Are you ready for Phase Two of Bryan Colangelo's oft-cited plan? Because this week, Raptors fans, the curtain finally gets pulled back for a peek at ‘what's next' in Toronto basketball.
This week brings the NBA Draft (Thursday at 7pm et/4pm pt on TSN), the unofficial start to the off-season feeding frenzy that will dominate league headlines for the next several weeks. The draft not only brings with it the promise of 60 new youngsters entering the league's ranks, but also a bevy of trades that will reshape the rosters of those involved as much as any teenager picked on Thursday night. How the Raptors figure into this story is the big question on everyone's mind in Raptor-land, because it would be the first real tip as to where Colangelo has this team headed going into next season.
The options that are currently lying at Colangelo's feet are plentiful. He can use his eighth selection in the draft to pick up a promising youngster to add to the team's young core. He can use his pick as trade bait to pick up a veteran player. He can use his draft pick and a young asset to pick up a veteran player and acquire another pick elsewhere in the first round. He can use his eighth selection and then try and swing a trade to absorb a veteran player into his cap space. For a guy that lives for exploring all options, he has no shortage of them to sift through over the next few days.
Already Toronto has been linked to a trade for Andre Iguodala, a trade for Rudy Gay, a promise to Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, a trade for Kyle Lowry and picks, an interest in North Carolina forward John Henson and a free agent signing that looms over all of this in Steve Nash.
The Nash story looms large because every move that is discussed with relation to the Raptors always manages to get looked at through the prism of acquiring the two-time MVP. In some cases the line is clear, like asking what happens with Nash if Lowry is acquired or Weber State's Damian Lillard is drafted, since both are stud point guards. In other cases the line is more tangential, like trying to acquire a veteran like Iguodala or Gay to make Toronto a more attractive destination for Nash in free agency. The potential impact that Nash could have up and down the organization, though, warrants the unending speculation. If the Raptors are in a position to get him (and they are) then they too are going to be looking at each move as it relates to Nash, which might be the closest thing that Raptors observers have to a framing device for the next couple of weeks.
In fact, it's the closest thing that Raptors fans have had to an idea of Colangelo's new formula since it was kicked off two years ago. After Chris Bosh bolted in free agency, Colangelo began a tearing down process that saw the roster gutted to its core as he began the process of acquiring young assets and cap space so that when he was ready to flip the switch from “rebuilding” to “winning” he would have the assets he needed to make that transition smooth and successful. What the team is left with now are lots of directions that they could go in, but very little evidence as to which path they are looking to go down.
Raptors fans are eager to uncover the team's path because, let's face it, Colangelo has a very poor track record in Toronto when it comes to making moves with winning in mind. The Big Three moves that define his Toronto legacy (the Jason Kapono full mid-level deal, the selling of the farm for Jermaine O'Neal and Hedo Turkoglu) betray a more balanced tour of duty, but the brazenness of each unsuccessful big move significantly tilts people's memory towards the negative in his time with Toronto.
Over the last two years, though, there has been none of that, allowing for some measure of hope to creep into the conversation with regards to Toronto's future. He has stuck to affordable deals with young players, he hired a defence-first coach that was the talk of the team by season's end, and took a chance in the draft last year that could pay off huge next season and beyond with Jonas Valanciunas. His moves have been steady, defendable and inoffensive, and almost all of them yielded at least a neutral, if not positive, outcome.
But that was when winning was a secondary concern.
With the team's record now a factor as the club looks to challenge for a Playoff spot, Colangelo is shifting back into gunslinger mode, a role he admitted he was eager to slide back into at the team's season ending press conference. Colangelo loves making moves, and even more than that he loves making big moves. The hope amongst Raptors fans, though, is that his big moves are smart first and big second, a sort of hybridization of the Colangelo that that was unafraid of big bets and the Colangelo that was satisfied with smaller, smarter bets.
This week will give fans a good idea of where Colangelo is headed. Despite all of the trade rumors the smart money today is on Colangelo keeping his draft pick and using it to grab Syracuse's Dion Waiters. If he ditches it, however, in a trade for, say, Luol Deng, then you have reason to worry about what's coming down the pike in Toronto.
Colangelo has earned himself a lot of goodwill over the last two years and there is an argument to be made for keeping the spirit of some of that conservatism alive in his offseason dealings this summer. As they say, just because you can do a deal doesn't mean that you should do a deal. That was a lesson the old Colangelo never seemed to learn and it may have ultimately led to him losing Bosh in free agency. The organization allowed him to hit the reset button in the aftermath of that loss and now we'll get the first hints of whether or not the man in charge of running the Toronto Raptors will benefit from his experiences in the recent past.