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Let’s Not Forget The Thankless Assistant

Two games in London. This time it’s actually England.

Two games in London. This time it’s actually England. I recall last year when it was announced that the Raptors would play a game in London, naturally my first reaction was to think of England but it turned out to be the John Labatt Centre. This province doesn’t stop there, before I knew there was a Paris in Ontario, a man once fooled me into thinking he was going to France for a weekend-getaway. The conversation went something like this:

Man: I’m going to Paris for the weekend.

Me: Flights must’ve been expensive on short notice.

Man: Huh? (not acknowledging the obvious misunderstanding)

Me: Plane tickets.

Man: I’m driving.

Me: What?

Man: I’m driving with my girlfriend, coming back on Sunday night, she’s got work early on Monday.

Me: You’re driving to Par…you mean the airport…wait…what?

Man: Paris, Ontario, dude…what you think I meant, London?

Me: Umm…yeah!!

I suppose if they had to steal one game out of the 41, the Nets would be a good bet even though it means not seeing John Wall Derrick Favors. For me the least exciting game every season has been the Timberwolves’ lone visit to town, but not seeing the Nets is nothing to complain about. I do wonder how MLSE handles season-ticket holders who pay for 41 games but will only get to see 40, if you’re a season-seat holder I suspect you know the answer. Also, the NBA must compensate the clubs for the lost home-game, maybe even more than what they would stand to make by playing it at their own arena.

It’s interesting to note that the league has chosen two teams that are arguably the least desirable to watch and who nobody will pick for a playoff spot. After all, David Stern doesn’t want to take a chance that a playoff berth is decided by a game played in front of Redcoats. It also helps that both teams are on the east coast, thus making it a shorter flight.

Jay Triano is officially a coach for USA Basketball. This after Mike D’Antoni’s back problems prevented him from joining the staff. Come to think of it, Triano appears to be the lone member of the Raptors organization that seems to have clout where it counts. We don’t talk about this enough, but it speaks to his ability that he’s being asked to play a key role in USA basketball. Triano has his critics and rightfully so, his game-management has often left even casual fans scratching their heads, and his stubbornness to play questionable lineups persisted all season, but getting hired by USA basketball says something. When he was fired as the head coach of the Canadian team he was 49-39, that never computed with me.

There was speculation last year that much like Mitchell, the lineups were being dictated from the front-office, and being a rookie coach it’s easy to succumb to the pressure of giving your boss what he wants. I’m not saying that Colangelo gave Triano the lineup card, but it could be as innocent as casually telling Triano, “Calderon, Jack and Turk could be interesting”. As much as we’re looking forward to the growth of DeRozan and Co., Triano’s growth as a coach should also be monitored. I don’t know anyone who was a fan of Marc Iavaroni and the first time I saw an interview with him I had a bad feeling, not because he looked like he was trying to sell you a used Toyota, but because his defensive resume never quite matched the reputation that we were sold. P.J Carlesimo is a different character, he’s had years of coaching experience, both as an assistant and a head coach. He’s never won a playoff round but has been part of good and bad teams, dealt with some nut-cases in Portland, almost got killed by Sprewell, and has a voice that grabs your attention, even though the first thought that crosses your mind is whether you should offer the man some water and a chair.

Good assistants are crucial to any team’s success, from Tex Winters to Tom Thibodeau, from Phil Johnson to Kevin O’Neill (yes, he was a great assistant in Detroit), these men often provide the scaffolding for the head coach and without them, success would be impossible. This is more true now than ever, NBA coaches have become figureheads whose primary job is motivating the players, managing their personalities and setting broader goals and styles for the team; the nuts and bolts usually fall to the thankless assistant who spends countless hours with players honing their elbow-jumpers, up-and-unders, and communicating just exactly where they fit into the offensive and defensive schemes. That is the real work. I never had a problem with Sam Mitchell’s persona or his attitude towards his players, unfortunately, the man was never surrounded by assistants who could stand up to him and correct his mistakes. I mean, did you ever hear Mike Evans at halftime? The guy looked like he wanted to hit the peelers right then and there. In general, they just let a rookie head coach do whatever he wanted with the playbook and Sam did nothing. It’s not his fault, it was an overall staffing problem.

Moving along, coaches who try to increase the tempo (which we’re legitimately thinking of doing next year, not just pretending) need to be measured by a different yardstick than the more traditional ones. Whereas Rick Adelman, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson, and Stan Van Gundy manage the game on a possession-by-possession basis, coaches like Mike D’Antoni, Jay Triano, and Alvin Gentry are almost forced to view the game differently. Since their goal is to, by the end of the game, out-gun you, micro-managing the game through play-calling doesn’t always make sense. If anything, this style of play means more responsibility transferred to the players and the coach taking a hands-off approach, so that the players have the freedom to dynamically read the situation early in the shot-clock and go from there. If you asked a point-guard of a run ‘n gun team to take instructions from the coach before every other possession, it would slow the game down and kill the chance of the break. And that’s another reason why I’m so infatuated with getting a high-quality point guard in Toronto.

I believe I have said my peace for this Wednesday morning.

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