Bryan Colangelo’s arrival in 2006 was a pivotal moment in the Raptors’ move from just another NBA franchise to an eventual elite-level NBA franchise.
Coming off a 62-win season in Phoenix where he was general manager and president, Colangelo immediately turned around the fortunes of a team that had stumbled under the stewardship of Rob Babcock and was coming off four consecutive losing seasons.
Colangelo, with one executive of the year award under his belt and another one in his future during his seven years in Toronto was a stabilizing force in Toronto.
He immediately got the team back in the playoffs after a five-year hiatus and then did it again in his second year before five consecutive playoff-less seasons.
It didn’t always go his way, but no one will ever say Colangelo ever stopped trying.
He immediately changed the team’s fortunes in 2006 bringing in TJ Ford as well as Anthony Parker and Jose Garbajosa.
But in hindsight, his biggest move didn’t come until 2013, when he acquired Kyle Lowry from Houston. Lowry wouldn’t start out so good — he readily admits he initially viewed Toronto as a stopping post and made no effort to become part of the team — but that’s long-forgotten history.
That would all change pretty quickly and Lowry is now considered one of the franchise’s all-time greats, and really is Colangelo’s greatest legacy.
That he eventually supplanted fan favourite Jose Calderon speaks to his impact and importance on this team.
Player acquisitions were just one area where Colangelo left his mark. It must also be remembered it was Colangelo who first brought Masai Ujiri, the man who would eventually replace him, to Toronto.
Ujiri came in as the director of global scouting under Colangelo before leaving for Denver. His eventual return was orchestrated by Tim Leiweke, but it was Colangelo who brought him to Toronto initially.
On the coaching front, Colangelo inherited Sam Mitchell, but had the good sense to keep him around as Mitchell led his team back to the playoffs. When things started to go south for the team, Colangelo relieved Mitchell of his duties and handed the reigns over to assistant and Canadian native Jay Triano. When that didn’t work, Colangelo made his best coaching hire by bringing in Dwane Casey, who gave the Raptors a strong defensive identity and established a toughness that has served them so well throughout their championship season.
Toronto’s ability to develop talent has come a long way since Colangelo’s departure. The arrival of a G-League team has had a lot to do with that, but it was under Colangelo’s watch that Chris Bosh, a home-grown Raptor developed to the point of becoming an annual all-star.
That Colangelo was unable to keep him in Toronto spoke as much about the opportunity that presented itself in Miami as anything Colangelo did or didn’t do.
But that too will go down as a mark against Colangelo, whose tenure over seven years in Toronto was marked by both the good and the bad.
History will be much kinder to Colangelo though than the in-the-moment critics ever were.
COLANGELO’S LASTING LEGACY
Bryan Colangelo was shown the door rather unceremoniously back at the conclusion of the 2013 season, but few would deny he laid the groundwork for the success Masai Ujiri and the Raptors of 2019 wound enjoy.
For starters, three of the key components of that championship team — Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol — are all in Toronto either wholly or at least directly related to moves Colangelo made.
The Lowry deal really is the crux of all the success the Raptors have enjoyed, dating back to his arrival.
It was July of 2012 when Colangelo swung the deal that started the Raptors on their way to prosperity.
For the bargain basement price of what turned out to be the 12th-overall pick in the 2013 draft and Gary Forbes, Colangelo and the Raptors welcomed in Kyle Lowry to Toronto.
The protected first-round pick would play a role in bringing James Harden to Houston and changing that franchise’s fortunes. It was flipped as part of a package get Harden and wound up in Oklahoma City where the Thunder used it to select Steven Adams. Not a bad payoff until you consider Giannis Antetokounmpo went three picks later.
But alas, this isn’t about what could have been.
This is about what was and what the Raptors got that summer day in 2013 was the building block around which all their success to date has been formed.
Colangelo’s drafting of DeMar DeRozan in 2009 with the ninth overall pick was actually the first domino in the creation of that championship team because without DeRozan, one of the all-time greats in franchise history, the deal for Leonard never occurs.
The addition of Gasol, a guy who turned out to be the final piece in that championship season with his lock-down defence and the understated impact he had on the way this team shares and moves the basketball, can’t happen without the Raptors giving up Jonas Valanciunas, who Colangelo drafted in 2011 with the fifth-overall pick.
Colangelo took his fair share of grief during his tenure in Toronto, so it’s only fair that his contributions to the team’s future success get pointed out as well.
THE BEST OF COLANGELO
June 30, 2006: Acquired point guard TJ Ford and cash considerations from Milwaukee for forward Charlie Villaneuva.
July 13, 2006: Signed free agent guard Anthony Parker to a multi-year contract
July 24, 2006: Signed free agent forward Jorge Garbajosa to a multi-year contract
June 25, 2009: Selected DeMar DeRozan ninth overall in the NBA draft
June 21, 2011: Named Dwane Casey head coach
June 23, 2011: Selected Jonas Valanciunas 5th overall in the NBA draft
July 11, 2012: Acquired Kyle Lowry from Houston in exchange for Gary Forbes and a future first round pick.
July 21, 2012: Named Alex McKechnie as director of sports science.
THE WORST OF COLANGELO
June 28, 2006: Selected Andrea Bargnani first overall in the NBA draft.
July 8, 2008: Acquired Jermaine O’Neal and draft rights to Nathan Jawai from Indiana in exchange for guard TJ Ford, C Rasho Nesterovic, F Maceo Baston and the rights to centre Roy Hibbert.
July 9, 2009: Acquired Hedo Turkoglu in a sign-and-trade with Orlando.
July 9, 2010: Acquired two 2011 first-round draft picks and a trade exemption from Miami in a sign-and-trade for Chris Bosh.
July 17, 2010: Signed free-agent forward Linas Kleiza to a multi-year contract.
July 15, 2012: Signed guard/forward Landry Fields.
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