It happened a year too late but it finally happened, Bryan Colangelo couldn’t tolerate another day of not having the coach of his choice running the team of his choice. So what took so long? Why didn’t he just not renew his contract and get his man in there last season? I’ll tell you why, because it takes balls to let the reigning Coach of the Year walk and Colangelo was lacking the cahones to pull the trigger last summer. We fans didn’t deserve to go through last season the way we did, it was too obvious that the coach wasn’t right for the team and vice-versa, yet we continued to chug along the regular season watching blunder after blunder until we finally backed into the playoffs. Once there we got served a dose of reality as Mitchell’s primary tactical move of starting Bargnani at the SF backfired worse than Plaxico Burress’ decision to carry a gun in the hem of his sweatpants. The season ended with a thud and Mitchell didn’t get fired which meant Colangelo was relatively content with his coaching, but as we now find out he’s not been happy with Sam’s coaching for quite some time now.

Mitchell haters, don’t get me wrong, I think he should’ve been fired…..when Colangelo took over. I suppose its better late than never but you can’t help argue Mitchell’s case. The roster he was given had more flaws in it than Roko’s shooting motion and expecting anything too much more than an 8-9 record is being unrealistic. I mean, what team did we lose to that we should’ve beaten? Maybe New Jersey, that’s about it because all the other games went according to Las Vegas. I mean, what did Mitchell do wrong this year that he didn’t do wrong last year? It’s the same sets, the same excuses, the same PG pressers, everything is the same. So why didn’t we can him at the end of last season and give the new coach the training camp to get ready. It’s called indecision and not having the ability to make up your mind.

There’s not much that already hasn’t been said in the earlier post and its comments but its worth repeating that the man’s paper-thin playbook was his greatest undoing. That could’ve been tolerated if the team gave an honest effort every night but since even that wasn’t happening, the only reason to keep him on became the fact that we were already paying him. Once eating his salary became acceptable to the powers at MLSE, Colangelo didn’t waste much time cutting Mitchell lose. I find it hard to believe that the two ever saw eye-to-eye. Mitchell was a no-nonsense, lunch-pail type player and he wanted to coach that way too. Unfortunately, that’s not Colangelo’s style as he’s shown that he prefers finesse over grit so that right there was a great philosophical difference.

Said Colangelo of Mitchell’s firing:

It’s safe to say that after the debacle that we all witnessed last night against Denver – a 39-point loss – not to mention several other incidents this early season where we gave up double-digit leads or had mental breakdowns with respect to the effort on the court. You come to a point where you realize some of the things you want to see out on the court are not taking place.

Right, and they were taking place last year? Now that Mitchell’s gone the focus shifts entirely on Bryan Colangelo. He made his biggest move of the summer before the free agent period even started and traded away anything that was tradeable in acquiring one player that was expected to (and still might) provide interior defense, low-block scoring and some rebounding. Unfortunately, after that trade we had no means of addressing the wing scoring and defense or the backup PG situation. We had no choice but to scrape the bottom of the barrel and we came up with Will Solomon and Hassan Adams, the latter being hailed as a steal since NJ was allegedly sooooo upset that they couldn’t offer him a contract. Colangelo hoped that Bargnani, Moon, Humphries and Kapono would have breakout years to make up for the lack of talent or depth on the bench. The marketing team came up with the phrase “concentrated talent”. Some bought it hook, line and sinker, some were skeptical and played along and some laughed at the idea. In the end it turned out that 2 of the 3 signings were a total bust and that the bench wasn’t even close to coming in and playing meaningful minutes. Colangelo had assessed the situation at the end of the playoffs incorrectly and now had no option but to can Mitchell since status-quo would not be acceptable and there’s no wiggle room to make a significant move. You know what they say, it’s easier to fire 1 coach than 15..er..14…13..oh..Jawai…12 players.

See Colangelo’s interview with Devlin here, seems like he can’t get the NJ game out of his mind either. He certainly believes in the roster he’s put together and thinks that his last two teams are underachieving and judging by his talk, he’s seeing the coach as the primary reason why. I agree that Mitchell’s cost this team a few W’s last year and has already had a couple brain-farts this year, but the roster assembled for him should be examined just as much as his coaching. If we’re looking at this firing to be the answer that makes this team a contender, we’re mistaken. This move will give the team a jolt and they’ll play a few games at a high level of intensity but as the effect of the firing wears off, the players’ inert nature will kick in and they’ll revert to their former non-caring selves. If Colangelo doesn’t see the desired response in the next couple of weeks, he’s got to make a move to fix the roster, not the guy giving directions to the roster.

To end the Mitchell talk let me just say that once players stop playing hard for their coach it’s time to go and judging by some of the recent performances which were capped off by the Nuggets game, it became clear that what Mitchell wanted to see on the court wasn’t happening and to make matters worse, the effort wasn’t there. Thinking of it in net terms, its a good divorce but it should’ve come much sooner because the reasons Colangelo fired him were not new at all.

Said Mitchell after being fired:

I don’t want to get into what’s fair or not fair. I learned a long time ago that the world’s not fair and life isn’t always fair.

Around 8 million to spend while not working. Oh, I think life’s more than fair.

Jose Calderon’s giving Sam Mitchell credit for making him his point-guard. Chris Bosh’s Facebook status is “I’m putting the past behind me. Today is a better day!”, other than that there’s not much reaction from the players. I’m sure they all feel shitty for getting a man fired. They’ll be practicing today and then heading out to Salt Lake City for tomorrow’s matchup against the Jazz.

Jay Triano and his 1-0 record take over. Colangelo says “he’s very impressed by his basketball IQ” and has full confidence in him. Colangelo probably has had a replacement for Mitchell in his mind for years and will finally bring him over when the situation has cooled off a little. Triano is the interim only to make it look like Colangelo’s decision was a reactionary one and not one made a long time ago. The best Triano can do here is get this team to play hard and compete. He should canvas the opinion of his fellow assistant coaches and almost coach by committee. Sam was a stubborn coach that didn’t defer to anyone and if Triano makes the same error of being adamant about his coaching philosophies he’s sure to repeat Mitchell’s mistakes. I’m looking forward to the Jazz game more than ever, we’ll see the difference in offense within the first few plays.

Here’s me and Raps Fan rambling about the firing (subscribe in iTunes):

Kenny Smith on NBA TV was surprised why the Raptors fired a coach this early after an 8-9 start. His take was that this team was playing at the level they’re capable of and expecting anything more with this bunch was unreasonable. He also called Jose Calderon a “a good backup” who’s not close to being an All-Star. Take it with a grain of salt because this is the same guy that admitted to rarely watching the Raptors, if ever. That doesn’t mean there’s not a hint of truth in his take on Jose Calderon, especially given his recent performances. Insert hamstring talk here.

So Mitchell gets fired, hopefully this unshackles Hassan Adams and he can become the player that Colangelo envisions. Good luck to Mitchell, the post-game press conferences will never be the same. Maybe if he had just shown a little more offensive creativity, some common basketball sense and given the seemingly talented assistant coaches more say in the plays he runs and the sets he designs, it would’ve turned out differently. As it stands now, this is entirely Bryan Colangelo’s team and nobody can make excuses on his behalf by pointing at Mitchell anymore. 65 games to go, let’s see what you got.

Possible coaching candidates: Avery Johnson, Flip Saunders, Ettore Messina, Jeff van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Eddie Jordan, PJ Carlesimo, Dell Harris, Tom Thibodeau…..I think the next coach needs to have some experience so that there’s no on-the-job training and more importantly so that he can command the immediate respect of the players. We have a few veterans on this team that need to buy into the system we’re running and if players are iffy about what they’re doing on the basketball court, they’ll never perform up to their effort or talent levels. Look at Doc Rivers as an example, he’s gotten the Celtics to buy into defense, we need a coach who can sell the team something they feel enthusiastic and passionate about. “More Shats” wasn’t good enough, we need to set tangible, definable and realistic goals about what this team can do on the court and then go about achieving them in a systematic manner. This team needs to find an identity and stick with it, be about something specific rather than hand-wave about different basketball ideologies and achieve nothing in the process.

More tomorrow.

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