Man Without a Plan 2.0

Mike Gillis

It feels as if we have seen this movie before.

An unconventional general manager is hired with the expectations of being inventive, imaginative and savvy. His tenure starts out all sunshine’s and rainbows but eventually the creative ideas fail. In lieu of his failure, he begins to stray from his original tactics. He starts to wing it knowing that he will be axed if success doesn’t come. However, he is too proud to cut ties with what he thought would be the franchise cornerstone. What follows is every free-agent signing, every trade, every face-saving comment to the media is wrong, wrong, wrong. Finally, he is mercifully axed to the delight of fans but not before he has run the team into the ground.

Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo was the star of that movie. Current Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis is shooting the sequel as we speak.

Related: Never an Idea

Mike Gillis’s path to becoming a GM was not typical. He did not rise through the ranks of the front office. Gillis went straight from player agent to general manager in one of the most pressured filled markets you will find in sports. Gillis wasn’t like the other GM’s. He was supposed to be cut from a different cloth.

Bryan Colangelo was cut from a different cloth too. He was the son of one of the most influential figures in Basketball, Jerry Colangelo. Bryan Colangelo didn’t follow the blueprint of other GM’s. He went to Europe to find cheap talent that could help contribute to a successful team. He selected a 7 foot Italian stallion in his very first draft who became the symbol for his shortcomings. It was the European invasion and Colangelo was spearheading the operation.

Gillis was innovative. He went all-in on Roberto Luongo and then made his goaltender the captain. No one did that (and probably won’t ever again). Heck, the rulebook doesn’t even allow a goalie to wear the ‘C’ on his chest. Gillis had stones.

As a GM coming in after the dreaded 2004-05 lockout, Gillis began designing a team that didn’t need a whole lot of grit and toughness. The new rules were going to allow him to do that.

He created an environment that players wanted to play in. He worked around the cap system by convincing players to take less money because this was where a Stanley Cup would be won. Some of his notable bargains include the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra.

Unfortunately, when things started to go wrong, Gillis was unable to stay calm under pressure. He panicked. Despite his team reaching game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with more injuries than a Patrice Bergeron hospital report, Gillis was rattled.

As Bryan Colangelo had done, Mike Gillis started winging it. He threw his plan of a speedy, finesse and skilled team out the window. He was embarrassed to have his roster bullied the way it was by the Boston Bruins. He couldn’t have that happen again even though the core of the roster he had assembled was not made for tweaking in that manner.

He shocked Vancouverites by trading Cody Hodgson for a tough, young and skilled Zack Kassian. Although the story had more to it than just trading finesse for grit, it felt as though Gillis pulled the trigger too quickly in anticipation of another potential match-up with Boston. For a franchise in win-now mode, trading a quality NHL center for a prospect who was far from ready for big-time NHL minutes wasn’t sensible.

Most egregiously, like Colangelo, he refused to admit defeat on his most prized possession (see: Andrea Bargnani). Gillis did not acquire Luongo from the Florida Panthers, but he signed him to the 12 year contract when people still foolishly believed that 12 year contracts were a clever way to circumvent the cap. The Luongo situation was his fault so he insisted that he would be content with an awkward as a 3-legged giraffe goalie circus. Maybe he convinced himself he was.

Nevertheless, when he had the chance to get some value in return for Roberto Luongo, Gillis got greedy. He didn’t want the Luongo debacle to be viewed by the public as a debacle. If he could trick a team into believing in Bobby-Lou, Gillis could get back into the good graces of the fans.

Alas, he was more patient than Ghandi on a hunger strike. Luongo lost every minutia of trade value that he had a year previously so Gillis had to improvise as Colangelo did far too many times. He started shopping the man he gave the keys to the crease to. In the end, he traded an elite goaltender for a draft pick that won’t be ready for quite some time.

For a team in win-now mode, the Schneider trade is perplexing. He went with a short shelf-life coach in John Tortorella only to trade for the future. It has completely overshadowed what my Facebook feed says was a very good draft for the Canucks.

If it wasn’t obvious enough that Gillis has scrapped his plans and tossed it in the trash, he made sure everyone knew that he has done so. In an attempt to justify his decision to trade Cory Schneider, Gillis said that “Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick, and that’s what we ultimately did”.

Devious, Mike.

This is almost as bad as if Toronto mayor Rob Ford had come out and said he planned to leak the crack video 3 years ago in order to gain publicity because, you know, all publicity is good publicity.

New Raptors GM Masai Ujiri did what Bryan Colangelo was never willing to do yesterday. He got some spare parts and draft picks in exchange for Andrea Bargnani, which is better than anyone ever thought he could do. What does that say about what Bryan Colangelo could have gotten in return for Bargnani last off-season?

It’s a lesson for GM’s. Having the ability to detach themselves from their bold choices that go south. Now, just as Bargnani symbolized the futility of Colangelo’s tenure, Luongo is the official poster-boy for Gillis’ failings so far.

Although the ending to the Gillis movie has yet to be determined, what we have been shown eerily mirrors that of Bryan Colangelo.

Mike Gillis is hoping that this isn’t the sequel.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

Michael Jordan Standard

Lebron James

Lebron James is the best basketball player on the planet.

So what?

Lebron may make the right plays in crunch time but, when it comes down to it, he will never be a hero. We are a society that crave great leaders and heroes that are so few and far between. We celebrate those that can rise to the occasion against all the odds and still come out on top. It’s why we love movies like Spartacus, Gladiator and Robin Hood.

Call the Lebron haters whatever you want but you can never fault them for saying Lebron James will never be Michael Jordan or even Kobe Bryant.

Forget about the different eras and the hand-checking. Don’t give Dennis Rodman the attention he seeks, Lebron would be amazing no matter what. However, what will never change from the days of gladiators to the end of time is a person’s psyche. Very few can combine the ability for greatness with that killer instinct. It doesn’t matter what game a person is playing or how that game has evolved over the course of time. What matters in this discussion is that the mental aspect of the game will always be a constant.

Whether you are celebrating or criticizing Kobe Bryant for taking a fade-away 3-pointer while he is triple-teamed, there is no denying that those are shots Lebron James is, for the most part, unwilling to take. Whether, from a basketball analytics perspective, taking the low-percentage shot is the right or wrong thing to do in the moment, to be truly great you have to be willing to do the wrong thing sometimes.

Killer Instinct. It’s something that Lebron James does not possess to the extent that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant do.

At this point in his career, Lebron is not clutch or unclutch. He should not ever be labelled as either. The dreaded word is used far too often to define a player when most athletes fall somewhere in the meaty part of the imaginary clutch-unclutch bell curve (see Tony Romo).

Lebron can make as many clutch shots and win as many championships as he wants. It won’t change his nature and who he will always be as a person. Nothing can do that. Lebron is not a killer by trade. This is what exposes him to criticism and justifiably so. He is not a live by the sword, die by the sword kind of leader.

Fortunately for Lebron haters, to be truly great in the game of basketball, you must be a killer. Any semblance of fear or passivity won’t cut it.

Lebron supporters can thank Michael Jordan for that.

Lebron is labelled as passive by his detractors because anything less than a merciless approach is seen as weakness. There is no middle ground. As the self-proclaimed ‘King’, he is measured to a different standard. The Michael Jordan standard is a virtually impossible one for any athlete to reach yet this is how comparisons work, especially when you want to be the ‘King’. Lebron James doesn’t get compared to Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. It’s all relative.

You think it is right for Barack Obama to be held to the same standards as Joe Biden?

It isn’t all Michael Jordan’s doing though. It is from the thousands of years of human history. Stories both of fact and fiction telling us about the warriors who became legends. In these stories, it takes a special individual to be respected for not only his actions but also for who they are as a person.

Lebron James the player is widely respected. Lebron James the person is a whole other issue.

Athletes are the modern day warriors. We hold our athletes to the standards of not only past athletes but also to the legendary warriors throughout history – Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and so on. Warriors that we have heard and read about since we were children.

Real warriors don’t make excuses, don’t get tired and they definitely don’t ask their coach for a breather in game 1 of the NBA finals. As obvious as it is that a warrior may need a little assistance, real warriors don’t call their teammates out to the media or refer back to their Cleveland days to ensure everyone knows how much of a warrior they are being at that time. Real warriors don’t do the King Kong chest pound in game 4 of a 1st round sweep.

Most importantly, a real warrior’s burden should never be too much to carry. At least, in the eyes of everyone else, it should seem that way.

Lebron James may still become a legend in his own right. But a legend only because of God-given physical ability.

Not his mental ability.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

Never an Idea

Bryan Colangelo

Sometimes in life, it is a good idea to go with the flow. Be spontaneous. Live in the moment. Don’t worry about what is next and just let life come to you.

Solid advice. Except, not when you’re the general manager of a professional basketball franchise.

Unfortunately for the Toronto Raptors, that’s the way Bryan Colangelo seemed to run his operation on far too many occasions.

It appeared that Bryan Colangelo’s option year would be picked up by MLSE. That is until Tom Leiweke was hired to be the President and CEO of MLSE. After keeping Colangelo in limbo, reports are that Leiweke and MLSE have decided to move the once hyped GM into a corporate, non-basketball role.

After being foolishly extended 2 years ago, Colangelo has rightly been ousted from his position.

Bryan Colangelo wasn’t simply a bad general manager. What made matters worse was that, at a certain point, it became apparent that he was more concerned with keeping his job than building a true contender.

Moves were made on the fly as players would become available. They were not based around a master plan that all GM’s should have. Colangelo lost sight of the big picture and focused more on doing things for the short-term. Moves that he hoped would finally bring the Raptors back into the playoffs. A first round post-season exit would not have phased him because, to the general public, it would have signalled steps in the right direction.

Jerry Colangelo he was not.

The most recent change Colangelo made to the roster was bringing in Rudy Gay, a supremely talented individual scorer. A player who should be able to bring the Raptors to the playoffs next season. The move was flawed from the beginning though. It was only done because the opportunity arose. Otherwise, why extend DeMar DeRozan, the poor man’s Rudy Gay?

But Colangelo could get Rudy Gay at a steal of a price. He sold high on Ed Davis, a solid power forward with a limited ceiling.

The deal on paper was fine. It made the Raptors a better team and brought excitement to the city. However, the deal cost the team much more than Ed Davis and Rudy Gay’s excessively high salary. Once again, it mortgaged the Toronto Raptors long-term future. It was, at least, another two years of mediocrity before the healing could really begin.

The brightest executive on the planet won’t be able to change that.

The past year have featured some of Colangelo’s other finest moments. First, it was trying to bring in Steve Nash with the reason being, well, no particular reason. The man who turned Bryan Colangelo from the son of Jerry Colangelo into ingenious NBA executive couldn’t do anything to save this team. Still, Colangelo tried to seal the deal and he ended up wasting 3 years and $19 million on Landry Fields.

Welp, Steve Nash did not work out so Colangelo had to improvise as he had done time after time during his tenure. He traded a 1st round pick for Kyle Lowry who was given the keys to the franchise. Keys to the franchise? Lowry couldn’t even keep his starting job.

Related: Head Over…Head for Steve Nash

Kyle Lowry wasn’t able to turn the keys of the franchise the right way so Colangelo had to work his magic again. He found Rudy Gay. If he hadn’t used the “keys to the franchise” line at the Kyle Lowry-Landry Fields press conference, he certainly would have used it on Rudy Gay.

Luckily for Bryan Colangelo, Bryan Colangelo was always a fantastic salesman. If he sold Bentley’s, I would probably buy one even though it would take me 35 years to pay it off. He and former Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Retardi..err Riccardi are very similar. In spite of poor decision after poor decision, they both had the ability to assure their bosses and the fans that there were greener pastures on the horizon. It allowed them to stay much longer than they should have.

If there was one person who could write a book entitled “how to keep your job as a general manager”, Bryan Colangelo would be the author. Mike Milbury and Matt Millen would even learn a thing or two from it.

A couple of weeks ago, Bryan Colangelo presented his supposed plan to Tom Leiweke and the board of directors at MLSE. I wouldn’t be surprised if Colangelo walked into the meeting with a blank piece of paper and handed it to Tom Leiweke.

From the moment when Colangelo’s attempted to convince Chris Bosh into staying in Toronto with a roster featuring Hedo Turkoglu, there has been no one direction (yes, pun intended!) that the franchise has gone. Colangelo has steered the franchise as if he had a broken compass.

His talking of the talk afforded him opportunity after opportunity. He somehow turned perennial underachieving into 7 years as the decision maker for the Toronto Raptors, which makes him the longest tenured GM in the franchise’s history.

Although the future is brighter for the Raptors sans Colangelo, the damage has already been done. Without any real idea of how he would go about creating a contender, Bryan Colagelo has the Raptors stuck in gear 3. Too good for Andrew Wiggins, not good enough to even sniff the second round of the playoffs.

A new general manager can only do so much.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

The Everyman Star

The word ‘superstar’ is thrown around a lot these days.

In game 1 of the Denver-Golden State series, Doris Burke was foolishly anointing Ty Lawson a superstar on the rise. Doris Burke was just doing what so many analysts do. Hyperbolizing the stardom of professional athletes. Those who are only well-known to fans following the particular sport and understand that athlete’s greatness within their sport.

Ty Lawson is not even a star, much less a superstar.

Heck, I would argue that Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are the NBA’s only two true superstars. They are the only players that have a significant reach to the public beyond those who care about basketball.

Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard are stars. They will be known to the average sports fan. However, my mom is going to be utterly confused if I start a sentence involving any of those guys.

Steph Curry?

He is well be on his way to surpassing those stars and he just might be knocking on the door of legitimate superstardom. Kobe/Lebron territory and that’s no joke. Steph Curry is everything that Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are not. He has something that none of them will ever have.

He is relatable.

No, he isn’t tiny like Muggsy Bogues. But Steph Curry isn’t imposing either. He is an unintimidating 6 foot 3, 185 pounds. He went to a small school because no one thought he was good enough. He beat the odds in a Cinderella-like fashion.

His game isn’t intimidating either. He has that silky smooth jumper we all wish we had but he can’t just pull up whenever he wants. Remember, he is not 6 foot 9. He is the opposite of physically dominating. He has crazy handles but they aren’t made for an And1 street ball mix tape in a Jamal Crawford style.

Despite the fact that his Dad, Dell Curry, played in the NBA, there is no sense of entitlement or superiority. There is no gorilla chest pounding after a slam dunk in a meaningless first round series against a relatively hapless opponent.

There is passion though. Lots of it. The man is not without personality by any means. He gets pumped in a manner that doesn’t come across as smug or arrogant. He reacts to the energy of the game the way many of us probably imagine we would as well.

Steph Curry could be this generation’s Allen Iverson, except he won’t be broke at 35. He is not the same player as Allen Iverson in any sense but his appeal to fans is similar.

He is the little engine that could.

With a bum ankle, unthinkable scoop shots, rainbow 3’s and one-handed dimes, Curry carried the Golden State Warriors to the 2nd round of the playoffs. Although their double-double machine David Lee was missing for most of the series, Curry was still able to step up and did so at the most opportune moments as only a superstar can.

Most importantly, Steph Curry is a joy to watch. There is more to his game for the average viewer than say, a Chris Paul. You don’t have to be a basketball person to appreciate what Curry does on a night-to-night basis.

He needs a championship calibre team though. No one becomes a superstar without championship runs. Multiple championship runs. Steph Curry could possibly be the scorer’s version of Steve Nash, who is a borderline superstar in his own right (Note: He is a superstar in Canada). Playing in a run and gun system that never fails to generate excitement, Curry already has a sidekick for years to come in fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson.

With a guy like Curry, any franchise has the ability to build a team good enough to make a run a championships for years to come.

Without Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Jeremy Lin in the 2013 NBA playoffs, Steph Curry has become the darling of the entire league. The underdog role fits him more perfectly than, well, a glass slipper.

Steph Curry won’t be able to shake that label but that isn’t a bad thing. He will always be the little man beating the odds. As a professional athlete, it is what makes him so endearing. To think, this is just year 1 of his rise to stardom. As long as he stays healthy, he will be one of the NBA’s premier stars.

With a little bit of luck, he might be a superstar too.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

Acceptance

Jason Collins is gay.

You might not know who Jason Collins is. He is a 34-year-old journeyman NBA center. He is now the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. Jason Collins came out in a ground breaking article that he wrote for Sports Illustrated.

This was inevitable. The talk of a gay athlete finally coming out has been increasing recently and it was simply a matter of time before someone did it. It takes immense courage to be the first athlete to come out. It is unchartered waters and for Collins to be the first to put himself out there to face the unknown must be commended.

Jason Collins will be likened by some to be the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes.

Although what Jason Collins is doing cannot be diminished, his coming out of the proverbial closet will not be nearly as difficult as what many have anticipated.

Collins writes himself that “I’m glad I’m coming out in 2013 rather than 2003. The climate has shifted; public opinion has shifted.” The landscape in 2013 is not one where the public will harass and demonize Jason Collins for being openly gay. The world has changed.

If you take one look at the comments on the article from Sports Illustrated website, the majority of comments are those praising Collins for his bravery. For every negative comment, there is at least one other commenter willing to attack that person’s narrow-minded perspective.

Search Jason Collins on twitter. Read all the tweets mentioning his name. Despite the anonymity and cruelty that is the twitter world, the majority of the people are expressing their congratulations to Collins. Other than the kudos, there are not many tweets harsher than a mildly inappropriate joke, often making fun of his ability as a player or that this should have been Chris Bosh (I still don’t get those ones).

While there are probably lots of other people, especially among the older generation, who may be disgusted by Jason Collins that simply aren’t tweeting or commenting on Sports Illustrated, it shows that entire landscape has changed.

Not only are people much more accepting of homosexuality in general, people who are not accepting of that lifestyle do not publicize their opinion out of fear for being labelled a bigot or a homophobe. In the politically correct North America that we currently live in, the outspokenness of small-minded individuals is lessened due to this fear.

If Jason Collins ever finds his way onto another team at age 34, the first fan to chirp Collins in the stadium about his homosexuality will be met by a whole host of fans defending Collins.

When Jackie Robinson became the first black professional baseball player, you could imagine the outcry from the media.

Jason Collins does not have to face any of that.

Collins will not have to face the scorn of the media. As Collins continues to receive congratulations from left, right and centre around media circles, those in the business who don’t approve of his behaviour cannot speak up. Even those who wish they could speak out against Collins will not because they will get fired.

Jason Collins might never play another NBA game. It will take a bold owner to take on a 34-year-old center who, in almost all likelihood, isn’t good enough to be on an NBA roster anyway. Jason Collins knows that.

The locker room is still the place where acceptance is up in the air. Having to face the public and the media is one thing, but trying to be accepted in the locker room is quite another. It’s the Tim Tebow dilemma all over again, except multiplied exponentially. Teams don’t want the distraction.

This is a monumental day in sports because Jason Collins has opened the floodgates. Gay athletes can now start to reveal their true colours, however slowly that may be, without the anxiety of going down in history as the first to come out.

As straight athletes like Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo continue to speak up for gay athletes to come out, more and more players have warmed to the idea of having an openly homosexual teammate. It just isn’t an obscene concept anymore.

While this is undoubtedly a monumental day, it is not quite as monumental as one would have imagined 10 or even 5 years ago. The world is a different place. Jason Collins, alone, is not bearing the brunt of the blow like pioneers of the past have. There are hundreds of thousands of supporters that are willing to help him along the way. The ignorance is not as real as it once was.

By doing it on his own terms and in such an eloquent way, Jason Collins finally opened the doors that needed to be opened.

But Jackie Robinson, he is not.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

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