TORONTO – Bryan Colangelo fought “like heck” to stay on as president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors.
It was enough to save one of his jobs.
The Raptors announced Tuesday that they will not pick up the option year on Colangelo’s contract as general manager. However, the team is extending Colangelo’s term as president and he will report directly to Tim Leiweke, the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
While Colangelo will still be available to the new general manager for guidance and input, Leiweke made it quite clear that somebody else will have the final say on the team’s day-to-day basketball operations.
“Do I understand that’s going to tax Bryan a little bit? One-hundred per cent,” Leiweke said on a conference call Tuesday. “But I think given the circumstances we found ourselves in, the timing of the decision … and given his choices, I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to make this work.
“There’s no probably, (Bryan’s) ticked off at me. This isn’t his perfect world either. But to his credit he accepts it.”
Leiweke is conducting a search for a new GM, with input from Colangelo. The team hopes to appoint the GM, who will have “final authority on all basketball-related decisions,” within the next 30 days.
“I know there’s been huge debate about whether or not Bryan has the wherewithal to step aside and allow the GM to do their job and make the final decisions,” Leiweke said. “He clearly understands that’s the way it’s going to be.
“Does Bryan think at the end of the day he could have done this in the current situation of being the president and GM? Yes. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t want him in the organization. Did he fight like heck to preserve that? Yes, he did.”
There have been reports the Raptors are targeting Denver GM Masai Ujiri, who worked under Colangelo as Toronto’s assistant GM from 2008 to 2010.
Leiweke wouldn’t tip his hand as to who the targeted candidates are, only to say that Raptors assistant GM Ed Stefanski is on the shortlist.
The Raptors say Colangelo will continue to advise Leiweke on basketball-related matters while also broadening his involvement with the business side of the franchise.
While Colangelo admitted to being disappointed, he said he wasn’t “ticked” at Leiweke.
“I’m disappointed that I’m not going to be able to see this thing through with respect to final decision-making,” Colangelo said on a conference call Tuesday. “But I’m thrilled and excited to be putting the finishing touches on a team that I think is well on its way to being competitive, being a playoff team and ultimately striving for our goal of winning championships.”
Leiweke said he will be relying on Colangelo to help with basketball decisions while the search for a new GM continues. For example, Colangelo will represent the Raptors at Tuesday’s draft lottery. But Leiweke said there will be a moratorium on major decisions, such as the future of head coach Dwane Casey, until the new GM is in place.
“I know there are important decisions to be made, people’s lives that are at stake here, and I want to allow, as much as humanly possible, allow the new GM to make the key decisions going forward because this is going to be about his team, his decisions and his vision,” Leiweke said.
Colangelo, 47, joined the Raptors in 2006 and was named the NBA’s executive of the year in 2007 when Toronto won its only Atlantic Division title. But Toronto has missed the post-season for five straight seasons.
While Leiweke gave Colangelo “high marks” for his ability to forge relationships and grow basketball in Toronto, he was clear that the team needs to take a new direction with the on-court product.
“I think we all know there is great debate about decisions made in the past eight years, and in particular in the past five years not making the playoffs,” Leiweke said. “There is accountability here. We need a new set of eyes and a new thinking towards how we, from a basketball standpoint, go forward.”
Colangelo’s fate was up in the air for a long time as the protracted process to decide his future after another disappointing season moved at a ponderous pace. When asked if he felt he was left twisting in the wind by MLSE, Colangelo said it was simply the reality of a new CEO joining the process while it was already in progress.
“Tim came in and wanted to do some homework and put some due diligence to the test,” Colangelo said. “I can’t fault him for that at all and I can’t fault the board for waiting on his direction.”
The Raptors began this season with high hopes after trading for Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields and adding rookie centre Jonas Valanciunas.
But the team went a woeful 4-19 to start to the season, a hole that proved too deep to dig out of.
Colangelo acquired Rudy Gay in a mid-season deal that sent Jose Calderon to Detroit and Ed Davis to Memphis, and the Raptors finished 30-29. Still, it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs.
Andrea Bargnani will go down as Colangelo’s biggest blunder. Colangelo selected Bargnani first overall in the 2006, but the enigmatic Italian has failed to live up to expectations.
Colangelo said he looked to trade Bargnani this season, but his trade value dropped after he suffered an elbow injury in December that sidelined him for 26 games.
“It’s something you look back on and say ‘How would you handle that differently?’ I’m not sure I would,” Colangelo said. “Maybe I could have traded him before he got hurt so the trade value didn’t go down, or there was an opportunity to do something before the trade deadline. But you can’t control the injury aspect of things.”
Notes: Leiweke said MLSE wants the Raptors to have Canada-wide appeal like baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, and a rebranding strategy to achieve that is underway. … Leiweke said the Raptors will make a push to land the 2016 NBA all-star game, which will fall on the club’s 20th anniversary season.
© The Canadian Press, 2013