It looks like the sun has finally set on the Bryan Colangelo era in Toronto. After a weeks-long dance, the club announced on Tuesday that Colangelo will be stripped of his general manager title and will now serve exclusively as the team's president, a shift that will see him lose the power to influence the decision-making process as it relates to players and coaches. The incoming general manager, who will purportedly be hired within a month, will report directly to MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke.
The move is an unexpected concession to a controversial figure in Toronto. Colangelo will be allowed to maintain employment while also retaining the right to vacate MLSE for a shot at running a different organization should the opportunity present itself. Colangelo established many ties within MLSE during his seven-year stint with the Raptors and no doubt those ties came to his defence over the last few weeks as Colangelo's fate was being decided behind closed doors. Even still, for a basketball lifer like Colangelo, it must be a bittersweet victory to be allowed to stay within the organization only to watch somebody else restructure and reshape the team he spoke so glowingly of at the end of this season.
Still, the NBA is a results-based business and the higher-ups at MLSE, including Leiweke, clearly felt that the net result of Colangelo's seven years of service did not entitle him to another shot at running the Toronto Raptors. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday that the Raptors have now targeted Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri to replace Colangelo, and are preparing a "serious financial and organizational commitment" to lure him back to Toronto (Ujiri spent three years under Colangelo, including two as his assistant GM). Ujiri's contract is up in Denver and while the organization has insisted that they want to retain his services after winning this year's Executive of the Year award, Denver has a reputation for front office frugality and MLSE has very deep pockets and a willingness to spend. There is no doubt that Leiweke and Co. will tender an offer that is exceedingly difficult to refuse if Ujiri is, in fact, the man that they have targeted to run their basketball club, and it will be up to Ujiri to decide whether the money is enough to turn his back on the club that gave him his first shot at running a basketball team.
Regardless of who is tapped to replace Colangelo as GM, however, one must acknowledge the seismic shift Colangelo's reassignment will have on the Raptors organization. Doors that were thought to be closed under his stewardship (trading DeMar DeRozan, amnestying Andrea Bargnani) are now potentially reopened with his removal. Players like Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry are no longer tied to the man that acquired them - the new GM will feel no pressure to justify their acquisitions because he won't have been the man that acquired them. Even Dwane Casey, who's already had his contract option for next year picked up, might be out the door if the new man in charge wants a top-down restructuring of Toronto's basketball operations.
So much of what one thinks and expects from the Raptors has been shaped through Colangelo's lens it can be hard to grasp how different things will be with him gone. The on-court ideology, the trade market activity, the penchant for wild spending and the attachment to certain players will no longer necessarily define the club. Certain expectations are simply no longer apt when it comes to considering the Raptors. Colangelo had a hand in designing every corner of the organization and it will be very interesting to see how a new eye will take to his handiwork. Needless to say things are going to change, but how extensively the question going forward.
It will be very interesting to see how history will remember the Colangelo era with the Raptors. While he earned no shortage of detractors, he also never sat on his hands or allowed the team to stumble unattended. He was a passionate executive and a fierce defender of the viability of the city of Toronto as a destination in the NBA. He made several miscalculations when it came to building his rosters (which is why he's no longer running the club), but he never gave up on trying to make the team better. He made several moves that I, personally, didn't agree with, but even I cannot argue with conviction that he had that every move he made brought the organization one step closer to where he wanted it. In a results-based business that doesn't count for a lot, but that doesn't mean it has to count for nothing, either.