TORONTO - Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo is quite pleased with how his off-season transactions have come together so far but is well aware that work remains to be done.
With NBA business finally resuming on Wednesday after a moratorium that began on July 1, the Raptors officially announced the acquisition of point guard Kyle Lowry, along with the conveying of an offer sheet to New York Knicks swingman Landry Fields.
“We feel we’ve added a solid starting-calibre point guard to our team who will bring toughness and grit at a very important position,” Colangelo said of Lowry, who averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals during the 2011-12 season, including 15.9, 5.3 and 7.2 assist numbers in 38 starts.
“That adds to our already deep position there with Jose Calderon in the fold … Someone who’s performed at a very high level, that’s improved every year in the league. At 26, Kyle represents the future of the position.”
Colangelo broke down the specifics of the pick the team will be surrendering at some point to the Rockets, along with guard Gary Forbes for Lowry.
The selection Houston will receive is protected 1-3 and 15-30 for the next three years; 1-2 and 15-30 the next year; 1 and 15-30 in the fifth year and completely unprotected in the sixth year.
That means if the Raptors make the playoffs the next five years they keep the pick and Houston will get it wherever it is in the sixth year. That’s a gamble, but for a player of Lowry’s caliber, one the franchise had to take — especially after losing out on Steve Nash, who Colangelo admitted was Toronto’s No. 1 target.
The Raptors were after Lowry whether Nash was added as well or not and tried to get him last month at the draft, but walked away before reengaging in talks once Nash decided to go to Los Angeles.
“He contributes in a number of different ways. As a scorer, shot creator, defender, he’s got very good marks across the board. He’s gotten a little bit better every year. His usage has gone up, his efficiency has gone up in a number of categories.
“He’s projecting to get better each and every year that he steps on the court.”
Clearly Lowry will be given every opportunity to supplant Calderon as starter in both the short and long-term and the longest-serving Raptor, as one would expect, didn’t jump up and down in excitement upon hearing the news of Lowry’s arrival.
“I’m not going to tell you that (Calderon) was thrilled about the trade, but in the end, this is about becoming a much better basketball team and that’s my No. 1 concern,” Colangelo said.
“Jose has been a true professional in everything that he has done for this organization and we’re thrilled to have him as part of the team. If it becomes a situation where there’s an opportunity for us to get better and Jose is part of a transaction, obviously, we’ve said it very clearly, nobody on the team right now is untradeable we’re looking to get better and sometimes it takes moving people to get to where you need to be.”
Though Colangelo said he thinks Fields will capably man the small forward position along with Linas Kleiza and James Johnson if they remain Raptors, New York has three days to match the offer sheet and Colangelo said the team told him there is a “50-50 chance they will match.”
If Fields remains a Knick and even perhaps if he does not, Calderon is in demand and could be part of a package to further upgrade at small forward.
Colangelo also touched on a number of other pertinent questions during the afternoon conference call:
• He said using the amnesty provision remains a possibility if Fields stays in New York, but didn’t give the impression it would be a likely play and certainly not involving Calderon, who has too much value either as a trade chip or as a player for the team.
• The GM said the Raptors have addressed a variety of pressing needs, particularly adding athleticism (he said head coach Dwane Casey has raved about rookie Terrence Ross), grit (in the form of Jonas Valanciunas, Quincy Acy and Lowry, in particular), toughness and shooting.
• Colangelo said going after Fields was both to make New York acquiring Nash in a sign-and-trade more difficult and because the Raptors believe he is an ideal fit who will play more like the first team all-rookie performer of 2010-11, than the subpar sophomore of a season ago.
Fields and Lowry both are excellent rebounders for their positions which would help make up for Andrea Bargnani’s struggles in that area.
• Colangelo admitted that Nash “Would have meant a lot to our organization, but you can only control what you can control.”
He would not fault the Canadian icon for valuing his family first in his decision where to play but did say Nash would have brought “credibility” to the Raptors.
• The long-time NBA executive brushed off criticism about the Fields contract. “I think I’m criticized for every contract that I sign, so I just take it with the territory,” he said. “At some point, those contracts seem to validate themselves. I’ve been doing it longer than most who criticize. Free agency is a funny game, most of the time you are overpaying, in restricted free agency you tend to overpay a little more. We put a value on certain players. We see significant value in Landry Fields, Amir Johnson.”
• The Raptors will be right at the cap if Fields is not matched by New York, once Valanciunas and second rounder Quincy Acy join Ross as rookies signed. Veteran centre Aaron Gray is expected to ink a multi-year deal using a salary cap exception and Colangelo is still working the phones trying to improve the squad via trade.