Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke initially decided to put together a strange arrangement last spring, replacing longtime Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo with the man who used to work as his second in command, reigning NBA Executive of the Year and former Denver Nuggets top man Masai Ujiri. The plan was for Colangelo, who is as connected as they come within NBA executive circles, to stick around to help grease the wheels as Ujiri dotted through the league’s ever-expanding Rolodex. The problem with the arrangement was obvious, though, because it would involve Colangelo reporting to a man who used to report to him, all while that new boss broke apart the middling and expensive team Colangelo put together.
The setup didn’t last, obviously, as the pairing didn’t even make it past NBA draft night before Colangelo was let go in full. Ujiri responded by dealing Colangelo’s notorious top overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani for cap space and draft picks in the offseason, waiving former Colangelo signing Linas Kleiza soon after using the amnesty clause, while carefully choosing his options with Colangelo-era leftovers like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and coach Dwane Casey.
Swingman Rudy Gay was thought to be off the tradin’ table, not so much because Ujiri wanted to keep him (he didn’t), but because there was thought to be little interest in a player that attempts nearly as many field goals per game as he does score points per contest, while making over $37 million over the final two years of his contract.
Somewhat shockingly, though, the Sacramento Kings stepped to that table over the weekend, sending a slew of potentially-expiring and unguaranteed contracts to Toronto for Gay and two other players. The Kings didn’t even have to send a draft pick Toronto’s way, and the Raptors will pay Chuck Hayes and (by then waived) John Salmons a combined $7 million next year as a result of the deal. That’s how badly Ujiri wanted to get rid of Gay’s salary and shooting percentage.
There is a very good chance that the deal will make Toronto better by subtraction, taking out Gay’s massive usage rate and 38.8 percent shooting could improve the team’s offense even if no obvious scorer is in place to step up. On box score paper, though, the deal is a current minus for the Raptors – though they don’t care in the slightest after knocking $12.3 million off their books for the 2014 offseason.
This allows Bryan Colangelo to step in and offer a sly little dig at the team that traded for his last, and potentially most disastrous, acquisition of his time in Toronto. From a talk with Ailene Voisin at the Sacramento Bee:
“I put a high premium on talent and character, and Rudy Gay has an abundance of both,” said Bryan Colangelo, the former Raptors general manager who acquired Gay from Memphis last January in a deal that was widely regarded as a salary dump by the Grizzlies. “Obviously, Pete (D’Alessandro) has a mandate to increase the talent level of his team as opposed to depleting it. This move is a pretty good indication of that.”
Whether intentional or not, a quote like that supposes that Ujiri had no such intentions on increasing his talent level, preferring to deplete it.
Presumption about Toronto’s increased efficiency with Gay out of the lineup aside, that’s sort of what you need to do when you’re faced with two seasons of nearly paying the luxury tax for teams that are not playoff-worthy, much-less tax-worthy. That’s what Colangelo signed the Raptors up to do last season, and that’s what the team was set to do this season before Ujiri started choppin’ away. Though some of Colangelo’s parts are working well – Bargnani has been better as a mid-range shooter for New York this year, DeRozan has improved, and Jonas Valanciunas remains a prospect worth holding onto – the collection in full wasn’t something to embrace or be patient with. At any price, much less a luxury tax one.
The Raptors’ mandate is to get better. And by dealing their second leading scorer for a batch of players that likely won’t be around next season, they took a huge step to get better. We don’t know if Colangelo was being snarky or not while talking about the man who replaced him, but we do know that the black and white portrait he just created for both the Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors needs to have a few other shades mixed in.
- - - - - - -