It’s not the worst thing in the world that Bryan Colangelo is staying with the Toronto Raptors in a nebulous, barely-specified role. It’s not the weirdest thing in the world, either, or even the weirdest decision that Raptors-owning Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has ever made.
It is suitably strange, though, to see Colangelo both promoted and being told to mind his manners when it comes to future personnel moves by his new boss, MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke. The Toronto Raptors’ general manager, Leiweke told reporters on Tuesday, will be the one making the final basketball-related decisions, and “he’s going to have to live with that,” along with living and working with the new Toronto Raptors GM.
A GM that has yet to be named, by the way. Good thing Colangelo already traded away his 2013 lottery pick.
The move isn’t unprecedented, in sports or business terms. Simultaneously kicking an employee upstairs while stripping them of their power is a time-honored tradition, and in Colangelo’s case the benefits are obvious. For one, picking up the option on Colangelo’s contract for next season isn’t the priciest maneuver, even if the team has to break the bank in order to sign the woefully underpaid but rightfully highly-regarded Masai Ujiri as GM away from the Denver Nuggets. Secondly, there was a small chance the Raptors could have jumped into the top three in Tuesday’s draft lottery, necessitating a call to scouting arms with the draft five weeks away.
Most importantly? Colangelo’s a pro. His tenure with the Raptors has been far from successful, next season they could be a luxury tax-paying team without playoff assurances, and his personnel choices since taking the team over in 2006 have been less than stellar, but he knows the league, is in good standing with his colleagues, and he’s the very definition of a well-connected lifer.
And if the notoriously pedantic (save for that whole thing about efficient shooting percentages) Colangelo presses too hard, and chafes at a lack of front office influence? Then MLSE can ask him to leave the room to take what Leiweke called “a deep breath” on Tuesday. Seems pretty simple, in spite of what at times was an embarrassing spectacle between Leiweke and Colangelo’s separate talks with reporters.
Leiweke is a no-muss, no-fuss sort of executive, and all the signs seemed to point toward a quick dismissal and the needed end of the Bryan Colangelo era in Toronto. He declined to give Colangelo any assurances about his contract option after meeting with him on May 4, or after a reported three-hour presentation on May 7 to MLSE executives discussing some of Colangelo’s most egregious mistakes (the Hedo Turkoglu signing, Turk’s eventual downfall, the Andrea Bargnani contract extension, drafting, trading for and re-signing a series of like-minded low-percentage “scorers”) and the team’s potential.
Toronto is the sort of city and MLSE is the sort of company that can afford a “president” working alongside a GM. Heck, if the small market Indiana Pacers can field both Kevin Pritchard and Donnie Walsh in their front office, MLSE can work up the same configuration. Assuming Colangelo plays ball, that is.
Colangelo stressed, on Tuesday, that he’s game to play along. At times, at least.
Because in reference to a Leiweke assertion that one of Colangelo’s goals is to turn the Raptors into “Canada’s team” (down to even discussing a color rebranding that could involve a logo that more closely resembles the country’s flag), Colangelo offered this tepid response: “It’s being portrayed as a non-basketball job, but we’re in the basketball business.”
This is the sort of on-record language that is in place before the two even get into specific priorities, whether they relate to a non-basketball job, or the basketball business. This is what happens when you put together separate conference calls. Or separate jobs, for that matter.
Leiweke, at the very least, seems self-aware. He admitted that Colangelo is definitely “ticked off” at him because of the reshuffle, a phrase Colangelo later dismissed as “not the right terminology” before telling reporters that he intends to press MLSE “to be used in a fashion that my 18 years of experience” would serve.
That is to say, even on the first day of this new arrangement, the pangs are still in place.
That could change with the GM hire. Or, it could be exacerbated if Ujiri is brought in, and the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year finds it hard to turn down the counsel of the former Raptors GM he once assisted. As good and as self-assured as Ujiri is, that’s a tough arrangement.
It doesn’t have to be a lasting arrangement, though. If things get prickly, Leiweke can step in, and streamline the chain of command.
All involved probably wish he didn’t begin that process by clouding everything up, though.
About four months ago, some NBA people were seriously discussing whether or not Tony Parker could make a legitimate claim to being the league's Most Valuable Player this season. That discussion was mostly bunk, on account of LeBron James existing, but it was an important step up in recognition for the evolution of the San Antonio Spurs point guard's game over the past few years — the vision, pace and timing he's added to his speed and quickness, the subtle in-and-out moves and slight feints he's mastered to keep even first-rate defenders off-balance, the feel he's developed for when to hunt his own offense and when to facilitate for others to make sure San Antonio's offensive machine is in prime working order.
After skewing a bit toward the former with a team-high 14 shots and a game-high 20 points in the Spurs' Western Conference finals-opening win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, Parker clearly veered back to the latter in Tuesday's Game 2, keeping Memphis' perimeter defenders at arm's length and dominating the opening three quarters of the game en route to a career-best 18 assists in a 93-89 overtime win that gave San Antonio a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Sure, there might have been a little bit of home-scorer's cooking on a couple of those credited dimes, but Parker's overall control of the game and mastery of a hard-working Grizzlies defense was undeniable.
"He was unbelievable," longtime running buddy Tim Duncan said after the game. "I know he's exhausted. We asked a lot of him. He was controlling the ball every time down the floor and he was making every right play there was. He was finding people, and people knocked down shots for him."
That fatigue was evident in the latter stages of Game 2. The combination of dominating the ball, orchestrating Gregg Popovich's offense and defending dangerous Memphis guards Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless for 28 1/2 minutes through three quarters seemed to weigh heavily on Parker's legs in the fourth quarter. As Parker goes, so goes the Spurs offense, and when he waned — missing six of eight shots without an assist — so did San Antonio, sputtering to just nine points in the frame and opening the door to a Memphis comeback that was aided by a bad Manu Ginobili flagrant foul (and highlighted by some timely embellishment from Tony Allen).
The dead legs seemed to persist into overtime for both benches, but luckily for the Spurs, Duncan had one last burst left. He scored six points in less than five minutes in the extra frame, and added a critical block of a Marc Gasol layup that would have tied the game at 89 with just over 90 seconds remaining. Not only that, but Duncan followed his rejection by making a floater on the other end to put San Antonio up by four ... and give Parker his career-high 18th assist. The total topped Parker's previous career high of 17, notched last season against the New Orleans Hornets, and his prior postseason high of 14, posted against the Utah Jazz back in 2007. (It's also two shy of the Spurs franchise record for assists in a playoff game — Johnny Moore had 20 in a 1983 win over the Denver Nuggets.)
As San Antonio Express-News columnist Buck Harvey put it, "Popovich had wanted him to be John Stockton when he drafted him, and, a dozen years later, Parker made it." And now, Parker actually joins Stockton in a pretty exclusive club of playoff performers.
Parker's now the 14th player since the 1985-86 season (as far back as Basketball-Reference's database goes) to have posted an 18-assist playoff game. Only five players have had multiple 18-or-more assist games since '85: Magic Johnson (who did it 16 times), Stockton (10 times), Rajon Rondo (four times), Doc Rivers and Kevin Johnson (both twice). Mookie Blaylock, Sleepy Floyd, Tim Hardaway, Avery Johnson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Price, Spud Webb and now Parker have all done it once. And if you want to whittle the group down even further, only Parker, Magic and Kidd have put up at least 15 points, 18 dimes, five rebounds and three steals in a playoff game in the last 27 years. Decent company, huh?
(An aside: It's not easy to pick a "best" game out of that bunch, since they're all obviously pretty great. But Hardaway scoring 27 points on 50 percent shooting, dropping 20 dimes with one turnover and adding five steals and two blocks in 51 minutes might not be a bad place to start. Then again, his Golden State Warriors lost that game to the Los Angeles Lakers, so maybe it's not a great place to start, either. Maybe Kidd's 16-point, 16-rebound, 19-assist triple-double to send the New Jersey Nets past the Toronto Raptors in 2007? I don't know. Have fun deciding for yourselves.)
It's hard work setting up that many teammates in that many ways — slick aerial bounce passes, quick pocket passes off screen action, bullet passes to pick out backdoor cutters, dump-offs made possible by your dribble penetration — and after 42 minutes of hustle and flow, Parker copped to being exhausted.
“I just got tired,” Parker said, according to Harvey. “I can't speak for everyone else, but I know I was tired.”
Luckily, the schedule's on Parker's side — he now gets three days to rest and recover before Game 3 tips in Memphis on Saturday night. Those three days could help Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, too, though — remember, Memphis dropped its first two games against the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1, then came back to win four straight, and then ripped off four straight following a Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 2. Momentum can be a fickle thing in the NBA playoffs, which is why it's nice to have someone who can take control of a game and steer it in your direction. As Parker reminded us on Tuesday, the Spurs most certainly have that.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out all the dishing elsewhere, thanks to the NBA.
The Raptors news just won't stop coming...
We have two looks from the past weekend's SWNT tryout camp, Myck Kabongo at the Draft Combine, Andrew Nicholson on the radio, Anthony Bennett making some rounds pre-Draft, Trey Lyles still deciding, Malcolm Duvivier a Beaver in Canadian Content ...
No big surprise here as the Raptors indeed lose their 2013 draft pick as a result of tonight's lottery.
Oh right, there's something else going on in Raptorland tonight!
Today's likely announcement that Bryan Colangelo will be replaced as the Toronto Raptors' President and General Manager has Adam Francis experiencing a long-dormant vantage point; optimism.
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