Posted Jun 22 2011 9:27AM
After trips to the playoffs in Bryan Colangelo's first two full seasons in Toronto, the Raptors have averaged fewer than 32 wins over the last three years. Still, Colangelo was given a second chance in the form of a two-year contract extension with a team option for a third year.
That means Colangelo might be able to get away with some minor mistakes in the next 24 months. But he can't afford to make any big ones.
This week could be a turning point. Colangelo has two big decisions to make this week that could shape the future of the franchise. He's already made one. His next comes Thursday night..
First, Colangelo hired Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey to take over for Jay Triano. The Raptors have been the worst defensive team in the league the last two seasons, and Casey will help them quickly improve there.
Second, Colangelo will make the highest Draft pick the Raptors have had since 2006, when he selected Andrea Bargnani with the No. 1 overall pick. The No. 5 selection in Thursday's Draft is the Raptors' third top-five pick in the last 12 years.
These two decisions will not only help determine the direction that the franchise takes from here, but they'll play a big part in how Colangelo is evaluated.
The timing isn't great. Colangelo couldn't make a decision on Triano's contract option until his own contract status was addressed. With the Mavs playing in The Finals, Casey couldn't be interviewed until last week. As a result, the new coach missed most of the Draft workouts. Those workouts have been run by coaches on Triano's staff, many (if not all) of whom are unlikely to be retained under the new coach.
Ultimately, the pick will be Colangelo's decision. He's made three lottery picks with the Raptors: Bargnani in 2006, DeMar DeRozan (No. 9 in 2009) and Ed Davis (No. 13 last year).
He hasn't been perfect, but he hasn't been terrible either, and the Raptors are starting to develop a decent, young core. But they have no real franchise player and can use whatever help at whatever position they can get with the No. 5 pick. Their objective should be to take the best player available.
In working out potential No. 5 picks, the Raptors went big, small and medium. Up front, they looked at Enes Kanter (at a private workout in Chicago), Marcus Morris and Tristan Thompson. In the backcourt, they worked out Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker. They also brought in Kawhi Leonard, who might be best described as a Shawn Marion-esque forward.
Not everyone who deserves consideration in the top half of the lottery worked out for the Raptors. But the team was also in Treviso, Italy, last week to get a final look at international prospects Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas and Jan Vesely.
Knight is likely the best of the group and highest on the Raptors'' board. He's not as experienced or as polished offensively as Walker, but he's bigger (6-foot-3) and quicker.
"He's a big-time athlete, big-time motor," Raptors director of scouting Jim Kelly said after Knight's workout on June 7. "[He] can really fly up and down the court there."
Most important may be what Knight brings defensively. Casey's new defense will only be as good as the guys on the floor.
"[Knight] has all the tools to be a good defender," Kelly said. "That's one of the reasons we have great interest in him."
The Raptors owe point guard Jose Calderon more than $20 million over the next two seasons and also have combo guards Leandro Barbosa (who has a player option this summer) and Jerryd Bayless on the roster. But that won't stop them from selecting Knight.
"At this point, especially when we're in the top part of the Draft at No. 5, we're looking for the best possible player," Kelly said. "And there happens to be a number of very good point guards there."
The problem, though, is that there's a decent chance that the Utah Jazz will take Knight with the third pick. They like him, too, and aren't sold on last year's starter, Devin Harris, as their point guard of the future.
If the Jazz want Knight, then things get interesting at No. 5. Many mock drafts have the Raptors selecting Walker in that scenario. Although he's just 6-foot-1, Walker is an incredible scorer who impressed the Raptors with his passing ability in his workout.
"He's going to have the ball in his hand most of the time," Kelly said of the UConn star. "And I think he definitely has the capability to be a true point guard."
If the Raptors end up selecting a point guard, it will be on Colangelo to find a taker for Calderon, Barbosa or Bayless. So add that task to his ever-growing list.
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