TORONTO - Bryan Colangelo came to Toronto as the golden child and quickly made his mark on the Toronto basketball scene.
The Raptors almost immediately started winning. He won the executive of the year in the NBA. Both he and his team seemed to be on the rise.
Just not anymore. The Raptors will miss the playoffs for the third straight season. Fan interest seems to be at an all-time low. Questions about whether Colangelo will be - or should be - retained for next season and the future have arisen.
So we decided to give the man on the basketball hotseat his say, unedited, on a number of difficult issues and topics without any kind of editiorial judgment pertaining to his team, his time and this NBA market. The questions were asked by Sun Media columnist Steve Simmons:
Q: This is Year 16 for the Raptors and Toronto and while the team has had some promising seasons, it has never been an NBA contender. Do you foresee the day Toronto contends for a championship or are the Raptors doomed to being a franchise on the fringe?
A: Absolutely not doomed. This franchise will be fine because it has an ownership committed to winning, a dedicated and passionate fan base and Toronto ranks as one of the elite cities in North America. Couple all of that with a shifting landscape where competitive parity remains a key objective and I think this franchise is poised, not poisoned.
Q: This will be your third straight year out of the playoffs. I realize you didn’t envision anything like that happening on your watch, but as Bill Parcells says, you are what your record says you are. With your contract expiring, make a case to the fans why Bryan Colangelo should be brought back next season - and in the future - as president and general manager of the Raptors.
A: I certainly don’t want to be accused of negotiating through the media, so I won’t. I just hope people realize how much I care for the organization I’m working for and the city I have chosen to live in. I will also add that despite our current record, the franchise is in a pretty favourable position. I do hope I’m here to complete the task.
Q: The CEO job of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is open. Do you have any interest in it and why. And if not, why not?
A: I’ve known for some time that this move was likely, and I’ve always been clear that I have no interest in the position. Simply put, I consider myself a basketball guy and I want to focus my energies on what I know I’m good at.
Q: This is not just the end of your contract. This is the final year on coach Jay Triano’s contract. If you are back as general manager next season, will Triano be back as coach?
A: Jay has done a really solid job here given the difficult circumstances. We are clearly rebuilding and we have been decimated by injury, yet the young guys are clearly developing nicely and the atmosphere around the team has remained positive. The organization will likely address his contract status and whether to pick up his option year sometime after the season.
Q: Have you ever seen a season like this one, with so much roster instability, so many injuries, and a piecemeal team on the floor so many NBA nights?
A: Hard to say, but I can certainly agree that we have seen it all this year. For me it seems to have all started with a great trade that was reneged on and now has us searching for 10-day contracts based on who’s available to practice, much less play. It‘s been wild and painful for sure, but I maintain that positive steps are being taken and we will come out better for it.
Q: Your fan base has been considerably loyal over the years but I’ve seen more empty seats at the Air Canada Centre this season (attendance figures aside) than ever before at Raptors games. How worried are you that your non-contender status has rendered this team to an afterthought in this difficult sporting market where only the Maple Leafs seem assured of sellouts? And what do you say to the fans who are losing patience with your team?
A: Let me correct you to say that this is a great sports market with great fans that just want to see their teams win. Our fan base is our livelihood and yes they mean everything to us so we care very much about dwindling crowds. They deserve more and we intend to deliver more. Based on my interactions, I see and hear the frustration but I also think that people realize what is taking place here and that patience has to be part of the process. I also hear many of them say how much fun this team is to watch We have a plan that has been very clearly laid out ... develop our “core” talent, add a solid draft pick or two to the mix and utilize our financial flexibility to add an additional impact player where possible. The sooner we get back to winning games the sooner the stands will fill back up.
Also just for clarification, announced attendance is based on tickets sold. No-shows are different than un-sold inventory.
Q: This week, Chris Bosh returns to Toronto and there will be much noise about that. How do you think Bosh should be received at the Air Canada Centre and how would you like him to be received?
A: Chris contributed a lot to the organization while he was here, but he arguably took a lot away when he left. How fans treat him is really not my call.
Q: Are you angry with Bosh with the way everything went down at the end? Or is that just the price of doing business in the NBA?
A: Disappointed is probably a better word. I did my best to surround our franchise player with the best available talent to win. It just didn’t seem to ever work out. In retrospect, it was probably time to move on anyway.
Q: When Bosh and LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, all the focus was on the building of this super team with the Heat. But here we are, months later, and what you see is a Cleveland team in peril and a Raptors team struggling badly. Did you foresee this kind of carnage in either market? And how is that good for the NBA?
A: I can’t speak for Cleveland, but I did surmise that losing LBJ would hurt a lot more than losing CB4. I’m also not trying to paint a rosy picture, but a few less injuries and we are not as bad as our record currently shows or the prognosticators predicted. I can’t say whether it’s good for the league or not, but they have always marketed the teams with stars so they have plenty to work with in Miami.
Q: There is all kinds of speculation about a labour disruption coming next season. In fact, some people insist the NBA will lock out its players. What do you see happening?
A: I apologize but I am unable to comment.
Q; If there is any kind of labour shutdown of the league, with this now a market in flux, do you worry about the longterm? Blue Jays attendance never came back to anywhere near where it was post the baseball strike of 1994. How do you see Toronto reacting?
A: Once again, I will have to refrain from responding.
Q: I know this has been a trying season for you, but what have you liked about the Raptors? What, if anything, do fans have to look forward to in the future?
A: I’ve mentioned the positive growth of our young “core” talent but their character is equally appealing. We’ll be adding more to that soon with the upcoming draft and hopefully a piece or two in free agency over the next couple of years. The future is actually quite bright.