Go ahead, Raptors fans. Spend all the time you want complaining on message boards or calling into talk radio shows to demand Bryan Colangelo’s head for his drafting of yet another Euro.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but he doesn’t really care – nor should he.
Colangelo’s selection of Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas with the No. 5 over-all pick in the 2011 NBA Draft was met by much consternation among the team’s faithful, but you wouldn’t know it by the look of fatigued satisfaction on the face of the GM as he spoke to media late Thursday night.
“I can tell you that, without question, we’ve found a combination of the best talent and the best fit for this team,” says Colangelo. “[Valanciunas] is thought of as the best young ‘five’ prospect out there, regardless of where he’s from.”
It’s the “from” part that becomes a point of contention for the Euro-weary Raptors’ fan base, who are quickly tiring of Andrea Bargnani’s allergic reaction to defence and rebounding and recently experienced the colossal disaster that was Hedo Turkoglu’s tenure in Toronto. But it says plenty about the team brass’ opinions on the 19-year old when they still selected him despite being fully aware of how the pick might be received.
“I know there’s been some angst out there with regards to the reaction,” acknowledges Colangelo. “I can’t really worry about that. […] This pick is going to be one that people look back at and say ‘this was the right guy’”.
Colangelo knows something that most of the naysayers don’t: that Valanciunas is far from your stereotypical ‘soft’ European player. As a member of Lithuanian club team Rytas Vilnius, the 6’11” centre caught the attention of scouts for his rebounding, shot-blocking and length, while supposedly showing flashes of some low post scoring skills.
Unfortunately for Toronto, that’s just half the story. Teams were also wary of complications involving his contract with Rytas Vilnius and how easy a buyout would be to facilitate, particularly when NBA clubs can only offer up $500,000 to put towards such a deal. While Valanciunas was direct in his optimism of reaching the NBA (“[the buyout] will be done this year”), Colangelo remained a little more tentative.
“If it’s just the buyout that’s in place, I’m comfortable with that,” suggests Colangelo. “[…] I’ve got to take a long-term view of this pick […] and we’ve got to determine what’s right for this young man and this organization.”
That Toronto would draft Valanciunas in spite of his contract issues says two things: they really, really like the kid and Colangelo has a long-term plan in place despite his limited two-year contract.
At the moment, it can’t be determined if Valanciunas was the right call, nor can anyone verify whether the club was right to retain Colangelo, but the former Executive of the Year is running the team boldly and without fear – which is all you can ask for.