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Hardest Job Rebuilding Raptors Lies Ahead

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Last night while watching ESPN’s pre-game show before the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets game Doug Collins shared some great wisdom on gutting and rebuilding an NBA team.

“I’ve been in this for 40 years or whatever, and general managers always fall in love with the NBA Draft,” Collins vented after Bill Simmons got him worked up over the 2014 NBA Draft looking like fool’s gold. “Coaches try to win games and for general managers it’s a nice five year deal that allows them to fall in love with the draft and build. It’s easy to tear something down, but then you’ve got to try and rebuild it.”

Collins is right that it’s easy to tear something down but it’s a lot harder to build something the right way.

Fans of the Toronto Raptors just need to look at Bryan Colangelo as proof of this. When he arrived in Toronto he was quickly hailed as the god of basketball in Canada because he was able to take a floundering team and get them to the playoffs his first full season with Colangelo running the franchise.

During his first year at the helm of the Raptors, Colangelo was named Executive of the Year, Sam Mitchell was named Coach of the Year and Toronto was the Atlantic Division.

Turns out it was all fool’s gold and not a sustainable way to build a team.

Ujiri has quickly won over fans in Toronto because he traded away Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay while getting sold returns for bad parts.

On top of that, Toronto now sits atop of the Atlantic Division and is looking at home court in the first round of the playoffs.

Is this a case of history repeating itself? According to Collins, it is. Ujiri now finds himself in a tough spot as he has to decide if he’s going to stay the course this season with the current group of players or continue to rip things apart by trading DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and whoever else has interest from other NBA teams.

While Ujiri has been able to work his magic so far in gutting Toronto of bad contracts, where he will earn his pay is based on if he is successfully able to build a roster that has sustainable growth.

If the remains of his work in Denver is any example, his abilities to turn over a roster and have sustainable success is now up for debate.

Granted, George Karl is no longer in the picture and Ujiri is now running a team in another country, but the team he earned praise for just last season now looks in complete disarray.

It just goes to show Collins is right about how easy it easy to rip apart a franchise but how equally hard it is to properly build a franchise.


Ryan McNeill
Ryan McNeill has appeared on ESPN Radio, MTV Canada, SiriusXM, The Fan 590 and other radio programs and TV shows. He has covered the NBA with media credentials since the 2007-08 season.
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  • Robert Misovic

    While it’s easy to say the teams are similar, they’re not. Bryan Colangelo’s M.O when he arrived was to build a winning team quickly to give his franchise player a reason to stay beyond his contract. He had 3 years to make that happen. So, he did what he had to do. Take a look at the players who won that Atlantic Division Championship. T.J Ford. Jorge Garbajosa. Anthony Parker. Rasho Nesterovic. You could argue that 3 of those players were over the hill, and another was one injury away from retiring. The worst part- the fifth player (Bosh) never had any real intentions of re-signing.

    The only real similarity between the two teams was the bench. Humphries, Bargnani, Calderon and Graham do look a lot like the Raptors current backups in Patterson, Hansbrough, Vasquez and Salmons. But that is where the similarities end.

    The Raptors’ current starting line up features a 21-year old second year center, a 22 year old second year small forward, a young emerging player in DeMar DeRozan, and two players entering their primes in Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry. Not to mention, despite the criticism, Casey is a better coach (from an x’s and o’s, specialty standpoint) than Mitchell. Further, unlike when Colangelo took over, Ujiri actually has capspace to work with (the next year) and at least 4 first round draft picks over the next 3 years.

    Given his record of being patient, and getting great deals at the end of the first round, there isn’t one other GM aside from San Antonio’s R.C. Bufford I’d feel more comfortable picking 21st or 22nd in the 2014 draft.

    Apologies Doug Collins- your 40 or so years in the NBA don’t make you a clairvoyant and if I’m wrong, then so be it, but aside from the name of the franchise, and the fact that they’ll likely win an Atlantic division championship, there isn’t much to compare between this year and 2006/2007.

    Colangelo came into the best situation. Cap Space. First rounder. Franchise player. Ujiri came in with 2 big contracts handed out to so-called franchise players which he had to deal away, he came in to a young team which didn’t have cap space, and he came into a situation where he didn’t even have a draft pick (because Colangelo traded it for Lowry). He’s done a hell of a job.

  • Kaylie

    Could you not cram another “fools gold” in there. I long for someone to write 100 straight words on the Raptors without using this or some other cliche. Or maybe an original thought.

  • Ryan McNeill

    Kaylie – Did you need a hug? You seem awfully grumpy…

  • Ryan McNeill

    Great points, Robert.

    I agree that there are a lot of differences between the teams. First off, Toronto never flirted with 60 wins like the Nuggets did last season. That alone should have prevented such a steep drop this season by Denver.

    But how do you figure Bosh had no intention on sticking? I’m one of the media guys who talked with him often during his time here and I’m either oblivious or a sucker. I personally thing that when the deadline that last year passed Toronto had a legit chance of fighting the Celtics for the Atlantic Division. Sure, Bosh had moments of frustration, but he hadn’t checked out mentally or physically until that face injury.

    Completely agree that Casey is a much better coach than Smitch.

    I also agree that Ujiri has done a hell of a job… so far. His first big decision involves Lowry and things go from there. So far, so good… but this is just the tip of the iceberg. He’s gotta’ lot big decisions to make over the next few months and years.