Seeing Through Colangelo’s Reality Distortion Field (Part 1)

Posted on December 31, 2012 | 2 Comments

Despite the Raptors being 7-2 in the last 9 games, there are still major problems with this team and this organization (I’ll get to this in a bit). In a previous post, I talked about how it’s Bryan Colangelo who should bear the brunt of responsibility for the Raptors’ current situation. In this post, I’ll expand on that argument.

For those unfamiliar with the “reality distortion field“, it was a phrase coined to describe how Steve Jobs used to convince those around him to believe something that simply wasn’t true (or was impossible) by what was basically great salesmanship.

It seems Colangelo has something similar. It’s the only logical explanation for the fact that Colangelo not only still has his job, but the apparent support of the MLSE board and several members of the media, as well. Michael Grange, whose credibility has taken a bit of a beating since he left the Globe and Mail and turned into a more knowledgable version of Doug Smith, who is little more than a mouthpiece for organization, has been rather vocal in his defense of Colangelo, including on Twitter…

Smith recently wrote a column that graded Colangelo’s major moves, since he took charge of the Raptors. Personally, I would guess he was grading on a curve.

Of course, one of the geniuses of Colangelo is the fact that it’s hard to pinpoint most of his bad moves, especially recently. It’s hard to argue that acquiring Kyle Lowry was a bad move, although I certainly made a case that looks better by the minute, quite frankly. Same goes for Terrence Ross, who does look like a talented player. Both Jonas Valanciunas and Ed Davis are looking like very good picks, and even DeMar DeRozan is starting to look like one of the best players available, at his spot in the draft.

Sure, there was the Hedo Turkoglu debacle, and losing Chris Bosh obviously isn’t something Colangelo is going to want to put on his resume, but most of the moves, even the undeniably bad ones, can be explained away. Especially by Colangelo.

You see, like Steve Jobs, Colangelo is a salesman at heart. That’s his greatest strength. Hell, he sold signing a 30 year old, below average defender with motivational issues, with only one good season on his resume (and coming off a bad one) to a 5 year, $53 million contract to play with 3 other below average defenders in the starting lineup, as a recipe for winning in order to keep Chris Bosh in a Raptor uniform. And most people bought it. And then they called him a genius for getting rid of him a year later.

Colangelo can defend most of his moves, and looking at each individual one probably isn’t much of an indictment of Colangelo. In fact, he’d like you to believe that the Raptors’ current record is not his fault. In a recent interview, Bryan Colangelo stated that “he does not believe that it’s a talent issue right now“.

And it seems Michael Grange backs him up on this, when he wrote, “But for its blemishes the current Raptors roster isn’t a great advertisement for those who would have Colangelo hang.

This past offseason, Colangelo made it clear, with his actions and his words, that the rebuild was over and it was now time for the Raptors to start competing for the playoffs. That would obviously mean he felt that the Raptors had the talent to do so. I didn’t agree on this with him, and neither, apparently, did a lot of the rest of the league when they beat the team 19 times in the first 23 games.

But was the poor start a talent issue, or a focus issue, as Colangelo stated?

The way the team has played lately might lead you to believe that Colangelo might have been right. It wasn’t a talent issue. Well, yes and no. They certainly weren’t playing up to their talent level before, but they’re also currently benefitting from an easier schedule. Six of the seven wins, since their “rebirth”, have been against teams with a losing record.

Yes, the team is definitely playing better, but the playoffs were never a really realistic goal. And while there is now renewed talk of the playoffs, it would take a series of unlikely events for the Raptors to get there. Even if they do play above .500 ball of the rest of the season (which is what they would have to do) and make it into the playoffs, I don’t think Colangelo should be holding up this team as a reason to keep his job.

In fact, the current roster is as much of an indictment of Colangelo’s failings as a general manager as anything because it shows examples of Colangelo’s three biggest flaws…

SHORT TERM VISION AND IMPATIENCE

When Colangelo took control of the Raptors organization, in 2006, the team had a 21 year old big man coming off his first of what promised to be many All Star games, a number one draft pick, a decent amount of cap room and some young prospects that, if nothing else, might be pretty good assets.

Colangelo traded for, or signed, T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Kris Humphries, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa. All good, solid players, but not one of them with All Star talent. He also drafted Andrea Bargnani, and we all know how that turned out.

The team did go onto tie a franchise record with 47 wins and win an Atlantic Division title, but lost in the first round against the New Jersey Nets and enemy #1 for Raptor fans, Vince Carter.

While that Raptors team had some good role players, to go along with the ever improving Bosh, what it didn’t have was a lot of growth potential. Parker, Garbajosa (had he remained healthy), Nesterovic and Morris Peterson were all at least 29 years old and would only decline. Ford was young, but had limited potential, and Colangelo has already been proven wrong if he thought Bargnani was going to become anything other than an inefficient chucker who can’t rebound or play defense.

The next year they struggled and finished at .500 before being destroyed by Orlando in the first round of the playoffs. it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The 47 wins the previous season was a bit of a mirage with the Atlantic Division being easily the worst in the NBA.

In what looked like a panic move, Colangelo traded Nesterovic, the 25 year old Ford, and a first round pick to Indiana for 30 year old Jermaine O’Neal, who had missed 112 games over the previous 4 seasons (mostly due to injury), and was clearly on the decline.

You didn’t have to be an expert to see this was not a long term solution, and had a very big chance of backfiring. Which it did. The coach, Sam Mitchell, was fired in November and O’Neal was sent packing, along with another first round pick, before the trade deadline in exchange for Shawn Marion.

What’s interesting is the Raptors and Colangelo and Miami, and their GM Pat Riley, had two very different strategies. Riley looked long term and decided to trade for an extra year of salary and a draft pick. Riley knew the big bonanza was in the summer of 2010, so he put the team in neutral for a year. It was a big gamble, but the payoff, obviously, was huge. His goal was to build a contender, and he had the patience to do it.

On the other hand, Colangelo has always seemed to lack long term vision and has always been too impatient for his own good. His initial vision was to build a competitive team in order to entice Chris Bosh to sign an extension, and then, two years later, build another competitive team in order to entice Bosh to re-sign. The goal never seemed to be to build a contender. Ironically, Bosh left Toronto to sign with Miami, who he felt could be the contender Toronto couldn’t.

Even when Colangelo seems to have exhibited some long term vision and patience, it’s not. Not really. He made a great choice to draft Jonas Valanciunas despite him not being able to come over right away, but that decision was made a lot easier by the fact that a strike/lockout loomed and there was a chance there wouldn’t have even been a season.

And really, Colangelo was only really pushed into the whole rebuilding thing, and the chance to draft Valanciunas at all, when his trade for Tyson Chandler and Boris Diaw fell through after Michael Jordan famously stepped in at the last minute to nix the trade.

The season after Bosh left, it was obviously Colangelo’s plan to have a starting five of Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, Linas Kleiza (signed that offseason), DeMar DeRozan and Jarrett Jack. Once again, a team meant to compete, but nothing more. Had Colangelo got his wish, I’m guessing they would have finished with a win total in the 30s, and no chance to draft Valanciunas.

Of course, his defenders will say that, although he was forced into the rebuild, he’s done a good job with it, since he hasn’t really made any bad moves since signing Turkoglu in the summer of 2009. And it’s mostly true. But not making bad moves isn’t quite the same as making good moves.

A number of years ago, Charles Barkley talked about how most GMs in the league aren’t trying to win a title, they are simply trying to keep their job. It’s much easier, and less risky, to try and hit singles than to swing for the fences.  Unfortunately, in the NBA, if you want to build a Championship contender, you need a home run or two.

Ironically, there’s a similar line of thinking in Hollywood. One of the reasons a lot of people think there are so few movies like Inception, and too many bad movies based on comic books and board games, is because studio executives care more about keeping their job than making a great movie. It’s easier to keep saying no to unique ideas and to say yes to movies that have built in name recognition and a line of toys.

Same goes for the NBA. Take the last draft, for example. Colangelo played it safe by drafting Terrence Ross, who is a good player I said would likely be a top ten player from the draft. But without a true franchise player on the roster, selecting Andre Drummond, who has a chance to be a top 3 player in the draft, would have been a swing for the fences type move.

And Colangelo’s insistence that the rebuild be an “accelerated” one, highlights his impatience and lack of long term planning. He had to have known the team lacked the elite talent necessary to grow beyond a team with a ceiling similar  to the one that never made it out of the first round in 2006 and 2007. What was more important to him, though, was not building a Championship contender, but ending the team’s playoff drought and save his job.

Next up, Colangelo’s second flaw: Poor understanding of talent and team building

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Comments

  • Ioan

    i agree very much with your analysis, but one point where i would disagree is that for once making the safe move with Ross might be a truly good decision, since his home-run attempts in the past (Bargnani) haven’t always turned up to their expectations. Drummond is indeed a beast but it seems that no one had predicted him to be so good. Give Ross a bit of a chance, he will improve.

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

    Hey, I like Ross and was talking him up even before the draft. I also said that they’d never actually drafting Ross, but I simply don’t see him becoming anything more than a borderline All Star. And, quite frankly, a borderline All Star at the SG position isn’t going to effect a team nearly as much as an All Star big man.

    As for Colangelo’s home run attempts, I think it just says that he’s simply not nearly as good a judge of talent as he appeared to be in Phoenix.

    By the way, sorry it took so long to approve and respond to your comment. I blame Disqus, as I didn’t even see the comment until just now.

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