Wednesday, November 3, 2010

AGS for Front Offices Audit: Toronto Raptors Part 3

For you new readers out there, make sure you know about the basics before you leave a silly anonymous comment.

Continuing with the third part of the front office audit series (please see part 1 and part 2), I'll examine the last three components and offer some suggestions on how to turn the franchise around.

5) If you are going to the free agent market then look for low-priced underrated players.

Colangelo has actually done a pretty good job on this one historically. The Raptors have signed Jose Calderon (Rob Babcock's work, actually), Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbojosa, and Linas Kleiza (all at cheap salaries) from Europe. David Berri, founder of the Wages of Wins Network and creator of the Wins Produced metric, called it Colangelo's "third way" (in addition to drafting and NBA free agents/trades). He also found the undrafted, cheap, and very productive Jamario Moon. He recently re-signed Amir Johnson to a reasonable contract. But at the same time, Colangelo has also signed Hedo Turkoglu to a terrible free agent deal, given Bargnani a ridiculously huge (and long) extension,  traded for the Player Formerly Known as Jermaine O'Neal, and actually gave Jason Kapono a positive amount of money in his contract (rather than asking Kapono to pay him to stay on the team, which is what he'd have done if this was a rational world). So he's done very well on the "small" deals, but very poorly on the "big" deals. In this case, the good outweighs the bad, but the bad has been so bad that I can only give him partial marks on this one.

6) For the playoffs it is more important to have stars than average players. If given the opportunity trade for stars even if it means losing a few slightly above average players.

Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs?!?!? [that's the first and probably the only time I will reference North American Football on this blog] Well, in terms of stars, the Raptors haven't had much luck. Damon Stoudemire and Vince Carter asked to be traded. Tracy McGrady, Shawn Marion, and Chris Bosh left as free agents. Good players like Jerome Williams and Marcus Camby were stupidly traded away. Older but good players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Oakley, and Mark Jackson faded and were either traded away or decided to retire. The Raptors have failed in this area completely.

7) Target good big men (Power Forwards – Centers) and ball handlers (Point Guards).

The Raptors have targeted big men in draft after draft - but other than Bosh, their decisions have been terribly poor. They have had good point guards fall into their hands, only to watch them struggle with injuries (Alvin Williams, Calderon) or suffer from age-related decline (Mark Jackson). In one instance, Colangelo actually traded a big (Charlie Villanueva) for a small (T.J. Ford), something that is a "no-no" according to traditional basketball wisdom; given that Ford was productive and Villanueva was not, it was actually a good move. I'm going to give them an A for effort, but an F for their execution.

Five failures and two partial marks out of seven

Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Future Direction?

Let me start by stating the obvious: hire a GM who knows what they're doing (allow me to suggest a Mr. Galletti). That means that the Raptors should not renew Colangelo's contract once it expires at the end of this season (or fire him sometime during the season), even though they are probably going to ignore that advice.

The next step is figuring out which contracts the Raptors should keep on the books. Most of the players on the team are signed to relatively cheap contracts, but Calderon, Bargnani, and Barbosa have the biggest deals. Bargnani needs to be traded. Barbosa is overvalued and it shouldn't be hard to trade him to a contender or pseudo-contender. Calderon is the interesting case. His history suggests that he is a good player, but he has been declining, his recent play has been poor, and his contract is pretty hefty. I'd keep him for one more season and see how he fares; if he does poorly, he'd be gone before the start of next season. In each of these cases, I would only make trades that would net me at least one (hopefully more) of the following: young players on rookie contracts, players with expiring deals, stars/superstar players (determined by Wins Produced), and draft picks.

The next issue is the Bosh trade exception: it needs to be used. If I had to include it in a package with one of the above players, I would. But preferably I'd used it to acquire a superstar player. I'd go after every star/superstar that I could get (your Wades, Lebrons, Howards, Durants, Rondos and Pauls) but most of those players aren't on the market, so I'd target up-and-coming stars like Westbrook, Noah, Batum, Love, and the like. I'd also look at non-star players if I couldn't do any better.

Once that was done, I'd have a cheap, young, and better team. I'd make sure to continue to flip scorers for draft picks and to use WS40 to determine which players I should draft (or I could just ask Mr. Galletti). The only time I would trade away draft picks is if I could obtain a superstar calibre player in return.

Of the cheaper players on the roster, I'd trade away DeRozan after this season if he maintains his current trajectory. I'd try to include Marcus Banks in deals, but if I couldn't find a use for him I'd be fine with letting his contract come off the books. I'd resign Reggie Evans and Joey Dorsey to really cheap contracts as long as they produce like they have in the past, but I'd avoid long-term deals. Julian Wright and Sonny Weems are quite replaceable, so I'd probably shop around for better players on the free agent market, or use the "third way" and find hidden gems in Europe.

I guarantee that this plan would have better success than whatever Colangelo is doing right now. Such a plan would likely net a playoff berth in the next two seasons, followed by advancing to the second round in the following two years after that. And if the Raptors hired either Arturo, myself, or any of the other Wages of Wins Network analysts, I doubt that they would regret it.

 - Devin


  1. Great post, one thing really stuck out. Batum in the same breath as Love, Noah & Westbrook?

  2. Yes. Check out his numbers from his first two season:

    08-09: SF:100% ADJP48:0.301 WP48:0.128
    09-10: SF:85%PF:14% ADJP48:0.404 WP48:0.208

    And he was injured last year! He shot TS% of 64.6%, 40.9% on 3s, 84.3% on FTs!

    Check out his Bball-ref page:

    The Blazers are smart, though; they probably won't let him go, especially not for anything the Raptors have to offer.

  3. If the Raptors truly wish to turn around what is a mess of a franchise on the court and a huge winner from a financial standpoint ... which to this point, unfortunately, there is no such evidence of actually being the case ... then what they NEED to do is finish with one of the 3 worst W-L records in the NBA this season, in order to obtain a Top 3 Pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and the future rights to a franchise player like Harrison Barnes.

    The reason the Raptors franchise has failed to make consistent progress in the W-L column over the last 15 years is because of relatively poor management, since the departures of John Bitove, Isiah Thomas and then Glen Grunwald, and the ascent of principal co-owners Larry Tanenbaum, Richard Peddie and the OTPF.

    Leadership in the NBA is a top down proposition, and until the Raptors fix their current model with individuals at the top of the organization who actually know to build a championship-winning franchise they will continue to be little more than a profit-making treadmill team.

  4. I disagree - the Raptors don't need to tank. A couple of reasons why:

    1) You don't need to have a high lottery pick to get a productive rookie. In 2006 alone, Rondo went at 21 and Millsap at 47. If you have a way of predicting rookie productivity, then you don't even to get a lottery pick at all. See Arturo Galletti's work on the subject:

    2) The Raptors have a large trade exception they have to use before the trade deadline (because it expires at the end of this season). If they use it to net some good players, they will not only be a better team and win more games, but the incoming players (depending on their level of stardom) may expect to make the playoffs (and the last thing the Raptors want on their hands is another disgruntled star).

  5. Unfortunately, neither of the 2 points you raised would actually lead to the eventual construction of a NBA title-winning calibre team for the Toronto Raptors.

    i.e. In the history of the NBA a selection of good players on a team's roster does not necessarily lead to a legitimate chance at winning it all one day in the future.

    OTOH, securing the rights to a Top 3 Selection in the annual NBA Draft ... although not a guarantee by any means, either, certainly ... increases a team's opportunity to accomplish THIS goal by a substantial margin.

    i.e. When you compare the number of championship NBA teams with one or more Top 3 Draft Picks on their roster, to those without any Top 3 Draft Picks at all, it quickly becomes obvious just how important it is to obtain players who fit into this category, if your team is truly serious about ever winning the League Championship one dau in the not-too distant future. [... which is not to say that merely having any old Top 3 Draft Pick on the roster, at all, is good enough to get the job done right, because the history of the league clearly shows that it is not the case by any stretch of the imagination.]

  6. khandor:

    Again, I would disagree with you. Arturo found that the majority of the most productive players from each draft were drafted outside of the top 8 picks. While there have been some good top 3 picks, there are always good players available outside the top 3. You don't need a top 3 pick to win a championship.

    Now, other work that Arturo has done show that you are partially correct - a team composed of good players usually isn't enough to win a championship. A team must not only have good players, but also have a few excellent players (stars) to give it any chance of winning a title.

    So the Raptors 1) need to learn how to select better rookies 2) get a bunch of good players and 3) find a few really good players. If they do this, there is no reason why they shouldn't be in a position to win a championship. That being said, I think it will be a long time before I live to see the Raptors hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy.

  7. re: "You don't need a top 3 pick to win a championship."

    Look at the following list of past NBA championship teams and explain the rationale behind your previous statement.

  8. Wow - thanks for the condescension khandor. You really want to find out the answer to this question? I'll give you a post about it.

  9. There was no condescension in what I wrote here.

    I am very interested in hearing your explanation ... given the facts which pertain to Top 3 Draft Picks and championship teams in the history of the NBA.

  10. khandor:

    Telling me to "look at the following list of past NBA championship teams..." is pretty condescending. You think I don't know the teams that have won championships? Give me some credit.

    Just wait for the post :)

  11. What's the reason I should think that you already know the list of past NBA championship teams? ... once you've made a statement that reads like the one you've made above.

    Just because I provided a link for you ... and other visitors to your site ... to see first-hand the list of past NBA championship teams DOES NOT mean that I think that you are someone who is unfamiliar with these specific teams already.


    Q1. Have there been NBA champions without any Top 3 Draft Picks on the squad, at all?

    A1. Yes, there have.

    Q2. Does a team substantially improve its chances of becoming a championship-winning outfit if it acquires at least one [and, possibly, more than one] Top 3 Draft Pick, who is considered to be something other than a bust in a sport which is played:

    i. With only 5 players per team on the court at any given point in time;
    ii. Without a designated "goalie"; and,
    iii. Without situational substitutes responsible for playing only one side of the ball, i.e. either offense or defense, exclusively.

    A2. Yes it does.


    In my experience ... a great many people make the simple mistake of thinking that someone else is being condescending with their words [or actions] when in fact they are doing no such thing.