Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo is something of an industry marvel for the relentlessness with which he sells his peers on trades. He’s charismatic. He’s convincing. These days, opposing GMs tell tales of how hard the Raptors boss is selling them on why their teams just can’t live without Jason Kapono and Anthony Parker and Joey Graham.
As the trade deadline looms on Feb. 19, conversations are gathering momentum around the NBA and scores of league executives and agents agree: No one seems as aggressive to make moves as Colangelo, who was out of patience before the Raptors’ six-game losing streak.
“We are very disappointed where we find ourselves,” Colangelo said in an email on Tuesday night. “…You have to keep in perspective that we have gone through a coaching change and more recently have played more than 10 games without our starting point guard or center. Either way … I’m not afraid to seek out and make deals if things aren’t working.”
Colangelo’s willingness to make a dramatic change isn’t limited to the Raptors’ supporting cast and includes center Jermaine O’Neal. The Raptors and Miami Heat have had serious discussions on a possible O’Neal-for-Shawn Marion trade, but Heat president Pat Riley needs to be convinced that the 7-footer’s right knee is healthy enough to allow him to play.
Colangelo drafted Marion with the Phoenix Suns, watched him become an All-Star, and now Marion’s $17.8 million expiring contract is attractive. O’Neal’s contract is trickier. He has a player option for the 2009-2010 season that he’ll undoubtedly exercise for more than $23 million. Yet, O’Neal, 30, is still struggling to stay healthy and Miami would have to think hard about taking on that contract, especially with the cap space that Marion could free.
For the Raptors, Colangelo has three untouchables: Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. Mostly, Colangelo is chasing the clock on Bosh’s opt-out in the summer of 2010, desperately trying to find the proper mix to surround him so he’ll re-sign with the Raptors. The absence of O’Neal with knee problems has allowed Bargnani, the maligned 2006 No. 1 overall pick, to blossom. He’s begun to validate Colangelo’s vision, and there’s no way Colangelo is parting with him.
Colangelo is determined to transform the dynamics of the floundering Raptors. They were expected to be a 50-win team, but they’re 16-27 and struggling to find an identity. Colangelo fired Sam Mitchell in December, but little has changed under interim coach Jay Triano.
The coaching change has had little impact in the standings. Colangelo and Mitchell had a contentious professional relationship. They just saw basketball through such different prisms. Colangelo has embraced the Euro model. He hired an Italian league GM as his assistant, and is as comfortable constructing a roster with players out of the Euroleague as he is those from the Big East and Pac 10. So Mitchell is gone, and the interim coach, Triano, is fighting to keep his job.
Colangelo has been worried about Bosh leaving for the New York Knicks in 2010 and expressed concern about possible tampering based on public comments Knicks GM Donnie Walsh made about Bosh in a November magazine story. Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is partial to signing Amare Stoudemire – another Colangelo draft pick – in 2010.
But D’Antoni isn’t the GM. Walsh picks the players. Walsh’s toughest job will be convincing LeBron James that he can win a title with D’Antoni’s defense-free system. James has had an epiphany on the importance of defense, and now believes it is the true root to a championship. The fact that it’s such an afterthought for D’Antoni only makes New York a tougher sell for James. The way the landscape is changing, Bosh could end up partnering with James in Cleveland in the summer of 2010.
Still, no one should count Colangelo out. He remade the Suns into a Western contender, the Raptors into an Atlantic Division champion and has a history of always reshaping his teams on the run. Now, the trade deadline is looming and Colangelo needs to make something happen.
As Feb. 19 approaches, here are four more teams that will assuredly shape the trade deadline.
The Bulls have talked to multiple teams about moving Larry Hughes and his contract (more than $26 million over this season and next), but have found little they’ve liked in return. The Bulls do have young players who intrigue teams, including Ben Gordon, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. Perhaps the most tradable player is guard Kirk Hinrich.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks are clearly willing to trade Josh Howard, the enigmatic forward, before he does something else to lower his value. Because there is a team option on the final season of his contract in 2010-2011, his deal is especially attractive to franchises looking to clear cap space for the summer of 2010. The Mavericks have shown interest in Sacramento’s Brad Miller and Miami’s Marion.
New York Knicks: The Knicks have sent out signals to rival executives that they’re willing to move forward David Lee, who will command a rich extension this summer. Malik Rose’s expiring contract ($7.6 million) has value, too.
Sacramento Kings: Brad Miller, the 7-footer, is an attractive target for Western Conference teams searching for the size to overtake the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs have interest, but don’t have the combination of young players and expiring contracts that the Kings want, league executives say. Guard John Salmons could move before the deadline, too.