First off, a big shout out to all the members of the Raptors Republic. Its great to be on board and I look forward to giving a voice to angry Raptors’ fans everywhere- each and every week!
For starters, I’d like to revisit a couple of ideas that I have been writing about for the last month and change over at raptorstalk.com In particular, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on the firing of Sam Mitchell, which seem even more true today than they did on December 4th when I first wrote this piece.
…is Colangelo the right guy to right this ship.
You are running out of chips Mr. Colangelo OR Why Firing Sam Mitchell only buys the Raptors more time to make less moves.
I give Rob Babcock credit, he may have been a horrible GM, but at least he had the “cahones” to admit he made a mistake AND then set about fixing the problem immediately. One disaster ridden season after hiring Kevin O’Neil as the Raps head coach, Babcock fired him and admitted he hired the wrong guy. Less than 6 months later after he was proven wrong again in hiring Sam Mitchell (whom he hired to be “tough on Carter” and was rumored to have fought Carter in the dressing room). He sent Vince Carter to New Jersey in a trade that still makes Raptors fans cringe. The trade may not have been great, but at least Babcock was trying to fix his mistakes. He traded Rafer Alston to Houston for Mike James only 1 year into a 5 year contract, and even apologized publicly for drafting Rafael Araujo. Mr. Colangelo its time for you to own up. Ya, that’s right, I said it.
You see, the real reason the Raps have their hands tied at the moment is because Colangelo is having trouble admitting that everything he touches isn’t gold. Yes, in part, his trading away of TJ last spring was an admission that he made a mistake in acquiring him in a swap with the Bucks two years back for Charlie Villanueva – but not really. Actually, Colangelo’s hand was forced and his response came much too late. Had Colangelo been more active and humble, he would have dealt TJ as soon as it was apparent that Calderon could play at an all star level OR dealt Calderon as soon as TJ returned. After all, look what NJ got for J-Kidd last year at the trade deadline – yup, that’s right, Devin Harris + picks! Instead, Colangelo was continually cocky in addressing the media about the issue by insisting that their “2 guard rotation” was the envy of the league.
He allowed the controversy to not only emerge, but grow, and fester, until it ultimately divided and destroyed this team’s chance of making any type of run in the playoffs. And then, come the summertime, teams knew that Colangelo had to move one of the PGs and the only choices on the market for fair value included players like JO and Gerard Wallace. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the JO deal and I have endorsed it from day one, but in tying up 21 million this year and 23 million next year in JO, Colangelo has tied his hands to making other moves, especially because he felt compelled to include a #1 pick in the deal when there were at least 5 potential swingmen on the board at #17 who may have been able to help the Raps this season.
Colangelo’s second biggest mistake (and another one that up until today he was unwilling to move on) was the 4 year extension he gave Sam Mitchell. Yes, it was not Colangelo who brought Mitchell to Toronto BUT it was Colangelo who gave him a contract extension. He didn’t need to re-sign Mitchell. Remember, when Colangelo took over in January if 2006, Mitchell was coaching a team that ended the 05-06 season 27 and 55 that’s almost 30 games under .500. But at the time it appeared that he held onto Sam Mitchell to hold as a scapegoat so that if the roster did not look stronger in his first year of GM he could simply fire Mitchell and move on. And boy did that plan backfire. Instead, Mitchell led the Raptors in 2006-2007 to a 47 win season and even won Coach of the Year BUT and here’s the BUT – his contract had expired and even though Sam was the reigning COY, no one would have balked if Colangelo had come forward and said that he wanted his “own guy” in there.
Instead he re-signed Sam to a 4 year contract and at that point Mitchell became Colangelo’s guy and he was committed to him – even when the team started off 2007-08 poorly (1-4), or when Bargnani appeared to take a step back in his second year, or when they got embarrassed at the hands of Orlando in a first round match-up they should have won a year after being exploited by NJ. Time and time again, Colangelo stood back and let “the process” play out as he backed his guy and as top notch coaches like Stan Van Gundy, Larry Brown, Jim O’Brien, Scott Skiles, and even Mike Dantoni took their services elsewhere.
And this is why the timing of the firing seems strange. After all, if he didn’t fire Mitchell after the embarrassing loss to Boston on home court that saw the team fall one game under .500 and to 12th in the East only days after Carter humiliated this team in overtime against NJ, then why would you fire him in the middle of a west coast road trip less than ¼ of the way into this season? With an almost certain loss coming Friday night in Utah and the potential of up to 8 more losses before a truly winnable game on Dec 19th against Oklahoma., why wouldn’t you wait until after December when the schedule gets lighter and you could use the coach as a scapegoat for the teams play in December?
The potential reasoning for the firing may be that the 40 point loss in Denver was more than any respectable fan could take, especially when the coach’s response to it on the FAN 590 radio station this morning was very nonchalant when talking about the disgusting effort his team put up in allowing the Nuggets to shoot 60% – a feat that has been accomplished more than once this season against the Raps. Maybe bloggers on this site were right when they mentioned how Mitchell had lost the confidence of Bosh and the dressing room or perhaps the chance to get his hands on Eddie Jordan or PJ Carlesimo who were both recently fired appeared too lucrative to pass up?
But more likely than not, it appears that once again Colangelo’s hand was forced and against his own better judgment he had to publicly come forward and again admit that he was wrong. Lets face it, if he didn’t have to, Colangelo would not have fired Sam Mitchell. How else do you explain how Mitchell has lasted this long?
You see Colangelo had to fire Mitchell because he needed to make some changes here and everyone knows that, but unfortunately there is no real wiggle room for him to make any player movement. This is a roster that has some serious holes in it due to Colangelo mistakes. He miscalculated the importance of guys like Garbajosa and Delfino by letting them both walk and then not replacing either players’ grit, basketball IQ, defensive toughness, and versatility to play more than one position. And with no real trading partners out there and with the team too close to the cap to even pick up a player at the veterans minimum, the coach became the only viable choice for change.
When I started thinking about who this team could trade to get better, the list is very short, in fact its really only two names: Bosh and Bargnani. You see, AP and Joey Graham may be expiring contracts but they only total close to 7.5 million dollars, which isn’t enough to bring back a player of any significance (that is of course assuming that you could get an NBA GM drunk one night at a league party and then get him to play a game of Kevin McHale and trade you valuable players for garbage). While Kapono would be liked by many teams, he has 3 more years after this season at 6 million a year at a time when most teams are very hesitant to take on any contracts past 2010 unless they are players of real substance (and Kapono is a good 6th man but not a real power player).
Calderon could be a valuable trading chip but there are 2 problems here: first, is that it would require Colangelo admitting that he was wrong, which we know he is loathe to do..BUT the bigger problem is that he has a BYC contract, which means that if they were to trade him in the first year of his new contract they could only take back half of what he makes in contracts from another team – and that means he only has a trading value of 3.5 million and that just wont get it done. And since, Colangelo may get shot if he trades Bosh the only chip that remains is trading Bargnani…ouch! Think about how tough that would that be – to admit that taking Bargnani was the wrong choice with the #1 overall pick.
You see that’s what firing Mitchell was really all about. The team needed change and Bryan Colangelo only had two choices: fire Mitchell or deal Bargnani. And while firing Mitchell doesn’t solve any of the roster issues or make the players here any better, it does buy BC time, time to sit back and hope that “the really big 3” can get it going every night. Time to hope that JO can stay healthy. Time to hope that Joey Graham’s secret twin brother decides to show up every night (that is the third twin who no one knows about who has all the talent but suffers from an anxiety disorder so he only shows up for 1-2 games at a time whenever Joey or Stephen are in jeopardy of losing their jobs). But most importantly, time to hope that there is another answer to admitting that he was wrong because apparently BC doesn’t like to do that, even when it costs his team wins and chances to win a NBA title. Just ask Joe Johnson.
As always, standing in the key, I’m the Dr. I’ve got my feet planted and I’m planning on taking a charge!