Bryan Colangelo, you have your work cut out for you. This incoming coach will be the third coach of your five-year tenure, the eighth in the Raptors’ sixteen-year existence. You handpicked Jay Triano after firing Sam Mitchell seventeen games into a season. Seventeen. His record was 8-9, the Raps had gotten killed on a west coast road trip and you saw your opportunity to get your boy, Triano, in there. So, despite being only one game below .500, Mitchell – a former coach of the year – was out, and Triano was in.
Don’t get me wrong: I quite like Triano. I think he did the best he could with the tools given. I also think that he is an offensive-minded coach who led a team of offensive-minded players. The Raps were never going to be a defensive force with the team they had and that is as much to do with Triano as it is with the players that Colangelo himself brought in. Obviously, guys like Reggie Evans and Shawn Marion (and even Anthony Parker, when he was here) are the exceptions to this rule, but by and large, the Raptors have been an offense-first team for years. They were built that way. You don’t go out and get Bargnani, Calderon, Kapono, etc and then expect shot-blocking. As much as I love Calderon (and I do!), the man cannot move laterally. As for Bargnani, the man has never played defense in his life. He didn’t play it in the EuroLeague and there was no reason to think he’d play it here. Should he? Of course he should. He’s over 7’0″ and ought to be able to grab more rebounds and hey, even block a shot every once in a while. But he was not brought to Toronto for defense: he’s a knock-down shooter who can actually put the ball on the floor and go to the hoop. But Dirk, he ain’t. To expect things of players when you know fully well that that’s not their bag, well that’s unreasonable and unlikely. Same goes for coaches.
Was Triano the best coach that the Raptors could have gotten back in 2009? No, I don’t think so. Did he see success with the 2008-2009 team only to see major players leave in the next two years? Absolutely. Did he have a difficult roster of players to work with, either for reasons of attitude (I’m lookin’ at you, Turkey and you, South Beach) or youth? Unquestionably. Would the last nearly-three seasons have turned out differently with another coach? Oh, it’s possible. But Triano worked hard with what he was given and I’m glad he’ll still be around with the Raps organization. Colangelo made it exceedingly clear that he is still a fan of Triano and has hired him on as a special consultant, perhaps as a gesture to say, “Hey…uh, sorry about that.” Additionally, he has said that if the right coach comes in, he would be more than happy to entertain the idea of Triano returning to the sidelines as an assistant.
So who is the right coach? Someone with experience. Someone who knows how and insists on coaching defense. Obviously, Rick Adelman is the first available name that comes up, but the likelihood of him wanting to start fresh is slim. Jeff Van Gundy? Please, he has a cushy job where he’s paid to argue with Mark Jackson for hours on end while Mike Breen sits like a bump on an angry log. Lawrence Frank..well, now we’re getting a little more interesting. Brian Shaw, who was criminally passed over for the Lakers job, is another option as is Dwayne Casey in Dallas. For now, it’s all up in the air. Colangelo will undoubtedly want to get a coach in place before the draft at the end of the month, but that won’t be an easy feat. He is saying all the right things, but then, he usually does. I expect the Raptors team to look very different when they take to the court in the fall: let’s hope that changes aren’t made for the sake of change itself. I think the Raps have proven that constant upheaval is not the key to success.