June 2004: Raptors Draft Rafael Araujo
Really do we need to go over this one?
Yes. Yes, we do.
I really need to exorcise this moment of stupendous dubiosity because it's not just about a colossally bad draft pick. When you look back at all the decisions made that led up to this night when Raptor fans justifiably booed their heads off, you begin to realize just how dysfunctional this organization is (was? hope hope).
The seeds of the the Araujo pick were sown in the previous year when Lenny Wilkins was fired. Dick Peddie decided that the Raptors needed a fiery defensive-minded coach and basically over-ruled GM Glen Grunwald to select Kevin O'Neill as the man for the job. Grunwald ended up taking the fall for the debacle that was the 2003/2004 season and O'Neill went with him.
Given the opportunity to install his own basketball management team Peddie waited. And waited. And waited. In the meantime all the other teams moved forward with their draft analysis and scouting. Still Peddie wanted to make sure he got the right guy for the GM job and less than 3 weeks before the draft finally selected Rob Babcock... the very same person that Raptor consultant Jack McCloskey had touted for the job nearly two months earlier. At the same time, Peddie was not including Vince Carter in the decision-making after promising him to do so, thus alienating the team's star player and noted sucky-baby.
With no time to evaluate players Babcock is left to make a decision based on McCloskey's recommendation. That recommendation is Utah centre Rafael Araujo, despite the fact that Araujo was rated about 10 to 12 picks below the Raptors spot at #8. But Araujo was the pick. The fans showed no mercy. I should know as I was there on the ACC floor that night and just moments after the pick Chuck Swirsky walked by me and gave me the quote that proved he has a soul.
"That was a biiiiiig reach."
But it wasn't over there. Babcock was about to make his first ever address to the Raptor public. Upon taking the stage to a landslide of seething hate, the first word out of Babcock's wincing mouth was "okay." It was priceless. Within three weeks of being hired, everyone knew this guy wasn't going to last to the end of his contract. Babcock then went on to mis-pronounce Araujo's name and attempted to sell his "hockey mentality." Big mistake, Babcock's exit from the stage resembled the fall of Saigon.
Raptor management's PR campaign began in earnest later that night when it was explained that despite the team's dire need of a point guard (a dire need that began the day Damon Stoudamire was traded), that the market for decent big men was so cost-prohibitive, as evidenced by the ridiculous Adonal Foyle contract, that it was better to reach for decent big man and spend free agent dollars on a point guard who I guess we should have supposed were a dime a fucking dozen.
Therefore this line of decision-making not only led to the team to draft Araujo but to hand a 5-year contract to Rafer Alston, a passionate player but never the smartest and one who had never been a starter in the NBA. Within 2 months of becoming Coach Sam Mitchell's whipping boy Alston was openly contemplating retirement. This in turn led to the Alston trade for Mike James, who used all of last season as a personal showcase for a free agent contract anywhere but in Toronto. Accordingly, the new Raptor management let him walk away.
Oddly enough, the player who experienced the exact opposite draft night was Jameer Nelson, an expected lottery pick who dropped down to #20. The Orlando Magic wisely traded for this pick to select him and are now quite set at the point guard position for the next few years.
The best part out of all of this? Nelson, 6-foot-0, has more career rebounds than Araujo, 6-foot-10. Everybody, where-ever you may be, please stand and give a nice, long, slow, sarcastic clap for the Raptors for providing the perfect example of how a franchise should not be run. Mr. Colangelo, I hope you're reading.