Today, Vicious D takes a look at what Maurizio Gherardini, Alvin Williams, and Alex English have to say about this year's team.
Coaches and management have always been people that I've been interested in interviewing.
They're the experts of a team and have to know the tendencies of the team. They have to know how to highlight the strengths, improve on the weaknesses, and how to develop an identity for a team. The Raptors, besides overhauling their players, also made quite a few changes from a coaching standpoint. Going into his second year, Jay Triano had the luxury of choosing his staff and bringing together like-minds who would be able to foster his vision of a successful basketball team.
One of those new coaches is my personal favourite, Alvin Williams. In person, Williams is extremely friendly and engaging. He is always talking with a smile on his face and with enthusiasm for the game. He also seems to be taking to coaching like a fish to water. I asked him a few questions about the team.
Raptors HQ: I was wondering what your opinion is of the team so far after working out with them for a bit?
Alvin Williams: I like the team! I'm excited. We've made a lot of moves and I think we have a good opportunity to be very successful. Of course, there's a lot of new pieces, so it's gonna take a little time. But I think with our veteran leadership, there are guys that have been here like Jose and Chris who are the foundation (of our team) and we've got guys like Jarret Jack and Hedo who know how to play the game. So the transition shouldn't be as hard as it may be for another team.
RHQ: What do you like most about this team? What kind of identity have you seen come through?
AW: I'm not sure about the identity because you know, that develops through training camp. But right now, what I see is depth. A lot of guys can come in off the bench and play and provide in the case of injuries or if something happens. You know, guys like Jarrett Jack can come in and play the "1" and "2" positions and you got Hedo who can play about four (different) positions, so you have a lot more versatility.
RHQ: Now, as you were a point guard, does that mean that you've been spending most of your time with the PG and SG positions, or are you moving around to other areas of the team?
AW: I'm gonna move in with the other areas, but what I can really offer is with the point guard position and the two-guard position. So right now, it's a learning experience for me so I'm gonna take my time and figure out the players' weaknesses and that's gonna be my biggest focus. I'm gonna find out what the guys aren't as strong at and try to help them out as much as possible.
RHQ: And I know it's early, but is there anyone you see that you think will surprise us?
AW: I'm not sure. It's still early! You got training camp once again and a lot of guys will get an opportunity. That's what the NBA is about. Coach Triano is a great coach who allows players to play. So with the style, it's gonna be up and down and things like that, so everyone will get the opportunity to get the confidence of the coach. So you never know, it can always be a surprise.
I think we can safely say that the Raptors are going to use their depth to punish teams. A lot of people have started to predict a Suns-like offense, but I think the Raptors will have a better opportunity because they have better depth than the Suns of yesteryear. The team's bench definitely is an asset that the coaching staff is looking to utilize, so we may see the staff push the players to expend more energy for shorter periods of time. With an up and down offense, depth will be an important asset that will help maintain an even pressure throughout the game.
I next talked with Alex English about his outlook for the upcoming year. As one of the returning coaches, Alex English seemed to be content and a very steady presence.
RHQ: Hello Mr. English. Can you give me some opinion on where the team is right now?
Alex English: Well, we haven't had our first practice yet, but just watching them in a pick-up game, I think they look decent. We got a ways to go and we've got a lot of stuff to put in, but I am very excited.
RHQ: Is there a certain style that you're aiming for this year?
AE: Well, we want to play better defense for sure. We want to be known more as a defensive team, but we also have a lot of offensive power, so we want to pick the tempo up a little bit and take advantage of opportunities when they're given to us. We're just looking to be a more exciting team!
RHQ: Gotcha. Is there anything Coach Triano pointed out as a focus for this year? Is there a particular weakness he wants to work on this year?
AE: Defensively, I think that's going to be our major focus, which was our major weakness last year. Offensively, which is what I work on with Coach Triano, we want to focus on the technical part of the game. You know, running in to plays harder, setting good screens, and rolling to the basket are the technical aspects of our plays. We want to tighten that up and be more efficient and be more concise and decisive.
RHQ: And we've seen some changes on the coaching staff this year. Has that changed the dynamic between the coaching staff and do you have to develop a chemistry?
AE: We've basically had four, five months to be with each other, and as the team learns each other, we will do the same, as coaches. Now, we're all one big team, but the micro-team of coaches have to also learn each other and get to know each other as well if we're going to be the best coaching staff in the NBA!
Finally, I had a little talk with Maurizio Gherardini. As assistant general manager and vice president, Gherardini has overseen much of this team's overhaul. I first asked him about his other Italian acquisition this summer, Marco Belinelli.
RHQ: With regards to Marco Belinelli, you've had the opportunity to see him for a lot of his career, what do you think is the special quality that he brings to the Raptors?
Maurizio Gherardini: Well, there is no doubt Marco is a pretty good offensive player. He has the advantage that at his young age, he has had a lot of important seasons under his belt because he started to play Euroleague basketball at a very young age. Even at that age, he knows how to get around problems and how to get around picks. He's used to being defended strongly, he knows what to expect, and he's experienced enough to play his game no matter how strong he's being defended. I think overall, he's going to bring creativity, shooting, and he's a better passer than most people know. I think he needs to improve on other areas of his game, that's understandable. If he was as good of a defender as he is an offensive player, then he probably wouldn't be here today.
RHQ: Much has been made about the relationship between Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli. Do you have any stories about their relationship?
MG: I actually lived through the rivalry between Treviso (Bargnani) and Bologna (Belinelli) more than stories. I think being considered the two protégés of Italian Basketball, it was always interesting to see how they were impacting their own team with their play and when we faced each other. Luckily, when the time came, Andrea made an impact on our team (Treviso) that allowed us to win the championship. But if we look at the full picture of each season, I think Marco was probably a much more important player for the Bologna team through those seasons where they faced each other.
RHQ: So do you feel that they'll push each other this year?
MG: More than pushing each other... Pushing is more related to people fighting over the same spot. They obviously won't be fighting for the same spot, but having such a good relationship between the two of them, I think they will push each other to focus as much as possible, to stay in the best possible shape, and trying to be as successful as possible. They'll also be sharing what they've been sharing on the national team together, and sharing the experience they've had in the past. Having had the opportunity to go through a few seasons in the NBA will help him (Belinelli) to live the season the right way.
From talking with the staff, you get a sense that the optimism is being carried through the entire team from top to bottom. Everyone seems to smile when talking about this team and how they feel the team will do. It all gives you a sense that the Raptors have a quiet confidence that we will hopefully see on the floor.
On another note, I'd also like to point out that thanks to Bryan Colangelo, there's a pool of money being developed so that reporter Eric Koreen (National Post) will cut his hair into a Faux Hawk haircut a la Amir Johnson. If you're interested in making a donation, you can do so to the Make a Wish foundation in the name of Eric Koreen.
Also, we recently did a quick Q and A with Heels on Hardwood regarding Media Day and the team's preparation for the upcoming season. Shout out to Nat for her work on the site and we'll probably be checking in with her during the season from time to time.
Finally, closing off, I'd like to share with you the pictures that I took during media day. As you all know, it was quite the frenzy, but we managed to grab some nice shots of the new ACC as well as the players.