Just as his dad did nearly 40 years ago in Phoenix, Bryan Colangelo will try totake the Raptors from the dregs to the rafters
In 1968 JerryColangelo, then 28, moved from Chicago to Phoenix to become G.M. of theexpansion Suns. Not only did Colangelo foster the growth of one of the NBA'smost successful franchises, but he also opened up a sports market that now hasfour pro franchises. That pioneering spirit apparently runs in the family,judging from the decision of his son Bryan to leave the thriving Suns lastmonth to take over as president of the woeful Raptors. "For him to gosomewhere else and create something totally on his own is a fantasticopportunity," Jerry Colangelo says. "In 1968 I left for Phoenix with mywife, three kids, nine suitcases and $300 in my pocket. Now Bryan is leavingPhoenix with his wife, two kids, I don't know how many suitcases and a wholebunch more money than I had."
There is littlemystery about why Colangelo, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, wasintrigued by the chance to make over a franchise that is currently headed forits fourth straight lottery. During his 11 years as Suns G.M., Colangeloacquired a reputation for brilliant drafting (Shawn Marion with the No. 9 pickin 1999, Amaré Stoudemire with the ninth pick in 2002), gutsy trades (JoeJohnson for Boris Diaw and two first-round picks from the Hawks last summer)and shrewd free-agent signings (Raja Bell last summer and, of course, SteveNash in '04). With several promising young Raptors, including a 22-year-oldfranchise player (Chris Bosh), a lottery pick and $10 million in cap space tosign a top-tier free agent or make a major trade, the pieces are in place forColangelo to quickly turn things around in Toronto.
The decision toleave Phoenix in midseason was unusual but far from a surprise. Last month,when Suns owner Robert Sarver, who bought the club from Jerry Colangelo for$401 million in 2004, and the younger Colangelo met for dinner to discuss theirvisions for the future, several points of disagreement came up. Furthermore,according to team sources, Bryan had become increasingly eager to escape theshadow of his father, who will remain team chairman through next season and bea consultant for five seasons thereafter. When Toronto, which had fired G.M.Rob Babcock on Jan. 26, stepped in with a four-year, $14 million offer,Colangelo had his exit strategy.
The timingcouldn't have been more fortunate for Toronto. Most team executives are hiredin May at the earliest, giving them little time to assess their new frontoffices before the draft. With two additional months to study the Raptors'organization, Colangelo will have ample time, for example, to decide the fateof coach Sam Mitchell, who is popular with Raptors fans. (Although Mitchell wasrecently voted the worst coach in the league by an SI poll of players, he hasthe backing of veteran team consultant Wayne Embry.) Colangelo will also haveto make a hard decision on free-agent-to-be point guard Mike James, 30, who wasa find for Toronto this season (18.8 ppg) but is probably too old to justify anexpensive long-term contract.
The terms ofColangelo's buyout prevent him from hiring Suns employees until after the2006--07 season, but look for him to bring in the same type of small, tightlyknit scouting department that was so successful in Phoenix. Given the Raptors'history with American players who have complained about living in Canada(Antonio Davis and Charles Oakley, to name two), Colangelo will place a greaterpremium on international scouting, since foreign players are likely toacclimate more quickly to cosmopolitan Toronto, which is the fifth-largest cityin North America.
The biggestadjustment for Colangelo will be learning to work without his father; the flipside of that is he won't have to hear any more whispers that he owes hisposition to his father. "I was probably harder on him than anyone,"says Jerry Colangelo. "When I asked him to come to Phoenix [to serve as ascout in 1988, a year after he graduated from Cornell], he really thought aboutit--he was concerned about nepotism. He wanted to prove beyond any doubt thathe wasn't there just because of me."
Raptors CEORichard Peddie, in fact, views the comparisons of Bryan Colangelo to his dad asyet another endorsement of his newest big hire and says the younger Colangelomight even succeed him within five years as president of Maple Leaf Sports andEntertainment, which oversees the Raptors and the NHL's Maple Leafs, as well asAir Canada Centre. But first things first. "They want to have the franchisesucceed and create a tradition," Colangelo says of the Raptors board thathired him. "They look at what Jerry created in Phoenix and what I was ableto carry forth, and I hope to duplicate that same sort of tradition andreputation."
Noah's Arc Is Soaring
Some NBA scoutsdon't put much stock in how a player does in the NCAA tournament, believingthat the limited number of games artificially inflates--or deflates--aprospect's value. (See: Drew, Bryce; Jones, Dontae; and O'Bannon, Ed--all ofwhom went from tournament and draft buzz makers to NBA busts.) Other scouts,however, believe there is much to be learned from whether a player thrives orwilts under college hoops' brightest spotlight. Which prospect got the biggestbump from last weekend? Who took the biggest hit? SI enlisted the help of aveteran Western Conference scout to find out.
Joakim Noah, 6'11" sophomore forward, Florida.
The son of French tennis star Yannick Noah was a late first-round prospectearly this season, but after averaging 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5assists in the Gators' two opening weekend wins, "he's now a top three pickin my eyes," says the scout. "He's my favorite player in the draft.Very thin, but will naturally get bigger and stronger. Very bright guy. Not agreat athlete but a good one and the kind of player who can fill up the entirestat sheet. I can't remember a guy so tall with so much skill."
Marcus Williams,6'3" junior point guard, UConn.
"The Huskies have a lot of talent, but that team goes as he goes. He helpedhimself by making four three-pointers in a row in their opener againstAlbany."
Patrick O'Bryant,7-foot sophomore center, Bradley.
"We're all seduced by size, and he may have worked his way up into theteens [in the draft] by going for 28 points and seven rebounds against Pitt.Early in the season I thought he needed to go back to school, but now I seesoft hands and great upside."
LaMarcus Aldridge, 6'10" sophomore forward, Texas.
"He was pretty good, just as you'd expect him to be. Guys like him,Gonzaga's Adam Morrison and the Duke guys [J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams andJosh McRoberts] probably aren't going to affect their standing. We've seen themso much already."
Paul Davis, 6'11" senior center, Michigan State.
"He should have dominated against a small team [in the Spartans'opening-round upset at the hands of George Mason], but he didn't. When the[game's] on the line he's just O.K."
Randolph Morris,6'10" sophomore forward, Kentucky.
"He's the same guy we saw last year, who thinks he's better than he is. Heonly had one rebound in the first half of their [opening-round win] againstUAB."
On Celtics6'7" power forward Ryan Gomes, the 50th pick, from Providence, who atweek's end ranked third among rookies since the All-Star break, with 13.9points per game (on 52.9% shooting) and 8.5 rebounds:
"He fits inwell because he's a team player, he's quicker than a lot of power forwards, andhe can make the mid-range jumper. Is he their long-term answer at thatposition? No, because he's too small to go up against guys like Dwight Howardand Kevin Garnett. If the Celtics become a good team, he'll have two options:Either be their first forward off the bench or develop the ball handling andopen-court skills to enable him to shift to small forward. I compare him withIndiana's Danny Granger, another guy who's playing a lot of four but whosefuture is at three. I think both of those guys will be able to make thattransition."
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