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Chisholm: Worst-case scenario for Raptors' Colangelo

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Tim Chisholm
12/6/2012 2:50:12 PM
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All in all, this is probably the worst-case scenario for Bryan Colangelo this year.

• 4-15

• .211 winning percentage, second-worst in the NBA.

• 25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, 27th in points per game defence, 27th in field goal percentage defence, 26th in three-point percentage defence, 28th in opponent's free throw attempts per game and 28th in opponent points per shot.

Andrea Bargnani is scoring a four-year low 16.8 ppg on a five-year low .395 field goal percentage. He's shooting 4.6 threes and 4.7 long-twos per game and only 2.8 shots per game at the rim. He's shooting just 3.4 free throws per game after shooting 5.6 a season ago. He's sporting a career-low rebound rate and his worst assist rate since his rookie season.

Kyle Lowry is allowing his opponents to put up a 19.1 PER, according to 82games.com, and the team is allowing 5.3 more points per 100 possessions when he is on the court (the same as Jose Calderon).

• Only months after being hailed for his first year on the job, Dwane Casey now endures a nightly questioning of his substitution patterns and his ability to motivate a seemingly sleepwalking roster.

Heading into the season, Colangelo was bullish about this team. He'd seen a previously Charmin-soft outfit develop a gritty defensive identity under Casey, who also managed to coax an unheard of effort from Bargnani, and he imported noted defensive pieces like Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas to help solidify his team's newfound personality.

Colangelo wasn't the only one singing the praises of his club, either. Some saw these Raptors as a playoff outfit, while less enthusiastic pundits were still often willing to concede that the club had a chance to make a run at the eighth spot. You had to look long and hard to find those that thought that they'd be the second-worst team in the NBA a quarter of the way through the season and yet here we are, stuck watching Colangelo's nightmare play out in real time with every passing game and watching Toronto's season slip away before they've even hit the start of 2013.

What's gone wrong? Basically everything.

The defence has regressed back to a pre-Casey era, suggesting that last year's output may have been little more than a mirage. While the offence has improved over a season ago, it is nowhere near solid enough to offset the lack of effort at the other end of the court. Opposing teams are getting into the paint and scoring with ease. Toronto ranks 26th in the NBA in opponent's field goal attempts at the rim this season, and because teams have such an easy time breaking down the defences on their way to the rim, they've also opened up the three-point line for themselves. Toronto's opponents are shooting .383 from three this season, and 85.4% of those shots are assisted, largely because of the team's slow rotations on breakdowns with penetration, which is seventh-worst in the NBA.

That DeMar DeRozan has struggled at perimeter defence is to be expected; he's not a good defender, but the thought was that Casey and Lowry were a defensive match made in heaven that should help offset DeRozan's defensive weaknesses. In reality, Casey has not been able to corral Lowry's obsession with gambling on defence which, paired with DeRozan's ball-watching, has turned Toronto's perimeter defence into a non-entity and put way too much pressure on Valanciunas to rotate to cover everyone's permissive ways.

All of this has put Toronto into panic mode, with ESPN.com reporting that Bryan Colangelo has already put in a call to the L.A. Lakers to see if he can pry Pau Gasol away before Toronto's season becomes a complete write-off. 

Here's the situation facing Colangelo: he knows that if this season continues down the path it's on, his contract will be allowed to expire this offseason and he'll hit the unemployment line significantly tarnished. He sold the higher-ups at MLSE on his rebuilding plan that involved punting two seasons (after missing the playoffs in the two seasons before that), so that he could assemble a new roster the 'right way'. This year was supposed to show the early promise of that plan, and so far, the team has performed worse than they did at the start of either of their two rebuilding seasons.

While most fans would usually be starting a #tank meme on Twitter right around now in order to secure a high draft pick, Colangelo sold his first-round pick to Houston (now with Oklahoma City) in exchange for Lowry. He felt the move had a built-in failsafe, though, because even though the pick is protected so that it's guaranteed to be in the lottery, the team was supposed to be good enough to prevent the pick from being any higher than 8 or 9.

Yes, the pick was wisely protected in the top-three this season, but the top-three picks are distributed through the lottery, and not even a bottom-three record guarantees a top-three pick (the Raptors themselves fell from three to five in the 2011 draft lottery). So, at least for Colangelo, tanking is simply not an option this year because it has an even narrower potential for success than it does in a normal year.

So, instead of a #tank meme, the fans have instead opted for a #fireBC meme, which will probably only gain in popularity if the season continues to waste away like it has been for six weeks.

Colangelo likely won't be fired, though. The organization knows that they can just let him walk in July and not have to pay him another dime if they so choose, and they also know that Colangelo won't sit on his hands like his predecessor Rob Babcock did while another season is frittered away (as the inquiries about Gasol would indicate). Handing the reins to Ed Stefanski doesn't actually do anything but temporarily subdue the fans, and the club will need time to find a suitable long-term replacement if Colangelo is not retained, and such searches only paralyze a team mid-season, which the Raptors cannot afford right now.

So, until teams start to become comfortable with making big trades (usually late-December, early-January), Colangelo and Toronto's fans can't do much but watch the Raptors limp through a schedule that sees them face off against Utah, the Clippers, Portland, Brooklyn, Dallas and Houston before they get a crack at a team in their vicinity, record-wise, in the Cleveland Cavaliers. By that time, the team could easily be 15, 16 or even 17 games under .500 and in a hole that is nearly impossible to see the team digging out of.

Looking at the makeup of this roster now, having seen them go through 19 games, it's hard to say that there are internal tweaks that could be made to really right this ship. This is a flawed roster, far more flawed than most suspected back in October, and until significant moves can be made, it will almost certainly continue to live up to the standards they set that were laid out at the top of this piece.

It's like Colangelo has watched many of the decisions he's made over the last couple of years fail, and until someone from some other organization is willing to deal with him, he's stuck there unable to move. Make no mistake, when the trading floodgates open, he'll be as active as any GM in the NBA, but until that happens he, like all of the club's fans, just has to sit and watch and try to find glimmers of hope to help convince him that trying to pull this team out of the gutter won't ultimately be a futile effort.

Bryan Colangelo (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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