Thank goodness for the Washington Wizards.
If not for The Team Formerly Known As The Bullets, there would be no one below the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference standings of the NBA. In fact, there’d be no one lower in the entire league.
Which brings us to Bryan Colangelo, now nearing his seventh anniversary of trying/promising to make the Raptors something other than an NBA weakling.
It was, you may recall, way back in February 2006 that Colangelo came aboard. A year later, after the Raps had captured the Atlantic Division for the first time, Colangelo was named NBA executive of the year.
Who knew that would be the high-water mark?
Things began to unravel almost immediately after Colangelo received the honour. Picks for Carlos Delfino. Jason Kapano was signed. Jermaine O’Neal came to town in a deal that, among other items, sent the drafted Roy Hibbert to Indiana. Chris Bosh seemed to quit as a player and then left town. Sam Mitchell was fired. Jay Triano was fired.
Now, in a season that was supposed to be at the very least better than last season’s 66-game death march, things are ugly. Some of the losses have been close, some have been blamed on unfair officiating (a constant on-air lament), and some of the losses have been blowouts, like Tuesday in Houston.
Some are preaching patience and hope. Maybe that’s right. There are pieces. Kyle Lowry has turned into a strong acquisition this year, and Colangelo was wise enough to protect the first-rounder sent to Houston with a complicated set of conditions if it turns out to be a top-three selection.
You can argue that Lowry is an elite point guard. Even if you love him, this is a team with a pedestrian starting five, little in the way of toughness or veteran leadership and no players likely to be NBA all-stars in the future.
Colangelo inherited a franchise player in Bosh, lost him for nothing and hasn’t been able to acquire anything close since. Jonas Valanciunas looks to be a solid bet to be a good to very good player, mind you, and DeMar Derozan shows flashes to go with his flashy new contract. First-round pick Terrence Ross had 19 points on Tuesday, a major highlight of the season so far.
Again, there are pieces.
But what’s interesting is that Colangelo, at least outside of social media, continues to escape blame as the losses pile up, even with the team on pace to win even fewer games than last year’s 22.
Perhaps it’s the overall lack of interest in the Raptors; even without hockey to compete against, some Raptor television audiences fall below 100,000 viewers. The print/broadcast coverage of the team in general is much less than that which blankets the Leafs and Blue Jays.
Yet he’s been in Toronto for exactly four years, and Colangelo is closing in on seven, and there’s no similar heat on him.
Even this season, the brunt of the criticism for the team’s inept start has been aimed at Italian import Andrea Bargnani, the No. 1 pick of a bad draft in ‘06 who may be a viable NBA scorer some nights but is hardly a franchise player.
All this said, maybe times are a-changing in town.
The Argonauts have won a championship. Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has upped the ante for GMs in town by moving out of the slow development phase into a hyper-drive for real success by making a series of eye-catching moves. The Leafs, should they play, seem destined to do so with Roberto Luongo in net.
This season, the opening 22 games always looked like a rough start, but instead of the hoped for eight or nine wins, the Raps may not have five. This doesn’t feel like progress. Meanwhile, teams that were well behind Toronto in Colangelo’s first season are now ahead.
This isn’t a call for Colangelo’s neck. Not yet. This is a young team. But it is to question how much longer he can seemingly dance around any and all responsibility for the basketball catastrophe in this city.
Why does the buck never stop there?