In the summer of 2013, Toronto Raptor fans learned that the reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri was headed to T.O. Ujiri had accepted a five-year, $15 million contract to run the basketball operations of the Raptors. The streets flooded with joyful Torontonians, bottles were popped and a parade was set. Bryan Colangelo was finally gone.
Okay, so maybe that didn’t happen. Colangelo wasn’t that bad of a GM. In fact, he actually performed quite admirably during his seven-year tenure with the Raptors.
Initially when taking over the Raptors, Colangelo sparked an interest and hope in that the Raptors faithful had not felt since the Vince Carter era — and for good reason. Colangelo was somehow was able to turn Rob Babcock‘s historically bad run as GM into some positives for the franchise.
Notorious draft bust Rafael Araujo was swapped for Robert Whaley and workhorse Kris Humphries. Humphries turned into a solid rotational big man in the NBA while Araujo was out of the league just three years after being drafted eighth overall.
Colangelo also was able to trade away another draft day bust in lethargic power forward Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva was shipped out of T.O. for the upstart and speedy point guard T.J. Ford, who would become an integral part of the Raptors franchise during its playoff push.
Along with the signings of fan favorites Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa, all of who would become steady and solid veteran role players for years, and it’s safe to say that Colangelo definitely did some good for the franchise.
Yet, for every subtly right move that Colangelo made during his tenure as GM, he made a substantially worst move in return, resulting in the franchise’s growth greatly stagnating.
Herein lies the legacy of Colangelo. He was, and is a big-time risk taker. Colangelo went for the home runs during his time in Toronto as he did during his time with the Phoenix Suns. The only difference was that he hit some out of the ball park with the Suns (Shawn Marion, Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire) while he went down swinging in Toronto pretty badly.
Colangelo’s daredevil approach was perhaps never more accurately portrayed than with his decision in 2009 to go for a sign-and-trade deal with Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu, fresh off an unlikely and remarkable finals run with the Orlando Magic, was one of the most sought-after free agents in the summer of ’09. Colangelo went “all-in” on Turk, offering more money than any other team in the league.
The results were disastrous as the Raptors were saddled with an overweight and disinterested Turkoglu who was owed $53 million over the next five years. Years earlier, Colangelo had struck out when the Raptors were awarded the first overall selection in the 2006 draft. 7-feet tall Italian big man Andrea Bargnani was selected despite the likes of Lamarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy and Paul Millsap all being available in that same draft.
Colangelo envisioned Bargnani panning out as a franchise-changing player, mimicking the career path of the great Dirk Nowitzki. That certainly never came to fruition.
So while Colangelo quietly made the right signings and choices (for the most part) in building Toronto’s supporting cast, he never could connect on that desperately-needed home run swing, the type of deal or signing that would have brought in that needed “star power” and elevated the Raptors into true contention within the Eastern Conference.
That doesn’t mean that Colangelo was a bad GM for the Raptors — in fact, far from it. Despite taking over the franchise at a time when it was reeling from Babcock’s blown Carter deal, Colangelo was able to build a base of tradable assets and respectable players for the franchise, quickly bringing the franchise back to playoff contention.
Colangelo has left the franchise in substantially better shape than what he found it in, and has achieved the type of success in Toronto that only Glen Grunwald can boast of. Yet, Colangelo ultimately failed to put the franchise over the top, and when known as a home-run swinger, that’s what will be remembered in the end.