The Toronto Raptors introduced Ed Stefanski as their new Vice-President of Basketball Operations today. What exactly his role with the team will be is yet to be determined, but you can expect Bryan Colangelo will still have the final say on all major decisions.
Stefanski has been in and around basketball for most of his life. He previously acted as General Manager for both the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
Outside of his talks with the Raptors this summer, Stefanski was also in the running to become the new General Manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. His decision to pick Toronto is telling, since most people in basketball circles would say Portland is a far more attractive team at this point in time.
Representatives of both the league and players union met for 15 hours on Wednesday, into Thursday morning. Then they met again late Thursday afternoon.
If a deal is reached in the next few days Billy Hunter has said a full 82 game schedule may still be possible.
The league would need at least a week to draft the new collective bargaining agreement. After the new CBA is in place, expect at least three or four weeks for free agency, with games starting in the beginning of December.
What does all this mean for the Toronto Raptors?
Well if the press conference introducing Stefanski is any indication not much. When asked about this upcoming season Colangelo responded by saying:
"Depending on what we have as options in front of us, we may be looking at a year where we actually take a step back. Not step back in terms of talent, because we are where we are in terms of guaranteed contracts, but adding to that in a very strategic, precise and patient way. Making sure that flexibility we've worked so hard to get does not get disrupted."
This may not be what fans want to hear, but is probably the smart move on Colangelo’s part. It has yet to be determined what the new CBA will look like, but it will more than likely have a more restrictive salary cap. Meaning teams must be smarter with the contracts they extend to players.
Breaking down Colangelo’s statement, which you can listen to here, the key part of his answer is the statement about the team taking a step back. What does that mean?
It doesn’t mean that the Raptors are planning on tanking the entire season looking toward the future. But what it does likely mean is, fans shouldn’t be expecting any major free agent signing once a deal is reached.
Toronto has a solid, young core with Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and Jonas Valanciunas. Bargnani is the oldest of the group and having just turned 26 the other day.
Add to the fact that the 2012 NBA Draft is set to be one of the deepest in years. This is the result of a number of last year’s freshman deciding to return to school based on the uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s labour negotiations.
As things stand today the top three prospects are, in no particular order, Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond.
Barnes was the top recruit last year. He drew comparisons to Kobe Bryant when he joined the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Those comparisons quickly disappeared as Barnes struggled throughout the first half of the season. He came on strong in the second half though and is back in the discussion as a potential first overall selection.
Davis is probably the most highly regarded out of the group. He spent most of his childhood playing guarding, until a growth spurt accorded and he grew to 6’11”. Davis has the best motor, not only out of these three, but out of most of the college basketball universe. He is a tireless competitor and has the potential to be a superstar.
Then there is Drummond. He only recently joined the ranks of college prospects.
Drummond was set for another year of prep-school, but decided at the last minute to join Jim Calhoun and the UConn Huskies. He is already a man among boys and has been compared to Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Kemp, the one we all wish we remembered, not the overweight one from Cleveland and Portland with at least seven children.
Since Toronto is a very young team, and at a minimum a few years away from competing for anything it doesn’t make sense to go out and get a big name free agent.
One of the biggest areas of weaknesses the Raptors have is in the middle. But why spend millions of dollars on Tyson Chandler or Nene when they will no longer be in their prime by the time Toronto is ready to make some noise in the playoffs.
Add to the fact, that there is a good chance Valanciunas will emerge as the team’s starting centre within a year or two.
This season is imperative, if only because it allows Raptors management the ability to evaluate what they have currently and what their needs are for the future.
Sacrificing this season in order to benefit the future is the way to build a championship team. The team will add another lottery pick next summer and still have some cap flexibility to bring in a veteran presence.
However, at the same time I think fans are in for a long season, whenever it starts, and at best a 30 win team when all is said and done.