Franchise wonders if Bryan Colangelo still thinks he can win the ultimate poker challenge even though he's exhausted all outs...When Bryan Colangelo first came to the Toronto Raptors just over four years ago, it seemed almost too good to be true.
Here was one of the most respected men in basketball, leaving the comfy confines of a juggernaut Phoenix Suns organization to come help a beleaguered Raptors squad; a squad that just finished driving its franchise player out of town and winning 27 games.
Things went from bleak to bright in the blink of an eye.
Colangelo and his brain-trust immediately went to work moving dead weight like Rafael Araujo, and mining Europe for key players like Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa.
He convinced Chris Bosh to stick around, and with a 47 win season and Atlantic Division crown in Colangelo's first in charge, it was pretty tough not to be excited about the team's future.
However as we know, things soured the following season and since BC's inaugural year in charge, it's been almost all downhill since then. Even though the team had a bit of a rebound season record-wise last year, it was still considered a disappointment as most envisioned Toronto to be at the least a playoff squad.
Mixed in with the team disappointments is the fact that the Raptors have been trying to retain star player Chris Bosh, a member of the vaunted 2003 draft class which also featured the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Since the trio signed extensions with their respective clubs a few seasons ago, speculation has been rampant about their futures and its culminated in what is already becoming the most anticipated NBA off-season in years. The media has been calling this summer things like "The Summer of LeBron" for some time and ESPN.com has even gone as far as building a widget allowing their readers to essentially play a game to decide the trio's fate regarding which teams they end up with next season.
Therefore while winning games and getting out of the first round of the playoffs may have been Bryan Colangelo's supreme mandate upon arrival, retaining the services of Bosh and getting him the help he needed was certainly priority 1 B.
To this end, a few years ago, I likened Colangelo's attempts to keep Bosh to a high-stakes game of Texas Hold'em Poker.
In his first round of the game, cards like TJ Ford, Parker and Garbajosa seemed to give him a good shot at taking the pot. However he traded those in, and the cards received in exchange weren't a better fit, leaving him with only a few outs.
Those outs (or "The Flop") were essentially cards like Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Marion, and even the drafting of DeMar DeRozan.
None gave Colangelo the team or hand he desired, and from my viewpoint, that left him with two last chances with which to improve the club and keep Chris Bosh; "the Turn Card" and of course, the "River."
To me, the turn card became Hedo Turkoglu.
This was the big bet last off-season and the hope was it would not only spur the Raptors on to playoff success, but it would also convince Bosh to stick around for another contract.
We all know how that turned out.
Not only did the card not fit with the rest of Colangelo's hand, but it became so devalued (thanks to Hedo's recent public statements) that it's hard to believe many of the other poker players at the table have much use for it either at this point.
That brings us to the river, BC's final out.
By the end of the season, to me, the only thing that might change Bosh's mind about leaving would be a top 3 draft pick and therefore by last month's NBA Draft Lottery, Colangelo was "all-in;" here was a frustrated General Manager standing at the poker table, four cards (O'Neal, Marion, DeRozan and Turkoglu) all turned up with one last card in play. If The River did turn up a top 3 pick, then perhaps he could still keep Bosh and live to play another round. If not, then there was a very good chance he'd have to blow the whole thing up.
And the card was...
...pick number 13 in this year's draft.
The point of this analogy was really to try and illustrate how many proverbial "kicks at the can" Colangelo had the past few seasons in effort to keep CB4 and get this team to the next level. He simply didn't get the job done.
Early hands wasted bets on cards like Jason Kapono and Fred Jones, not to mention smaller, but no less fruitless, bets on ones like PJ Tucker and Nathan Jawai.
The team that showed so much promise four years ago with a new GM and the number one pick overall in the 2006 draft, now faces the reality of perhaps a complete rebuild considering its franchise player has at least one foot out the door, and was hardly a powerhouse last season even with his services.
So let me ask you now - is it time for Colangelo to admit defeat and re-stock for the next Poker tourney? Or should he "buy back in" this off-season, convinced he still has the ability to turn things around with a few small personnel changes?
I've been in the former camp for some time now and considering it's likely that Toronto gets ten cents on the dollars that are Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu, I'm not sure the latter is even an option at this point. The team quite possibly could return only a "core" of Andrea Bargnani, Jarrett Jack, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan and Marco Belinelli next year. Not exactly NBA Finals material. Colangelo may simply have to take what he can get in trades for Bosh and Turk and then start from scratch.
The problem is, by Colangelo's comments it would seem that he's not close to thinking about a re-build situation and so it wouldn't be surprising to see him "buy-in" for another go at the table.
We'll really know whether this is the situation as we get closer to the draft in fact.
Should the pick be a player with limited upside but who can contribute right away, it will be pretty obvious which way BC is going and while I'm convinced his hand is up and he needs to look forward to the next tourney, something tells me this is a man who's still stubbornly convinced he's got an ace hidden up his sleeve.