Why We Fan

bismack-biyombo-560x391

It’s a feeling unlike any other.

As a diehard sports fan who hasn’t had much to cheer about throughout my life, I have had a lot of fun teams to root for. My childhood sports experience was dominated by the Vancouver Canucks, Pavel Bure, the “West Coast Express” line and the never ever to be duplicated Sedin twins. I’ll go to my grave with the belief that there has never been and there will never be a happier first baseman in the world than Carlos Delgado. The Blue Jays have fluked their way into year after year of home run mashing teams ever since Jose Bautista arrived on the scene. Chris Bosh was one of the best almost-superstars.

The point is, in spite of my lack of major professional sports championships experience (it’s zero, by the way), there has been a lot of joy along the way. I’m not jaded. At least, not yet.

The Toronto Raptors are doing their best to keep it that way for me. After a stunning victory in game 4 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors are legitimately still in the thick of what was supposed to be a 3 team playoff race.

While I’ve watched more than my fair share of sports over the years, it’s hard for me to explain why this Raptors run is nothing like anything I have ever experienced as a Canadian sports fan.

The Toronto Blue Jays went on an incredible, magical run last year. It was amazing. However, it never felt this way.

The Vancouver Canucks went to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. It was also amazing. However, outside of Alex Burrows’ game winning goal in round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, it never felt this good.

The only explanation I can come up with for why the past few days have been so different is the nature of the victories. The season was almost over. Twice. This series was definitely supposed to be over by now. That was a foregone conclusion. After game 2, I had an intense text discussion with a friend about whether the Raptors should let Demar DeRozan walk this offseason.

Here we are though, 2-2. This is why you play the games.

Since Saturday’s unexpected victory over Cleveland, I have been downright giddy. Consuming every bit of Raptors news and analysis that I possibly can. I thought the season would be over by now. We all did. I wonder how many people feel the way I do.

This is the reason that I don’t care about bandwagon jumpers. Come on aboard. The bandwagon fans don’t bother me because I know they can never feel this good. At the risk of sounding cliché, it is only the ones of who have been through the lows who get to experience the highs.  The diehards.

The ones who watched far too many Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay clanked jumpers, Rafael Arajuo attempt to play NBA basketball, Hedo Turkoglu believe he needed more “ball” and Jay Triano try to coach a team to play league average defence.

I’m still young. A part of me believes that the chase is more fun than actually winning. This, of course, coming from a fan who has never experienced actual winning. It may be a defence mechanism or I simply might not be jaded enough yet.

Nevertheless, it’s the past few days that instill in me this possibly ridiculous belief that I would rather cheer for my hapless group of teams than be, say, a San Francisco Giants fan. If I had grown up a Boston sports fan, what would I have to cheer for? I have no idea if I am in the minority on this but I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything…I think.

Yes, as Herm Edwards so famously said, you play to win the game. At the same time, the journey matters just as much, if not more for sports fans. Winning is not the be all and end all. It can still be a heck of a lot of fun even when your chances of winning a championship are slim to none.

And isn’t that the point of all this?

Sports have been around for centuries for our entertainment. We watch because it is fun.

We have fun watching Bismack Biyombo wag his finger like he’s the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo. We enjoy, or at least some of us enjoy, witnessing the national media skewer LeBron for flopping around like he isn’t 6”8, 260 pounds.  Most of all, we love the fact that we were all wrong about the Toronto Raptors’ chances in this series. Regular season Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan are alive.

I recognize that it’s absurd to be this excited about a series that will probably end in 6 games. This isn’t even the NBA Finals. But I had to document this moment. I want to remember what it felt like when the Raptors pushed the Cavaliers and King James to their limits. . I want to remember why I do this to myself. Why all of us sports fans do this to ourselves.

It’s this weird, lasting feeling of mild euphoria that is impossible to explain and even harder for most people to understand. You have to be one of us to truly get it. It’s a small club. I’m just happy I get to be a part of it.

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.

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.

Monday’s 7 Casual Contemplations

Steve nash

It’s Monday and the past weekend has filled me with some contemplations of a casual nature. I know it’s been a while but I want to start your work week off right. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s 7 somewhat thought out points from the week that was.

Hangover Cure anyone?

For those of you who don’t believe in the Super Bowl hangover, you might want to rethink that. The New York Giants are a prime example of a team that is clearly hung over. When it comes to the Giants, it is pretty much expected that when their backs are up against the wall, the switch will suddenly turn on. They have done it so much that we assumed another typical clutch performance would come from the Giants against the reeling Ravens yesterday.

The Giants decided not to follow the script.

Instead, they gave a hapless performance and the New York Giants looked like dwarves against a Baltimore Ravens team that has been brutal on both sides of the ball in recent weeks. For a game that they almost had to have, the lack of motivation and intensity shouldn’t be all that surprising. That’s what a hangover will do to a team.

New York is still not out of the playoffs but they might as well be because this hangover thing isn’t going away anytime soon. A big performance in week 17 can’t change that.

No Doubt

The Seattle Seahawks sent a message that was louder than the fans at Century Link Field on Sunday. They are for real and are not going anywhere. Crushing Arizona and Buffalo was one thing but smoking a San Francisco team fresh off its very own statement win against New England is quite another. Along with Jim Harbaugh and Greg Schiano, Pete Carroll is squashing the notion that college coaches can’t make the transition to the NFL.

This obviously isn’t news to anyone that the Seahawks are a real threat out of the NFC. Nevertheless, the evolution of their team throughout the season has been incredibly impressive. Marshawn Lynch no longer has to carry this football team as Russell Wilson has gone from game manager to game changer in the span of less than a season. The Seahawks may lack the game breaker on the outside but that defence combined with an ever maturing offence is scary for anyone that may have to face the Seahawks in January.

If Qwest Field was still the name of the Seahawks home field, I would probably have made some lame pun about them being on a quest for a Super Bowl…but I won’t do that.

Quarterback Controversy?

Speaking of game changers, Colin Kaepernick hasn’t lost that part of his game. It is an aspect that Alex Smith will never add to his repertoire. Smith was ever so close to leading the 49ers to a the championship game last year but it’s still game changers that win Super Bowls.

Just don’t tell Trent Dilfer.

Jim Harbaugh is going with Colin Kaepernick and rightly so. The 49ers had already reached the point of no return before this week’s debacle in Seattle. Kaepernick is the starter for the foreseeable future and his performance in Seattle sure as hell didn’t change that. There is no quarterback controversy no matter what the media says, so don’t go on increasing ESPN’s page views to express your opinion on the issue. It’s a non-issue, deal with it.

Kid Canada

Following Steve Nash’s heroic return to the lineup on Saturday, the Knicks-Lakers game on the 25th is now as marquee as a matchup gets. However, the result on Christmas day still won’t be a true indicator of how realistic the Lakers championship aspirations are.

As bad as the Lakers have been, it doesn’t mean a thing without Steve Nash in the lineup and now they’re going to need a lot more time to figure it out with Nash. Their defence is still going to be a big problem as we saw in their comeback win against the Warriors but offensively the Lakers will resemble something much closer to a well-oiled machine with Nash back running the point.

Their showdown with the Knicks tomorrow is no doubt intriguing but another destruction at the hands of New York’s superior team should not be too concerning for Los Angeles.

M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!

Turn out the lights because the party is over.

Peyton Manning is the National Football League’s most valuable player and comeback player of the year. While Manning shredded the Cleveland Browns, Adrian Peterson was busy mustering out 86 very hard fought yards against the Houston Texans and Tom Brady was struggling his way through the Jaguars vaunted defense.

Peyton Manning was already the odds on favourite heading into week 16 and his performance sealed the deal.

It should be noted that as amazing as all-day Adrian Peterson has been this year, he was not the reason the Minnesota Vikings got off to their hot start in September. Remember when we thought Christian Ponder might actually be good?

The MVP has to go to Peyton Manning and Week 17 won’t change anything.

Shame Bowl

Jacksonville will be fighting the Kansas City Chiefs for the coveted 1st overall pick in April’s draft in week 17. While both teams could use a franchise quarterback, this year’s class might not be as enticing as the 2012 class that included Andrew Luck and RGIII.

Matt Barkley’s stock has fallen substantially and Geno Smith would be a stretch to take at number 1. Unfortunately for these two teams, RGIII’s and Andrew Luck’s aren’t a part of every single draft class and they’re just going to have to make do with the less than stellar quarterback class of 2013.

All hail Brady Quinn…I guess.

5 Consecutive Baby!

Canada’s team, the Toronto Raptors, are heading into the Christmas Break with a 5 game winning streak after starting the season 5-19.

I smell a championship. Book it.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Head Over…Head for Steve Nash

Even if it isn’t always for the best, “the heart wants what it wants.”

The hearts of Raptors fans were longing for Steve Nash in Toronto. For a 38-year-old aging point guard, this was a longing that had classic heart over head feeling written all over it. A mere month ago, you would have been crazy to say that it was possible that the Canadian-born superstar could play for his homeland’s team. However, Nash to Toronto became a real possibility in recent days and fans didn’t mind pulling out every stop to lure him back up north.

Unlike Raptors fans, Bryan Colangelo’s heart wasn’t in on this one. On paper, it looks and sounds good that their general manager’s heart is not playing a part in this decision. I mean, it is his job to use his head to make the best decision for the sake of the Toronto Raptors.

Unfortunately, it was only a small part of Bryan Colangelo’s head that was making the decision to go all-in on Steve Nash. The business side of his head overrode every other region of his head.

Colangelo’s noggin understood that Raptors fans hearts were all-in on Steve Nash. He felt that he could do no wrong by doing everything humanly possible to bring Nash to the NBA’s lone Canadian team. Nash is still playing at a high level and his arrival in Canada would fulfill the pipe dreams of a nation of basketball fans. Fans would be happy he was doing something rather than nothing.

He figured, what’s the harm?

For many Canadians, including myself, Steve Nash will forever be their favourite basketball player. My heart was in on this Steve Nash deal a little while ago. It was difficult not to get on board the possibility of Nash to Toronto. I mean, it seemed close to impossible anyways.

What a difference a few days makes.

On Tuesday, the Raptors and Landry Fields verbally agreed to a back loaded 3 year $20 million offer sheet, which supposedly prevented the New York Knicks from acquiring Nash. Fields is a guy the Raptors apparently are fond of but probably not at that price. Early Wednesday morning, the Knicks became the frontrunners but then lost out on Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers in the evening. Toronto was left in the dust.

Bryan Colangelo went all-in with a pair of 10’s for Steve Nash. The Lakers, they somehow managed a straight flush.

Colangelo’s all or nothing move for Nash via Fields failed big time. The Raptors are going to be stuck with another inconsistent shooting wing player. Fields has potential but he’s not worth what the Raptors are going to pay him. Colangelo gave Steve Nash his best pitch but he knew it wasn’t enough. He decided to risk even more of the future, supposedly leaving Nash no choice.

The Landry Fields move shows that Bryan Colangelo has lost sight of the big picture, well, not that he really had any idea of it to start with.

It has been almost 2 years since Bosh has left for Miami. He was forced to finally rebuild after his retool to impress Chris Bosh didn’t exactly impress. Apparently, 2 years on the rebuild is 2 years too many for the other Bryan GM in Toronto. Colangelo appears to have no issue with compromising the long-term rebuild of the franchise. It’s because he is only looking out for number 1 – himself.

Colangelo knew that Nash was going to buy him some more time.

When Colangelo went all-in for Nash, his eyes lit up like cartoon dollar signs and his blinders only let him see the extra years of job security Nash would provide him. The Canadian icon would have filled the seats, sold merchandise and brought a buzz to the Toronto Raptors not seen since the Vin-sanity days. It was simply business for Bryan Colangelo but this type of business isn’t what the Toronto Raptors need right now.

My heart told me I would have enjoyed the coming years if Steve Nash had joined the Raptors. It would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a situation as unique as Nash in Toronto.

Bryan Colangelo played off those types of feelings. His business head knew that he could take advantage of Canada’s national love for Steve.

Bryan Colangelo was being completely selfish.

The job security of a professional sports GM depends on him making the best decision for the team, except for those times when he is coming close to his expiry date. Once again, Colangelo proved he is unwilling to trust a rebuild. His selfish motives got in the way of his franchises best interests.

The Raptors are lucky to avoid getting Steve Nash. Fields and Nash would have been $55 million on the books for the next 3 years. It would have killed their rebuild. They’re still stuck with Fields but things could be worse.

With the extra revenue Nash would have brought to the team, Bryan Colangelo knew that he would have no trouble compensating for that overpriced tag of $12 million per. However, compensating for those 3 years of lost rebuilding would have been a tad trickier.

For Bryan Colangelo, bringing in Steve Nash wasn’t about helping grow the sport of basketball in Canada. It wasn’t about pleasing the fans. And most importantly, it wasn’t about making the Toronto Raptors the finest team they possibly could be.

BC has been feeling the heat and the Nash sweepstakes were all about what was best for Bryan Colangelo.

His heart may not be in it but, by chasing Steve Nash as relentlessly as he did, Colangelo has clearly shown that his business head has taken over his general managing head.

That’s just bad news for the Toronto Raptors.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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