Raps the new Suns?

By JON COOK - SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

Taking a deeper look at the myriad of moves Bryan Colangelo has made in his short tenure with the Toronto Raptors, you'd have to assume the former Suns' general manager is trying to replicate his system in Phoenix.

Colangelo cut his teeth in the NBA on first trading away Charles Barkley, then drafting Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, signing Steve Nash and Raja Bell and trading for Brazilian guard Leandro Barbosa and French forward Boris Diaw. Those moves, plus the hiring of head coach Mike D'Antoni, got the Suns to the semifinals the last two seasons.

Similarly upon his arrival in Toronto, Colangelo dealt another Charles - promising power forward Charlie Villanueva - for unheralded guard T.J. Ford, made seven-foot centre Andrea Bargnani the first European drafted first overall and brought in a supporting cast of international talent led by Spaniard Jorge Garbajosa.

These moves, and those still to come, are straight from the handbook Colangelo used in the desert. Only time will tell if Ford develops into a Nash, Bargnani into a Diaw or Garbajosa into a Bell, but the blueprint is there.

"You would have to think that," agreed veteran Sports Illustrated basketball writer Jack McCallum. "The unknown thing here is whether (Chris) Bosh is a Stoudemire-type runner. If he is, then it certainly makes a lot of sense to go in that direction. If he isn't, and he's a half-court guy who should be getting up 20 shots a game, then we'll have to see if Ford and he will work out."

McCallum knows Colangelo and the Suns, heck he wrote the book on them. His ":07 Seconds Or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns" (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster Canada) chronicles the club's roller-coaster 2005-06 season and reveals the inner workings of the NBA's most innovative offence.

McCallum chose the Suns as his subject, essentially because they let him, but more specifically because D'Antoni, Nash and Colangelo were onboard.

"If Nash would have gone, 'I don't want this jackass around,' there's no way this thing goes," admitted McCallum, who had also followed the Celtics for a season in the early '90s. "I think Phoenix is an interesting team strategically, because D'Antoni, through Nash, was trying to do something a little bit different in today's NBA."

The Suns' system, which has taken the league by storm the past two seasons, is to get up a shot within the first seven seconds of the shot clock - hence the title of McCallum's book. Last season the Suns led the NBA in scoring for the second-straight year, despite losing Stoudemire (and his 26 points per game average) in the preseason.

Not so coincidentally the Raps were trumpeting the goal of 100 shots a game in Colangelo's first preseason in Toronto. They are not there yet, but the point is to implement the same high-paced, stretch-the-defence type of attack that D'Antoni espouses in Phoenix.

"I think the answer to that is yes, but I don't know whether he's going to have the guts, or get the coach to turn it over completely to a D'Antoni-type system."

Outside of bringing in Ford, which McCallum called "ballsy," Colangelo's next big move will likely be hiring a coach to replace current Raps' bench boss Sam Mitchell.

"I'm not pushing Sam out the door, but when a general manager takes a job, one of the things he has to do to make his statement is hire a coach," said McCallum. "So that's going to be a big thing and that's going to determine, to a large extent, the future of the franchise. So how he's doing still has to be played out."

No doubt Colangelo will look to Europe again in hopes of finding the next D'Antoni, whom he plucked from the Italian elite league. Had Colangelo not jumped to the Raptors midway through last season, it's likely he would have found his way onto more of McCallum's 312 pages. The author addresses the situation in a 10-page subchapter, wherein he portrays Colangelo as a figure who was both forced out of Phoenix by owner Robert Sarver ("a schism was perhaps inevitable") and one who essentially had to leave to get out from under his legendary father's (Jerry Colangelo) shadow.

"I remember writing down in my notes that Bryan really does feel somewhat torn that he feels he has to make his own statement and somewhat bothered by the fact that he was Jerry's son," recalled McCallum, who sat down with Colangelo for a lengthy interview about a month before he bolted to the Raptors. "In retrospect, I believe that had the Raptors not come along, this wouldn't have happened. But I don't think Sarver and Colangelo would have coexisted there.

"And Bryan, with his track record, somebody would have given him an offer and he would have gone somewhere."

The excerpt centers around the first time the Suns face Colangelo's Raptors, a high-scoring game the Suns win 140-126. Afterwards, Suns' assistant coach Alvin Gentry describes the Raptors as "the Chevrolet version" of the Suns. Afterwards a solemn Colangelo, accompanied by his father, visits the Suns' locker-room and congratulates D'Antoni. McCallum characterizes the mood as more bitter than sweet, as Colangelo departs "no longer the GM of a championship-calibre team he had assembled, but rather, the boss of one trying to find some measure of respectability."

It's a wonderful glimpse into the psyche of Colangelo and sports executives in general.

The most amazing aspect of McCallum's book is the level of integration he gets into an elite sports franchise. In an era of less media access, McCallum's book is a rare feat. Most clubs nowadays are so fearful of negative press that they institute too many counter-measures to restrict access to athletes or team management staff. In the end this hurts the fans the most, as it becomes increasingly harder to identify with any of today's modern teams or athletes.

"The trend of sports is towards less access rather than more," bemoaned McCallum, who used to get some of his best material while flying with clubs back before they all started buying their own jets and flying privately. "Now that that's gone and they closed practices, man alive, the access given reporters is really, really minimal."

Despite that, McCallum believes basketball provides better access to its stars than most other sports. He feels the more laidback and "fun" atmosphere surrounding the NBA lends itself better to informal interviews, as opposed to the more "militaristic" mindset that is prominent in the NFL.

"There is not this every-game-is-a-battle-ground mentality like there would be with football. You couldn't be in joking around with a guy 10 minutes before a football game."

In the end McCallum is able to breakdown the intricacies of the game, illuminating the delicate interplay of personalities that is so crucial to a team's success. D'Antoni and his assistants are forced to monitor the state of Marion's confidence on a full-time basis, Stoudemire's penchant for skipping his rehab sessions, Nash's fatigue factor for having to carry the team on his back night-in and night-out, Bell's aggressiveness, Barbosa's maturity and Diaw's loner mentality.

McCallum exposes most of the personalities through their interplay with opponents (Bell with Kobe Bryant), family (Stoudemire and his formerly drug-addicted mother; Barbosa and his cancer-stricken mother; D'Antoni and his older brother Dan, an assistant with the Suns), officials (D'Antoni and most referees), friends (Nash and Dirk Nowitzki), owners (Colangelo and Sarver; Nash and Mark Cuban) and with their own demons (Marion with himself).

Through it all we are able to appreciate better what they accomplish on the court and how truly tough it is to guide a team, with 12 divergent personalities and meddling owners, through an entire 82-game season and win a championship.


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