With the news of Sam Mitchell's firing today, Toronto Raptors President and GM Bryan Colangelo made it clear that hovering around the .500 mark, although still only 17 games into the season, is unacceptable.
The team came into this season with high hopes after the addition of Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal would finally allow the Raptors to open the floor for their superstar Chris Bosh and the game plan was set for the '08-09 season, a low-post focus which would draw defenses in deep and allow Bosh and O'Neal to pass out to perimeter players Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, and Jason Kapono for wide-open shots.
The plan appeared to work early on, and the team had some great showings at times—but somehow, as O'Neal came into his own in the Raptors' offensive and defensive schemes, the team still suffered from the same issue they always have—inconsistency.
There is an age-old thought that you can't fire the team, so when the time for a change arrives, it's the coach that needs to pack his bags.
There is no doubt that Mitchell had much to learn as a head coach. I know it's a strange thing to say about a coach who won the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA Coach of the Year for the 2006-07 season.
He was never the best character to deal with from a media-relations standpoint and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The coach isn't there to make the media happy. What became clear is that Mitchell isn't always solid in his approach to a game, it's easy to outline what a team needs to do to win a game, but a strategist has a game plan and puts players in a position to execute. That is what a coach is paid for, and that was Mitchell's weakness
The Toronto Raptors rotation, night after night, came under much scrutiny as well. There were questions why certain players were on the floor night after night in situations that became increasingly clear they weren't prepared to excel in. Bryan Colangelo himself questioned Mitchell's rotation when the coach appeared hesitant to give 2006 No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani playing time in his rookie year.
There was a thought when Bryan Colangelo signed with the Raptors that Sam Mitchell's days in Toronto were numbered. It's typical that a new GM will bring in "his guy" and hire a coach he's willing to work with. Colangelo was adamant that he would stick with Mitchell when these questions arose—and when Mitchell won coach of year honours, it appeared that move paid off. As evidenced by today's announcement, Colangelo will now have his legacy on the court handled by a fresh name of his choosing.
Jay Triano is being handed the reigns in the interim, and he's certainly one of the most-prepared coaches on the Raptors staff to do so. He did have a one game stint as head coach last season when Sam Mitchell had to attend to family business. Triano was the head coach of the Canadian men’s national team from 1998-2004, posting a 52-42 (.553) record, and frequently coaches in other events like the Nike Skills Academy (2006-07), USAB Select team (2007-08) and the Euro Camp in Treviso, Italy (2002-08).
The Toronto Raptors take to the floor again this Friday when they face the Utah Jazz. It will be interesting to see what changes Triano makes to the lineup, if any. The Raptors stand in third place in the Atlantic Division and would hold the last playoff spot if the season were to end today—but of course, the season has a long way to go before the final whistle.
If you believe you don't have the right coach today, then there is no time like to present to correct the problem. The longer a new coach has to work with this team, the more stable the team will be when they face the second half of the season, and make a push for a playoff spot or home-court advantage.