I must commend Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo for the job he's done with the team over the past season and a bit. Via his personnel moves he has been able to get the team to some semblance of respectability and an Atlantic Division title. Good job!
A significant part of that revival has been the influx of European players onto the Raptors roster.
As an aside though when you think of the invasion of European players into the Raptor ranks you have to at least grudgingly give credit to former GM Rob Babcock for starting the trend by picking up Jose Calderone, Uros Slokar and Roko Ukic a few years back. The flood gates however didnt officially open until Colangelo arrived two summers ago and picked up number one draft pick Andrea Bargnani, free agent Jorge Garbajosa and made the trade with San Antonio for Rasho Nesterovich.
And it has not been a faulty plan. Actually to be honest it was a great move on the Raptors part. Not only because the European players are highly skilled and usually well trained but also because unlike some of their African-American counterparts they have no issue with playing in Canada.
The Raptors over the past have been burned considerably by several myopic US basketball players who grudgingly came but skipped town as soon as possible, complained about playing in Toronto as if we were a third rate Mexican border town, complained about raising their family in Canada as if we were located somewhere behind the old Iron Curtain or who forced management to overpay for their services just cause they were going to be an hour outside the good ol US of A.
In light of that drama it has been a pleasure to have European professionals here who actually want to play here and help build up a good franchise in a cosmopolitan North American city like Toronto.
But if the problem with American players is their wish not to play professionally outside their home country the problem with European players is their wish to play for their home country's squad during the NBA off-season. Even at times when it may have a detrimental effect on their performance for their professional team, the one that actually pays their huge salaries.
Case in point: Raptors and Spanish forward Jorge Garbajosa.
Garbo as he is affectionately called made what can only be described as a bad call this summer. (oh and I called it twice. Here and here. See even a broken clock can be right sometimes.)
He broke his leg late in the last NBA season. Doctors at that time told him it would take approximately six months to rehab properly. Garbo four months later played for Spain in the European Championships against the advice of Raptors doctors who still thought that he needed surgery to correct parts of his damaged leg. Fast forward to yesterday and it has now been announced that Garbo will need to have surgery after all and in all likelihood will miss a significant portion if not all of this season. (Oh and I also read that he had indeed been practicing with the Spanish squad for up to 5 weeks before the actual Eurobasket tournament begun)
Now I'll admit that I'm upset with this. Been upset with it since I first heard he was playing in the FIBA Eurobasket tournament this summer instead of sitting it out to rehab for the NBA season. Look I'm not adverse to a player wishing to represent his country but Spain had already qualified for the 2008 Olympics and this Eurobasket tournament was about nothing more significant than bragging rights. To me it made sense if you were coming off an injury to play it safe and sit out the summer tournament so you could be 100% by the time NBA training camp rolled around.
Maybe Garbo had a right to be skeptical about the Raptors doctor's diagnosis and go against their advice. Professional teams do try to protect their investments and in the case of NBA teams there has been much fuss about international players who play a full NBA season then rush off to play all summer for their home countries. When do such players get a chance to rehab and relax and recharge one wonders? Still if a player thinks he can handle it and its necessary I say more power to him ......once he's are healthy.
Garbo was however by no means injury free and should have sat out this summer's tourney with a view towards being 100% in the fall. The biggest clue to the injury and how it was coming along may have been the fact that the Spanish federation and Garbo had to take out an insurance policy which cost them an exorbitant one million dollars for three months coverage this summer in order for him to play in the Eurobasket tournament. If the insurers thought he wasn't a big risk to reinjure himself or was close to full rehabilitation why was the premium so high?
It seems pretty clear that a never fully healed Garbo rushed back to play in Eurobasket 2007 and in so doing risked his rehab maybe even damaging himself further.
I honestly would like to think that he would have had some more regard for the franchise that pays him and the fans that cheer him here in Toronto and not have rushed to play this summer and then not even last a full month into the NBA season.
Like I said in my previous blog in reference to Garbo back this summer "Now you'll probably get to Raptors training camp and fall apart within a month of the season then have surgery and miss the entire season. All the while being paid by the Raptors. That's to me is like you have just dealt a b* slap to the entire Toronto fandom collective with your actions. Boy and they complain that home grown NBA players are childish, haughty and own way! I do hope you stay semi-healthy so we can trade you but alas I know that wont happen. Enjoy the season on the sidelines."
Damn I wish I had been wrong.
Guess this just goes to show that athletes can be idiots regardless of where they are from despite what some folks may think.
There are terms written into players contracts forbidding them to ski or ride motorbikes or engage in other slightly dangerous hobbies that may injure them. Maybe there needs to be terms written in forbidding injured players from playing in tournaments that can cause them to lengthen their time on the injured list. Or just clauses about using common sense to determine what events to engage in during the off-season.
Personally I think Garbo owes us Raptors fans an apology. Maybe he owes the franchise some money too but for sure he owes us an apology for risking his ability to play for the Raptors leaving us a weaker team in his absence.
ps: In terms of responsibility why isn't Garbo getting more heat on this? Vince went to his University graduation the morning of a playoff game but returned to play in that game and was widely pilloried as letting down the team. Garbo plays all summer on a bad leg and then comes to the season injured. He has let down his team too. Actually in my opinion more than Vince did. Shouldn't he be hearing it from the fans for letting us down?