Jeff Van Gundy?
Let the speculation begin.
Yesterday afternoon the Toronto Raptors declined to pick up the option year on coach Jay Triano's contract, opting instead to make Triano a "special assistant to president and general manager", Bryan Colangelo.
Which made me laugh when I read the press release from the Raps.
After all, hadn't Triano always been a "special assistant to the president and GM?" Even in his nearly three years as head coach, you just never got the feel that Triano was calling all the shots, and while yesterday's news hopefully represents another big step in getting this team back on course, to me it also had a similar vibe to the dismissal of Sam Mitchell, Triano's predecessor, in that the coach is taking the fall for the shortcomings of his players.
(Not to mention the shortcomings of the man responsible for bringing in said players.)
While Colangelo didn't go into a ton of detail in his call with the media yesterday, it sounded as if he wasn't happy with the team's tactical progress from the previous season to the last, and who can argue? No one expected 50 wins but to come dead last in points allowed and various other categories for a second straight season? Yep, there were injuries aplenty but a more athletic group and one that by all accounts had much better chemistry on and off the court, perhaps should have been able to muster a better stand on D.
However if you look at this decision closer, you can't help but note the various other factors that probably came into play regarding the decision.
For starters, Colangelo needs to get this right.
He's got a little more leeway now under his new deal, but hiring a "name" coach would go a long way towards insulating himself in case things don't improve.
We've seen this move before in the past where the Raps GM has sort of shrugged his shoulders in front of the media and declared "what else could I have done?"
The last time that was used was regarding bringing in Jermaine O'Neal, Hedo Turkoglu and the likes to surround Chris Bosh. Never mind that outside of a healthy JO, most of those guys were bad fits to begin with, but the point BC has tried to make in the past was "hey, at least I tried something."
Hiring an experienced coach with an NBA-known name like Frank or Van Gundy would definitely be another attempt to "do something."
As well, and as Michael Grange pointed out yesterday, with a potential work stoppage on the horizon, it's doubtful that MLSE was keen to re-up the $2M option year on Triano's contract. Now the team can take its time with the process (BC noted he'd like to have a new coach in place before the draft, but I can't see it happening) and even wait to see how this NBA labour situation plays out.
Finally, with no true superstar on the team, from a marketing and PR perspective it makes a ton of sense to let Triano go, and bring in a "name guy." Since Chris Bosh's depature the team has been looking for a new "franchise face," and while that eventually may be DeMar DeRozan, hiring a Van Gundy or Brown gives the club some much needed "cache" that Jay Triano could never provide.
And let's not place too much weight on the PR success of the whole "Canadian coach leading Canada's only NBA franchise" angle either. A high-ranking MLSE employee recently told me that the club went out of its way last season to ensure they were not promoting themselves as Canada's team, an earlier marketing strategy that apparently wasn't too popular in recruiting attempts with players south of the border.
Perception is reality a lot of the time, and a no-name coach plus one of the lessor-known collections of talent in the league, a collection that won only 22 games this past season, wasn't a recipe for success. Now the team has the opportunity to change one of the parts of this equation by hiring an veteran coach with a proven track record, and has a chance to start modifying the other piece as early as the upcoming draft, upgrading the club's talent level.
To me though it's this latter part that's going to decide the club's future.
Was I a big Jay Triano fan?
Not exactly, but I could have said the same thing about Sam Mitchell, and in both cases I didn't feel they were the reason for the club's struggles.
No, in both cases I simply felt that the talent and mix of skills required to be an elite basketball team were lacking, and that's something no coach can change via a clipboard or a motivational speech.