It has been a summer of spending for the Raptors while league-wide, every other team has braced for the economic situation while looking for bargain players. Will the Raptors' spendthrift ways come back to haunt them in the future?
I still remember the day.
It was July 18th, 2001 and the Raptors announced that in a coup, they managed to re-sign all their major free agents, those key players who helped take the team within inches of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Then GM, Glen Grunwald, explained to the public how the Raptors had secured their future and we the fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. We were convinced that we were lucky to keep our young core together for the next few years and it would be the beginning of a legacy of playoff runs.
Of course after a few years, a wonky knee, a few bad seasons, and some mild controversy turned all those deals sour. The fans and the media who once praised the signings, suddenly turned around and talked about how much those same long-term contracts hampered the team instead of helped it.
The lesson I took from that time as a fan was to always careful of what you do with your so-called star players. There was no doubt in our minds that Vince Carter was worth a max-money contract. Heck, in this day and age, Carter still manages to command a higher contract than the stars of the draft class of 2003. However, the contracts that really poisoned the Raptors seemed to be those of Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, and Mr JYD Jerome Williams.
Today, we have slightly different concerns, but there are lessons to be learned from our past.
No longer do we live with that same stigma that all players dislike Toronto as a destination. The feeling back in 2001 was that the Raptors simply had to pay that amount to their free agents because they just couldn't attract the players they needed at an appropriate salary. It's more of a choice nowadays that Bryan Colangelo will pay what he needs to, in order to get the piece he wants. The perception of Toronto as a city has changed, but as is the case with any NBA team, it's hard to convince players to come to a team has hardly been a juggernaut in terms of playoff success the past few years.
At the end of last season though, Bryan Colangelo made a firm commitment to revamp his 2008-2009 roster. There's no doubt he's managed to do this and most fans have fully endorsed his roster shake-up. Though, how he's done his makeover in regards to the length and price of the contracts he's handed out has given some reason to pause.
Is the man they call the "Turkish Michael Jordan" really worth $53 million over five years considering he wanted to come to Toronto more than Portland and was offered slightly less from the Blazers?
Is Andrea Bargnani, with barely half a year of improvement worth his reported $50 million dollars when the salary cap is projected to fall even further next year and there was a large possibility that Bargnani would be squeezed out of a top dollar contract?
Heck, is Jarrett Jack worth $5 million to become a capable backup combo guard on a team that already has over $14 million dollars (Calderon, Douby, Banks, and Ukic) in contracts tied up in their point guard position?
For those that scoff at this and look at the finances of our team as being inconsequential and not of concern, we should turn our attention to the recent trade that brought in Hedo into the Raptors' fold. Locking Turkoglu for five years, the Raptors have made a substantial commitment to a player who is already 30 years old. At a contract that continues to increase over the span of five years, Turkoglu will be a player who will be paid in excess of $10 million dollars at the age of 35.
And looking at a slightly bigger picture?
The Raptors have now committed about $35 million of their cap space per year through the next four years in the form of Jose Calderon's, Jarret Jack's, Andrea Bargnani's, and Hedo Turkoglu's contracts. Toss in an extension for Chris Bosh, and we're probably talking over $50 million tied up in five players through to the 2012/2013 season.
Now stability can be a good thing for a club that has already proven itself but Toronto of course does not fit in this category at present. And now with so many long-term contracts for several key players, there will be little room to maneuver should the Raptors find that their new team just isn't as competitive as anticipated. Colangelo will be left with no choice but to stick with this team throughout his tenure and hopefully play the Euro-centric, run-and-gun style that he's advocated from day one. Focusing again on Turkoglu, if the Raptors find that they need more rebounding from the Small Forward position, they will be hard pressed to find such a player on the open market at the mid level exception next year. Maybe more importantly, would the Raptors or their fans be comfortable having Turkoglu come off the bench at $10 million a year later down the line, should this experiment fail?
I am not here to be a doom-sayer, nor am I as pessimistic as my Raptors HQ colleagues about the upcoming season. I have always admired Colangelo's ability to fill his needs, make changes, and keep a roster that allows for flexibility. However, with so many contracts tied into the Raptors for the next few years, it's admittedly a little bit worrying that Colangelo has mortgaged future flexibility in order to acquire players that will help retain Chris Bosh now. It's even more troubling that two of those long term contracts are for players that haven't even played a minute of Raptors basketball and it is hard to evaluate their worth or their fit with this current roster.
Bryan Colangelo seems to be betting with his entire reputation on this summer's moves. If the Raptors cannot gel together and Chris Bosh bolts from Toronto without any compensation to the team, the Dinos will be stuck with a roster full of great B-grade talent without a true anchor for the team. If CB4 stays and the team doesn't work out in the long run, Colangelo could have quite a difficult time finding takers for the large and long contracts he has handed out this summer.
Essentially BC is going for broke.
And while I'm glad major changes were made and am quite happy with the results overall, I think like most Raptor fans, I'm just hoping that we don't look back on this summer in two years and realize we were witnessing the summer of 2001 all over again.