Is This Season the Last Chance for Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo?

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Is This Season the Last Chance for Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo?
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Is it too early to worry about your future if you’re Bryan Colangelo? It has been less than a great start to the season for the Toronto Raptors, and that is being kind. Add in the fact that his big moves of the offseason both have already found their way to the injured list. Kyle Lowry turned his right ankle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Landry Fields, after a terrible start to his Raptors career, had an MRI on his right wrist.

Colangelo signed Fields, in part, as a domino in a master plan to land Steve Nash. It ended up with Nash in L.A and Colangelo holding the bag on a bad contract. Colangelo has signed his name to bad contracts before, most notably the ones with Jason Kapono and Hedo Turkoglu.

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However, in both those cases, he was able to move along his mistakes to Philadelphia and Phoenix. He did the same with a failed trade for Jermaine O’Neal, sending him to Miami.

Colangelo was given an extension from the Raptors for a shorter term than he might have liked in 2011. Since that time, MLSE ownership has had a shakeup, with the Teachers’ Pension Fund selling their controlling interest over the summer to existing partner Bell and Rogers Communications (the current owners of the Toronto Blue Jays).  That makes Colangelo’s future should the Raptors fail come into question.

It is important to keep in mind that, while Colangelo has more than his fair share of mistakes basketball-wise, he is a good fit in terms of the business side of things. MLSE, despite not owning a winning sports property including the Raptors, is still turning a significant profit. You only need to look at the $1.32 billion purchase price for roughly 79 percent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for confirmation of that. 

The balance sheet under the Colangelo era is likely not that bad even when you factor in his mistakes with contracts, the Raptors have always remained within the tax threshold in terms of spending.

While attendance and TV ratings have dipped slightly over the years. The fact that there is no NHL led to the Raptors drawing their best TV rating in over two years for the opener with the Pacers on TSN. They had a sellout over the weekend for a matchup with Philadelphia.  The point being made is that the money keeps rolling in despite the lack of on-court success.

The Raptors also took their show on the road in the preseason and sold out the Bell Centre in Montreal for an exhibition game with the Knicks.

What I would suggest to you is that MLSE would like to have an excuse to keep Bryan Colangelo if he can give them one. This goes in direct opposition to the opinions of the hardcore Raptors fanbase for the most part. That is because they evaluate Colangelo based only on the basketball product on the floor.

If the Raptors are able to produce a season in which they are in the hunt to make the playoffs, that should be enough to keep Colangelo around, assuming he wants to be. If the Raptors hit rock bottom and have their usual bad luck in the lottery, that could spell trouble. Remember, as part of the Kyle Lowry transaction, the Raptors would only keep their first-round pick if they land in the top three in the lottery or make the postseason.

That pick no longer belongs to the Rockets, as they moved it to Oklahoma City as part of the James Harden deal.

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Other things that could impact on Colangelo’s fate would be how well Jonas Valanciunas performs this season. Colangelo, to his credit, selected Jonas knowing full well he may not make it to the NBA for a season or two. This speaks to Colangelo doing what is best for the organization and not him. Raptors fans love the pick of Jonas now, but at the time, the reaction to the pick was not positive from a majority of the fans.

If Colangelo were to be sent packing, the Raptors would have two in-house candidates to consider. Ed Stefanski came on board last season to be the assistant to Colangelo and has a long history in the league. He ironically is the guy who outwitted Rob Babcock in the Vince Carter trade with the Nets. He also worked as the 76ers GM prior to coming to Toronto.

The other candidate would be Maurizio Gherardini, who came on board with the Raptors just prior to them drafting Andrea Bargnani. He is highly thought of for his knowledge of the European basketball scene. He also has worked with Canada Basketball in helping that program as well as his duties with the Raptors.

Basically, if you are looking to see Bargnani traded, this would be an even more unlikely situation under Gherardini. He ran the club Bargnani came from in Europe and watched him grow in that organization.

At the moment, things look bad for the Raptors with their 1-5 record. When you look ahead at their schedule, you could easily see that grow to 1-8 this week. I am sure Colangelo is not happy about that, but I don’t think he is dusting off his resume at this point, either.

One last factor that might help or hurt his case to remain will be the performance of DeMar DeRozan. Colangelo gave him an extension at the 11th hour prior to the season for $38 million, with bonuses that could push the deal north of $40 million.

The Raptors would need to fail in spectacular fashion in my opinion for Colangelo not to be back. Some think Colangelo needs to get the Raptors to the playoffs to keep his job. I don’t think that is required this season for him to keep his job. Fans may not like Colangelo, but the people who sign his checks have given little indication that they don’t.

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