It’s been three years since Bryan Colangelo came to Toronto with the promise of being the saviour of the franchise. The team hadn’t made the playoffs in four years, they were still reeling from former franchise player, Vince Carter, deserting them while still playing for them, and then being traded away for Eric Williams and a collection of GI Joe action figures, and the franchise was getting a reputation as a perennial lottery team that was probably the worst place in the league to be traded to.
B.C. (BEFORE COLANGELO)
Flashback to the 2000-01 season. Vince Carter, coming off his triumphant play in the Sydney Olympics, which included “The Dunk, was electrifying the NBA with his high flying act. He had his best season, averaging 27.6 ppg, was 2nd Team All-NBA and led the Raptors to a franchise best 47 wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs, narrowly losing to Iverson’s 76er’s in a seventh game. The future looked incredibly bright for the Toronto Raptors.
Then disaster hit.
Things looked pretty good at first. While fan-favourite Charles Oakley was no longer with the team, his career was pretty much done, anyway, and the team had a few guys to replace him, anyway. Jerome Williams, who arrived from Detroit in the middle of last season, future Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon and Keon Clark, who was acquired in a trade for the over the hill, Kevin Willis. The Raptors had a tough, defensive minded front line to back Vince Carter up. Then Carter, who had only missed seven games in his first 3 seasons, went down. The first time.
In the years that followed, Carter progressively got more injury prone and the Raptors went into a tailspin, becoming a perennial lottery bound team with rotating roster made up of misfits and injury prone players. The architect of the franchise’s best team, the likeable Glen Grunwald, was fired, as well as most of the front office, and replaced by Timberwolves executive, Rob Babcock.
Now, I’m no NBA insider, but I, personally, would not choose a guy whose most recent mentor was Kevin McHale, who is in the top five of GM’s who inexplicably had long tenure’s despite making horrible personnel moves (right behind Elgin Baylor). I mean, the Timberwolves are best known for only being able to surround former MVP, Kevin McHale, with a half decent enough roster to get out of the first round of the playoffs once. Or nearly destroying the franchise by have a secret agreement with Joe Smith that the NBA found out about, coming down on them. Hard.
Babcock’s first order of business: bypassing Andre Igoudala, who fell like a gift from heaven in the draft (he was projected to go as high as 5th), so he could draft a player that most didn’t expect to be drafted ten places later, Rafael Araujo, because he was the “most NBA ready player”. By NBA ready, I guess he meant ready to sit on the bench. He ended up being very good at that. His last order of business was the trading away of former franchise player, Vince Carter (who should have been traded away well before he sulked his way out of town) which may go down as one of the top 10 worst trades in NBA history. He was so gun-shy after fan and media reaction to the trade, he never pulled the trigger on any deal again. Then he was fired.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE MESSIAH
Before arriving in Toronto, Bryan Colangelo was the toast of the NBA. He’d rebuilt a Phoenix Suns team into one of the most exciting, and best, in the NBA, managing to win an Executive of the Year award along the way. When new ownership came in and decided to tighten their purse strings, Colangelo realized that they were not serious about winning. He left in an acrimonious parting that still has Suns owner Robert Sarver bitter to this day.
Colangelo arrived in town to a Raptors team that needed a facelift. It did have going for it a young big man with a very bright future, a number one pick in the upcoming draft and some cap room. His arrival brought with it immediate respect. For him and the franchise.
Like Babcock, his first order of business was the draft. And like Babcock, Colangelo made a pick that would be criticized for years (including by me), but Colangelo also rebuilt the entire roster, changing the entire atmosphere of the team.
Author’s note: When Colangelo picked Andrea Bargnani, I felt it wasn’t a good pick. Now I’m not going to pretend that I wanted Brandon Roy and knew he was going to be the best player in the draft. No one did. I felt that Marcus Aldridge, because of his interior defense and ability to play inside, as well as play center, meant that he would be a better fit to play beside Bosh. I also felt he was a better player. And while Bargnani seems to have finally turned the corner on his way to becoming a good player, I still feel he doesn’t fit well with Bosh.
The Raptors only had one PG on the roster, Jose Calderon, who had a decent rookie season after coming over from Europe, but was certainly not someone you’d want starting, so they traded away Charlie Villanueva, a soft, outside shooting PF masquerading as a bad-defense-playing SF for mercurial PG, TJ Ford. He was exactly the type of PG the Raptors would need.
Colangelo also was able to turn lottery bust, Araujo, into a serviceable, and young, PF, in Kris Humphries, and fan favourite, but one-dimensional shooter Matt Bonner and seldom used Eric Williams into a legitimate veteran center, in Rasho Nesterovic. He also signed two big names from Europe, Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker. All the incoming players were from winning teams and injected a winning attitude into the franchise.
End of Part 1.