Bryan Colangelo fired his second coach as Raptors GM yesterday. Make no mistake, the reassignment of Jay Triano to the Raptors front office is only a face-saving measure the club have offered to one of their longest serving employees. No matter how amiably it is framed, the guillotine falling on Triano alleges incompetence and a failure to make the most of the extraordinary opportunity presented to the Canadian to establish himself as a NBA head coach. The act is not surprising as Colangelo had withheld a proper stamp of approval at his end-of-season press conference. The best he could muster up was that “based on the early prognosis…he deserves consideration for the head coach”. Not having a new contract at the time had to have hampered his authority to speak his mind, but now that the clouds have cleared, Colangelo has taken the first step in his two-year project by deflecting a good chunk of the blame for the Raptors’ abysmal season on Triano.
The brass has spoken often about how the number of wins isn’t the metric to measure the team’s success, and that the growth and maturation of the players is what the object of the campaign was. What does Triano’s firing mean in that context? Well, it’s easy to speculate that the growth the players showed last year was either not satisfactory, or that Colangelo sees Triano’s limits as a head coach and doesn’t think he can take them to the next level. And the next level here being .500 ball.
One of the debates that rages on is whether Triano had the personnel to do better on defense, or whether he was doomed from the start given the quality of the roster. I understand that athleticism doesn’t translate to defense, and that neither does effort (it’s still a significant variable in its function), but surely the Raptors had enough of both to avoid being dead-last in defense for two consecutive years. I get the 2009-10 season, an injured Jose Calderon, a disinterested Hedo Turkoglu and the sieve-like Bargnani can’t help the cause, but what about this year? Calderon saw a rejuvenation of sorts, Turkoglu was gone, and Bargnani, well, you can’t tell me it’s all Bargnani’s fault.
The bottom line is that even though it appeared Triano got decent effort out of the players all of last season, he failed to improve the defense one iota, and paid for it. By all accounts his relationship with the team was great, he was well-liked, respected, with the predilection his players had for him made him a favorable candidate to return. However, it wasn’t to be, and Triano, like Sam Mitchell, is the fall guy for Colangelo.
The timing of the announcement strikes me as odd, this is one of those decisions that shouldn’t take this long. You either want a guy to coach your team, or you don’t. If this was Colangelo’s decision then it should have happened a day after he signed his new deal, thus allowing for maximum time for a coach to be established before the draft. If it was the board’s, then there’s no reason for it not to happen after the end of the season. According to Colangelo, the rationale behind the move is to alter the voice of leadership, he said, “It was a gut feeling on where this needs to go and how we want to get there..we talked about the direction of team [and] decided it was time to change the voice, change the leader at the helm.”
No word on whether this is the same “gut feeling” that fired Sam Mitchell after an 8-9 start, signed Jason Kapono, Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, Jermaine O’Neal…
Unlike the last coaching change, this one will have to reflect a shift in the Raptors’ team-building and basketball philosophy. The Mitchell-Triano transition was too smooth to have the jarring impact a coaching change usually has. The wake-up call that accompanies coaching changes wasn’t there the last time, and it is sure to be in the next hire. I don’t think we’ll see a hire that is considered a “player’s coach”, it will, or at least should be, an authoritarian of a high order. One who commands respect and accepts nothing less than an unremitting quality of defense and total discipline, most of all it has to be someone who will not be influenced or dictated to by the front-office, as Triano surely was. My guess is that it will be a coach that values defense and will have the final chance of extracting something out of Andrea Bargnani. Colangelo appears to agree, “For our team . . . we need somewhat of a pedigree or resume, someone who has somewhat of a defensive-minded presence (and) a flow to the offence.”
Colangelo had two strikes on him and simply couldn’t afford to take the risk of entering the final two years of his contract with Triano in charge. If Colangelo fails in his attempt to resuscitate this franchise before his contract ends, he could irreparably tarnish his over-varnished image. With that in mind, he made the change; now that he’s under the gun and his performance is being closely monitored within MLSE, by an overly skeptical mainstream media, and certainly the fans, I expect a no-holds-barred approach to delivering on expectations. Will history repeat itself and prove Colangelo to be reckless, or will his calculations add up and culminate in a team that will be on a trajectory of contention come 2013? One thing is for certain: the pace at which the team was developing under Triano was not acceptable, and Colangelo has chosen to accelerate the process. Whether it’s an act in haste or a fruitful exercise in expediting the rebuild remains to be seen.
Keep also in mind that season tickets need to be renewed, and it’s much easier to sell “new” of everything to incredulous season seat holders who have been subjected to the lowest form of basketball in these cold winters. It just might be easier to sell Jeff Van Gundy than DeMar DeRozan at this point. The question of when to hire the new saviour is one of intrigue, common sense would dictate that it should happen well before the draft and well in advance of a potential work stoppage. If that is the case, then Colangelo has to move fast or he might be in danger of presenting the new coach with a pre-selected lottery pick who is expected to receive playing time.
From Triano’s perspective, he has to be second-guessing his decisions of the last three years, a span that could very well have extinguished his NBA coaching career. He has to be wondering what might have been if, instead of following Colangelo’s orders, he had gone about his own way on how to organize team strategies, award playing time, hire assistant coaches, and other things a head coach usually has full, if not the majority of control in. The Raptors gave him an unlikely opportunity to become a NBA head coach, and Triano had almost three full seasons to prove that he was capable. At the end of those three long years, he failed to impress in any category other than that of likability, which was rightfully not enough.
I hope this change doesn’t vindicate the current squad and lead Colangelo and his liturgical acolytes to believe that a mere coaching change is going to come close to addressing the deep issues with the roster. I would think Colangelo already has someone in mind. It’s not going to be P.J Carlesimo, that’s for certain, candidates out there include defensive specialists such as Larry Brown, Mike Fratello, Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman and Lawrence Frank. Hiring a rookie coach has been already ruled out, five of the Raptors seven head coaches have been given their first shot at coaching by the organization, and one of the other two was Brendan Malone in the inaugural season. Lenny Wilkens has been the only experienced hire since, coincidentally he’s also the one who ever won a playoff series for the club.
This is a switch signifying a change of direction, both for the strategies deployed on the court, and the environment around the clubhouse. Raptors fans might disagree on the players and their ability, but one thing that they can all shake hands on is that the Raptors play with too much passivity and that there is a general lack of seriousness around the club, which serve as inputs to the atrocious defense manifested on the court. Fix that, and maybe there’s a chance to be half decent.
We’ll end with the man himself:
“I am grateful to the organization for the opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA. I am proud of the work that I and the coaching staff have done with our young players and feel confident we have laid the foundation for a team that will continue to improve. I look forward in assisting Bryan to deliver a championship team to Toronto.”
No other way of putting this: he blew his chance.