Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Address of the Raptors Senate

It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you
Without a strong rhyme to step to
Think of how many weak shows you slept through
Time's up, I'm sorry I kept you

One of hip hop's most classic bars sums up a rather classic Raptors scenario we fans finds ourselves in once again. Let's see if we have all the ingredients needed to cook up the typical Toronto Raptors disaster of a season:

1. Huge signing that turns out to be a disappointment. ✔
2. A merry-go-round of injuries ✔
3. Miss the playoffs. ✔
4. Fanbase calling for the head coach's head. ✔
5. Franchise All-Star thinking about leaving. ✔

Yup. We've got pretty much everything covered. Except one thing that is, and that's the yearly Bryan Colangelo Press Conference. So yesterday at around noon, Raptors fans and media members sat, watched, listened, and learned.

Plenty of topics were discussed. The media did their job in attempting to dissect and maneuver around Bryan Colangelo; but if there's one thing we can't knock BC on, it's his ways with the media. In this franchise's entire history, he's probably the one GM that has not been intimidated.

But let's get right into this, and let me give you my take on the issues discussed.

The point guard duo of Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack was brought up by both BC and reporters a number of times today. Obviously, everyone is wondering if they can co-exists. At times throughout the season, it seemed they could, but more often than not, it proved to be problematic. BC wants to use the off-season to find out "if they can work together". I take that as he'll be discussing it with both players' agents to see where each of them stand.

My Prediction: Don't expect both of them to be back next year. Bryan noted how minutes being split affected the consistency of both players, and the days of the "Two-Headed Monster" formula BC has used at the 1 spot ever since his arrival may be over. Right now, there isn't any clear cut option as to which one will be shipped off. Jose Calderon is who the fans want to see go because of his poor defense and his struggle to play with Hedo, but it's Jack who holds the more favorable contract and will also fetch a better return in a trade. If Bosh goes, don't be surprised to see both of them gone either.

Naturally, the issue of Hedo Turkoglu was addressed. You sign an aging vet whose best days are behind him to a 5 year-50 million dollar contract, only to see him play like a shell of his former self; well you're going to have to answer some questions. And to BC's credit, he didn't beat around the bush. He fully acknowledged that Hedo Turkoglu was a disappointment. Bryan placed the blame equally on the coaching staff (for not utilizing Turk correctly) and on Turk himself for not taking full advantage of the situation. Though the word "Lazy" was consistently associated with Hedo this year, Bryan made sure to stress that Turk worked very hard this year. Unfortunately, with the assistance of many setbacks (injuries, mother's illness, etc), Turk just wasn't able to get into a rhythm.

My Prediction: Expect a better Hedo Turkoglu next year. Why? Because Bryan Colagenlo says so. Now whether or not that is with the Raps is an unknown, for the savvy GM didn't specify. Chances are he does wear a Raptors uniform next year. Little known fact, but his contract actually increases in pay if he is to be traded, so that little clause alone scares other teams away. Next season however, expect the Raptors to handle Turk much differently. No longer will he be exempt from training camp, and don't be surprised to see the coaching staff constantly on him like the Orlando staff was during his tenure with the Magic.

The first ever Canadian head coach Jay Triano was actually a topic that I thought would be discussed in greater detail than it actually was. But I guess the media let it go when they realized the message BC was giving them loud and clear: He will be back. Colangelo reminded the reporters that Triano was basically a rookie head coach, and that he deserved a chance to prove that he learned something. Like Triano explained to the press last week, BC and the coaching staff wish they could have done certain things differently in retrospect.

My Prediction: Of course he'll be back. Regardless of the questionable coaching decisions, and his view on how the Raps played in certain games, there was improvement. And at the end of the day, the team finished with a better record than they did last year. If he continues to improve every year, then there really is no reason to fire Jay. And when you consider the fact that we're still paying Sam Mitchell, it only makes sense for MLSE to keep Triano on board for at least another year.

During Chris Bosh's end of season press conference, he mentioned the need for a presence on the wings, someone who could create his own shot and even create for others. The media relayed this concern to BC during his own presser. His response? Kobe Bryant isn't available, but we do have untapped potential in DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems. Colangelo went on to talk about the guard play of the Raptors and how that "20-point" scorer is needed. He did allude that we do already have that kind of presence on the team, but of the inconsistent variety.

My Prediction: I'm not sure about you guys, but in my eyes, I felt that this was Bryan doing his best to temper expectations. Many people are expecting the organization to act out on CB4's words and somehow obtain that kind of star wing player. But like Colangelo, I'm of the opinion that it won't be as easy as some make it to be. These kind of players just don't grow on trees. Sure, the front office will probably do what they can (realistic players like Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, and Danny Granger come to mind). But just in case they can't snatch these players away from their teams, BC went out of his way to remind us about what DeRozan and Weems could become in the future. I think DeMar definitely has the potential to reach that coveted 20 point average that was talked about. The Compton product already has that ability to get to the free throw line, a prerequisite for scoring wings.

Now onto the main event - What will happen with Chris Bosh? Like many people already know, the Raptors want to retain Chris, and Chris is certainly open to returning. But what exactly do we have going for us? Well Colangelo brought a few points to light during the PC that we're sure he'll bring to the table during negotiations. First and foremost, we can guarantee Bosh of being the # 1 guy here. Nothing better than stroking the ego, and reaffirming what many people think: He is the most coveted power forward in the NBA. And believe it or not, but this is very important to him. Yes he does want to win and contend, but the truth is, precedent shows that players his age usually choose the money and franchise player tag over championships. It's a trend that continues to this day, just ask Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Secondly, Colangelo brought up the fact that he is already established here. He's made a lot of contacts (one being Universal Music Canada) and this is a comfort zone for him. Many past Raptors have gone on record saying they regret ever leaving Toronto. The most prominent being Toronto's first ever basketball star - Damon Stoudamire. He's gone onto say he thought it would be greener on the other side, but boy did that turn out to be wrong.

My Prediction: This one is the toughest to call. Obviously, the ball is Bosh's court. Unfortunately, we're not the ones with the leverage in this scenario. If Bosh wants to leave, he can leave, there's nothing stopping him. On top of that, if we want to involve him in a "Sign and Trade" scenario, we will have to trade with whatever team Chris chooses; ultimately tying BC's hands. Let's put it this way. If Colangelo goes out and brings in attractive enough players (at least borderline all-star), then Chris will re-sign. He will give this franchise one more shot, and if it doesn't work out, then he'll quietly ask for a trade. However, if there are only minor pieces brought in, then Bosh will ask for a "Sign and Trade". That extra 6th year and nearly 20 million would just be too much to leave behind. In this scenario, we will probably end up with a TPE, cap relief, young players, and draft picks; thus truly sending us back into rebuild mode.

So now this remains. What is to become of Bryan Colangelo? And more importantly, how does he see the future unfolding? Well first off, the once titled "Golden Boy" made it clear that he is under contract and has the backing of MLSE. For those who are calling for his head on a platter, chill out for awhile, because Bryan isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And really though, is getting rid of Colangelo honestly the sensible thing to do? Regardless of the back-to-back disappointing seasons, BC is still the most credible member of this organization; and perhaps the most recognized and respected person to ever work for the Raptors. Lest we forget Glen Grunwald (who gave ridiculous contracts to players and couldn't make it work with Vince during his superstar years) and Rob Babcock (who set this franchise years back with trading Vince for scrap).

The most encouraging thing to take from BC's presser was that MLSE will go over the tax threshold if that's what it takes to put a contender out on the court. If the right players become available, then BC can work his magic knowing that there are no limitations being placed on his creativity. He made it clear that he understood fans were disappointed, and that more was expected of not only the team, but himself as well. So hearing that MLSE will finally go over the tax definitely softens the harsh blow of this past season.

My Prediction: I'll use a line BC threw out there a couples times during the conference - "That's something that's impossible to answer right now". Many variables must come into effect before we can even get a good idea of what's in store for this team. The most important variable being where Chris Bosh ends up. Colangelo noted that it all starts with LeBron first: If he leaves, then the rest will fall into place like a domino effect. There are really 2 scenarios that our GM prepared us for in the hour or so he was up on the podium...

1) Assuming Chris Bosh returns to the team, Colangelo's first priority is shoring up the horrible defense. Expect a big man to intimidate/protect the paint, and more importantly, grab rebounds. Next, a guard will most likely be brought in to help strengthen the perimeter defense (which at times consisted of Jose-DeRozan-Turk - sigh). The point guard situation will also look different next year. Either Jack or Jose will be gone, or even both. Lastly, look for the expiring contracts of Marcus Banks, Reggie Evans, and the draft pick we own to be dangled in an attempt to get Bosh his 20 point scoring swingman. When you take in the likely re-signing of Amir Johnson, then we'll probably be well into the tax.

2) Assuming Chris Bosh leaves, then Colangelo has made it clear what becomes important - and that's entertaining the fans, and more importantly, the season ticket holders. There was much talk and bragging about what DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems could become, how they're still very young, and how there's untapped potential there. This team would look different in a sense that it would be filled with young, athletic, and raw players at every position. The only veteran presence I would see in this rebuilding scenario is Turk, and that's only because he's practically untradeable. But from what I got out of the press conference, if Bosh leaves, the team's main focus is attempting to keep their fanbase. And considering our position, the only way you get that done for a season is to play a high-octane athletic kind of basketball.

And there you have it Raptors Nation! General Manager Bryan Colangelo putting himself up on the podium to answer the media and your questions in his yearly end-of-season press conference. Look - I know many of you are sad, annoyed, and even pissed off about how the season went. But understand this, Bryan is someone who hates to lose, and he is easily known as one of the more competitive executives in the NBA. Today, the media asked him questions about his reputation. And though he jokingly mentioned it was ruined because of us, let's put things into perspective: This dude has a reputation to hold up and protect. Not many teams can say that about their GMs. Ours has already paid his dues and made something out of himself, and you can bet he will do whatever it takes to build on his previous success.

Even though we sometimes question his moves, we can always fall back on the fact that Colangelo doesn't just sit on his hands. He's as proactive as a GM can get, and you can be rest assured that he will do something "Big" for the 3rd straight off-season. This summer, not everything will be in our control. But like Bryan Colangelo told the media today, we can "control the intent to make it happen."

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