We'll see just what Colangelo can do

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

The sad history of the Raptors is riddled with one constant: The timing of this franchise, planned or merely circumstantial, stinks.

And so it is that the Raptors have been rewarded with the first pick in the NBA draft in a year in which there is no consensus first pick. It is a reason to rejoice about just how lousy you really are -- but at the very same time, view the future with more clarity than ever.

The previous time the Raptors won the first pick, by the rules of their franchise being granted, they weren't allowed to use the choice who would have turned out to be Allen Iverson.

NO ANSWER

Philadelphia wound up with Iverson, the single most entertaining athlete in professional sport.

The Raptors ended up with Marcus Camby, the single most injury prone, who was traded for Charles Oakley, who now operates car washes somewhere in the U.S. midwest.

The only other time they should have picked first -- or maybe second -- was in their initial season, when a league committee headed by Jerry Colangelo, coincidentally the father of current Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, determined that there was no way in hell they were giving up quality players to those new Canadian teams.

For that poor determination, and a variety of other reasons, one of those Canadian teams now calls Memphis home.

And with the seventh pick in the 1995 draft, Raptors general manager and conspiracy theorist Isiah Thomas made an excellent choice in Damon Stoudamire, who didn't start to lose his mind until about the time Thomas decided that if he couldn't own the Raptors, he would instead destroy them.

These days, without owning the New York Knicks, Thomas is doing a fine job of destroying them. But that's another story for another day.

This is a time to be excited about the Raptors. They have never been in a position before when they could throw away that old draft cliche: "We can't believe he was available at our pick. We had him rated so much higher."

Now, it's their choice. It's like being first in line for ice cream. There are all kinds of flavours; Colangelo and staff get to pick just one.

There has to be a certain thrill in that. But with it, there is also a financial reality. Should the Raptors utilize the first pick, rather than trade it away (and there already are offers), they will by the very nature of their sport be paying more than market value in salary for a player who, in the words of Colangelo, is not a "program changer."

The good news is you get to pick first. The bad news is you have to pay first-pick money for it.

The history of those who weren't consensus first picks is somewhat murky. Yes, we've seen Iverson and Tim Duncan and LeBron James alter the courses of their new franchises. But now consider the opposite: Joe Smith, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown have all been first overall picks during the Raptors life as well. So have decent players such as Kenyon Martin, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut and and an emerging star in Elton Brand.

Should the Raptors come away with an Elton Brand, they'll be dancing at centre court. Should they come away with Brown or Olowokandi, it may mean they'll be back in lottery land a year from now, and probably the year after.

In fairness, we have to trust Bryan Colangelo, who got paid power-forward money to inherit this Toronto mess. This last-place stuff is all new to him. He was able to draft Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire -- an MVP and two all-stars -- without having an early pick in Phoenix.

SUMMER OF BRYAN

Now he gets first choice. "We get to make a decision of who we like best," he said. This is just part of the Colangelo summer: There is the Jalen Rose money to spend, the impending free agency of Mike James to deal with, probably a long-term contract for Chris Bosh to be negotiated.

Life just got busier and more complicated after winning the NBA lottery.

And typically, it's just not as good as it could have been. High school kids can't be drafted in the first round anymore. And there's this high school kid, Greg Oden, who is larger than some small countries and is now heading to college instead of Toronto.

He would have been a sure-thing first pick. But the rules of the NBA, like always, work against the Raptors.

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