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Raptors' Colangelo gets ready to face the music

Toronto Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo's future is up in the air after a disappointing season. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese


Like any intense relationship, the one shared by the Toronto Raptors and their president, architect and most recognizable face, Bryan Colangelo, has had its share of ups and downs.

The lottery-bound club's nine-game losing streak heading into another dreary home date at the Air Canada Centre Friday night is only the latest blemish on a wedding photo that was once air-brushed to perfection.

When Colangelo swept into Toronto in 2006 as a triumph of some determined backroom wooing on the behalf of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum, it was a full corporate crush: private jets; expensive dinners at an all-star weekend in Houston and intimate conversations over wine at discreet Italian spots in Toronto.

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Colangelo was an NBA trophy wife: well-coiffed and dripping with pedigree, awash in the Phoenix sun. And for a while, as the Raptors became relevant off the floor and winners on it, all were smitten with each other.

Could he walk on water? Hey, have him take a hard right on Bay Street, head for Lake Ontario and find out; no one would have bet against it.

But relationships run their course. Googly eyes give way to dollar signs; all those good times turn into what do you mean we missed the playoffs again?

And so the Raptors and Colangelo are entering into a more pragmatic stage in their relationship, with the two-time executive of the year's five-year, $20-million (all currency U.S.) contract set to expire and the Raptors headed for the draft lottery for the third straight season.

They know each other well now. They know each others' faults and they've stayed up nights worrying about the long-term contracts they're each parents to. And now they find themselves asking: Can I do any better? Is this the way it's always going to be?

Insiders expect the situation to come to a head in mid-February at the next scheduled meeting of the MLSE board.

There are rumours that Colangelo, well-ensconced in Toronto and determined to reboot a club that has floundered under his watch, is seeking a five-year deal and no less than what he's paid now; terms that some in the ownership group might find steep given the pay-for-performance ethos that permeates the executive suite of the majority owner, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

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For his part, Colangelo says he's made no contract demands and his focus is on taking advantage of the Raptors' ever-improving draft position by scouting amateur talent more than he has for years.

He's committed to the relationship

"I haven't talked to anyone about my contract," he said Friday. "Anyone who says I have is talking BS. I'm not looking for the door right now; I love being here. My focus is on moving forward."

He may get his chance, if not his price. Those reading the tea leaves inside the MLSE board room describe a scene where practicality has replaced passion.

"They know he's not the Messiah they thought he was five years ago," said one source. "But they're also realizing no one is. If there was a Messiah, they'd hire him."

And so it's come to this: MLSE and Colangelo will likely realize that, for now, they're stuck with each other.

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They're looking over what got them here in the first place and realizing that they could have done worse: Colangelo remains a hard-working, resourceful and risk-taking executive - "he keeps swinging for the fences, he's just missed" - and MLSE and the Raptors and Toronto retain their better-than-most status among NBA owners.

In Colangelo's favour, also, is that though he's prone to some inexplicable accessorizing with the corporate Amex - $50-million for a classic Hedo Turkoglu or $30-million for the latest Jason Kapono - he's kept his receipts and done well to get out from under his mistakes.

But if it's not him who resurrects the franchise's fortunes, then who? Who will be better and how long to find out that he's not? And then what?

And with that realization the deal will be done; the terms as yet to be determined. There will be no fancy dinners or expensive wines this time, however.

Just the cheque please.

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