Toronto Raptors, under the management of Bryan Colangelo, is getting worse, progressively. That said, the organization has been around for nearly two decades, and Colangelo is not their first unsuccessful GM. Many big wigs came and went, but the narrative of the Raptors story stayed the same. That is a decent indication that the Raptors’ Organizational has some systemic limitations.
Six months ago that is exactly how we concluded our then latest article. Since that day some significant events have transpired in the land of Raptors. First, the team acquired a so-called franchise player in Rudy Gay. Then, Tim Leiweki, an internationally recognized businessman, became the president of the MLSE. Next, Bryan Colangelo, the former executive of the year, was replaced with Masai Ujiri, the latest executive of the year. Much to the fans’ delight, Andrea Bargnani, who became a lightning rod, is finally traded for a future first-round pick. So finally, Tyler Hansbrough, who plays rough and tough, became the newest Raptor.
It seems like, after years of mediocrity, the Raptors organization is finally in a better situation. That said, are those moves enough to overcome the limitations of the Raptors’ Organizational System? How is the future looking for the Raptors? Can the Raptors finally become a 50-win franchise? Let’s see what the Systems Theory has to say about that…
Before we go any further, however, let’s talk a little about systems thinking. What is a system? Every time we speak of a set of interconnected things (dead or alive) that create a dynamic response, we are referring to a system. That could be a weather system, planetary system, political system, traffic system, immune system, financial system, or organizational system.
Systems have a scary side: It is impossible to predict what is going to happen next. Case in point, the stock exchange is so complex that no computer model can make precise short-term predictions. So, the best a broker can do is to offer an educated guess. Similarly, it is impossible to know when and where the next earthquake will happen.
If we focus on short term, all we would see in a system is complete chaos. However, something interesting happens once we start broadening our time frame. We realize that eventually, every system starts creating its pattern of behaviour. In other words, in systems, we get order without predictability! Maybe we cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, but we sure can know how the system will react over an extended period.
Luckily, there are common patterns of systemic behaviour. They are called the System Archetypes. And, arguably, three of those archetypes apply to the Raptors Organization. Those are, probably, responsible for the extended lack of success of the franchise. And those are the ones that, if tackled properly, could let the organization soar like an eagle.
The first of the three is called “Shifting the Burden.” This pattern of behaviour happens when we come up with a quick fix to a symptom instead of tackling the real issue. Unfortunately, this is an insidious archetype, for once the symptomatic solution has had its effect, there is little-perceived need to pay attention to the fundamental problem. So, in a way, the symptom shields the real issue!
How is the Shifting the Burden archetype related to Toronto Raptors? For decades, the lack of success of the Raptors was attributed to the Canadian stigma: It is too cold. It is too dark. It is too far. It is a hockey town. It is another country. My friends and family need a passport. There is no ESPN in Canada. The list goes on.
Now, make no mistake: these are all real complaints. That said, they are not the root cause of the problem. These alibis are just symptoms. Also, as the Shifting the Burden archetype tells us, symptoms hide the real issue: Among the NBA community, the Raptors are not perceived as a winning organization.
To break free from the “Shifting the Burden” archetype, the new management should focus on tackling the fundamental problem, not the symptomatic ones. As stated above, symptoms are alibis. Leiweki and Ujiri should change the mindset of the organization as well as the perceptions around the league about the culture of Toronto Raptors.
Unfortunately, there are not shortcuts for the Raptors. No matter how successful Ujiri would become, the franchise cannot solve such a fundamental issue by themselves, because the Raptors organization operates within a larger system: The City of Toronto.
American culture deeply -and almost fanatically- values the drive to win. Currently, Toronto is not perceived as a driven sports city like -let’s say- Boston. The interesting thing about perceptions is that they are like glaciers. They move very slowly, but once they start making headway, they cannot be stopped.
We can liken the Canadian Stigma to a pool: Many pumps are filling that pool, and Toronto Raptors is just one of them. That is why it cannot change the perceptions about the city on its own. Raptors need a couple of Toronto sports team to start winning (besides itself) before perceptions would begin to change. That brings us to the second archetype, Escalation. Its lack thereof is the topic of our next article. Share your thoughts below.