It's a good time to be Italian in Toronto.
Your team has advanced to the World Cup semi-finals and the local basketball concern, the Toronto Rapzzurri, now is being run by a couple of paisans, who just selected a 7-foot kid from Rome first overall in the NBA draft.
On the other hand ... not to throw a bucket of water on the parade, but you have to know if Rob Babcock still was running the Raptors, and not Bryan Colangelo, nervous fans would be up in arms.
As it is, Colangelo has made two big, and controversial, moves this week, drafting Andrea Bargnani of Benetton Treviso over a collection of talented U.S. college players and then trading popular forward Charlie Villanueva, last year's NBA rookie-of-the-year runner-up, to the Milwaukee Bucks for long-needed point guard T.J. Ford.
If not for his reputation as one of the NBA's top minds, Colangelo would be in the hot seat. As it is, it seems anyone who cares about the Raptors are giving the new GM the benefit of the doubt, a get out of jail free card, if you will.
But are these recent moves good ones?
Of course, no one knows for sure. The offensively-talented Bargnani often is compared (much to Colangelo's chagrin) to Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, but if one thing is certain in the NBA, it's the fact that Europeans generally have a difficult time adjusting to the new league, and often what was spectacular on the other side of the Atlantic falls flat west of the big pond.
But that's what Colangelo gets paid for, taking educated gambles. Be honest though. If it was Babcock who selected the skinny kid from Italy, you'd be howling, wouldn't you? When NBA commissioner David Stern announced the Raptors' pick at Madison Square Garden Wednesday, fans inside the area began chanting: Overrated! Overrated!"
And then there's the Ford-Villanueva trade. Again, the smartest basketball minds in the world cannot predict absolutely who will win this deal, only that both GMs have addressed major concerns on their respective rosters.
Minutes after the deal was announced on Friday night, the basketball websites were full of bloggers and hacks announcing that the Raptors should have received more than just some extra cash -- like perhaps another veteran player or a first-round draft pick. Throw in the fact that Ford underwent spinal surgery in 2004, and there's all the makings for major uncertainty.
Colangelo and Ford insist that his back and neck problems are a thing of the past. Still, there are persistent reports that his limbs still go numb on occasion after he falls hard to the floor, and that he's just one major collision away from retirement.
There's no denying that Ford is the pass-first point guard the Raptors desperately need. An all-NBA rookie second team member in 2003-04, Ford averaged 12.2 points and a team-best 6.6 assists last season. On top of that, he's a friend of franchise player Chris Bosh -- they played high school ball against each other and hang out whenever they're in the same town -- and genuinely is excited about being in Toronto, which is not the rule when you're dealing with American players. During a conference call with the local media yesterday, Ford used the word excited about 17 times.
He also suggested that the most important part of his job is to continue Bosh's progress as an NBA star.
"I want to help take his game to another level," Ford said, adding that what's good for his buddy Chris, is good for the team. "I think the Raptors are putting the right pieces together and I'm glad to be part of it."
Colangelo seems to be putting the right pieces together. He still needs a useful combo guard, which will come via free agency or another trade, and some more depth at forward, which is expected to come with the anticipated signing of Spanish free agent Jorge Garbajosa.
Raptors fans are hoping for the best, and there's a sense of optimism in the air. Because it seems, in Bryan, they trust.