I wanted so badly to believe that he'd learned. After years of indefensible spending on mediocre players, it seemed like Bryan Colangelo had finally become cap-conscious after two years of smart, defensible spending.
And then this.
Today, the Raptors agreed to terms with DeMar DeRozan on a four-year contract extension worth a reported $40 million, suggesting a level of confidence in a player that over the last three years simply hasn't warranted it. This is a player that finished with a 12.8 PER last year, below the league average, and has seen his shooting percentages decrease every year he's been in the NBA.
Oh yeah, he's also a shooting guard that can't shoot threes (so much so, the club has absolved him of the responsibility of learning to), a guard that doesn't pass and an athlete with tremendous hops that doesn't rebound (he finished tied for 46th amongst 73 shooting guards in rebound rate last season).
For some reason, though, the Raptors found it imperative to (over)pay him when they would have controlled his rights as a restricted free agent next summer. Now they've banked severely on his ability to improve demonstrably after three years of relative stagnation, and at four years, they didn't even protect themselves by shortening the contract (either outright or with a team option) as recompense for extending a player that really hasn't done enough on the court to warrant such an investment.
We were supposed to have the last of this, Colangelo; the one that inked Jason Kapono to his full mid-level exception or bet the farm on Jermaine O'Neal or thought Hedo Turkoglu was his ticket to retaining Chris Bosh long-term. Colangelo was on such a hot streak, from hiring Dwane Casey to drafting Jonas Valanciunas to trading for Kyle Lowry. He really seemed to have a grip on what this team was, what he wanted it to be and how to get it there.
In reality, it looks like the old Colangelo was just lying in wait, eager to pounce.
Really it shouldn't be all that surprising. Colangelo has never failed to extend one of his lottery picks. He's always demonstrated a certain affection for the kids he's plucked out of the draft. That said, when your lottery picks are Shawn Marion, Amar'e Stoudemire and even Andrea Bargnani, you can make a pretty strong case for getting that money committed early. DeRozan is a different case, though. He's not an All-Star, nor is he seven-feet tall. He's good, but he's far from where he needs to be to justify the contract he just signed, and that is why it's so hard to defend the decision to commit so much money to him today when he still has so much to prove before he earns it.
When it comes to DeRozan, though, the Raptors have a history of putting him into positions before he's earned it. He was handed a starting spot on Day One, despite being a tremendously raw rookie who didn't contribute much to a starting lineup that had playoff aspirations (he was yanked from the starting five when the season was hitting the skids down the stretch). He spent the last two years as the club's primary backcourt scoring option despite his increasingly inefficient production and his inability to assert himself at the defensive end. That latter point is perhaps most disquieting since the organization paid so much lip service to the heightened importance of defensive accountability, yet the club allowed 3.5 points per 100 possessions more when he was on the court last year. Not even Bargnani was a negative in that area a season ago, and he was injured for half his games.
So what needs to happen now? Well, DeRozan has to prove that he can get to the line a ton to help get his efficiency up, he has to become a consistent threat in the post and he has to become a way better defender. That's a lot to ask of a player who has shown such minimal tangible growth to date, but that's the standard he'll be held to now that he's a $10-million-per-year player.
Still, even if DeRozan manages to significantly improve his game and warrants the deal in the end, it doesn't speak well of Colangelo that he was so eager to give it to him. It wasn't a necessary expenditure and will put a tremendous strain on the team's cap if DeRozan can't live up to it.
There is a difference between having faith in a player and gambling on him. It seemed for a time like Colangelo the gambler had given way to Colangelo the patient and reasonable. It was a mirage. With his own contract up at season's end, though, he'd just better hope his gamble pays off.