Toronto Raptors: Ranking the Top GMs in Franchise History


With the superb job being done by the Toronto Raptors’ current general manager Masai Ujiri, and the recent (and expected to continue) success of the franchise in general, the team seems to be in good hands these days.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the franchise, let’s take a look at the different eras of Toronto Raptors basketball. We’ll examine, and rank them, not only according to on-court success, but the growth of the organization as a whole, during the tenure of each of the Raptors’ main GMs.

1) Isiah Thomas

As the GM of the expansion Toronto Raptors, it was Thomas who arguably had the most impactful tenure for the team.

Mar 28, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Former Detroit Pistons player and former general manager of the Toronto Raptors Isiah Thomas addresses the crowd during a half-time celebration for the 1989 NBA championship team at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The selection of point guard Damon Stoudamire caused immediate booing from the fans gathered to watch the team’s first entry draft. This has to be considered the first sign of the following that the team would go on to accumulate.

With the immediate personal success of Stoudamire, Thomas validated his belief in point guard-led teams (much of which came, obviously, from his own experience), but the team ultimately failed to find any success during his tenure, which ended quickly due to the rapidly transitioning circumstances amongst the ownership group, of which he was part of during his time as GM.

Nevertheless, if the Raptors had missed on their first selection, like the Vancouver Grizzlies did with Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, the likelihood of the Toronto Raptors following the Grizzlies down south would have been a serious possibility. Had this happened, nothing else on this list could have taken place.

2) Glen Grunwald

After Thomas’ departure, Grunwald was brought on to steer the course for the franchise. Stoudamire requested, and received, a trade. Grunwald continued dealing, making the Raptors the youngest team in the league by the end of his first season. It was his first draft in which Grunwald truly made his mark, both on the franchise and the country itself. This was the draft day trade of Antawn Jamison for Vince Carter. With a true superstar in the mix, along with a new stable of veteran leadership, the team flourished.

The first playoff team in franchise history, along with the only series victory, happened during Grunwald’s tenure as the Toronto Raptors’ GM. Grunwald also was responsible for the trade in which Tracy McGrady was shipped to the Orlando Magic in a sign-and-trade deal – a deal in which the team could only lose.

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As you all know, it was this period that fed the explosion of interest in basketball as a sport in Canada, which we are now seeing reflected in the NBA draft. Grunwald was also responsible for the drafting of Chris Bosh. It is now widely considered that his firing was the biggest mistake in Toronto Raptors franchise history (including the debacle that comes later).

3) Bryan Colangelo

Coming into the franchise after the disastrous run of Rob Babcock, Colangelo’s hiring coincided with the evolution of Chris Bosh into another franchise superstar. In his first season, the club set a then franchise record for wins with a 47-35 record. The club won it’s first division title, but ultimately lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and Colangelo were coach and executive of the year, respectively. This was followed up by another playoff run the following season, along with yet another first-round exit. Colangelo, despite his best efforts – notably the Jermaine O’Neal and Shawn Marion trades – was unable to convince Bosh to stay in Toronto, which ultimately cost him his job. His most notable successes must be considered the acquisitions of much of the current day Toronto Raptors.

One thing about Colangelo, there was no shortage of media coverage during his tenure.

4) Masai Ujiri

May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots as Brooklyn Nets guard Shaun Livingston (14) defends and guard Joe Johnson (7) looks on in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre. Brooklyn defeated Toronto 104-103. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ujiri inherited a team and left it mostly intact from the Colangelo era. He was, however, able to offload the eternally struggling Andrea Bargnani in the off-season. Then, when the team struggled out of the gate, he was able to trade Rudy Gay while acquiring valuable roster pieces in return. The club finished his first season as GM with a new Toronto Raptors franchise record of 48 regular season wins, and the 2nd division title in franchise history.

Ujiri has since been able to re-sign Kyle Lowry, while keeping the remainder of the core intact. The story is still unfolding, but if things continue along their current path, Ujiri will rise to the very top of this list one day.

5) Rob Babcock

Ah, the shame of the past for the Toronto Raptors. Babcock went right to work in repairing gutting the confidence of fans. His first move was the selection of Rafael Araujo, and was followed shortly thereafter by the fleecing of the Vince Carter trade. It was also during this era that the infamous “81” was scored by Kobe Bryant. Nothing good to remember here.

I’m really not sure what else to say about his disastrous time in Toronto.

There you have it. My rankings of the most influential GMs in Toronto Raptors history.

Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts?

Let us know in the comments section below.