We’re only a few days into the off-season but there’s already one given: Jay Triano will be back. There’s no official word from the Raptors but given Colangelo interview on CBC a couple weeks ago which backed Triano by commending him for the job he had done and the message he had delivered, it’s fair to conclude that he’s happy with the Canuck. Calderon, Bosh and Marion all sang Triano’s praises and expressed their desire to see him back and given another chance with a full training camp behind him. The financial angle here is that Triano comes cheap and cheap is what we need since Colangelo’s already blown the coach’s budget on Mitchell for the next two years.
Triano according to his own team is a “players coach”. He’s known as a basketball junkie who is hard-working, easy to work with and far from the yelling type, although the way he went at some clipboards during the season gave a different hint. Is Triano the right choice for the Raptors or do they need a different personality at the helm? Is his technical ability in line with what the roster will demand or will we be trying to fit a square peg in a round hole just like we did with Mitchell? Will he command the respect of the roster over a long and arduous 82 game schedule or will the team’s effort and hard-work deviate if things go south? Negative answers to any of these questions will result in someone quickly pointing to the fact that he didn’t have a full training camp and asking to defer judgment until he’s given an honest chance. That’s true, but it still leaves him open to be judged in some categories.
Sam Mitchell was considered a great motivator and we saw this team lay eggs on many a night under him, so it’s hard for me to criticize Triano too much for the inconsistent effort shown by the players this year. In the end it comes down to the quality and personality of the players. If we’re getting suspect effort from “star” players then there’s nothing Triano can do about it because frankly, they trump him. If we’re getting shoddy effort from the likes of Graham and Kapono, then there’s a problem and Triano has to do something about it. As I write this I’m finding it hard to pick out players who I can point a finger at and say He didn’t play hard this year!. But I can find many instances where the collective unit as a whole was just out of sync, lazy and uninterested. New York, Denver, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Charlotte jump to mind. Do the players tune Triano in and out? I have no idea but there were enough instances this year where the team appeared to have mailed it in early and weren’t mentally ready for the contest. This is my biggest fear of Triano. I question whether he commands the respect (fear?) of the players.
X’s and O’s
You have to give Triano credit for two major things. First, he tried to change a very predictable offense which went through a Calderon/Bosh PNR on every single possession. He encouraged wing movement and gave the point-guard options, this somewhat exposed Calderon’s inability to think on his feet and find cutters who were open for that split-second which is when the pass needed to be made. When Marion came in he did a good job of integrating him and changing the way we played to cater to his strengths. This coincided with Calderon returning to full strength but even so, Triano deserves the credit for picking up the pace. Second, he tried to instill a defensive concept, something that was non-existent under Mitchell. He played to the strengths of O’Neal and Bosh by focusing on protecting the paint, an area where we were getting murdered under Mitchell. This had the side-effect of open perimeter shooters and he put the onus on the wings to recover and close-out, they didn’t do a great job of it but that’s another matter. If we had more athletic wings who could cover more space (as we hope to have next year), this is a strategy that could possibly work.
I thought he summed up the problems of the season in a very nice paragraph in his exit-interview:
I think we all need to be better at finding a way to break guys down. I think the teams that we struggled with were teams that had players that could break a guy down in a one-on-one situation. Number one, we have to get better at defending that, but we don’t get a chance to get better at that in practice because we don’t have a guy who can do it in practice. I think that’s one of the things that we would hopefully look to address, make our guys better or hopefully bring in people that can break somebody down.
As is well-documented, we had trouble containing players that break you down off the dribble, on the other end we didn’t have anyone who could do the same which resulted in a sputtering offense, especially in the fourth. Since we don’t have an offensive player of such caliber we were unable to simulate these situations in practice and thus came to the games unprepared of what lay ahead. This quote directly speaks to Colangelo as to what players Triano needs in order for the team to have success.
Hix X’s and O’s are far from impressive but this is where the value of a training camp cannot be underestimated, it is near impossible to put in new plays in the middle of the season and have them executed as per design. Add to this the fluctuating roster due to trades and injuries and you can make a case that his best is yet to come. I’m just stating facts.
There were’nt any crazy moments which is already a huge improvement over Mitchell. He should’ve handled Roko’s playing time a lot better in light of the Calderon injury situation. Asking a 75.8743% Jose Calderon to go out there and defend when you very well know he can’t was a bad move, especially when you have a pretty good defender in Roko starving for consistent minutes. I thought the injury provided an opportunity for Roko to be developed much quicker but he blew a lot of minutes on an injured Calderon and a worthless Solomon. Triano’s offense/defense subs late in games were also correct, they might’ve not always worked but they were much improved over Mitchell. He did leave Kapono out to dry in late fourth quarter situations but that’s almost unavoidable given the options at the wing.
He may have a capacity to think freely but first and foremost he’s here to follow Colangelo’s command. Every GM loves to have a coach that he has some influence over and for Colangelo, Triano is ideal. Colangelo can dictate things like playing time and rotations much more easily to Triano than to say, an experienced head coach like Flip Saunders. Looking at this from Triano’s perspective, he’s trying to land a legitimate NBA contract and his best shot at doing so is with the Raptors, he’d be very unwise to disobey anything Colangelo says and should just hope that things work out so he can come out looking like a real NBA coach. The results of a highly influential GM are mixed, it’s working out fine in Miami with Pat Riley but backfiring in Golden State with Chris Mullin. In the Raptors’ case, if Colangelo wants the team to play a particular style of basketball, he either needs to bring in an ideal coach that’s entirely on the same page with him or have control over one, the latter case is easier and cheaper.
Other than perhaps to the players he’s already coached, he’s not going to attract anyone to Toronto. If anything, it might be a deterrent. Veteran players hunting for winning environments and championships are likely to have less faith in a rookie head coach than an experienced one. The Raptors have a loser image right now and one can argue that the only attractive thing in Toronto is Chris Bosh, and even he gets mixed reviews around the association. Colangelo’s magic and image have worn off over the last two years which isn’t going to help in attracting free agents, and when potential ones to a double-take upon hearing the coach’s name they’re likely to be drawn back. I do like how Marion, Bosh and Calderon called him a “players coach”, I’m hoping this counts for something in the market.
The long-time Phoenix assistant will be helping out Triano. The conflict of interest for Iavaroni is downright weird, after being fired in Memphis he no doubt wants to have a chance to prove himself as an NBA coach. He was hand-picked by Colangelo which is more than you can say for Triano and it has to be weighing in on him as he anticipates looking over his shoulder if the losses start mounting. Leaving all that aside, Iavaroni does bring something to the table if we’re going to be playing up-tempo basketball. Serving for five years in Phoenix can teach you a lot of things about that style of ball and since we’re apparently committed to it, he’s going to be an asset. Who calls the shots? Iavaroni or Triano? Neither, it’s Colangelo.
With early indicators of season seat renewals being an issue, the Raptors need all the marketing help they can get and a Canadian head coach can only help.