Shift Key Update: I’m learning to live with it, but at some point I have to call somebody to see if they can fix this bloody thing. Enough complaining, on to today’s post.
Sam Mitchell survived four seasons, Lenny Wilkens got through three without ever calling a play, Butch Carter could only manage two before an urge to fill an ill-timed lawsuit did him in, and Kevin O’Neill was fired after exhausting the supply of Canada Dry in only one season. The GMs fare a little better, Glen Grunwald lasted six years and Colangelo is entering his fifth; other notables include Isaiah Thomas’ three-year stint to start things off, and Rob Babcock’s forgettable tenure which saw Raptors basketball hit an entirely different kind of low.
Of all these coach/GM combinations, the longest serving one was Wilkens/Grunwald, which lasted three full years. Triano coached the team for 65 games after Mitchell was let go which is fairly close to a full season’s worth of basketball. Counting that as a season, the Triano/Colangelo combination is entering it’s third year, and if one of these two doesn’t leave the organization, they will match Wilkens/Grunwald as the longest serving GM/coach combination in Raptors history.
During the Wilkens/Grunwald years, the Raptors reached a modest apex in franchise history, it’s nothing to brag about but a first-round win and taking the NBA finalists to seven games is the best of what the Raptors have accomplished. Lenny Wilkens rode the success of that year for two more seasons before Grunwald decided to alter the course of the team by bringing in a hard-nosed defensive-minded coach. Although Grunwald’s intentions were noble, and O’Neill did produce the league’s 7th ranked defense, his hard persona and no-nonsense attitude did not mix well with the players (Vince Carter), and the franchise once again bended to its employees and let O’Neill go. All in all, Grunwald presided over three coaches before the ownership called it quits on him: Butch Carter, Lenny Wilkens, and Kevin O’Neill. Two were excellent hires at the time, and O’Neill was a debatable choice.
The often overlooked aspect of Bryan Colangelo’s tenure as GM is that, as much as he shakes up the roster year in and year out, he has yet to hire his own coach. He’s gone with Sam Mitchell, hired by Rob Babcock, and Jay Triano, hired initially by Glen Grunwald in 2002. In both cases his hands were somewhat tied. When Sam Mitchell’s contract came up for renewal, he had the Coach of the Year trophy in his pocket and Colangelo was almost coerced by it to hand him an extension. I fully believe if Mitchell doesn’t win that award, the Raptors make a coaching change that summer. Once Mitchell’s time ran out, the Raptors already had too much money tied up in coaches and Triano was selected as a cheap and convenient alternative.
Under the Triano/Colangelo combination, the Raptors have disappointed in back-to-back seasons, and you have to wonder how much more time these two are given to sort things out. Since the maximum any combination has stayed together is three years, you would think the upcoming season is the make-or-break year for them. If things go as expected, the Raptors will miss the playoffs under the banner of rebuilding leaving them shy of the post-season for three consecutive years, all under Colangelo and Triano. That has never happened to any Raptors coach/GM combination.
Is this the make-or-break year for these two, or do we stay patient and let them oversee the full rebuilding of the Raptors?