This is the last part. I promise. I was away for a bit, which is why it’s taken me so long to post this last one, but from now on I’ll post on a much more frequent basis. Most probably won’t be as long as these have been, so no need to clear your schedule just to read my blog.
This post will look at what Colangelo had done this offseason. The reason for writing the previous three posts is because I felt that what has happened this summer has needed some context to it. Hopefully, I’ve done that.
So the Raptors miss the playoffs for the first time in Colangelo’s reign. Obviously the development of Bargnani was a plus to the season, and they finished the season well, but there wasn’t all that much to look back on fondly. Before this past season, Colangelo has overseen only two teams that have missed the playoffs, and taken over a team that missed the playoffs (when he was hired by the Raptors).
The first time Colangelo’s team missed the playoffs, he had traded Jason Kidd away for Stephon Marbury and other than drafting Amare Stoudemire , he did little else to improve the team, possibly wanting to see how the young team would grow. When it was apparent the team would not become what he had envisioned, Colangelo took no time to decide to gut the team, trading away Marbury and Penny Hardaway, for expiring contracts. After a brief return to the playoffs, the Suns missed the playoffs again. It was then Colangelo made the biggest name for himself. He used the cap room to sign Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson, dropped the interim label from coach Mike D’Antoni, whose somewhat unconventional style was moulded playing in Europe, and the team made, at the time, the second biggest improvement in NBA history, going from 29 wins to 62 in a single season.
The next time Colangelo took over a non-playoff team was when he took over the Raptors. He basically gutted the roster and the team made a massive improvement (27 wins to 47 wins).
So with the season over, many pundits wondered what Colangelo would do. Obviously those people didn’t look back at Colangelo’s history. The first thing Colangelo did was drop the interim label on coach Triano, who, like D’Antoni, had a long career in Europe and signed him to a long term contract. There were cries from some that Colangelo only did it because he was Canadian. A morbidly stupid accusation. Why on earth would Colangelo risk his own career by hiring someone he didn’t feel was uniquely qualified? It’s ridiculous.
Colangelo didn’t even wait until the playoffs ended before he started making moves. The same day Orlando had their first, and only, win in any Finals game, Colangelo completed a deal that would see the non-shooting shooter, Jason Kapono, and his overpriced contract traded to Philadelphia for Reggie Evans, a tough as nails rebounder whose biggest claim to fame might be getting too up close and personal with Clippers big man, Chris Kaman. Colangelo had stated that toughness and rebounding were two of the things he wanted the Raptors to improve on, and this was certainly a start.
Next came the draft. It was speculated early that Colangelo might trade the pick, especially after doing that exact thing the last time he was in this situation with the Suns. He traded away the 5th pick, which ended up being Luol Deng (although Andre Igoudala was also available), in order to sign Nash and Richardson. He’s still gotten flack for it to this day, so it was unlikely he would make the same mistake twice. Colangelo may be impulsive, but he has shown he learns from his mistakes.
Colangelo ended up keeping the draft pick and drafting freshman wingman, DeMar DeRozan out of USC. Colangelo had a chance to go with a more polished wing player, in Gerald Henderson or Terrence Williams, who few would have complained about, or Jrue Holiday, a combo guard who some had going in the top five. The fact that he went for a more raw player with a higher upside speaks volumes. Even with Bosh’s future hanging in the balance, and the team coming off a disappointing season, Colangelo picked the player who might require more time to develop.
Bloggers Note: DeRozan was the player I wanted the Raptors to draft the most. I liked Gerald Henderson, and wouldn’t have been disappointed if he was selected, but DeRozan, I felt, had the biggest upside of any players available at that position AND fit in the best with the Raptors. The two players I was relieved to see not in a Raptors jersey were Jrue Holiday, a combo guard who struggled in college playing off the ball, which is what he would have to be doing quite a bit in Toronto. Plus, he had a poor season. He might end up becoming a very good point guard, but since the Raptors already HAD a very good point guard, I didn’t see the point of drafting a backup with the 9th pick.
The other player I was relieved the Raptors did not pick was Earl Clark. Highly skilled, yet unmotivated players scare me. It’s true they sometimes go onto a productive NBA career, but mostly they just end up getting coaches and GM’s fired, and move around the league like Antoine Walker’s money at a casino. No thanks.
It’s not that I think DeRozan is a sure thing. He can’t shoot beyond 15 feet, needs to work on his ball handling and started off very slowly at USC. What he does have is extraordinary athletic ability, combined with a very underrated mid range shot and the ability to rebound very well on the offensive end. Plus, he was a very good defender and ended up winning the Pac-10 Tournament MVP, so obviously made a great improvement during the season. I think his bust possibility is much lower than some think because his strengths will allow him to play well without being a focal point of the offense.
As I stated in a previous post I went on the record with my desire for the Raptors to target Trevor Ariza during free agency. His youth, athletic ability and defense was exactly what the Raptors needed. The fact that they could offer him less than the other big names out there (including Turkoglu), meant that they would be able to afford to keep at least a couple of their free agents. The reason I didn’t like the Marion trade was that Marion would probably not stay, and the chances of getting a half decent free agent this summer was small, especially since the cap room was going to be less than $10 million. To make matter worse, what I was to discover was that the only way they would have that cap room was if they denounced all their free agents. And since the team would be under the cap, they wouldn’t be able to use their MLE or even their bi-annual exception. So, in other words, the only way to sign one of those vaunted free agents, was to gut the team. Wasn’t one of the criticisms of last summer’s moves that it gutted the depth of the team which meant that people like Will Solomon and Hassan Adams played meaningful minutes instead of exchanging recipes on the bench. Suddenly, I felt like Lando Calrissian after he made a deal Darth Vader. It was getting worse all the time (yes, I just threw in a Star Wars reference in a basketball blog. It’s my blog and I can do what I damn well please). If Colangelo went after anyone with much more than the MLE, he’d need to pull off a miracle in order to not completely deplete the Raptor’s bench. More on that later.
As for Ariza, from what I gather, Colangelo did offer him a contract for a little more than the MLE, but he declined it in order to sign with Houston for less, where he has a player whose calling card is his defense, much like Ariza, already cemented at the same position, one of their franchise players will miss half the season after microfracture surgery and the other one is going to miss the entire year. Yes, Houston did win more games than the Raptors, but am I the only one who sees a disastrous season ahead for them? Of all the teams to choose from, he picks Houston?
But I digress (yes, I do that a lot). So after striking out with Ariza, and Marion looking for either a better team, or a better deal than what the Raptors could offer, Colangelo turned his attention to Hedo Turkoglu. Hedo, who regressed a little from the previous season, where he had career highs in scoring, rebounds, assists and shooting percentage. What made him such a sought after free agent, though, was how he helped lead Orlando to the Finals. Ironically, though, his playoff stats closely mirrored his somewhat disappointing regular season. It was his heroics, though, that most people remember.
AN ORDER OF TURKISH DELIGHT (Signing Hedo Turkoglu)
When word initially got out that Turkoglu had spurned the Blazers and was signing with the Raptors, it was initially a simple free agent signing, meaning that the Raptors would have to denounce just about all their free agents (if not all). At this point, it looked like the Raptors roster would consist of Turkoglu, Bosh, Bargnani, Calderon and DeRozan as starters, and a bench consisting of Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries, Roko Ukic and Quincy Douby. You’ll excuse me if I’m not jumping for joy. Still, Turkoglu was a good addition.
Bloggers Note: One of the most bizarre comments about the signing of Hedo Turkoglu was that it meant that Colangelo would trade away Bosh. What??! The Raptors go out and finally get a small forward who can take pressure away from Bosh to score at the end of games, but who is more of a point forward than a scorer, which means that Bosh would get easier baskets, especially off the pick and roll, which Turkoglu runs so effectively, yet some people see this as a sign that Bosh is going to be traded for….what exactly? Please! Raptor fans remind me of an old person who is going through dementia and thinks everyone’s plotting against them.
Well, Turkoglu didn’t sign right away, and there were rumblings that Colangelo was going to try and pull off some sort of trade, perhaps allowing the Raptors to keep one or two of their free agents and get Turkoglu. What proceeded was a deal that made just about everyone’s head spin. Colangelo had somehow managed to turn free agent Shawn Marion signing with Dallas into a sign and trade that not only allowed the Raptors to stay over the cap (which allowed them to use their MLE), but keep their rights to their free agents, get rid of Kris Humphries’ long term contract and grab a couple of half decent players from Dallas, in Antoine Wright and Devean George. The Raptors could sign Turkoglu and still have bench players who wouldn’t totally embarrass the team when they were on the floor. Again, people were calling Colangelo a genius.
THE RAPTORS GET JACKED (Signing Jarrett Jack)
My vote for one of the most unheralded moves this offseason is the Raptors signing Indiana guard Jarret Jack to the MLE. While his stats don’t necessarily jump out at you, Jack is, as of right now, probably the most complete player on the Raptors roster. He can play both PG and SG, and play them well. He can shoot with range and hit a half decent percentage, and he can play excellent defense. He’s a good locker room guy and to top it off, is good friends with Bosh. He’s never going to make the All-Star team, but Jack is the type of player that eventually seems to land on Championship teams. $5 million a season might seem like too much to pay a guy who averages 13 ppg and 5 apg and won’t even start, but of all the long term contracts the Raptors have, his would probably be the easiest to move, which says a lot.
One a span of a week, Colangelo was able to sign the two best free agents to ever sign with the Raptors. Not bad. But he wasn’t quite done.
THE RETURN OF RASHO (Signing Rasho Nesterovic)
When Colangelo brought Nesterovic to the Raptors the first time, it was a pretty decent trade, but I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of him starting. This time around, he’s strictly a bench player who will be expected to play less than 15 mpg and he’s only making the veteran’s minimum. Needless to say, I’m liking his addition a whole lot better now. He’s still a little too soft and even less mobile, but he’s a good positional defender and has the veteran savvy to teach the young guys what they can get away with on defense and not get caught. Even if he only plays a few minutes a game, he’s a good locker room guy, likes Toronto and even has a Championship ring. Plus, he’s dirt cheap. Can’t ask for much more than that.
A WISH GRANTED (Trading for Marco Belinelli)
Those who read my post about this trade know what my feelings are about this trade. I’ve been a fan of Belinelli for almost as long as Colangelo has. I was disappointed when Golden State turned down a deal last December that would have seen Joey Graham go to Golden State for Belinelli. Then Belinelli went on a bit of a tear, averaging 17 points over the next ten games and I figured any hope of getting Belinelli was out the window. Thank goodness for Don Nelson. I’d like to say that Nelson has gotten worse as he’s gotten older, but he was always a guy who alienated players for the smallest reasons. I have no idea whether Belinelli will ever become a great, or even very good, player, but I have little doubt the guy is cause long term pain to Golden State fans who follow his career with the Raptors. There’s a debate among fans whether Antoine Wright or DeRozan ends up starting the season at shooting guard. My money might be on this guy, if only because of his on court rapport with countryman, Bargnani. Of course, his scoring might be more valuable coming off the bench where the Raptors have a lack of it. Either way, it was yet another good move for Colangelo.
SAYING GOODBYE AGAIN (Defino and Ukic for Amir Johnson*)
* And another player.
With the trade for Belinelli, the writing was on the wall that Carlos Delfino would probably not be back. He’d been holding out for more money, hoping the Raptors would up their offer, but instead they simply found someone cheaper. And with Jack on board, Ukic had little hope of seeing anything more than mop up duty. Instead of losing Delfino for nothing, Colangelo turned him, and Ukic, into Amir Johnson. Johnson has two things going for him. The first is that he’s expiring contract, which means he’s not much of a gamble, and the second is that he’s a 22 year old, 6’11 athletic big man who can defend and rebound when he’s on the court. The downside is that since he fouls so much he’s not on the court very much.
I know that Ukic was loved by Raptors fans, but how much do you really want a PG who doesn’t really make good decisions on the court? Isn’t that the main thing a good PG is supposed to do? When reading that Ukic needed to improve his decision making and shooting in order to become an NBA starter, I commented that I could become a world class sprinter, if only I could run faster. Ukic might end up becoming a half decent NBA player, but his only real attribute is his ability to get to the hoop, where he couldn’t finish most of the time anyway.
SCRUB FOR SCRUB (Banks for Carroll)
All the fans who yearned for Marcus Banks and his overpriced contract to be traded finally may get their wish. While it hasn’t gone through, yet, it appears that Banks will be reunited with Shawn Marion yet again, in exchange for Matt Carroll, an overpriced shooting guard who can actually shoot. Yes, Carroll has a longer contract, but the Raptors actually save money next summer and Carroll looks like he might be semi-useful, as opposed to completely useless, which Banks was going to end up being. In the end, who really cares.
FINAL ANALYSIS (Finally!)
In one summer, Colangelo has completely changed the Raptors yet again. Three players remain from the team that finished the season (Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon), two of whom were on the team that Colangelo took over three years ago. For better or for worse, this is Colangelo’s team. He’s got a coach with an international background, which he likes. He’s hand picked the majority of the roster, many of whom are international players able to play the style Colangelo seems to like. If this team isn’t a success, we’ve got no one to blame but him.
Blogger’s Note: Another lame comment I’ve heard a number of times is that the Raptors have too many international players. I’m not even sure what that means. First of all, Colangelo could have even more, had he not traded away Ukic and let Delfino get away, so Colangelo doesn’t seem to like ONLY international players. And one only has to look at the Spurs to see that a team can have success with international players. There are myths than ignorant fans cling to about International players: They’re soft (try telling that to Andres Nocioni or Ronny Turiaf). They’re not athletic enough (look at Tony Parker or Mickael Pietrus). They don’t play defense (not something heard about Andrei Kirilenko or Andris Biedrins).
The team that Colangelo has built is possibly the most talented and deepest Raptors squad ever. While Chris Bosh isn’t on the same level as LeBron, Wade, Kobe or Chris Paul, it’s not as if the Raptors can do any better. He’s not a Vince Carter who can carry the team on his shoulders on the offensive end, but Vince never had the talent that Bosh is surrounded with. The team currently has three players who can easily hit for 20 (and Belinelli may very well be included in that group, as well) nearly every night. They’ve got three players who can create and run and offense. They have a bench that can play defense and run the court. And they’ve got DeRozan, who is the wild card in all of this.
The one real weakness on the team is defense, but with five guys on the bench who can play above average defense, I don’t think it’s going to be as big a problem as envisioned, especially with the addition of Marc Iavaroni, who has a very good reputation as a defensive coach.
My prediction, at least 45 wins and a run at home court advantage in the playoffs. And the good possibility for another Executive of the Year Award.
Now as for beyond that, that’s the question. Does this group have what it takes to go deep into the playoffs and give Colangelo what he couldn’t get in Phoenix, a Championship ring? If they do, they will be making history. As I’ve said earlier, teams that have won Championships have the ability to play great defense, at least for long stretches. They also have great defensive players on the team. Whether the Raptors have the ability to play great defense, we simply don’t know that, yet. And while the roster has several players who play above average defense, do any of them have the ability to be great defenders? I guess we’ll see. And although no team built like the Raptors have ever won a Championship, one has to remember that there has never been a team built like the Raptors before. If they do win, they will have to win as a team, rather than being led by a superstar like Kobe or LeBron. Looking at the roster, though, that seems to be the type of team Colangelo has built. A team deep in talent that highlights team play rather than individual play. With the plethora or International players, Colangelo has made sure that the Raptors team plays a certain way. Because even if Colangelo wins another Executive of the Year Award, without a Championship ring, he may never be considered one of the great NBA architects.