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The Dismissal of Rob Babcock - A Study In Incompetence Part I

A Brief History of the Babcock Regime:

When Babcock, Alex English, Wayne Embry and Sam Mitchell were brought in 18 months ago the slogan for the Raptors was “A Brand New Era”. Well, now we know an “era” for MLSE is approximately the same amount of time it will take to make most Canadians realize they made a huge mistake in electing Mini-Bush.

The era began aptly on April Fool's Day when then-current-GM Glen Grunwald was relieved of his duties and the quest for a new GM and associates began. The result was Rob Babcock.

Babcock served as director of player personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves and oversaw the drafting of Kevin Garnett and signing of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. Even though he had no GM experience, MLSE seemed sold on his "basketball DNA" as he and his family had been involved in the league for years. In retrospect, it was this hiring that really got the ball rolling on the Raptors’ future problems. Star Vince Carter wanted to see Julius Erving take over the GM roll and Babcock’s hiring drove the final wedge in the divide between Vince and Toronto. This of course would later force Babcock’s hand and trading the former Tar Heel became inevitable.

Beyond the Vince trade we're not going to dwell on his dealings because everyone knows what he did in his brief tenure. So in typical RapsHQ fashion here’s the good, the bad, and the undetermined:

The Bad:

- Alonzo Mourning: ‘Zo has to be separated from the VC trade. You can’t evaluate a trade that is still not complete, but bringing in the Georgetown center knowing there was little to no chance of him reporting was simply not a good move. Buying him out….even worse. Let him sit. Let him want out. But make him play, and if he doesn’t want to play….stay home. Watching #33 light it up for the Heat this year is hard for Raps' fans. If he was patrolling the middle right now we would be light years ahead.
- Signing Rafer long term. I have not been shy with my feelings on Rafer. Cancer. That summer when the Raps were hunting for a free-agent PG it was him or Hudson. Rafer was definitely the worst choice…..mind you Hudson wouldn't necessarily have been the best either.

The Good:

- The 2005 Draft: CV Smooth, Joey G, Roko, Uros, and although not drafted, rookie free agent Calderon. All these guys are going to be, or are expected to be the foundation for years to come. Although the three rooks this year have taken their lumps, no-one can argue that they have shown flashes of greatness. On top of this, prior to Babcock and co’s arrival our European scouting staff amounted to Aleksandar Radojevic. Take what you want from that.
- Trading Rafer: Talk about a guy swallowing his pride. He realized his mistake and turned a cow into magic beans. Where would this team be without Space Mountain James?

The Undecided:

- The VC trade. Sorry folks, cannot judge a trade until it is complete. Joey looks to be a player, and we still have a first rounder to use or deal. Who knows what that could be? (Gilbert Arenas, Michael Redd and Carlos Boozer were all second rounders!) First round picks are so valuable….unless you run the Knicks. The failing point of this deal at present is the ‘Zo situation though.
- Hoffa: He is in this group because last thing we heard then-interim- GM Jack McCloskey made this pick. Babcock had only been on the job for a few weeks…..and who knows….maybe Babcock is right and it will take him a few years to develop. That being said he was drafted because he was NBA ready. Saying Hoffa is NBA ready is like saying Daisy Does America was going to be a classic show. (Seriously TBS has THE WORST pilot shows).

While this breakdown hardly paints an RC Bufordesque picture of Babcock, it's clear he's no Isiah Thomas either. In fact his resume describes exactly the person Toronto hired originally, a rookie GM who was bound to make some good and bad decisions in his term with the club but decisions, as tough as they were, that had to be made. Which is why watching Richard Peddie and listening to his diatribe from yesterday's press conference was one of the most maddening experiences ever.

The Press Conference:

Anyone else here confused by the press conference yesterday? The timing of the firing definitely gets fans scratching their heads and statements like “We have a good young foundation” and “sticking with the plan” do not seem to mesh well with, Donald Trump's favourite line…"You’re fired!" Was Babcock not responsible for bringing in the pieces of that "foundation" and proposing the "plan?" Wasn’t Babcock the one who informed the public and the fans that this could be a tough year but it is all PART of the long term plan? Peddie and the board he represents and mixed messages are like the Olsen twins' careers and Full House….inseparable.

What were the highlights or lowlights of the press conference? Here’s some stuff that stood out in our minds:

Richard Peddie Making Basketball Decisions: Apparently Peddie has been discussing moving Babcock for a couple of weeks now. Interesting how a couple of weeks ago this team was playing its best ball of the year. How does that make sense? (For the record an on-going theme here will be how NONE of this makes sense….like trying to figure out how hot-dog eating became a world watched sport….I think ABC is covering it next year.) What qualifications has Peddie ever had to decide whether a basketball team is heading in the right direction? In fact many of the press at yesterday's "réunion" pondered aloud if Peddie and MLSE were stretching themselves way too thin. Instead of being focussed on basketball (and hockey for that matter) decisions, MLSE was busy trying to get into the real estate and condo market and looking to get a soccer team off the ground here in Toronto. It's a great point as based on the verbal bilgewter pumped yesterday, it simply looks like Peddie and the "board" are only looking at Babcock's dismissal in terms of the bottom line. Could it be that with attendance slumping and based on Rob's decisions from over a year ago, Peddie decided to pull the plug in effort to get fans' notice. Well, he succeeded...I'm just not sure if he got the right type of attention.

Further to this previous point, Peddie at the conference deferred pretty much every basketball question to Embry. If you can’t answer basketball questions how do you make basketball decisions? This topic probably deserves more focus, but let’s move on.

Wayne Embry…The Guy Who Traded Kareem: So the Raptors fire Babcock and replace him with Embry on an interim basis while the GM search gets going in earnest. We don’t know enough about Embry to say good “interim” replacement or bad but I guarantee we will find out soon enough. With the trade deadline just a few short weeks away it's not out of the realm of possibility that we start seeing some wholesale roster changes. Was Babcock too cautious as a GM for Raps upper brass? There WERE whispers around the league that after the Vince deal Babcock was scared to make any other moves. We at the HQ personally think that that ideology was refuted with the Mike James deal and want to note that there's a big difference between making lots of deals to appease a fan base and making selective well-positioned ones for the future of the franchise. Let's hope Embry does the latter. And finally on Embry...if you are going to take over, please, PLEASE don’t joke about being the guy who traded Kareem! Dear God, you traded Kareem?! Is this supposed to give us comfort? This makes fans feel like the Raptors just gave Saddaam keys to the Pentagon!!

The Plan: Perhaps the scariest part of the conference was when Peddie said that they needed to bring in a guy who could increase the percentage chance of the plan being successful and “speeding up the plan”. Have you ever heard a statement that reeks more of bottom-line? Speeding up the plan is the equivalent of saying….let’s get a mediocre team on the floor who can fight for the 8th spot, and fill those empty seats. If we trade youth for vets in the next 12 months, the true colours of the MLSE Board will shine through. Let’s see if they are truly committed to the “plan”. We have been down this road before folks…think AD, VC, Alvin, Hakeem, and others. And the fact that Peddie is now stating that they need an EXPERIENCED GM is just maddening. Even our best friend Dave Feschuk pointed out during the press conference that it was inexplicable why, if this is now the desire, an experienced GM wasn’t hired from the outset!? And then when asked why Babcock was hired in the first place Peddie stated it was because of Rob's "basketball DNA" and EXPERIENCE!! I seem to recall that Babcock’s hiring was based on his ability to sell upper management on his plan to grow their youth, in terms of coaches, players and even management. Wins and losses aside, wasn’t that exactly what he was doing?

Now What?

So with Babcock's tenure over and Embry now in charge, what exactly does this mean for the team going forward? Management changes aside, the on-court product simply hasn't been great, especially in the past 6 games. In Part II of this discussion tomorrow we'll look at a rudderless team heading towards a trade deadline in just a few weeks, another important draft 6 months from now and what's going to be left when the dust finally settles and all is said and done.