Tag Archives: Bryan Colangelo

Masai Ujiri Leaves Denver, Joins Toronto

Executive of the Year is usually one of the more easily dismissed members of the postseason prizes. Perhaps because the moves made by an executive, unlike those of a player or coach, are harder to judge within the context of a single season; perhaps because executives are simply less interesting than those who actually play out the games. Regardless, it is unlikely that you remember who won it more than a year or two back, and unlikely that you will ever need to know.

It is rare, however, for a newly minted Executive of the Year to leave his post, which is exactly what Masai Ujiri did on Friday, accepting a 5 year, $15 million offer to become general manager of the Toronto Raptors over re-upping his deal in Denver. And it’s a move that could lead to big changes for both franchises in potentially direction-altering offseasons.

The move is disconcerting for the Nuggets. Losing a young GM who has already swung some pretty successful deals and has drafted well is bad enough; losing the steward of your ship mid-voyage is another. While this Denver team did very well during the regular season, winning 57 games before the Warriors scorched them to the ground, they hardly seemed like a finished product, only mid-way through a process that traced back to Ujiri in every way.

There are only three players on Denver’s roster who are over 26 years of age. Two of them, Andre Iguodala (29) and Corey Brewer (27), are free agents. Losing any one of them would leave a huge hole at the wing, mostly defensively. Then again, Iguodala is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, two years after being picked to the all-star team, one year after playing for the US gold medal team. Brewer just played the best basketball of his career, playoffs notwithstanding. Both could demand hefty sums, which does not bode well for a franchise that just let their GM go rather than pay him.

The rest of the roster is stocked with young talent on mostly flexible deals. From JaVale McGee’s 3 years, $34 million and Wilson Chandler’s 3 years, $21 million, and through the rookie deals of Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier, the Nuggets have more valuable assets than playing time. Part of this is the aftermath of the Carmelo Anthony deal, but ever since that happened, the Nuggets have been committed to simultaneously running an ensemble cast and lurking in the shadows for opportunities. Be it flipping away Nene right after signing him to an extension, jumping into the Dwight Howard trade to acquire Iggy, or snatching Kenneth Faried as a 22nd pick, Ujiri had done well with such opportunities. A different GM might not be as comfortable tinkering with a cadre of toys, and in an effort to move towards a more conventional roster build, could hurt the value of said pieces.

Not that the new Denver GM must be a hard-headed, my-way-or-the-highway hire. It’s very possible that Denver promotes a member of the current staff to head honcho position, and that the organization as a whole stays the course. Ujiri himself was somewhat of an unknown when he got the GM position, after all. But it adds a level of uncertainty to a team that didn’t need it, coming off a stinging playoff upset, amid the aforementioned upcoming roster decisions and criticism of its long time coach.

As for the Raptors, it would be interesting to see how swiftly and aggressively, if at all, Ujiri reneges on some of Bryan Colangelo’s latest moves. Is Andrea Bargnani a dead man walking? (Presumably, as this was believed to be the case when Colangelo was still in office.) Will Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan still be considered cornerstones, despite games that somewhat contradict new-age analytical NBA beliefs attached to massive deals? Is Dwane Casey still in favor? What will be of Kyle Lowry, entering the final year of his contract, after the first season that saw his game regress since his Memphis days? The roster isn’t bereft of talent post-Colangelo, but it is expensive and flawed, and Ujiri will have his work cut out for him.

The good news are that Ujiri did well to cover for Denver’s flaws under a much tighter budget. The phrase “luxury tax”, a taboo in Denver, will be much easier to throw out as a necessary evil towards improving the team, and Ujiri’s creativity in working the trade lines could be even more impressive once those handcuffs are removed. Of course, management could work as a limiting factor as well, with a group that is believed to be locked-in on a playoff appearance at all costs – the type of endeavor that often sells out future success in the name of a year or two of first round exists.

If nothing else, Raptor fans can rest assured that they will no longer be making moves for the wrong reasons. Ujiri isn’t the type of GM to trade for a player in the name of “star power” or “a little credibility around the league”. He’s shown a knack for signing guys to long-term extensions and immediately swapping them for a better deal, a good omen for any concerns about DeRozan’s long term viability or what happens if a Lowry extension goes awry, and a sharp contrast from Colangelo, who for years held on to Bargnani for no apparent reason other than Bargs being “his guy”.

While it’s a shame the Nuggets felt the need to pinch pennies, a potentially exciting Raptors roster just got a man who could very well mold it into something tangible. This may or may not turn out to be one of those behind-the-scene moves that alter two different franchises, but at the very least, the prospects are intriguing.

The Difficulty of Letting Go

Say the person you’ve been seeing and living with for the last seven years decides that she no longer wants to be together, but lucky for you, she still wants to keep you around as a friend as you both continue to live out your lease. However, considering how much history you have together, she lays down some ground rules. Of course, no more sharing a bed and things like that. Furthermore, she says she’s going to start dating soon and let’s you know ahead of time she’s going to be bringing her dates over for dinner from time-to-time, and you’re going to need to be able to deal with this if you wish to continue living together.

Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with you. I mean, first you’re asked to take a diminished role in her life, and now she wants to act like the last seven years never happened? Yeah, things had gotten stale over the last few years of the relationship but you two used to have a lot of great times together, and that has to count for something. Up until this point you probably told your friends that you’re just going through a rough patch and things will be fine. And maybe you really believe this because if she was really over you, she would’ve just thrown you on your ass instead of keeping you around, right?

Now what are you supposed to do? Bring your own dates over to the apartment you’re still sharing with your ex-girlfriend of seven years? Yeah, that’s not weird at all. Good luck with convincing any new dating prospects otherwise. It’s really  not fair to you, either. You still believe that you deserve that larger role in someone’s life, but by still staying with your Ex in a minimized role isn’t going to get you back to where you want to be. Which of course is strange because you still feel like you have a lot to offer, she begs to differ, but still you remain living with her in a situation that will keeping you from being where you want. To be honest, if you were both seeing things clearly you would realize that you both need to break ties and start over.

Now imagine you’re the Toronto Raptors and the former general manager Bryan Colangelo, who accepted a reduced role on Tuesday, is your significant other.

While things got off to a promising start early in their relationship with back-to-back playoff appearances and even an Executive of the Year award for Colangelo in year one, things certainly have stagnated in Toronto. It’s been five years since the Raptors have last made the playoffs, and even though they lost Chris Bosh in 2010, other teams that have lost superstars are further along in their rebuild than they are. Thanks to Colangelo they won 34 games with the league’s 20th largest payroll, while teams like Indiana, Memphis and Milwaukee were able to build playoff teams with smaller payrolls. To make matters worse, next season the Raptors will owe Rudy Gay $17m, Andreas Bargnani $11m, and nearly $10m between Lienas Klieza and Landry Fields as DeMar DeRozan’s $9m extension kicks in. And if you count Kyle Lowry’s $6m salary for next season, that amounts to a combined $53 for a team without a first round pick and that will probably not win even win 40 games next season.

Yeah, it was time for change in Toronto, but they only went halfway on implementing that change.

As for the Raptors as an organization, keeping around their failed GM does not present a good look to the rest of the league and any potential players considering Toronto in free agency. Players know that they haven’t made the playoffs in five years and are still going to be able to see that the man responsible for putting them in the predicament they are in is still working in their front office, albeit in a diminished capacity. See, winning is important to players, and players are more likely to accept things like having to go through customs every time they cross the Canadian border if they believe they are going to a place where they can be successful. However, one look at the Raptors situation, and that does not show that they are looking to do that.

Take the Timberwolves for example. David Kahn had been had his decision-making power marginalized in the last two years of his time in Minnesota, but the Timberwolves, coupled with Rick Adelman on the bench, give off the impression of an organization committed to moving forward completely. Perhaps it’s because they already learned the hard way with Kevin McHale that it doesn’t work to keep the old guy while trying to bring in someone new to do his job, and that decision has worked out better for the team and McHale.

As for the Raptors, it sounds like they have a weird living arrangement-of-sorts. Raptors owner Tim Lieweke said yesterday in a press conference that, “Bryan is going to have to occasionally take a deep breath and understand that a GM is going to have final say in basketball decisions and he’s going to have to live with that. Because if he can’t, I’m fairly certain we’re not going to fire the Toronto Raptors,” which sounds a lot like the ex-girlfriend in our scenario at the top telling her Ex that if he can’t deal with it she’s going to throw him out.

But what’s more, as HP Alum Holly McKenzie laid out yesterday, Lieweke went on to say that the two of them will report directly to him, which seems weirder yet. Oh, so not only are you going to have to live with your ex-girlfriend and have to deal with her having movie nights with her dates, your going to have to sit and watch the movie with them. It also seems like a lot of channels to go through to make a decision, but maybe that’s not atypical. Hey, maybe it’s weird at first before getting used to it, but NBA people, especially those who have stayed around as long as Colangelo, have egos and need one to survive in this business. Having an ego can be a good thing, but at the same time it may make it tough for Colangelo to deal with as he watches someone else do his job with the team he’s run for the last seven years. Put him in the same role with another team, and it’s not as weird since Colangelo and the Raptors have so much history together.

What about the new guy, how is he supposed to feel? After all he has to report to the guy whose job he’s took with the assurance from his boss that, “No, it’s fine; he understands his role.” Personally, that aspect seems weird and doesn’t sounds like it breeds a functional organization. Also, who are you going to get being able to offer half of the responsibilities to? General managers like to be able to have full-power and finding a good one who will want the minimized role will be challenging. Colangelo also spoke about being able to voice his opinion when asked for it and being able to discuss basketball moves with the new decision-maker, but that may be easier said than done, if not weird for the new guy.

The Raptors could use what the couple in our scenario at the top: a friend that is a neutral third-party to be the voice of reason. You can’t move on and fully embrace change while you’re still living in the past. As for the Raptors, Lieweke acknowledged the work that Colangelo has done for Canadian basketball and also how he wants to improve the team’s image, but retaining Colangelo in any capacity does not accomplish this since he’s the one responsible for the team’s current perception. In a perfect world, Colangelo and the new GM will work together in perfect rhythm to bring the Raptors back to relevance, while proving to be the exception to the rule. But I suppose we should see how their first movie night together goes first.