At no time since Bryan Colangelo first arrived in Toronto has had the bounty of assets to work with like he has right now. He's got cap space to play with, a high draft pick and loads of young assets to develop or package in trades as he sees fit. He has the kind of maneuverability that makes fans both outwardly excited and privately terrified because they've seen both sides of how Colangelo chooses to play with these kinds of options.
Colangelo has a history of overextending himself and his team's assets when he falls in love with a particular player (Jermaine O'Neal and Hedo Turkoglu come to mind). With so many assets at his disposal Raptors fans are giddy at what Colangelo could acquire this summer but they are also wary given how he has performed in similar situations in the past.
The big trick for Colangelo is remembering that this summer is not his endgame. He needs to take a long, hard look at what Indiana has done over the last two years, because they offer the perfect template for Colangelo (and all small- and mid-market teams) to follow.
They acquired a mountain of cap space and mostly sat on it. They did only economically sound deals (like David West's two-year, $20-million contract) that would make them better today but also leave them financially flexible tomorrow. It was that flexibility that allowed them to absorb Leandro Barbosa's expiring deal at the trade deadline for their Playoff push, for instance, and they're 17-7 since that trade and have the East's third seed locked up heading into the post-season.
So here is a team, ostensibly the East's third-best team, and they're poised to have over $25-million in cap space to play with this summer (some of which is no doubt earmarked for re-signing Roy Hibbert and George Hill). Remember, it's not just about being competitive next season for the Raptors, it's about staying competitive for the foreseeable future, and to make that happen they have to stay financially flexible so that they can make moves as needed to adjust to the curve balls that the NBA season throws their way.
This is actually the way that Oklahoma City got to the place that they are today, too. They let tons of cap space roll over and over, year after year, using it only in small deals (like to acquire Thabo Sefolosha or to front-load an extension for Nick Collison) and then finally cashed it in to re-sign their own players Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook once they were near the top of the NBA heap. They didn't start spending seriously until they knew what they had was worth spending on, and that has got to be the mandate for Colangelo this summer.
Too many fans, it would appear, are desperate for big returns on all of these assets that Colangelo has to play with when smaller moves would be a much sounder and safer strategy. You don't just spend money because you have it, you wait to spend it on something truly worth it. Now, if a must-do deal comes along, like if Deron Williams out-of-the-blue decides that he just HAS to sign with Toronto, then you blow all of your resources to make it happen. However, since that's not going to happen Colangelo needs to keep his moves smaller and more manageable until his team has its feet planted firmly in the NBA's pecking order.
For instance, fans are clamoring for Colangelo to chase to Goran Dragic this summer, but let some other team overpay him for his contract-year upswing since the Raptors already have a tremendous point guard at the helm. Instead, they should look to spend half of that money and bring in someone like Kirk Hinrich, someone who can play multiple positions in reserve, actually plays defense and has earned raves for his leadership in the locker room.
Don't go and offer $10-million per year over four years to Nicolas Batum, try and trade for the last two years of Danny Granger's contract from Indiana. It's better to spend more over a very short deal than to spread a deal out over four or five years. Remember, stay flexible.
It's also worth remembering that nearly half of the league is sitting on top of a pile of cap space. That makes it seller's market, and in a seller's market you always overpay for your goods because you are competing with so many other buyers for a finite number of players. Teams desperate to unload their cap space are going to be tripping over themselves to offer terrible contracts to mediocre players. Sure, everyone likes Lou Williams at the $5-million he makes now. Just wait until he's making $7-million per year starting this summer - that makes him a whole lot less attractive as a backup guard that doesn't play defense.
Over the last two years Bryan Colangelo has done a very good job of being patient and putting the Raptors in the advantageous position that they are in today. They already have one new player to integrate into their rotation (Jonas Valanciunas) and will have another one on June 28th after the draft, so fresh blood is coming without even a single trade or signing being made.
Any other moves Colangelo makes have to meaningfully move the team forward without sacrificing their ability to get even better a couple of years down the road. If no asset presents itself that will achieve that end, DON'T BUY IT.
It's better to swallow a fan base's disappointment over not making moves than it is to swallow their disappointment over making hasty or bad moves (Colangelo should know since the latter nearly cost him his job a year ago). There are plenty of reasons to be excited for Toronto's future right now but there were plenty of reasons to be excited back in 2007 as well and look how that turned out.
Colangelo has been given a second chance and it will be highly interesting to see if he's learned from his past and will smarter and more patient this time around.