Bryan Colangelo: You Know He's Good When...

GeneContributor IAugust 16, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 06:  Antonio Daniels #50 of the New Orleans Hornets makes a shot over Jermaine O'Neal #6 of the Toronto Raptors on February 6, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

When even his “mistakes” end up smelling like roses.  The one “mistake” that I’m particularly referring to is acquiring Jermaine O'Neal in a trade last year.

Why I keep using quotation marks is because, after seeing what’s transpired after that deal thus far, I can’t think of better possible outcome for the Toronto Raptors.


Lead By Example

First, the Jermaine O'Neal trade showed me a lot about Colangelo’s character.  Colangelo’s preference, since his days with the Phoenix Suns, has been to have a team heavily weighted towards offense, whereas his former coach, Sam Mitchell, subscribed to the philosophy of defense first, or you get benched.

But, instead of taking the “my way or the highway” approach with Mitchell’s difference in opinion, Colangelo took a huge a risk and obtained the type of player (a good defensive player) that Mitchell long coveted; Colangelo stuck his own reputation on the line to try to satisfy his coach.

There’s no better way for Colangelo to teach his players to play unselfishly on the basketball court, than for him to act unselfishly in his own job.

So, while others may view Colangelo obtaining Jermaine O’Neal as a “mistake”, I see it as a general manager acting unselfishly, by giving his coach once last chance to prove that he was right about his “defense or else” approach.


Ripple Effect

Now, there has been much speculation about the reasons for the dramatic improvement of Andrea Bargnani’s defense last season.  I do believe that the training camp that he attended in the off-season helped and I also believe that increased playing time was the likely biggest factor.

But, there’s one thing that I’ve yet to hear anyone mention: Jermaine O'Neal’s influence.

I believe that Bargnani getting to observe a good defensive center up close and also getting to practice with such a player, played a key role in his defensive development last season. 

Moreover, I’d be surprised if Bargnani didn’t pick O’Neal’s brain for defensive tips, like how to effectively box out.

If Colangelo didn’t make a “mistake” by acquiring Jermaine O’Neal, then Bargnani would not have had the opportunity to learn from him firsthand.

Walking a Mile in Another Man’s Shoes

Furthermore, I believe that Jermaine O’Neal’s acquisition, ultimately led to the Raptors being able to select DeMar DeRozan in this year’s draft.

In my opinion, O’Neal both directly and indirectly played a large role in the Raptors’ poor performance last season.  I believe that he directly hurt the Raptors because he wasn’t the best fit for the team and also because he later got injured. 

I also think that he indirectly hurt the team because his huge salary made it next to impossible to have depth on the bench.

While it was hard to watch the team play poorly, if things didn’t play out the way that they did, then the Raptors would not have had a high enough draft pick to get DeRozan.

DeRozan is exactly the type of the player that the Raptors needed, an extremely athletic wing player with huge upside.  Not only should his play on the court help the Raptors, but I also see a more subtle potential benefit in his acquisition.

After Chris Bosh was drafted, Vince Carter said something to the effect that it wasn’t enough because he wanted to win now, not years in the future. 

How do you think that made Bosh feel when the team’s superstar didn’t approve of his selection and later demanded a trade and left?

Now fast forward to the present.  Don’t you think that Chris Bosh may see a lot of himself in DeMar DeRozan, a wide-eyed 19-year-old rookie with huge potential?

If Chris Bosh is the man of character that he appears to be, then he’ll seriously consider what his departure could mean for players like DeRozan. 

Bosh has firsthand experience of how hurtful it can be, especially for a young player, when a franchise player decides to leave because he doesn’t think that his teammates are good enough.

Perhaps DeRozan’s presence on the Raptors will nudge Bosh in the direction of re-signing with the Raptors.

If Colangelo didn’t make a “mistake” by acquiring Jermaine O’Neal, then DeMar DeRozan, and all the positives that he brings with him, would most likely not be a Toronto Raptor right now.

Turning a Frown Upside Down

The most visible benefit of acquiring Jermaine O’Neal was the cap space flexibility that it ultimately provided this offseason.  Colangelo most likely could not have got such flexibility this summer without first trading for O’Neal, since it’s highly unlikely that Miami would have given up Marion for Ford and Nesterovic.

With the flexibility, Colangelo essentially turned T.J. Ford into Hedo Turkoglu, since Rasho Nesterovic recently re-signed with the Raptors (yes, I realize that there were other players/draft picks involved, that’s why I used the word “essentially”).

Much credit should go to T.J. Ford for the Raptors success in the 2006-07 season, but perhaps as much credit should go to him for holding back the team in the following season.  Towards the end of the 2007-08 season, Ford didn’t want to play the role where he could best help his team, namely, backup point guard.

So, when you combine Ford’s negative impact on team chemistry with his far above average injury risk, the Raptors were left with a player who would likely do more harm than good.

Turkoglu, on the other hand, is a player who: can create matchup nightmares for the opposition; can spread the defence with his outside shooting capabilities; can make clutch baskets in late-game situations; can more than hold his own defensively, even against some of the elite small forwards; can excel in the bright lights of the playoffs; and thrives in the role of being a primary playmaker.

I believe that Turkoglu’s playmaking abilities are one of the biggest benefits for the Raptors.

In my opinion, the single biggest reason for the Raptors poor showing last season was a lack of depth, particularly at the point guard position; the Raptors played some of their worst basketball when Jose Calderon was either out or playing injured.

So, Hedo Turkoglu’s ability to play point-forward, provides a huge insurance policy, should Calderon get injured this coming season.

To add even more to the feel-good story, Hedo Turkoglu and his wife both love the city of Toronto and that played a major role in his signing with the Raptors; I’m sure that that type of attitude is like a breath of fresh air for most Raptors fans.

That’s quite the return for a player that would likely be a net negative for the Raptors.

If Colangelo didn’t make a “mistake” by acquiring Jermaine O’Neal, then Turkoglu would most likely not be a Toronto Raptor right now.

Walking On Water

Not only did Colangelo bring in Turkoglu, but the way that he did it made it such that he didn’t have to sacrifice depth.

Considering that Orlando publicly stated that they wouldn’t partake in a sign-and-trade for Turkoglu, mostly everyone believed that the only two options available to Colangelo were: 1) Sign Turkoglu and have virtually no bench; or 2) Keep Marion and have a decent bench.

All that Colangelo ended up doing was the seemingly impossible.  Colangelo managed to persuade Orlando’s general manager (money played a role) into participating in a four team deal, so he got Turkoglu and got to keep the bi-annual exception (later used to sign Nesterovic) and the mid level exception (later used to sign Jarrett Jack).

Now, Jarrett Jack’s signing could be one of the keys to the season.  Jack not only brings with him the skills to be a starting point guard, but also the humility to take a team-first approach and come off of the bench when asked to. 

He also has tremendous upside.  This could end up being similar to the Ford-Calderon one-two punch that Raptors employed with so much success in 2006-07, except without all the drama of Ford complaining about not starting in 2007-08.

Also, Jack provides even more insurance, in addition to Turkoglu, should Calderon get hurt this coming season.

If that wasn’t enough, Colangelo did the seemingly impossible again, by turning Devean George (who was also obtained in the Turkoglu deal) into Marco Belinelli.

That is, Colangelo turned an aging player who would seldom/never be used into a much younger, legitimate scoring threat off of the bench, with a lot of upside.  Nice.

The end result is that the Raptors just may have the deepest bench of any team in franchise history; that’s quite the turnaround from when almost everybody thought that, agreeing to terms with Turkoglu meant that the Raptors would have virtually no bench.

Colangelo’s “mistake” in acquiring O’Neal, was the first cause that set into motion many other quality acquisitions.


We, Not Me

If that wasn’t enough, there are even more positives to the aforementioned transactions.

Now, I know that Colangelo tried to downplay this fact, but Jarrett Jack is also close friends with Chris Bosh.  Of course the most obvious benefit of their friendship would be that Jack may help to persuade Bosh to re-sign with the Raptors after next season.

But, if that wasn’t enough, their friendship should also help the chemistry of the club.

Team chemistry is critical for all team sports, but it seems to be even more so for NBA teams.  In fact, team chemistry may even be as important to an NBA team’s success as talent level; do some reading on guys like Iverson, Marbury, etc., if you don’t think so.

So, the fact that Jarrett Jack is close friends with Chris Bosh can be viewed as a huge cherry on top of the sundae.

Furthermore, Marco Belinelli is a fellow countryman with Andrea Bargnani and they have a history of playing together on the Italian national team.  Ditto my previous sentiment on team chemistry and sundaes.

Isn’t it great when you need more than one hand to count all the positives of Colangelo’s recent transactions?

Paper Can Turn Into Trophies

Of course, the impressive collection of talent on paper still needs to prove itself in real game situations.

But, even if things don’t end up working out well this coming season, I still don’t think that anybody could (rightfully) blame Colangelo. 

Considering the options available to him, did anybody really believe that it was possible for Colangelo to add as much talent as he already has this off-season?

Regardless of what happens this coming season, Colangelo still has my support.  In a single off-season (2006), Colangelo brought the Toronto Raptors franchise from arguably its lowest point (post-Carter no playoff era) to its greatest high (Atlantic Division Champions).

That, when combined with Colangelo doing borderline miraculous things so far this off-season means that, even if the Raptors end up having two or three losing seasons in a row, Colangelo would most likely still have my steadfast support.

If, however, everyone plays at or above their current abilities and they play well together as a team (read: share/move the basketball), then I think that it’d be a good idea for Colangelo to make room on his mantle for a third NBA Executive of the Year Award.


Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank ownership, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, for both bringing Bryan Colangelo on board and for providing him with financial flexibility.

To all the Raptors fans: How about we show our appreciation by buying tons of Raptors merchandise, watching every Raptors game possible on TV and by packing the ACC to capacity for every Raptors home game next season?  Say it together now: Let’s Go Raptors!


With Mistakes Like These, Who Needs Successes?

In summary, Bryan Colangelo making a “mistake” by acquiring Jermaine O’Neal, ultimately allowed him to greatly increase the talent level and character on the Toronto Raptors, while adding all sorts of other fringe benefits, just in time for the season before Chris Bosh can become a free agent.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d take Colangelo’s “mistakes” over many other general managers’ successes, any time.


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