On the eve of the 2011-12 season, the Raptors are preaching patience.
The approach might cost them at the gate 33 times in this shortened campaign and it will be as palatable as a mouthful of sour milk for many Raptors fans, but it is the prudent long-term call.
The crowds will return if it is executed properly.
Instead of pursuing Tyson Chandler, Nene Hilario or any of the other top available free agents, ruining any potential cap space next summer and likely dropping the franchise out of the lottery in what portends to be a fantastic draft, Bryan Colangelo will play it safe.
Even if it goes against his nature. The Raptors’ president and general manager joked on Wednesday that every time he considers taking a shortcut by pursuing a big name, assistant Ed Stefanski gives him the sober second thought he needs to stay on mission.
“The plan is to basically remain as flexible as possible,” Colangelo said, pointing to the cap riches the team will have next summer, along with No. 5 overall selection Jonas Valanciunas and whoever is acquired in the 2012 draft.
“We want to develop our young players, we want to preserve that cap flexibility moving forward and we want to continue to add pieces, pieces that we think are parts of a championship puzzle.
“We want to get better as soon as possible, but we have to stay the course.”
That means letting DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and the rest of the young core play a ton of minutes and take some lumps. With five roster spots open and small forward Linas Kleiza still a month or two away from returning from injury, Colangelo said more players will be added in the coming days.
They just won’t come with pricey long-term stipends — unless, Colangelo clarified, they are very useful long-term building blocks.
“To say that we’re going to race out and sign somebody to a significant contract is probably not the case, unless it’s a one-year deal. We have contemplated a few of those scenarios, or acquiring a player in a trade with a one-year scenario.”
Colangelo was careful to make the distinction between building and rebuilding. “We’re not talking about rebuilding anymore,” he said.
The Raptors also don’t plan to use the amnesty provision this season.
“Everything we do is going to be about creating a new culture, a new system, implementing that system and maintaining and sticking to the plan.”
That will be a challenge for Colangelo, who loves to tinker and enjoys winning games even more, but he seems OK with it.
Colangelo didn’t exactly channel former GM Rob Babcock, who inspired a ‘We have no chance’ headline in the Toronto Sun several seasons ago thanks to his honest take on the state of the franchise, but he made it clear to the fan base that this season will be challenging.
“We’re laying the foundation for what’s next. When Chris Bosh decided to leave, we decided to go in a different direction and that’s where we’ve found ourselves,” Colangelo said. “You are competitive, you do want to win every game, but the reality of it is, this year, it isn’t in the cards. We’re going to do everything we can to fight and if we somehow get to the playoffs, that will be a great story and we’ll all be talking about it.”
But that’s not likely to happen and that’s not a bad thing for the Raptors.
HECTIC SKED? NO SWEAT
The Raptors will play 19 times in January, and 17 of the first 26 games of the 2011-12 season will be on the road. But the thought of going through that tough slog isn’t getting Ed Davis or DeMar DeRozan down.
“I think (the compacted 66-game season) is going to be good for us, everybody wants to play, we’re a young team,” DeRozan said on Wednesday morning.
Though DeRozan is only 22, he intends to be a leader and help keep his teammates on track.
“We’ve got to stay focused you’ve got to understand what’s ahead of you you’ve just got to be prepared for it … stay on each other’s back,” he said.
“We’ve just got to be ready as quickly as possible,” added Davis.
“Do the little things from sleeping well to eating right.”
Davis said he tried to get stronger and quicker in the off-season and will not be playing with the knee brace he wore during his rookie campaign.