Raptors' Future Will Be Mediocrity or Spending Money

The Raptors season basically died in Milwaukee and now even the franchise is admitting it is about the future going forward. The question is what exactly is that future? It seems pretty cloudy at best as an outsider looking in. The largest piece to the puzzle is likely Bryan Colangelo and his future as that will impact on a number of others future based on what happens with him.

People likely won’t want to hear this, but at worst I would think the Raptors are going to pick-up the option on his contract. It would be a massive mistake in my opinion to give him another extension at this point. Does Colangelo deserve to be back? Most would say no based on his record alone and they wouldn’t be wrong in saying that.

Still dealing in the reality of what has been done it seems unlikely that ownership is in any great hurry to send him packing. There is no way he is allowed to make the deal he did for Rudy Gay, if the plan was to just fire him at the end of the season. Well it wouldn’t be a firing technically, it would be just letting the option on his contract go and making him an executive version of a free agent.

Colangelo with his swing for the fences approach has left the Raptors in a terrible situation moving forward contract wise. It has been talked about a lot of all the questionable contracts the Raptors have. Rudy Gay at the top of the list along with the DeRozan extension and the Landry Fields deal that was suppose to lead to Steve Nash that never did.  In addition the Bargnani extension that stands firmly in the way of moving Bargnani for a deal that does not involve the Raptors going deeper into a black hole contract wise. We could go on but those four alone make it very difficult for the Raptors future going forward, if you want to make any changes to the core that exists with this team.

Ask yourself what general manager of any kind of substance would walk into this mess if the Raptors fired Colangelo? It is safe to say any top candidate you would consider, would steer clear of the Raptors based on the lack of ability to get out from under all these contracts. So that leaves you with Colangelo, or if you let him walk, likely nothing more than hiring someone unproven and desperate, or someone within the organization. Safe to say if the Raptors wanted to hire internally they could have fired Colangelo and went with the experienced Ed Stefanski if they wanted too. When the team started a woeful 4-19 not many would have questioned the move at the time.

If Colangelo does in fact stay, that would make Dwane Casey’s position as head coach secure you would have to figure. Colangelo is not going to be given the chance to hire his fourth coach of his run as G.M with the Raptors. Casey of late is coaching like a guy that is not as sure of his fate or maybe that of Colangelo’s and that would clearly impact on his own future.

Maybe it is just that Casey plays to win regardless of the situation and can not bring himself to not do so.  A different situation with the same goal of winning cost the first ever Raptors’ coach Brendan Malone his job. He was told to play Damon Stoudamire less in order for the Raptors to lose more games and improve their odds of getting a better pick heading into their second year. Casey does not have to worry about a draft pick as the Raptors don’t have one.  What he needs to do is get experience for his rookie players that he has resisted up until recently. Even with an increase in minutes we have seen little of Ross and Valanciunas in the fourth quarter.

Beyond some questionable rotations and personal decisions the other concern has to be the Raptors regression on defense at times. After all this was Casey’s calling card when he got the job. He was able to have a major impact in year one on that end of the floor. This season it has been hit and misses and of late more misses than hit. You can argue the roster is lacking the type of players to make this happen. It might explain why Casey is unwilling to let guys like Alan Anderson and Aaron Gray be spectators even now with season lost.

Others will say the offense has sputtered under Casey as well. To me this lies more at the feet of Raptors' assistant Johnny Davis. If I was going to make a coaching move with the Raptors it would not be with Casey it would be Davis. He just does not seem to be able to take advantage of the new weapons he has been given to work with in this offense. He is the lead assistant and his primary function is the offense for the Raptors. I would look for a lead assistant to replace him in the off-season, not that I expect this to happen.

The future of Colangelo also obviously will be greatly tied to the future of Andrea Bargnani. If you were to let Colangelo go and hire outside of the organization it might make dealing with Bargnani far simpler. Could an outsider walk into this organization and maybe even go to the extreme of amnestying the contract of Andrea Bargnani? Perhaps he could, but it is almost unthinkable to consider that Colangelo would. After all he has been telling us for a long time about all this supposed interest that is out there for Andrea Bargnani. Which is not a lie exactly but when you combine Bargnani with his contract it gets closer to being one.

Case and point, let’s look back to Jose Calderon who was another guy that Colangelo swore there was interest in for years. It was not until that contract of Calderon’s was on its last legs that it could be traded. Was there interest in Calderon minus dealing with his bad contract? Absolutely there was as when there was talk Raptors might amnesty Calderon to make way for Nash there was a number of teams lining up to snatch Calderon. Among them the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs were interested in landing him.

Bottom line of all of this is that Andrea Bargnani simply has to be gone this off-season. This situation has become a toxic one on all sides including the fan base that would at this point trade him for some pasta slightly better than Primo. Colangelo should he remain, will fight like hell to get a deal for Bargnani that he can sell as a good move. In reality the war is over and he lost this battle. A new G.M with no ties to the pick of Bargnani at number one can make a move for him and not be as worried about justifying the trade.

The thing is this is just scratching the surface of things. We have not even mentioned the crazy rumours about the Raptors looking to extend Rudy Gay this off-season? Not exactly sure why this is needed to be done now, Gay is still a Raptor for two more seasons based on his current deal.  You also have Kyle Lowry entering the last year of his contract which ends prior to Gay.

When you look at this entire mess you are left to draw just two conclusions. The Raptors are stuck with what they have and are praying this is enough to make them a playoff team going forward. That we will call the more likely and realistic option one.

The only other thing that the Raptors could do to become a serious contender, as constructed right now, is to spend money.  In order to counter the bad contracts they have the Raptors only options to improve might be to dive deeper into the luxury tax pool. That becomes much more expensive to do starting this off-season.  For every dollar you got over the salary cap you have to pay three dollars. That adds up when you get talking in the millions for player contracts.

It would have been easy to dismiss this idea out of hand, as Raptors under the old ownership in MLSE would never venture into the tax threshold, even when star players like Chris Bosh felt they needed too. Rogers, who now is part of the mix in ownership has had a pretty busy winter spending money on their baseball team. They tried to develop youth and grow for years but that wasn’t exactly filling the Rogers Centre. It also wasn’t leading to getting in the playoff race which is much tougher in baseball.

They did it primarily by finding a team that was looking to unload salary in Miami Marlins. The Raptors in their move to acquire Rudy Gay followed this same type of approach. Memphis was looking to cut costs to get below the tax threshold. In reality both teams were looking to dump salary and get back what they could.

Given the dawn of the punitive luxury tax arriving in the NBA it is safe to say their will be many teams looking to pinch their pennies to avoid the penalties and cost that come with being a tax team in the NBA. It is safe to say if the Raptors are willing to absorb some big money contracts they will be able to find lots of willing partners. If the Raptors go in this direction they very well could be a contender. The price to do that would be a high one and no really guarantee of ultimate success. If you look at the path of the Brooklyn Nets you can see that. The Raptors likely are in a division that will always have teams that are willing to thumb their nose at the cap and spend money. Not unlike the situation the Blue Jays face with Boston and New York being in their division in baseball and having two of the highest payrolls in baseball on annual basis.

The owners have a vested interest in the Raptors being contenders for the various media properties that both Rogers and Bell own. The question is how much are they willing to spend for that compelling content? If this was the Maple Leafs we are having this discussion about the answer is obvious. In the case of the Raptors it is unclear just how far they would be willing to push the envelope.

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