Jones: Colangelo’s strength led to his downfall

Former Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo has admitted he tried to tank during the 2011-12 season. (Nathan Denette/CP)
June 27, 2013, 3:24 PM

Bryan Colangelo has stepped down as President of Team and Business Operations of the Toronto Raptors and for all intents and purposes has stepped away from the team. He will remain on in a consulting role, but the move puts even more distance between the former general manager and the team.

"Having had a better chance to reflect on things for the past several weeks, I have concluded that stepping away from my position is the best course of action for everyone involved," remarked Colangelo in a statement released by the Raptors.

Colangelo’s tenure as general manager ended just over a month ago in late May when he was relieved of his duties but retained as president.

At the time Colangelo remarked that he did not feel like he was being "shuffled off" to the side when he was named president in his new role. However, with the hiring of a new CEO by MLSE in Tim Leiweke and the subsequent appointment Masai Ujiri as the Raps’ new general manager it became evident that much of what Colangelo had established would not survive the wrecking ball that comes with change.

So how exactly will the Colangelo era and tenure as general manager be remembered in Toronto?

Initially, Colangelo brought the shine back to the team that was applied at the start of the new millennium. He showed the same boldness he did in Phoenix by going against the grain with a team that played unconventionally while winning and were thoroughly entertaining.

The Raptors were successful in his first two seasons in Toronto. The team was twelve games over the .500 mark and raised an Atlantic Division title banner. There were two playoff appearances and although the team didn’t advance out of the first round, fans had seen the playoff lights go on and didn’t expect them to be turned off for a while.

But Colangelo’s strength turned out to be his weakness as he continued to tweak and tinker – maybe too much, and possibly to a fault. Some personnel moves looked good on paper but when players don’t perform, everything turns out bad.

The downfall may have started with the firing of the reigning Coach of the Year, Sam Mitchell, at 8-9 in the 2008-09 season after a blowout loss in Denver. It seemed like after that point, the Midas touch that he once displayed was gone. The bulb had blown and fans didn’t like the fact that the playoff room was dark and deserted.

Colangelo went for broke as Chris Bosh blossomed into an all-star and he tried to put the right pieces around him. But when post season berths didn’t materialize, Bosh left town.

In truth, it says here that if Colangelo knew definitively that Bosh was not going to return to Toronto, he would have had no problems trying to make a deal for him. Since the Bosh situation and LeBron James debacle in Cleveland – where both stars walked away leaving their respective franchises stunned and empty handed – teams have seen the light and not taken chances with star players.

Sell now before they leave for nothing. Look at how transactions involving Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and perhaps the biggest of all, Carmelo Anthony turned out. Unfortunately, Toronto and Cleveland were lab rats in this case.

It has always been maintained here that there were two separate eras during Colangelo’s time. The one built around an all-star and arguably one of the NBA’s top players in Bosh, and then the successive term where he was tried to build a contender and get out of the lottery when his best player walked away.

As a competitor Colangelo gets high marks for effort. With over 70 players wearing Raptors jerseys in seven years he wasn’t shy about trying to shuffle the deck. But most fans have long forgotten the two playoff seasons and will look straight at the bottom line which reads five straight seasons out of the playoffs and rule Colangelo’s term a failure.

Regardless of the prism you choose to use when viewing Colangelo’s time in Toronto there were occasions when Toronto was on the NBA map.

There were all-star appearances, participants in the 3-point shootout, the slam dunk contest and major awards handed down that had the NBA spotlight briefly, albeit in a passing sense, illuminate the franchise.

Unfortunately for Colangelo, nothing could ever be sustained for any significant length of time.

So where does Bryan Colangelo land after he leaves Toronto and it’s all said and done?

He’s too competitive to sit on the sidelines as a consultant. That was probably one of the underlying reasons his reflection had resigned his post as president. Look for him to end up working in the league office or with USA Basketball in some capacity before another chance to build a team materializes.

Like coaches that take time off after being relieved of their duties, he will watch others, reflect and eventually get another chance.

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