Bryan Colangelo: Is Toronto Raptors' GM Becoming a Victim Of His Own Success?

Graeme FrisqueContributor IIDecember 4, 2008

With the firing of Sam Mitchell, the Toronto Raptors are back in the media's sights. 

Opinions and commentary on the state of the franchise are running amok. Most observers claim to see glaring holes in the Raptor's lineup and are beginning to question the direction that Colangelo has taken the franchise since he's been here.

It seems to me that many Raptors fans are developing a bad case of the "What have you done for me lately's?"  Many in Toronto also seem to have forgotten that their team has only been a playoff team for two seasons.  It is no coincidence that the streak of playoff appearances coincides with Bryan Colangelo's arrival.

Near the end of the 2005 season, the organization was mired in a state of perpetual dysfunction.  The Raptors hadn't made the playoffs in four seasons, and it seemed almost assured that Chris Bosh would follow the likes of previous Raptors superstars Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter out of town in search of greener pastures.

Enter Bryan Colangelo.

Bosh was re-signed and the roster completely made-over. Colangelo brought in nine new players to compliment his newly resigned superstar including T.J. Ford, Anthony Parker,  Rasho Nesterovic, and 2006 first overall pick Andrea Bargnani.  That season the Raptors experienced one of the most amazing one-year turnarounds of an NBA franchise ever.

The team went from 27 wins to 47 wins.  Along the way they picked up their first Atlantic Division title and their first playoff berth in four seasons.  Colangelo also won the Executive of the Year award.

Fast forward to last season. 

The Raptors took a definite step backwards from their impressive '06 campaign; but it was only a small step. The team finished with a 41-41 record getting them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year.

The Raptors woes in the playoffs the last two seasons have been frustrating for fans, but should they really be unexpected?

I think that a lot of Raptors fans could use a little dose of reality and should be focusing less on where the team could be, and more on how far the team has come since Colangelo's arrival.

Colangelo didn't take over a team that made the playoffs every year and whose only problem was not advancing in the post-season.  Had that been the case, criticism of the team's playoff troubles, and where the team is at this point, would most definitely be warranted.

But, Colangelo didn't take over a team on the cusp; he took over a team that was in a very deep hole. Given where the team was when he took the reins, it's actually quite astounding they are as far along as they are after just two full seasons.

If anything he's earned the benefit of the doubt from Raptors fans.  When he took over, Colangelo assured fans that he was committed to building a winner, but that there was a process involved in rebuilding a team that could compete.  Colangelo has said many times that he is still committed to that process.  But are fans?

Have Raptors fans already forgotten that the Raptors are only in the third season of a re-building program?

I think it's fair to say that since the Raptors breakout year in '06, fan expectations have been on the rise, and rightfully so.  But have those expectation risen too high, too fast?

Can fans honestly say they expected Colangelo to come in and turn the Raptors into a playoff team in his first year, get them to the second round by his second, and be contending for a championship by his third? 

Three years ago if you had asked a Toronto Raptors fan if they'd be happy with Colangelo's performance if he were able to get the Raptors into the playoffs in two seasons, most would have told you they'd be ecstatic.  He did it in one.

Perhaps it is this early success that is now fueling the scrutiny Colangelo and the Raptors find themselves under now.  Had the Raptors evolved as most rebuilding teams do fans likely wouldn't have such high expectations after only two full years under a new GM.

Just ask a Toronto Blue Jays fan about that.

J.P Ricciardi has been the Blue Jays GM for seven years and fans are still waiting for a playoff berth. Never mind an appearance in the second round.

By comparison, in only the 3rd year of the Toronto Raptors rebuilding program, fans have had their expectation risen so high, that anything less than a second round berth is a considered a complete failure. Just three seasons ago, fans would have considered a second round berth a miracle.

Granted, only four team per league make to the playoffs in Major League Baseball, as opposed to eight in the NBA, but the fact remains that Colangelo turned the Raptors into a playoff team much quicker than anyone really expected.

By turning the Raptors around as quickly as he did, Bryan Colangelo may have set a pace in terms of fan expectations that he might have trouble maintaining.  Success can be a double-edged sword.

Those who experience great initial success within a sport's culture, mired in failure or sustained mediocrity, sometimes become victims of that success; buried by the expectations they themselves created.