Let’s get some Raptors news out of the way. We’re playing defending Euroleague champions CSKA Moscow in a pre-season game on October 14th, Posted Sports looks at our history in these international affairs. We’ll also be traveling to Edmonton on October 21st to face the Nuggets at Rexall Place.
Back to the reason for this post: Sam Mitchell. There was a time under the Lenny Wilkens regime when the makeup of the Raptors team demanded great coaching and technique. The talent and experience was there and the onus lay on the coach to produce results. Lenny
often always failed us in that regard and when it finally became intolerable he was let go in favor of Kevin O’Neill, a defensive minded X’s and O’s coach who was brought it so that the Raptors could finally get a system in place which would take advantage of the talent and ability on the team. Unfortunately, O’Neill also failed us.
Not since the days of Lenny have we absolutely demanded anything of our coach, at best we hoped the team would make the playoffs or maybe have a good regular season. The head coaching job here was practically a no-stress job where expectations were fairly low and if you played your cards right you’d have a chance to see through your contract. Going into next year things have changed. There are expectations of Sam Mitchell next year, whether they’re realistic or not is an entirely different matter but for the first time in his coaching career he’s going to be absolutely expected to deliver. From Colangelo’s perspective he’s handed Mitchell two All-Star power forwards and one of the best PGs in the East; we can point to the weaknesses of the rest of the roster but that doesn’t change the fact that there is some great talent on this team that Colangelo won’t stand to see wasted.
The question then becomes whether Mitchell can deliver Colangelo’s vision. Judging by the technical merits displayed by Mitchell in his time here you would think that he doesn’t have a shot. Regardless of which side of the Mitchell fence you’re on you have to acknowledge that the man lacks the X’s and O’s knowledge to compete with the likes of Stan Van Gundy, Lawrence Frank and other relatively young coaches. Just as we expect players to improve through the course of the seasons, Mitchell must also improve. This coming year can be seen as his “make or break” year when it comes to the Raptors organization and if things go south in the fall, I would not be surprised to see Colangelo swallow his contract and get a European coach like Ettore Messina in here.
If I had to ask one question of Bryan Colangelo, it would be this: What win total do you expect next year and what seed are you aiming for? The answer to this question will ultimately decide whether Mitchell will be finishing his contract. After openly questioning the utilization of Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani last year Colangelo made it clear that he was not happy with some of the coaching that was going on. One can’t expect him to tolerate the same mistakes from Mitchell who is sure to be on a short leash because after all when a team fails the first thing a GM does is make a scapegoat of the coach.
So while some may argue that the talent, however ‘concentrated’, is there, others may argue that Mitchell is being setup to fail with a team with close to half a dozen new faces with varying levels of talent. He didn’t show enough intelligence or common sense last year when trying to establish a rhythm with Jason Kapono, Andrea Bargnani or Kris Humphries so you would think he’ll be hard-pressed to do the same with the new set of players. We as fans can only hope that Mitchell’s development and ability has improved because his skills will be of high premium next year as he’ll be facing his biggest challenge yet.
It makes sense to add a veteran assistant coach to the Raptors coaching staff who’s expertise lies on the drawing board. If we can combine Mitchell’s motivation techniques with a true basketball sense this team could and should work. Hell, I’d take Kevin O’Neill any day, the guy was a horrible NBA head coach but there’s a lot to be said about his defensive coaching. As for our offense, adding a coach with a European background makes too much sense especially given that Jose Calderon now has full reigns on the team. As it is right now our coaching staff is simply not good enough to deliver and makeup for the lack of depth on this team.
Phil Jackson needs Tex Winter, Doc Rives needs Tom Thibodeau, Jerry Sloan needs Phil Johnson, Stan van Gundy needs Patrick Ewing..well..er..maybe not..but the point is Sam Mitchell needs some guidance when it comes to coaching. Mike Evans, Jay Triano and Alex English might be good but they haven’t shown any creativity with the offense which fails us too often in the fourth quarter. On a side note one of the best coaching moves we ever made was hiring Dave Hopla the year before last, pity he left us.
So what is the over/under date for a Mitchell firing? I’d say Christmas. If the team is struggling and the resources are not being utilized to what Colangelo thinks is their potential, he’s not going to be willing to waste the season and will naturally make a move to replace Mitchell with a hand-picked coach who’s probably been in the back of his mind since the day he took over the job.