NEWS
12/07/2011 06:43 EST | Updated 02/06/2012 05:12 EST

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo preaching patience as building process continues

TORONTO - It was a familiar refrain from Bryan Colangelo.

The Toronto Raptors president and general manager said Wednesday that he's feeling good about the NBA team's building blocks, has a plan is in place for the future and that player development remains paramount.

But there was one noticeable tweak to his annual pre-season media availability at Air Canada Centre. Colangelo has a new term to describe his vision for a team that's coming off a disappointing 22-60 season.

"We're not talking about rebuilding anymore," Colangelo said. "I'm stealing a line from coach (Dwane) Casey. What we're talking about now is building."

Casey, who was named head coach in June, joined the GM at the availability with Colangelo's new right-hand man, executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski.

"It's going to be about creating a new culture, a new system, implementing that system," Colangelo said. "And again, maintaining and sticking to the plan. But we're past rebuilding, we're now in the building phase."

What remains unclear is how long the process will take.

The Raptors have a solid young nucleus that includes DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson. They're expected to see plenty of minutes over the shortened 66-game season.

Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 overall pick in last June's draft, is expected to spend the entire season in Europe. The Raptors will likely get another decent selection next spring in what should be a deep draft.

By that time, Colangelo expects to have even more cap flexibility to go with what he hopes will be a strong foundation.

"It really does lend itself to the thought that this plan is in place," he said. "We shouldn't alter that plan, we shouldn't detract from that."

Fans starved for a sniff of the post-season will likely have to wait at least one more year and probably longer. The Raptors haven't made the playoffs since bowing out in the first round in 2008.

The club plays its first game Dec. 26 in Cleveland against the Cavaliers before opening their home schedule two days later against the Indiana Pacers. Toronto plays 17 of its first 26 games on the road.

Training camps and the free agency period are expected to begin Friday, pending a vote on the tentative labour agreement reached last month.

Colangelo said nine of the 10 players he has under contract are available, adding his pressing needs include a third point guard, a small forward and a couple of bigs. Forward Linas Kleiza is still recovering from knee surgery and is expected to be at least a month away from a return.

Colangelo said his players are fit, hungry and ready to give maximum effort on the court.

"You're going to see a team that is going to fight every night and if they don't fight, they're probably not going to be playing," he said.

Colangelo added he doesn't want to put a timeline for when the team might contend in the Eastern Conference.

"There are some exciting things to look at as we're in this process," Colangelo said. "We constantly are trying to find a way to make this team better.

"That's what we've always done in our careers