TORONTO - Other than his insistence on calling a certain reporter, whose name is Steve, Brian all morning, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo was on top of his game Monday.
He was slick and smart and self-assured ... he was all those things, without coming across as arrogant or condescending or, like a certain other Toronto GM, angry.
In fact, Brian the reporter, whose real name is Steve, actually left Colangelo’s state-of-the-team address thinking: “Wow, I can see how the Raptors just won the NBA championship! ... Wait a minute.”
Colangelo is as media savvy as they come. The Raptors finished 22-60 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season, yet the GM was able to saunter away from his media conference with a wave and a smile and friendly “there will be no scrums afterwards”, and nobody barked.
Perhaps the media in this town is so punchy from covering losing teams that they simply don’t know how to react anymore.
Or perhaps, despite the Raptors’ dismal record this year, there is a broad sense that this is indeed a team on the rise. Colangelo did say that season ticket sales for next year are actually up and the feedback he’s received from fans has largely been positive.
“It’s there in the future,” Colangelo said, summarizing his club. “I’m not sure we could line it up any better — high draft pick, good, young developing talent, free agent flexibility and financial flexibility that will allow us to be reactive to whatever the new rules might look like.”
It’s a funny thing. Toronto has often been criticized for not being a basketball-savvy market. But the Raptors faithful seem to comprehend that a 22-60 season does not necessarily translate into doom and gloom, and that there is a future with the club’s current core of young talent.
Drivers in this town clearly have no patience (maniacs all), but Raptors fans seem to possess it in abundance. There also seems to be a sense that Colangelo is still the man to deliver the team to the promised land.
At times, Colangelo was on the defensive yesterday (particularly when Andrea Bargnani’s name came up), but he was steadfast in his belief that the Raptors are heading in the right direction, because of the financial flexibility and high draft pick, and because DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, both 21, may develop into special players.
For Colangelo, it’s a matter of staying the course and focussing on the team’s current rebuild, which he revealed was the direction he decided to take early during the 2010-11 season, when the team was besieged with injuries. At that point, he said, he and head coach Jay Triano elected to take one for the team and to work for the future, as opposed to pulling out all the stops just to make the playoffs this season.
As for his own future with the club, Colangelo’s contract expires this summer, but he said he wants to come back and finish what he’s started.
“I’m committed to Toronto, I’m committed to the country of Canada, I’m committed to this organization in the highest way,” he said.
However, adding to the uncertainty of Colangelo’s future is the fact the club’s ownership, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., is in a state of flux with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund, which owns 66% of MLSE, looking to sell its share of the organization.
As well, there are indications the NBA won’t be operating next season as the players and the league are still a long ways apart from agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Colangelo also addressed the even murkier question of Triano. Despite the team’s struggles this season, the GM maintains he’s still a big booster of the NBA’s only Canadian head coach — adding that Triano’s future with the team probably won’t be settled until his own situation is resolved. (The Raptors have a team option on Triano for next season).
“To a man, walking out of the exit interviews that I had individually with players, everybody thought Jay, under the circumstances, did a good job,” said Colangelo. “We’re talking about players who truly liked the guy, and that’s half the battle in this business.”
As for the Brian/reporter mix-up, Colangelo even had an answer for that. It seems that when he ran the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League some years ago (1993 AFL executive of the year), one of the front office guys was named Brian Beezer (or something along those lines). And though Colangelo didn’t elaborate further, one can only assume that this Brian Beezer fellow was a rather astute and dynamic individual.
Hence the mix-up.