The Edge: Raptor rhapsody
So who's really been running the Raptor show? Ask Toronto's now ex-general manager Isiah Thomas who resigned yesterday and he'll tell you it's the team's majority owner Allan Slaight. Sure, maybe on financial terms, but everyone knows that it was Thomas who made the Raptors run.
When Thomas announced on Tuesday that he'd received an offer from NBC for a reported $2 million US, it's no surprise he took a long hard look and jumped the Toronto ship. In Toronto, he's under-appreciated, only earning $900,000 Canadian and Slaight didn't seem to give a rat's ass about keeping the ex-Detroit Piston star on board.
Envision the Raptors franchise minus Thomas and it's a very grim picture, to say the least. In the off-season, Toronto's franchise player, Damon Stoudamire, showed how committed he is to Thomas (not the city), by putting off a contract extension until next season and playing out his final season to keep the club under the salary cap. This allowed Thomas to sign free agents like Carlos Rogers and Walt Williams. In addition, Stoudamire has publicly stated that if Thomas isn't back he won't be either.
No one has put more into the franchise than Thomas, who along with John Bitove, brought a franchise to Toronto and since then attempted to gain majority ownership from Slaight. Unfortunately, his bid fell through in August.
Thomas was clearly disappointed, but remained adamant he was committed to building a winning team. It appeared Thomas' plan was unfolding right on schedule with the addition of John Wallace and Tracy McGrady which helped to bolster a strong nucleus of young talent.
Problems began to mount when it was reported Slaight had nixed a trade Thomas wanted that would have brought Philadelphia's Jerry Stackhouse and Clarence Weatherspoon to Toronto. In addition, Thomas wanted to acquire Shawn Kemp when Seattle put him on the trading block, but Slaight told him no.
Optimism has quickly given way to panic, however, in light of the Raptors' atrocious 1-9 start and a current seven-game winless skid. With Canada having higher tax laws, Thomas' charismatic personality was the only drawing power the franchise had to convince players to play outside of the U.S.. Without him at the helm, Doug Christie, Walt Williams, Carlos Rogers and Marcus Camby, in addition to Stoudamire, will all likely want out.
Maybe Toronto is just destined to have basement-dwelling sports franchises, but if fans want to blame someone, they can point their fingers at the teams' brass. What credentials does Slaight have that could possibly give him more basketball know-how than Thomas, who led the Pistons to two NBA championships and is one of the best ever to play the game?
Slaight's actions are right along the same line as those taken by Toronto Maple Leaf owner Steve Stavros who demanded that Maple Leaf general manager Cliff Fletcher trade for Wendel Clark. In return, Fletcher had to give up Kenny Jonsson, a burgeoning young defenceman who had the potential to become an all-star. The team's poor play since the trade would eventually cost Fletcher his job, while Stavros is still sitting uncomfortably in his office.
As long as owners for either team keeps poking their noses into matters they know nothing about, disaster will be lurking around the corner. Operating the team is the job of the general manager it's what that person is paid to do. Slaight's just going to have to learn from this experience that it's hard for managers to do their jobs right if their boss is looking over their shoulders and second-guessing all of their decisions. Thomas feels he'll be more happy somewhere else and Toronto's shot at an NBA championship in the near future is going to leave on the plane with him.