The Bryan Colangelo regime in Toronto began with great promise. After his hiring in February of 2006, he was quick to assert his plan of changing the team’s approach to the game from top to bottom.
Considering he was taking over a Raptors franchise coming off of a 27-55 season, placing them second-last in a division where all but one team had losing records, you couldn’t really blame him, either.
He traded rookie of the year candidate Charlie Villanueva for TJ Ford, adding explosiveness to the PG position. He shipped out draft disaster Rafael Aroujo and fan favorite Matt Bonner for positional depth. He brought in the best European talent that Maurizio Gherardini and his scouting staff could find in number one overall pick Andrea Bargnani along with imports Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa.
The maneuvers paid off with a 20-win improvement, a division title, and an executive of the year award to boot.
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Twelve months in, Bryan Colangelo could do no wrong. He was an active GM, and a likeable one. He had plenty of reason to smile as he watched on from the ACC corner entrances, boasting a grin that almost took the attention away from his tie-less collared shirts.
But that was as bright as the BC spotlight has ever shone in Toronto. Since their playoff loss to the Nets in 2007, the rest of his tenure can be best described in four words: Great moves, worse results.
BC added Jason Kapono & Carlos Delfino, additional positional depth to surround a ‘franchise player’ in Chris Bosh who never had the will or the way to lead a team to a championship as the focal point of an offence. They regressed into a .500 team and were utterly dominated in the post by the Dwight Howard-led Magic in what made for another quick playoff exit.
The Raps needed toughness at the center position, so BC went out and got it in former all-star Jermaine O’Neal. The move created renewed excitement in the fan base, with comparisons of the Duncan/Robinson era coming left and right (including from O’Neal). On paper, Colangelo had molded the Raptors into a contender.
To much disappointment, JO was a shadow of his former self. He failed to live up to expectations or develop any chemistry alongside Bosh in what should/could have been the most dominant 4-5 combo in the conference. What initially looked like a steal by Colangelo turned into anything but. To put wind in the team’s sails, head coach Sam Mitchell was fired and replaced by Jay Triano.
The new glaring need became a scoring swingman, who BC once again swiftly acquired in SF Shawn Marion in exchange for O’Neal, essentially killing two birds with one stone. While Marion’s arrival initially excited fans, he never gelled in Triano’s system as the Raps fell to the Eastern Conference basement once again.
Colangelo, as dumbfounded by these developments as the fans, needed to respond. In typical BC form, he changed the team top to bottom, with all but five players shipped out of town.
Hedo Turkoglu, fresh off of leading the Magic to the NBA finals, signed with the Raps in what was immediately labeled as the biggest free agent signing in franchise history. His playmaking ability at the SF position was going to blend in perfectly between Jose Calderon’s efficiency and Chris Bosh’s finesse.
Instead he coasted through games on a nightly basis, refused to participate in a system he was not centered around and attended nightclubs on game days he missed due to ‘illness.’ Once again, an applauded Colangelo transaction inexplicably fell flat on its face.
So why has every major move in the BC era failed? O’Neal wasn’t supposed to become Hakeem Olajuwon 2.0, Marion wasn’t predicted to become as effectively relevant as Jamario Moon & Hedo Turkoglu certainly wasn’t thought to be capable of doing anything to warrant boos that rival that of Vince Carter.
One might blame coaching, though Triano’s takeover from Sam Mitchell proved that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Others point to leadership, or the lack thereof, that attributed to the lack of team chemistry during O’Neal’s/Marion’s tenures, or the childish behavior on the part of Turkoglu.
Has anyone ever considered that the city of Toronto, or more specifically Canada might be the problem? Bosh put it bluntly by labeling playing in Toronto as “different.” Does the non-American factor create a lack of motivation for American stars such as O’Neal and Marion who are used to playing in primetime broadcasts? Is there an underlying motive among NBA players that the Raptors are a franchise that despite numerical achievement, will never be taken seriously?
Regardless, it’s been four years since the ACC has seen a playoff game, and time is ticking on Colangelo’s once thought untouchable clock. Much like his MLSE coworker across the hall in Brian Burke, BC is finding out the hard way that sports fans are a ‘what have you done for me lately’ breed, and lately, it’s been a whole lot of mediocrity.
Ironically, BC has turned to a more patient approach in a time when Raptor fans have never been more restless. He drafted a project in Jonas Valanciunas over more immediately impactful prospects. He declined a trade for Andre Iguodala to protect the long-term interests of the franchise.
While he did attempt to sign Steve Nash and eventually brought in Kyle Lowry, BC has shown remarkable restraint in a time when short-term results have never seemed more vital.
Toronto sports fans haven’t had anything to cheer about in years. Despite his best efforts, unless there’s a postseason in the Raptors near future, Colangelo’s new long-term focus may include sacrificing his job for the betterment of the franchise.