I like Jay Triano.
Besides seeming like a great guy personally, he's miles better at dealing with the media than Sam Mitchell, and I happen to believe he knows a thing or two about coaching a basketball team as well.
The players like him, he's held in high regard amongst the international coaching community, and he's solid on the X and O's.
Heck, last night with 1.7 seconds left in a tie game, it was Triano's play call that nearly resulted in a Toronto win as Chris Bosh's jumper hit front iron as time expired.
But that's not to say there aren't times when I'm left scratching my head, or yelling at my TV, regarding his decisions, and if there was an "Exhibit A" on the season, last night was it.
The Raptors had come out flat to start the match, gotten nothing from Hedo Turkoglu or Jarrett Jack, and very little from Andrea Bargnani either. However by replacing them with Sonny Weems, Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson respectively, the Raps, or Huskies on this night, turned what was a 28 to 12 deficit, into only a 34 to 32 difference. Toronto's bench really was the difference maker and in the game's second half, when TO's starters let the team down again, it was Amir Johnson and co. to the rescue.
But here's where it gets foggy.
With Toronto seizing the late game momentum and up 89 to 86, coach Triano is forced to remove Antoine Wright from the action after Wright was cut badly above his eye and bleeding profusely. With Marco Belinelli hurt, and Sonny Weems already manning the 2-guard spot, Triano elects to re-insert the woeful Hedo at small forward, who was clocking in at a glorious -24 without a field goal make at that point. His only other option might have been DeMar DeRozan but in any event, the expectation was that once Wright got stitched up, Hedo would come back out.
Only for some reason, that never happened.
Instead, Weems was taken out for Wright. Weems, who had been very effecient on the evening (5 of 7 for 10 points to go with 2 rebounds, 3 assists and numerous defensive plays) was left on the bench and Hedo played essentially the remainder of regulation, and then all of overtime.
That might have been fine had Turk actually contributed anything to the game other than raising the blood pressure of the ACC faithful. Instead, he finished with 1 point, 1 steal, 1 rebound and 2 assists in 29 minutes of action.
I could have done that.
I think my Mom could have too.
I mean, Reggie Evans played 4 minutes and had 4 points and 4 rebounds and was +3!!
Another team-leading night on the minus side, this time a ridiculous -29.
The frustrating thing is that it's not like his shots just weren't dropping, he only took five all night!
Thanks to the media access provided to us by the Raptors last night, I got a chance to really watch Hedo up close and it's unbelievable how little effort he exerted during the game. One play in particular though stood out that really summed things up for me. In the first quarter, DeMar DeRozan came up with a loose ball after a failed drive by Memphis, and he quickly headed in the other direction. It wasn't quite a fast break though, more of a 2-on-2, and while DeRozan's initial attack at the hoop was thwarted, Amir Johnson gobbled up the rebound for the put-back.
But while all of this was going on, Hedo was nowhere to be found in the play. Instead he was standing back in the paint at the other end of the court simply watching his teammates. Absolutely no effort was made to even move until Amir had scored and Memphis inbounded the ball to head back to the Toronto side of the court.
I couldn't believe my eyes.
This was the most eggregious example last night for sure, but it wasn't the only one on a night when Turkoglu might have redifined the term "bad game."
So the question on my lips, as well as those of most of the other media types present, was why on earth Triano stuck with Hedo late in the game and into OT considering his level of play?
From the following audio file, you can hear Jay's response to me asking about the decision not to go back to Weems, as well as various others from the media touching on his decision to stick with Hedo:
It doesn't exactly make sense does it.
Yes, I get that Jay thought Hedo was starting to get going - but shouldn't it have been obvious by the time the game went to OT that Turk was still firing up bricks on O, and giving nothing on D? It's not like Zach Randolph killed Toronto in the extra session, it was the exact man "the Ottoman" was supposed to be guarding, Rudy Gay.
You can hear also from the audio clip that I try to go back to the point about the bench being so successful, however before I could ask my follow-up question as to why they weren't used more in overtime considering it was the bench that got Toronto the eventual lead, the media session was cut off.
Not to be derailed, I immediately went to the Memphis locker room to talk to Rudy Gay. I wanted to get his take on the overtime session and how he felt Toronto was trying to defend him:
RaptorsHQ: What did Lionel (Hollins) say to you guys prior to the start of the overtime session?
Rudy Gay: He said basically that we're getting back to the way we were playing earlier this season and to keep doing what we were doing.
RHQ: In overtime they (Toronto) kept switching on your screen-and-roll sequences, did you expect something different or did you keep looking for the same thing? Because you kept seeing the same coverage time after time.
RG: Not necessarily, there was one time when Antoine Wright was on me (instead of Jose) and we still ran the same play. It wasn't the fact that they switched every time, it was more that I was getting the ball in good spots to operate.
RHQ: You guys were just going to keep running it until they showed they could stop it.
RG: Yeah. (Laughs.)
RHQ: Did your eyes light up on those switches when you saw Jose was on you or Hedo was on you?
RG: Yeah (laughs again) My eyes always light up! But yeah, they were good match-ups for sure.
Anyone else getting the idea that the Raptors' coaching staff was simply too stubborn to switch things up and this probably cost them the game?
But just to be sure, I then headed back to the Raps' locker room to talk to Antoine Wright, since he was on the court during the OT disaster. Here was his take:
Reporter: Hedo struggled tonight Antoine, was that a key factor in the loss?
Antoine Wright: We all have to step up. It's been like that all season long and when our stars aren't playing well, our bench has to come in and bring energy. We did a good job, but just not for the whole 48 minutes.
Reporter: You had a 5 point game, they call a time-out, then score the next five in a matter of seconds to tie it. How does that happen?
AW: I just think we have to do a better job of putting out the fire. Rudy got it going, and we really couldn't affect him enough to get the ball out of his hands so we've gotta do a better job of that in the future.
Reporter: How tough of a cover is Rudy?
AW: He's a big guy. I think people forget that he's that tall and underestimate how long he is. And once a guy like that, with the type of skills that he has, gets going, there's pretty much nothing you can do about it. He's going to jump over everyone and he has a high release so it's hard to affect his shot. But we need to do a better job of not letting him catch the ball and force him out further, out of the spots where he likes to get the ball.
RHQ: I'm guessing Jay talked about defensive coverages during that stretch when Rudy had it going; did he talk about switching anything when it seemed like Rudy was getting the looks he wanted?
AW: Yeah, we adjusted, it just wasn't good enough, and sometimes that's what happens. We came in the huddle, coach made an adjustment, you know, switching, getting a quicker guy on him (Gay) to see if that would change the way they attacked but...
RHQ: ...quicker guy, you mean Jose?
AW: Yeah, but he just kept it going. There was really nothing we could do then. It sucks you have to learn this way but maybe next time we'll put a double team on him or something.
So let me get this straight.
The team needed stops and Jay decided to use Jose and Hedo with Wright to stop the uber-athletic Gay? Why not use Weems and play Wright at the 3? The team had great success with that line-up throughout the game, and while Jarrett Jack was invisible all night, why not try him then instead of Jose on those switches?
The whole thing just doesn't make sense.
And that's not even getting into the late game decisions by the team which allowed Memphis to score five points in the game's final 32 seconds, or the fact that despite possesing five fouls each, the Raptors were unable to get Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol to foul out.
Frustration all around.
However it's not the end of the world. This is a fairly solid Memphis club and while they have no bench to speak of, their starters are quite able to give most teams a good test. Toronto should have won this match, but considering this was one I earmarked for an L at the start of their recent 10-game stretch, I'm not surprised by the outcome.
What's more important obviously is going forward from here. The Raptors now take on the Nets, and the Nets 2.0, aka the Washington Wizards, who recently traded half their team in order to compete with Nets in the John Wall sweepstakes. These are two games the Raps must win as their schedule toughens up again towards the end of the month.
Along these same veins, you've gotta wonder what's going through Bryan Colangelo's head right now. In the past, he's been very quick to address mistakes on his part, be they of the Fred Jones or Jermaine O'Neal variety and the trade deadline is of course later today.
I'd argue that the Hedo Turkoglu signing is the worst of these gaffes to date but can anything really be done?
I simply can't see how BC can move this contract off the books without throwing in some bait; be it an expiring deal, a prospect, or draft picks. Considering the Raps have no big expiring deals now, and are already down a first-round pick thanks to the JO trade last season, that leaves prospects...and I don't see Mr. DeRozan going anywhere any time soon.
The reality is that Toronto is probably stuck with "The Ottoman" for a long time and it's going to take many more disastrous outings like last night's before we see Turk permanently strapped to the pine.
Which is a shame.
Because while I think Triano's done a fair job this year, night's like yesterday evening show that a little bad coaching can go a long ways in the L column.