The Last Word

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

A rookie pitcher once argued that a pitch he threw to the great Ted Williams should have been called a strike.

"Son," the umpire said, "you'll know you've thrown a strike when the ball hits the left-field wall."

Bryan Colangelo, the president and general manager of the Phoenix Suns, has Ted Williams credibility right now.

He is the reigning NBA executive of the year. His team sits second in the Western Conference, is loaded with young talent, and he has two first-rounders from Atlanta and Boston waiting to be cashed in. The Suns have made the playoffs eight of the past 10 years. Colangelo, just 40, is a part of a dynastic NBA family and the top of the list for any team looking to recruit platinum level management talent.

And so, the Raptors, long masters of the lose/lose situation suddenly find themselves in a win/win.

Colangelo has decided whether he will jump to the Raptors or stay in Phoenix. What seemed a slam dunk yes to Toronto now looks like a horse race. He will announce his decision, perhaps as soon as today.

The Raptors already have won a little and they stand to win a lot. Even if Colangelo turns them down, the Raptors have been seen dancing with the prettiest girl at the ball. These are the Raptors remember, the team that couldn't shoot straight, the team that hired the polite but forgettable Rob Babcock, the team with the Venus fly-trap management structure.

Bryan Colangelo is a smart guy. He has seen the suddenly foot-loose Raptors, the team with one of the best young forwards in the game in Chris Bosh, the team with a dynamic young coach and a cadre of promising young players including Charlie Villanueva and Jose Calderon.

He also has seen a team finally unburdened of long-term salaries with a long-suffering fan base that could be won back with one playoff appearance.

With the right man, it could work here. If it were not so, Colangelo would have offered a polite no thank you when initially approached.

A no, meanwhile, puts the Raptors back where they were a couple of weeks ago, when they were managed by the very competent, widely respected Wayne Embry. It costs them nothing while showcasing the novel idea that top management talent would consider working here.

For board chairman Larry Tanenbaum and CEO Richard Peddie, criticized for being too detached and too involved respectively, the Colangelo story has added badly needed credibility no matter how it ends.

If Colangelo comes, the Raptors hit the motherlode.

After a consistent but sometimes controversial initial seven years running the Suns, Colangelo began to assert himself in 2002.

Flash back the NBA draft. Houston selected Yao Ming as the obvious top choice. Colangelo chose Amare Stoudemire at nine. Rivals chose Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, Nikoloz Tskitishivili, Dajuan Wagner, Nene Hilario and Chris Wilcox between Ming and Stoudemire. That's being a little smarter than the room.

Colangelo has a history of decisive moves. He flushed away the 2003-04 season by trading Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway. Free of $107 million US in contracts, Colangelo wrestled Steve Nash free from the Dallas Mavericks. His moves allowed the Suns to more than double their wins, to 62 last season from 29.

He is available because Suns owner Robert Sarver, having paid $400 million for the team, wants his own man.The fact that Sarver allowed negotiations during the season with another year after this one on Colangelo's contract speaks to his haste.

Colangelo belongs to an older regime. His departure would also mean the ouster of his father, Jerry, who once ruled the club as GM and managing partner and now still holds a title in the club's executive ranks.

In Toronto, Colangelo would be considered the brightest, most polished young executive the Raptors have ever employed. His arrival, as much as any player signing, would signal that after a decade of often comical mismanagement, the club is finally getting serious.


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