Sam Mitchell Leads Toronto Raptors into Darkness

Brett FulmoreCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2008

Also available on Ball Above the Border. 


Sam Mitchell walked down the dark corridor on his way to the visitors’ locker room.

The light from a nearby camera cast his 6'11" shadow on the red jersey-wearing Raptor contingent walking behind him. His eyes were low. His paces were methodical.

He had just witnessed his team play themselves out of yet another contest. With a chance to hold for the final shot of the first half, the Raptors opted to try a series of unnecessary passes along the perimeter.

Guess what the end result was?

If you guessed a turnover, you’re right. It was a traveling violation that gave Denver the ball back with three seconds remaining. That was more than enough time for Chauncey Billups to stroll down the hardwood and nail a buzzer-beating three pointer—stretching the Nuggets lead 64-45 at the break.

Things would only get worse in the second half.

The Nuggets continued scoring, and the Raptors continued to put up little in the way of resistance. Mitchell watched from the sidelines, looking every bit as shell-shocked as you'd expect from a man who realizes that his days as the head coach of this team seem to be numbered. The final score read 132-93—the type of game that could make a case for the "mercy rule" to be implemented in the NBA rulebook.

I'm not going to pin all of the Raptors' struggles on their coach. Injuries to Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon have prevented this team from firing at full capacity for most of this season. The supporting cast has given new meaning to the word "inconsistency," and the trade rumors that swirled around this team during the beginning of the season certainly didn't help either.

But it's time to fire Sam Mitchell.

Dating all the way back to last season, his effect on this group has been slowly eroding away. Last night's debacle in Denver however, was the final wave that washed away the remaining land that Mitchell was standing on. It went much further than a lack of defensive intensity or a streak of cold shooting—those attributes have been evident all season.  It was the overall effort, or lack thereof, that was truly depressing.

I'd use the word "humiliating" to describe the contest, but that would suggest that the Raptors were actually embarrassed by their performance. From what I saw last night, it's like they were expecting the beat down. When the Nuggets began their onslaught in the first quarter, they showed little anger, frustration, or surprise. It was a game that they were expected to lose, and most members of the team appeared satisfied with doing so.

Whatever Sam Mitchell is preaching in the locker room these days is obviously not working. He was never the strongest X's and O's guy in the league, but for a long time he was able to light the proverbial fire under his players asses. He coached the same way he played the game; fiery and intense.

This is not the case anymore.

Two seasons removed from a Coach of the Year award, and an Atlantic Division title, Mitchell has seen his status in Toronto go from savior to scapegoat. But such is the life of an NBA coach, where even some of the sport's greatest minds have a limited shelf life. Look at the names that are rumored to replace Mitchell: Avery Johnson, Flip Saunders, etc. Most of them have been fired themselves in the past year, and yet they're now being heralded as the answer for the Raptors problems.

I don't think Mitchell is a terrible coach. His substitution patterns leave me scratching my head a lot of the time, and I have serious doubts about his defensive strategies, but I think this is more a case of complacency in the T-Dot. I'm convinced that Mitchell has reached his expiration date. The Raptors have tuned him out, and that has never been more obvious than in last night's blowout.

Maybe the Raptors just need a new voice to guide them, or maybe their problems are rooted much deeper than a coach that has worn out his welcome. But with a particularly difficult stretch of games scheduled for December and the Raptors toiling beneath the .500 mark, this is not the time to play the waiting game.

It's time to fire Sam Mitchell.


Don't forget to check out my blog, Ball Above the Border.