On Saturday morning Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Toronto Raptors were hot to trot for Denver Nuggets personnel chief Masai Ujiri, which is a smart trot to be hot for, considering that Ujiri once worked for the Raptors, and the reigning NBA Executive of the Year. Prior to that news, though, the team was leaning on stranger outfits to guide their search.
The Toronto Raptors had been rumored to be hot on Phil Jackson’s trail, not as a head coach, but for a job running the team’s front office. They’re also trying to figure out the direction of the franchise after yet another year lost to the middling depths of the low lottery, while sussing out a payroll that currently is set to send them into luxury tax territory next season. They also have until Monday, because of a contract deadline, to determine whether or not current general manager Bryan Colangelo will be the man to lead them out of the mess that, um, Bryan Colangelo just made.
It’s clear that Tim Leiweke (the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) needs some help in figuring out what to do with the team his company owns, and any outside help is appreciated. Instead of going with a basketball mind, someone who has been there before or someone who is willing to think in hoop-related terms while minding this mess, MLSE has gone elsewhere. They’ve hired a head-hunting firm, weirdly. From the great Doug Smith at the Toronto Star:
While not officially on the job yet, Leiweke has been given all responsibility to determine Colangelo’s fate. The two men have met and discussed plans for the Raptors future but neither has spoken publicly about their feelings.
And Leiweke is not conducting the search for a possible replacement on his own; multiple NBA sources say MLSE has hired a head-hunting firm to whittle down a list of possible replacements.
Two names being tossed around NBA circles at the league’s annual draft combine are Kevin Pritchard, currently the general manager of the Indiana Pacers and Troy Weaver, the vice-president and assistant general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There may be others on any short list compiled by the unnamed search firm but neither of those are seen as the slam-dunk, high-profile executives many were expecting to emerge from Leiweke’s search.
Colangelo needs to go, and it’s clear that new MLSE Tim Leiweke was so unimpressed with the presentation that Colangelo gave the former Anschutz Entertainment Group CEO earlier this month that he’s considering other names to help lead the Raptors to their first playoff appearance since 2007. Phil Jackson, apparently, wasn’t receptive to whatever interest MLSE showed in the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach, and as a result MLSE is stuck in no-man’s land with Colangelo’s contract deadline approaching. To some, the wait prior to the potential decision has become infuriating.
Still, there’s no shame in going a week or two without a GM. Especially if it means passing on Colangelo, and mostly because the Raptors are without a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Even with a payroll that could exceed $72 US next year, few would pick the Raptors to make the NBA’s playoffs in 2013-14 as currently presented, and if the next GM decides to rebuild (as the Raptors should) few NBA teams would be lining up to trade for the high-priced players that Colangelo signed off on acquiring.
This is why the Raptors need to take their time as they hunt down a new GM. This is also why the Raptors probably need to think in basketball terms, and limit the influence of a head-hunting firm that will only offer the names of unsuccessful NBA GM deputies as potential replacements. That’s how business often works, with the tenured number two candidates ready to take on the role directly above them, regardless of their acumen.
There was hope in Toronto, after Leiweke took over. It appears as if he’s handling the potential dismissal of Bryan Colangelo in a very Bryan Colangelo-styled way. There are a lot of cufflinks on the payroll, now.
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Mascots are an important part of the NBA, serving as furry mirth-makers in a league that often becomes too self-serious for its own good. There's no joy a mascot can't bring, whether it involves choreographed dancing or simply forcing fans to consider the ridiculousness of an anthropomorphic blue blob's existence.
However, the fact of the matter is that most mascots are very similar, both in their antics and looks. It's pretty much impossible to differentiate between the bear mascots of the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies, for instance, and that's even before you see them jumping off trampolines and high-fiving children.
So, when a mascot stands out as something special, you know that it's done some amazing work. Kudos to Benny the Bull of the Chicago Bulls, then, for being listed by Forbes as the most popular mascot in America (via TBJ). From Tom Van Riper:
Benny the Bull, who’s been entertaining fans at Chicago Bulls games for more than four decades, keeps a killer schedule that goes way beyond the Bulls’ 41 home games a season (or more like 50 including the preseason and playoffs). Benny does 250 events a year, from appearances at Chicago businesses and charities to private parties.
The work ethic and the athleticism he displays during game breaks at the United Center have paid off: Benny stands as this year’s most popular sports mascot. That’s the word from The Marketing Arm’s Davie Brown Index, which is based on a survey of public perception of celebrities and their influence on brands. For mascots, the DBI measures popularity by the following criteria: Awareness, likeability, attention-getting, photo-friendliness, interaction and fun. Fans were also asked if a given mascot happened to be his “absolute favorite” or “one of my favorites.”
Benny led the pack in pure likability and gets more photo requests than any other mascot in sports. His ascension to the top is something of an upset, moving against this year’s anti-NBA trend. Perhaps the trampoline-bouncing, slam-dunking hoops mascots are starting to become old hat: past favorites like the Phoenix Suns’ Gorilla, the Denver Nuggets’ mountain lion Rocky and the San Antonio Spurs’ Coyote are nowhere to be found this year. Instead, it’s been an up year for the warm and fuzzy, kid-centered baseball mascots.
For now, let's put aside the fact that Van Riper introduces his story by describing mascots as entities that exist purely to lure children (or "lil' consumers," as I like to call them) back to the arena in the future. We can also avoid discussing Benny's impact on the world stage, where challengers like Arsenal's Gunnersaurus await.
Instead, let's just give credit to Benny for being really, really great at what he does. In truth, he isn't that different from other mascots, but Benny attacks life with a mixture of verve and playfulness we need more of in this world. He expresses the NBA as what it should be — a fun thing that doesn't really make logical sense. Heck, it's arguable that he's the watchable member of this particular Bulls team.
With the Bulls in Miami tonight for what could be their last game of the season, it's possible that we won't see Benny in a basketball context for nearly six months. If that's the case, let's raise our glasses and toast to the friendly creature who adds a small bit of joy to our lives. He may have been created to hook children on a product for life, but he has become so much more.
Ty Lawson playing some 3-on-3 out in Vegas and some awesome draft coverage.
As the NBA decided to keep the Kings in Sacramento, we must urge the NBA to NOT treat the city of Seattle like LA. Give them a team. Make things right.
Let's hope the Nuggets don't give the Raptors an opportunity to steal Masai Ujiri.
Well, it's been two weeks now. How are you adjusting to life without the Denver Nuggets?
Some rumors are starting to swirl about the NBA draft and the conference finals are almost set.
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