steph

Here’s a quote by Andrea Bargnani after the loss to the Bulls. The question was, ‘Are you surprised by what happened tonight?’

(Sighs)..I thought it was going to be a closer game, but they played better than us. They been playing better compared to us in the last two weeks. Surprised, but not much….what do you want me to say…

Now here’s a quote by Kevin Durant after their Game 6 loss to the Lakers:

I’m a competitor. I want to win every game I play. I want to be a champion, and stuff like this hurts. I work so hard, we work so hard as a group, that I think that every time we step on the floor we should win.

I’m not picking on Andrea Bargnani, let me make that perfectly clear. The quotes point to the mindset the two teams had coming into the biggest games of the year of their respective teams. The Bulls game was our playoff game, and we laid an egg. I remember watching this interview after the game and thinking that if our best player on the night doesn’t really believe in his team’s ability, and isn’t “surprised” by being blown out at home in a crunch game, what does that say about the attitude around the clubhouse. What does it say about the influence the coaching staff has had on the players, that they’ve halfway conceded the game before it even starts.

I was expecting the locker-room to blow up after the Bulls game, but everyone just took the loss in stride, as if it didn’t matter. No wonder LeBron James though that we didn’t want to make the playoffs. These sentiments were later echoed by Jeff Blair in the Globe and Mail, who happened to be inside the Raptors locker-room:

Thirty years in the business and I have never seen such acceptance of choking down the stretch as I saw in the Toronto Raptors locker room after they failed to make the playoffs. Other than Chris Bosh beating a hasty exit and looking properly annoyed, my lingering memory will be Sonny Weems singing. Of course, considering the ovation the Raptors were given after choking – not to mention the insipid cheering that greeted free pizza when the Raptors hit the 100-point mark – you could argue they were just feeding off a non-discriminating home crowd.

Read Durant’s quote again, it speaks of the genuine agony of losing after giving your very best. It’s an attitude that is a must in any team that hopes to win, let alone contend. Those players have become programmed to give 100% and expect to win every time they step on the court. It’s not just about talent, it’s about the belief instilled in the players through practices, communication, accountability, leadership, and last but not least, the hatred of losing.

Even if the Raptors bring in the talent, these intangibles will need to be addressed, and I’m not talking about Reggie Evans either. I’ve been moaning about this for years now, the Raptors lack of locker-room leadership in combination with a soft coach has kept this team from realizing its potential. As a hardcore fan, that is unbearable to watch. It honestly can’t be that hard to find an assistant coaching staff well-versed in their X’s and O’s commanded by a head coach that instills said belief. We were close with Sam Mitchell, he had the right attitude, but he was stubborn, his playbook was poor, his assistant coaches were duds, and in the end he took the axe.

These days coaches are about getting consistent effort more than X’s and O’s, the assistants cover that area of expertise. Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy, and Mike Brown, are just a few examples of coaches that rely heavily on their assistants and tend to focus themselves on the effort aspect of things. The same can be said for Phil Jackson, who relied on Tex Winter for years, and after that promoted Jim Cleamons as his right-hand man. Even the uber-tough Jerry Sloan defers to long-time assistant Phil Johnson for the nitty-gritty; in the Thunder example, Scotty Brooks preaches defense (read effort) “85% of the time” and you see the results on the floor. Larry Brown guided the Bobcats to the #1 defense in the NBA, it was the sole reason they made the playoffs, sure they got swept, but the franchise made strides under Brown that it had failed to make in the five years of its existence. There’s a comment element in these success stories, it’s a hard-nosed coach that refused to accept anything less than 100%, and is equipped with an assistant coaching staff that instills the philosophy that losing sucks and is not to be accepted at any cost. Contrast this with Jay Triano’s quote after the Chicago loss:

I though our effort was good, I thought we played hard.

Now, what is one to think of his ability as a motivator?

Ask yourself, who is driving home the “effort” message on the Raptors? Who on the roster or on the coach’s bench is building the character and mental toughness of the players? The only one that pops to mind is Alvin Williams, and he basically sits in the first row instead of on the bench. Importing a leader that has the respect of the players, and is even feared, is hard to do. There just aren’t that many of those types of players around, but if we ever want the Raptors to play with the same type of team-spirit, togetherness and effort the young Thunder team have displayed, it’s paramount we find one, or even two.

Chris Bosh’s tweet. My first reaction to it was, “Go f**k off”. The second one didn’t have the f-word in it. The way I see it, either he’s dumb enough to follow the advice of his followers, or he’s an attention whore. That’s really all I’m saying about it. Hopefully his extension or S&T get resolved as quickly as possible, maybe even before draft day so we have a proper agenda heading into it.

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