completely in BC’s corner or not, there are some irrefutable facts here, especially in terms of his success with player acquisitions. There’s no question he’s struck out on a few personnel moves in Toronto…but how about prior to this in Phoenix? Everyone remembers the Nash and Kidd deals, but let’s take a closer look at some of the main transactions that went on under his watch in Arizona:

-In 1996 he was involved in dealing Charles Barkley to Houston for Robert Horry, Mark Bryant, Chucky Brown and Sam Cassell. The same year he also grabbed Jason Kidd, Tony Dumas and Loren Meyer for Cassell, AC Green, and Michael Finley. And of course that year, he also drafted one Steve Nash.

-In 1997 he dealt the same Bob Horry along with Joe Kleine to reacquire former Slam Dunk champ Cedric Ceballos and Rumeal Robinson. In an even bigger move that year, he acquired Denver’s Antonio McDyess in a 3-way trade with the Nuggets and Cavs, giving up Tony Dumas, Wesley Person, two first round and two second round picks. The first round picks turned out to be Tyronn Lue and Brevin Knight and the second rounders being Greg Buckner and Dan McClintock. Finally in 1997, Phoenix drafted high school star Stephen Jackson. (However BC and co. waived the former McDonald’s All-Star before the season began.)

-In 1998, BC dealt Ceballos to Dallas for Dennis Scott. His moves with Dallas didn’t stop there as he dealt Steve Nash for the ill-fated trio of Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp and Bubba Wells. However a first-round pick was also involved in this deal and with it, BC grabbed UNLV standout Shawn Marion. Wells and Muursepp didn’t last long however. The next year they were dealt with Mark Bryant for former Bull Luc Longley. The other player from the Nash deal, Pat Garrity didn’t last long either. In August of 1999, he and Danny Manning were sent to Orlando along with two first round picks for Penny Hardaway.

-2001 marked the year that BC made the infamous Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury swap with Clifford Robinson being thrown in exchange for John Wallace and Jud Buechler.

-In 2002, the Suns acquired Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio and Randy Brown from the Celtics in exchange for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers. Oh, and he even got Boston to throw a first-round pick (which turned out to be Casey Jacobsen.) Also, BC made the astute choice of Amare Stoudemire in that summer’s draft.

-2003 was much quieter in terms of major personnel moves but BC did draft Zarko Cabarkapa and acquire the draft rights to Leandro Barbosa.

-In 2004, BC reacquired Antonio McDyess in addition to Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward and Maciej Lampe while jettisoning Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway. He also signed Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson that off-season.

-Faced with salary issues BC dealt Joe Johnson in 2005 for Boris Diaw and two first round picks (Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez.) He also moved the team’s first-round pick to Chicago which turned out to be Luol Deng. Quentin Richardson and a first-round pick (Nate Robinson) were then dealt for Kurt Thomas, and Raja Bell, and then later in the season Tim Thomas, were signed.

Nash and Starbury - The dichotomy that is Bryan Colangelo

Nash and Starbury - The dichotomy that is Bryan Colangelo

After perusing this list of transactions, a few main things stand out for me:

1) First of all, with the draft being a fairly large crapshoot half the time, Colangelo has done an above average job of identifying high quality talent. Having the foresight to grab Nash, Stoudemire, Jackson and Marion in the draft (none of whom were popular choices by fans or critics when they were selected) alone is worth a round of applause. And considering a stat Howland mentioned to me last night (that 25 per cent of all first round picks since 2005 end up playing in the D League) Colangelo, except in a few cases, has been able to acquire players via the draft who contribute immediately.

2) Secondly, BC likes his shooters. During his tenure in Phoenix he made moves to get Robert Horry, George McLoud, Dennis Scott, Pat Garrity, Rex Chapman, Vinny Del Negro, Jud Buechler, Dan Majerle, and the list goes on and on. Even Rodney Rogers, a power forward he traded for in 1999, was one of the premier shooters at his position.

3) Finally, what really sticks out when you look at the Legomaster’s moves in both Phoenix (and now Toronto) is that he doesn’t sit on his hands if something isn’t working. You’ll notice numerous times under his tenure with the Suns that within a year or sometimes months, Colangelo turned around and dealt players he had only recently traded for!

We’ve seen this in Toronto as well and I think that’s the most encouraging thing about BC. He doesn’t hesitate to try and fix a mistake and so I imagine that several of the Raptors (including the coach) are currently on a very short leash.

So getting back to our original questions now that we’ve taken a more microscopic look at Colangelo’s career, has, as Kelly Dwyer put it, "the luster rubbed off of Colangelo?" Or after seeing the highs and lows, do you now think that yes BC has made some mistakes, but that he’ll continue to be quick in correcting things and consistently improving the club?

I’d have to say I’m solidly in the latter camp, with the recent Jermaine O'Neal trade paving the way.

The Joey Graham extension may have represented a lack of prescience on his behalf and Andrea no doubt looks like a top 10 pick in 2006 as opposed to THE top pick…but who’s to say Bargs can’t turn it around next year when he’s slotted at his correct position?

And having seen his dealings in Phoenix, it seems pretty certain that if both don’t step things up this year, they’ll find themselves jettisoned quicker than you can say Hoffa.

I think the other thing we’re all forgetting here is that from an analytical perspective, we’re talking about a fairly small "sample size" when examining BC’s work in Toronto to date. He’s only been with the club for about two and a half seasons and if you were to grab the same time period from his tenure in Phoenix, the results could have been even worse.

Say for instance we looked at only Colangelo’s moves from 1998 to 2001 with Phoenix? During that time he dealt Steve Nash and Jason Kidd for essentially a broken down Penny Hardaway and Stephon Marbury. The lone bright spot in that era was the drafting of Shawn Marion. However the following year he grabbed Joe Johnson and soon began to get the Suns back on the upswing. I’m thinking we’ll see the same thing in Toronto, with Jermaine O’Neal being the launch pad to the next era of BC basketball.

The first one hasn’t worked out so bad, and I think we all need to see what comes from the Jermaine O’Neal epoch before jumping ship.

After all, having all the talent in the world on a team doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have management that can keep it together and consistently fine tune a franchise’s performance. Joe Dumars struck out badly on Darko but simply swallowed his pride, moved his former top 3 pick for the best deal possible, and ended up with Rodney Stuckey, not a bad consolation prize.

And for the preeminent example of the "we have lots of talent but can’t keep it" theory, look at the Atlanta Hawks. We originally started this post off with a comment from a reader who was willing to trade the post-2008 playoffs edition of the Raptors for said Atlanta team.

Now would you say that?


In only about 3 months the Hawks have gone from a team of great promise to one that could be right back in contention for worst squad in the league.

Maybe things didn’t go quite as smoothly in Toronto as fans and management alike would have hoped…

…but looking around at Chris Wallace, Kevin McHale, Michael Jordan, John Paxon and numerous other GM’s, Raptors fans have had it pretty good in the Colangelo era.

On that note, I think another comment from earlier this week does a nice job of finishing things off:

…aren't we really just arguing with ourselves a bit over him having a 2-year "make or break" window? By that I mean, the turnaround in his 1st year seemed dramatic but in retrospect he turned a dismal franchise into a moderately respectable one. That doesn't make you a "master" GM, it makes you a competent one...

Well put and I think that's the final point that needs to be made. Toronto's media (and that includes us here at the HQ) and the team's fans were probably guilty in over-hyping Colangelo, which was somewhat inevitable after the recent dismal seasons by the Raptors.

The reality is that Colangelo is one of the better NBA executives in the league but is by no means some sort of all-knowing savant. BC needs a bit of luck and for the cards to fall a certain way just like every other GM.

He'll make his share of mistakes running the show, but will also be quick to make corrections after realizing the error of his ways.

Does the Jermaine O'Neal trade undo some of his previous miscues?

We'll see starting in October but regardless you can be sure that Colangelo will all the while be hunting for that next Antonio McDyess for Tony Dumas type swap...