Bryan Colangelo Back on the Hot Seat


Bryan Colangelo helped build a Suns team that won a franchise-tying 62 games in 2004-2005.  He signed Steve Nash as a free agent. Drafted Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Was the 2005 NBA Executive of the Year. And to top it off, made moves that launched Phoenix on a six-year-run, thrilling basketball fans across the world. Every Phoenix Suns fan knows the story.

But Bryan Colangelo also guided the Toronto Raptors to their first Division Championship in 2007 – the same year Colangelo won his second NBA Executive of the Year.

However, Colangelo is also known for drafting Italian Andrea Bargnani with the very first selection in the 2006 NBA Draft.  In 2009 he signed Bargnani to a five-year/$50-million contract extension.  He also signed Hedo Turkoglu to a $53-million contract and oversaw the loss of cornerstone Raptor’s talent Chris Bosh to the Heat.

As General Manager for two teams, the Suns and Raptors, Colangelo made deals at a pace many would consider hectic.  By my very unofficial count – Colangelo oversaw 126 transactions with the Suns from February 23, 1994, through February 27, 2006. 77 with the Raptors from February 28, 2006, through May 31, 2013.  Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  By any measure, Colangelo could be considered a wheeler-dealer, risk-taker, or just plain crazy.  One thing is for sure.  He’ll keep the payroll department in Philadelphia busy as he starts his new job there.

Even though Colangelo may still be best known for being the son of Valley sports Godfather Jerry Colangelo, Brian has, in fact, made his own way in the NBA world.

It didn’t start out that way.  I first met Brian in 1993 when the Charles Barkley-led Suns were making their way to the NBA finals that year.  Bryan was part of his father’s ownership group that included the Arena Football League’s Arizona Rattlers and new WNBA franchise Phoenix Mercury.  He was spending time in the Suns locker room after games, trying to get anyone to listen to him about the Rattlers.  “You’ve got to come to a game,” he told me.  “The fans just go wild.”

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Like most others, I thought at the time that Bryan was only there because of his father.  Nepotism obviously runs rampant in sports, and the Colangelo “family” was apparently no different.  Hell, a few years later Doc Rivers would trade real players for his son whose career was winding down.   Business as usual, right?

But as I got to know Bryan a little better, I thought he was different.  He was trying to make his own mark, and pushing the media for any mention of the Rattlers was an interesting place to start.  It’s not like Daddy put him on top of the ladder from day one.  Bryan began to work the system, and the media, from ground up.  Nobody knew back then if the AFL would even make it.  But Bryan’s groundwork with the team helped bring the first Arena Bowl Championship to Phoenix in 1994.

By February that year, Bryan began his time with the Suns that would span 11 years.  He was there when the Suns lost two heartbreaking series to the Houston Rockets in 1993-94 and 1994-95.  He was also a General Manager confident enough to trade Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to New York, freeing enough money to make a run at Steve Nash.  He signed Quentin Richardson, traded for Joe Johnson and signed innovative coach Mike D’Antoni to build one of the most dominant Suns teams ever seen in Phoenix.   (Yes, they didn’t win a championship or even compete in the finals.  But they were still pretty good.)

Then along comes new owner Robert Sarver, who muscles out Bryan for his University of Arizona buddy Steve Kerr.

What Colangelo accomplished in Phoenix was well known among all league movers and shakers.  He quickly landed a job in Toronto after an exhaustive search for a new GM there. He had immediate success, getting Toronto into the playoffs and winning its first division title.

More recently, charges of nepotism resurfaced as a desperate league begged his father Jerry Colangelo to take over the reins in Philadelphia.  Jerry, who still lives in Phoenix while he manages USA Basketball, had no desire to actually run things in Philly. Jerry did accept the job as 76ers President and ran off GM, Sam Hinkie, who he later said was not a “basketball guy” and brought in his son to run things.  So now, Bryan Colangelo is in charge of his 3rd NBA team.

And guess who has the first pick in the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft?  Of course, it’s Philadelphia.  The 76ers have been a bottom dweller for years. Like the 76ers, tanking is a subject Bryan Colangelo is familiar with.  He even admitted to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that he tried to tank while in Toronto during the labor-shortened 2011-2012 NBA season.

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So, Philadelphia, what do you get with Bryan Colangelo in charge of your team?  A dynamic team builder who is well-versed in what it takes to put a successful team on the court?  Or a General Manger who takes unnecessary risks, tanks to get a better draft pick, and spends money like a drunken sailor?  Or is he just a boy who will forever stand in the shadow of his great father?

Well, consider this. Jerry Colangelo didn’t win an NBA Championship in Phoenix.  Bryan hasn’t won one anywhere. Some of their players have. Just with other franchises not named the Suns or Raptors.

“There’s no assurances,” Bryan told MIT.  But there is hard work, and you’ll never be able to blame Bryan for not trying.

Philadelphia used to at least compete for a playoff spot on a regular basis. Phoenix still has the 4th best winning percentage in the Association. If Bryan can do the same for Philly as he did for Phoenix, the fans there will be back in the game. Even if they don’t win a banner.

Next: Let's Rebuild the Phoenix Suns: Pre-Draft Version