Chisholm: Should the Raptors pursue Phil Jackson?

Tim Chisholm
5/11/2013 4:27:06 PM
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If you're running the Toronto Raptors, do you decline Bryan Colangelo's final option year in order to chase Phil Jackson, even if you have no guarantee that he'd relocate north of the border?

That's the question facing the organization, as MLSE is purportedly set to announce whether or not Colangelo will have a future with the Toronto Raptors within the next several days. The Raptors are rumoured to be enamoured with the idea of bringing Jackson in to run their entire organization, and Jackson's ties with the new MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke have given their pursuit a serious dose of credibility.

However, it's unlikely that the Raptors would be able to nail down a commitment (one way or the other) from Jackson within their self-imposed timeframe to make a decision on Colangelo, so the Raptors have to start making decisions blind and hope that they can find their way in the dark.

The decision, at this point, seems to basically come down to this: a) ditch Colangelo and go all-in on Jackson, pitching him total control of an organization in a major North American market and, no doubt, a paycheque with lots of zeros, or b) keep Colangelo and let him continue to build upon the foundation that he's been assembling for the last few years. Neither option is exactly a no-brainer and the risks on both sides are significant.

The first option, if it panned out, would bring one of history's great basketball minds to the Raptors, instantly upgrading their cache throughout the league. It would also give the organization someone with the kind of clout that can make everyone who works beneath him sit up and pay attention. No, he wouldn't be coaching, but he'd be someone who knew what he'd want in a coach and he'd know how to work with a coach to design an organizational structure that would suit both of their needs. Jackson is a man of grand vision, and history has proven that he knows how to execute on his ambitions.

Of course, even if the Raptors go all-out in a hunt for Jackson, there is no guarantee that they'd be able to land him. Jackson will never have a shortage of suitors and, while the Raptors have every reason to believe they'd be taken seriously by the Zen Master, there is no certainty that they'd be a frontrunner or his eventual landing spot. If the Raptors fired their long-time general manager only to chase a replacement that eventually signs elsewhere (or worse, decides to stay unemployed), it would be the third time in four summers that the organization was publicly spurned by a big-name target (Chris Bosh in 2010 and Steve Nash in 2012).

The Raptors have long fought against the perception that they are not a legitimate destination in the minds of many NBA personalities, and such high-profile rejections only add to that reputation. It never helps one's recruiting pitch to have to fight against the belief that no one else seems to want to join your ranks.

To compound the possible negatives, if the Raptors decide to go after Jackson and miss out, they will head into a crucial off-season behind the eight ball as they set out to restructure their corporate hierarchy while everyone else begins restocking their rosters. They've already spent a month just deciding what to do with Colangelo, and if they fire him and miss out on Jackson, they'll be shopping for a GM while everyone else is shopping for players - hardly an enviable spot to put yourself in.

Of course, there are risks the other way, as well. Colangelo has significantly under-performed relative to the expectations set at his feet when he first arrived in Toronto. Now the team is riding a five-year playoff absence and is pressed hard against the salary cap with no pick in the upcoming draft. Colangelo keeps making one questionable move for every savvy move and it's kept the team stagnating for the better part of seven years. While Colangelo has proven in the past that he can assemble a powerhouse roster, he's getting further and further away from that point in his career with little evidence that he's about to rediscover that Phoenix Suns magic.

So what should the Raptors do? I say go for the splash and chase Phil Jackson. This organization has been running in place for so long that they've probably forgotten what forward momentum feels like. If they can land Jackson, good on them for bagging the big fish. If not, then at least they can start taking steps towards some other future. Colangelo has been given more time at the head of the Raptors than any man before him and he has given fans precious little during that time to get excited about. It's not that any voice would be better than Colangelo's, in fact a great many would probably prove to be far worse, but the Raptors have had seven years to evaluate the man and what he's given them to sift through hardly offers a ringing endorsement.

Maybe chasing Jackson is less about landing Jackson than providing MLSE and the Raptors with an excuse to start looking in another direction. Landing Colangelo was a huge deal back in 2006, but in 2013 the excitement has long since worn off. The NBA is about chasing success, and it's time that the Raptors started doing that again.

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