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Leiweke says Raptors have work to do to become contenders

TSN.ca Staff

5/22/2013 4:34:38 PM

Making it clear that he valued Bryan Colangelo's skills running the business side of a basketball team, new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke said the decision to relieve Colangelo of his basketball decisions, but retain him as team president was arrived at in large part because the two men had "a disagreement on the current status of the organization and this roster."

Speaking Tuesday on TSN Drive with Dave Naylor, Leiweke pulled no punches in saying he thought the team was not as close to being a contending team as Colangelo and others within MLSE who provided opposition to the decision thought they were.

"I guess I don't think that we're 'right there,'" Leiweke said. "I don't think we're a piece away. I think we have work to do.

"There was no consensus," he said regarding the decision to begin a search for a new GM. "There were a lot of people with a lot of opinions and a lot of different opinions. Clearly, I had to understand that I was going to make a decision that was not going to please all."

Leiweke said creating a management system where both president and GM report to him directly is not ideal, but not totally uncommon in the sports world.

He noted his previous structure in Los Angeles with the Kings was similar in that the president of business operations, Luc Robitaille and the president of hockey operations, Dean Lombardi both reported to him.

Still, Leiweke admitted it was not the way he would have liked to "draw it up" given a clean slate, but felt like it was the proper way to deal with things considering the situation.

He noted Colangelo's communication skills and ability to build relationships with sponsors as to why he would be successful in a business operations role.

"He's smart, he's intelligent, he's a good businessman and he's very passionate about the Raptors, very articulate, represents them well and he loves Toronto."

In a search for a new general manager, Leiweke said he would welcome Colangelo's input given his vast basketball knowledge and background and wouldn't rule out the possibility of having the new hire work with the former GM.

Leiweke also made it a point to mention that a "fresh face, with a fresh view of the world, with a fresh view of this roster, with a fresh view of what we need to do to be competitive long term" was something he felt the team was in need of.

Not naming any one player directly, he made a point of mentioning he thought Colangelo's judgment may have been hindered due to his former ties to his no. 1 overall draft pick in 2006, Andrea Bargnani.

"We need someone who is extremely rational when it comes to the roster and reaching conclusions as to who is going to work and who is not going to work," Leiweke said. "Sometimes you have to find a new set of eyes and a new opinion in order to judge a roster. Not be personal about a player because you chose him or you used the first pick in the first round to pick a player. Sometimes it's easier for a guy coming in that doesn't have that loyalty and doesn't have that burden of being the guy that made that decision. You reach a better conclusion at times about who needs to stay and who needs to go."

He said moving forward the goal is to create a team that is a perennial contender, not one that is simply looking to sneak into a playoff spot.

"First and foremost, we have to figure out a way to win, how to win consistently and how to win long term. I referred to it earlier today as being a 7/11 – good enough to maybe be in the seventh or eighth spot and make the playoffs, but never good enough to win."

In his search for a new head of basketball operations, Leiweke emphasized the importance of drafting and development and hiring someone who was capable of developing a team identity.

"We cannot make bad decisions with draft picks," he said, mentioning teams such as San Antonio and Oklahoma City as the models to strive towards. "The great organizations maximize their draft picks when they get them."

Despite the team's struggles, Leiweke said there are candidates that would welcome the chance to come to Toronto given MLSE's resources.

Still, besides finding a capable general manager, he thinks the bigger challenge will be changing the league-wide perception of the franchise.

"The Raptors reputation is one of people questioning what direction we're going in, what brand of basketball we play and what kind of personality are we going to have as an organization and we have to change that."