The Toronto Raptors move on with former GM Bryan Colangelo still with the team, kind of

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.