It was three weeks before Christmas, but there was a perception among
NBA general managers that Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors GM, was holding
a perpetual Boxing Day sale.
Colangelo’s squad was struggling, playing .350 ball after 20 games. His
all-star forward, Chris Bosh, a soon-to-be free agent of undecided
allegiance, was fresh from slouching through a 31-point loss in Atlanta
and proclaiming: "We’re just not a good team." And callers to
Colangelo’s phone were mostly of one description: Bargain hunters
looking to cart off Bosh at a discount.
No such luck. Fast forward 27 games, during which the resurgent Raptors have played .667 hoops. The tone, on the phone and on the floor, has changed.
"The calls are a lot less frequent, and it’s a lot less focused on Bosh. Everybody starts with, `Well, apparently you’re not trading Bosh, so can we talk about so-and-so?’" Colangelo said Friday. "Our intention is, we’re not going to move him, so we’re not discussing a scenario (that includes Bosh)."
How to explain the turnaround that has put Toronto on a four-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers? There’s been an overhaul of the defensive system that has transformed the Raptors from laughable to respectable. Bad shooting nights, once a sure trigger for a lax effort, no longer lead to complete capitulation, and the list of positive change is longer. And some within the club still give credit for it all to an hour-long meeting on Dec. 4 in the visitors locker room at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Are they good enough, as constructed, to win a playoff series? With less than three weeks to the Feb. 18 NBA trade deadline, it’s a question Colangelo will soon have to confront if he’s serious about advancing to the second round for the second time in the franchise’s 15-year history. Clearly the GM understands that there’s a competitive gap between the top four teams in the East and those below; Toronto, sitting fifth, has a combined 2-9 record against Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and Atlanta.