It's no easy chore to follow a franchise through its rebuilding mode as rookie mistakes can sometimes make you feel like you're watching a constant case of 1 step forward, 2 steps back. However it's quite another thing to feel like that as a result of veteran errors.
Last night's heart-wrenching loss to the Sacramento Kings was just one of many games this season, and the second in a row, where veteran errors cost the Raptors the win. Toronto should be 3-0 on this trip but woulda, shoulda, coulda's aside, the team is 0-3. Regardless of the loss to Phoenix as both teams played terribly, the Raptors hung with the Clippers and Kings and lost both games in the final 2 minutes. And while basketball is a team game, there is one individual I'm holding more responsible for these losses then anyone else...Raptors' coach Sam Mitchell.
For the record I think Mitchell is a good coach. I think he's done just about as a good a job as any coach could have done considering the youth and inexperience of the team and the situation they find themselves in. However last night once again I took issue with his substitution patterns at the end of the game. For some reason Mitchell is adamant about having Jalen Rose playing crunch time minutes although the only thing "crunch" about Jalen this season has been the sound of his shots hitting nothing but rim. In Wednesday's loss to the Clippers Jalen Rose was 1 for 12 for the game and yet for some reason was in the lineup for the final few minutes while Charlie Villanueva (18 points, 6 rebounds) languished on the bench. It was ESPECIALLY grievous considering how effective Charlie has been on the offensive glass the past few games...not to mention the Raptors did indeed find themselves needing on offensive putback off a purposely missed foul shot situation for a chance to tie the game. The Raptors were leading in the rebounding department all night and it was one of the reasons they maintained the lead for so long. So keeping Jalen in amongst giants like Elton Brand and Chris Kaman (Rose was forced to guard Elton on several occasions) made little sense to me.
In the same game I also questioned the decision to have Matt Bonner playing the final game minutes as CV Smooth would have seemed like a more athletic replacement if Mitchell really believed that Rose needed to be in the lineup. And maybe Mitchell learned from this as last night in the loss vs. the Kings, Matt Bonner was nowhere to be found in crunch time and Villanueva was indeed playing the key minutes. But guess who DID show up for the party...yep...Mr. Jalen Rose.
It must also be said that I do like Jalen Rose. I watched him joke and cheer up Rafael Araujo on the bench after Hoffa was injured on a play. He provides some great quotes to the media, has NOT been a locker room disruption as his reputation would indicate, and has remained professional acknowledging his own shortcomings this season.
My concern is that Jalen due to his proximity in age to Mitchell and the respect Sam has for him, is getting more playing time then he should be right now. Joey Graham played his best game in over a week last night going 4 for 6 and yet it was Jalen who remained in the game for the final crucial minutes when the Raptors really needed both movement on offense and pressure on the defensive end. Jalen promptly took 2 classic "too early in the shot clock" jump shots and almost turned the ball over on another possession with a terrible pass to CV Smooth in traffic. Villanueva somehow caught the pass but was tied up and the Raptors' lost possession on the ensuing jump ball. And while the Raptors were wasting possessions on offense, the Kings were scoring at the other end thus eventually evening up the score and then taking control of the game in the dying seconds.
I can maybe understand Mitchell feeling that Rose should be able to provide an offensive spark for the team if they've gone cold...but when a furious Chris Bosh is working his ass off to get position only to see Jalen hoist up jump shots on a night where he went 3 for 10...you have to think Sam Mitchell would notice this and make a change. Only this did not occur...and I must add this reoccurance has been to the delight of opposing coaches.
Against the Clippers when Jalen was reinserted into the lineup in the fourth quarter, Corey Maggette promptly took the ball straight at Rose every chance he got. And last night the play drawn up by coach Rick Adelman resulting in the Sacramento win was drawn up for Bonzi Wells...guarded by none other then Jalen Rose. Coincidence? I think not. Regardless, it's been quite obvious to myself and various other fans that opposing teams are simply taking advantage of Jalen on the defensive end and his offence has been so woeful that he's been unable to balance this disadvantage out to the same degree as he did last season.
Now perhaps Jalen will play his way out of this slump. And perhaps having Joey Graham or CV Smooth in the lineup instead of Rose wouldn't have changed the outcome of the past games. However as we've mentioned previously on this site, this team is going to HAVE to make a decision regarding Rose. By his own admission he's not playing well, but until he does, Sam Mitchell is going to HAVE TO give him more time on the pine next to Mr. Loren Woods.
And then again maybe a decision has already been made. Perhaps Mitchell is being forced to showcase Jalen in hopes that Rose regains his prolific scoring touch and thus can be moved to a team off to a slow start looking to add some scoring and veteran presence. Assuming Babcock can get something fair in return, this would probably be the best option for both parties at this point. After all, Jalen will be 33 in January and certainly is no spring chicken. And in a clubhouse filled with developping roosters, the last thing Rob Babcock wants around is a lame duck.