Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo was strutting around the Air Canada Centre last night like a proud papa.
And why not? His two rookies, the one picked first overall in last year's draft, and the one he signed as a free agent out of Spain, were both selected to play in rookie challenge game during the All-Star break in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-18.
Not that the former NBA Executive of the Year needs redemption, but there basketball insiders who felt that Andrea Bargnani, who will join fellow Toronto rookie Jorge Garbajosa in Vegas, was the wrong choice to be selected first overall, even in a year where there was no consensus No.1 pick. But Bargnani is proving that he was precisely the right guy to be selected No. 1.
And Colangelo, in picking Bargnani and signing Garbajosa, has demonstrated that he didn't leave all his basketball savvy in the Arizona desert.
TIME WILL TELL
Colangelo's message at the time of the draft was, don't grade the 20-year-old (now 21) on his first season in the NBA. Given his age, the fact that he was still growing (last year, Bargnani shot up from 6-10 to 7-feet) and the time it usually takes European players to adjust to the NBA, Colangelo felt that the big Italian would probably not hit his stride for a couple of years, or more.
But Bargnani actually has exceeded expectations, and his selection to the rookie game is a bonus to the Raptors organization. He ranks third in rookies with 10.1 points per game, but is averaging 10 fewer minutes than the two guys ahead of him, Brandon Roy of the Portland TrailBlazers (14.5 ppg) and Adam Morrison of the Charlotte Bobcats (13.4 ppg).
He has also displayed a skill set on the court, such as a sweet jump shot and shot blocking potential, that has left NBA onlookers shaking their heads at times in wonderment.
"I think he's more than proven that he's in the discussion at this point for rookie of the year honours and it's nice that he's developed and progressed as quickly as he has," said the GM.
Yes, everybody loves Andrea.
But there is one knock still against the big kid, at least for those looking for reasons to worry, which is in the average sports writer's make up: Bargnani doesn't demonstrate much emotion on the court. Sometimes, it looks that he doesn't really care.
But Colangelo will have none of that.
Colangelo went so far yesterday to ask one reporter to get off the big kid's back.
The lack of emotion, the fact that he isn't a quote machine, has more to do, the GM insisted, with his laid-back personality and his unfamiliarity with the English language, than it has to do with any perceived lack of drive or emotion.
A Raptors insider told a couple of writers prior to last night's game against the Washington Wizards that Bargnani was very excited about his selection to the rookie game.
And when Bargnani was asked how he felt, he answered that he was, indeed, "very excited."
It's obvious that Bargnani, even once he masters English, is not going to dazzle anyone with his wit or insight. That's just not in his makeup. But Colangelo doesn't care about that. He'd be perfectly happy if Bargnani turned out to be another Bill Russell, a great player who never had much to say.
Colangelo's already has said that not making the playoffs this season would be a disappointment. His ultimate goal as GM of the Raptors is to win an NBA title, sooner than later. And he believes Bargnani will be part of that equation.
What people forget, the GM often points out, is that Chris Bosh, who will play in the regular All-Star game for the second straight season, is only a year older than Bargnani. And the Raptors' starting point guard, T.J. Ford, is, at 23, only a year older than Bosh. All three are under contract for four seasons.
Part of Colangelo's duties is to get people excited about the Raptors again and he understands that winning will do that more than some rookie shooting his mouth.