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Scott Howard-Cooper

Bryan Colangelo (right) with first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas last June.
Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Toronto weighs plusses of drafting a homegrown talent

Posted Feb 7 2012 10:16AM

Bryan Colangelo has lived in Toronto six years as Raptors president and general manager. Raised in Phoenix, schooled at Cornell, he has started the application process to become a Canadian citizen. He gets national pride and how it connects to the only NBA team in a country with six time zones and a reach from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic.

Having a player from Canada on the team from Canada, in a prominent role for the long term, would be a big deal. Toronto's own Jamaal Magloire is there now, but with limited duty as a short-timer at age 33. And as much as the skies would open to thousand-mile rainbows and dancing unicorns if Steve Nash, the Nashional Hero, signed on, it would still be a relatively brief visit. Nash is 38. This is about younger players.

The Raptors are in building mode at the same moment the country suddenly has an uncommonly high profile in the Draft, with Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph going in the first round last year and Myck Kabongo a possibility for the same in 2012 (if he leaves Texas). Gonzaga senior Robert Sacre is a potential second rounder. Kentucky's Greg Wiltjer, from Portland but the son of as Canadian basketball Olympian, is also on the radar.

This intersection of time and place has lined up perfectly. The Raptors could not have envisioned picking in the lottery two years in a row. And it just so happens that Canadian prospects are grouped together in a small window of the Draft. Toronto had the fifth choice last season, right in Thompson territory, before the high-energy power forward went fourth to the Cavaliers. The Raptors also have been point-guard shopping just as Joseph begins his pro career and Kabongo closes in on his NBA moment.

"Having a hometown kid come back home," Thompson said, "it's almost like the Derrick Rose effect times two."

But a Canadian -- from Ontario or elsewhere -- on the Raptors would be way more than Chicago following its hometown hero with the Bulls. A Canadian-born player suiting up for Toronto would be something that was followed by an entire basketball nation.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't pressure," Thompson, from the Toronto suburb of Brampton, said of local fans wanting it to happen. "I think it is pressure."

Thompson was considered in the weeks leading to the Draft before it was decided that he was a duplication for Ed Davis, the lottery pick the year before. But Thompson would not have been the choice even if he was still on the board. The Raptors took Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, with the understanding he would be spending another year in Europe, and would have decided among another center (Bismack Biyombo) or point guards Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight if Valanciunas was gone. The local product was not an option.

The Raptors tried to acquire another selection later in the first round to draft Toronto native Joseph. No deal was completed, though. Joseph went 29th to the Spurs.

"I think clearly it could affect business to some degree on a positive note," Colangelo said. "But there's no telling. It just all depends on who that individual is. It comes down to a case-by-case basis. I think that we are making basketball decisions. If there's a component that moves the ticker, if you will, or moves the dial from a financial standpoint, you hope that it's the wins that you produce as a basketball team, not the ability for someone local to push ticket sales. Winning does push ticket sales. That's the ultimate end goal, to win basketball games.

"If an individual that did grow up down the street or was part of the Canadian basketball program or a local player of interest and had a chance to facilitate winning, that's what would drive that decision. There may be pressure from the outside world, being fans, media, et cetera, but as normally is the case, you make decisions that are best for the organization and best for the franchise and you have to sometimes make unpopular decisions."

Last June, they had a shot, and the Raptors could have a chance in the next two years, possibly, to bring home a homegrown talent. The chances have been growing, and so have the stakes. National pride.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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