New coach, same results.
Before I venture into what can only be described as another embarrassment of a performance I wanted to share a statement released by ex-Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell –
"Being the head coach of the Toronto Raptors has been a true pleasure and an honour for me. I owe a debt of gratitude to many for the opportunity - the MLSE Board of Directors, particularly Larry Tanenbaum and Richard Peddie, as well as Bryan Colangelo and Rob Babcock. MLSE is a first-class organization, and I hope I have positioned the franchise to move in the right direction.
I will miss Toronto. I have grown to love the city and believe Raptors fans are among the best in all of professional sports. Together we brought to the organization its first divisional championship and I will always cherish that. I feel that I have grown as a coach and a person over the course of my time with the Raptors. I value the relationships that I have developed with the coaching staff, players, support staff and media. I assure you that Jay Triano and the coaching staff will continue to do all they can for the franchise to reach its potential and goals.
I wish the organization all the best the remainder of this season and in the future."
No matter how you felt about Sam Mitchell this is a heart felt statement and really reflects what a solid individual he is. As I have mentioned before, you could never question Sam Mitchell the man, it was his bench skills that left a little to be desired.
Now with that statement it is time for the HQ and the Raptors organization to move on and the first match-up was against a deep and talented Utah team.
When a coach is let go the hope is that the team responds in a positive fashion. I can only imagine that following such a significant move the feel in the locker room changes instantly with a new leading voice. Outside of the "vibe" however, it would be unfair to expect a great deal of immediate change, in particular with only one practice and one shoot-around before the next game. The coach doesn’t play defense, make the hustle plays or change the talent level. It’s the players who are ultimately responsible for the results on the floor and this cast of characters remains the same.
So was anything different last night?
Right from the get-go it was clear that Triano’s first priority is to change the pace at which the Raptors play. Knowing this team is a cellar dweller in fast-break points and that there are certain players on this team who should perform better when in more of a wide-open offense the first 5 minutes was easily the most fast-paced Raptors basketball all season. Triano is clearly going to loosen the reins on his players.
The results were however, mixed. From a pure fan standpoint the first quarter of last night’s game was very entertaining. For yours truly, basketball played at a break-neck pace is the most fun to watch. On the flip side, the Raptors are currently not engineered for this type of play…yet.
A complete change in a team’s offensive philosophy is not something that usually takes place during an NBA season and for good reason. The type of offense you run impacts the type of conditioning the players need to be in and the roles and responsibilities of the players change. What was preached in training camp and the sets that have been practiced time and time again, although they may still be in the game plan to a lesser degree, are no longer as relevant. The most immediate consequence of such a change is that the team’s ability to execute is reduced.
Don't tell me there is no talent in the second round.
Overnight the Raps style of play has been transformed. It is going to take some time for the players to get settled. On a positive note the Raps managed to get into, and score, the paint more often. Unfortunately, the positives from this game were greatly overshadowed by the negatives.
So yes the tempo was different. Unfortunately that was about all that has changed to this point. The defense continues to be absolutely attrocious. I would actually argue that last night’s defense was the worst it has been all year. When a team decides to run on offense it absolutely has to run on defense and it wasn’t apparent that this part of the message got across. On Raps misses the Jazz were quick to take advantage of the Raps slowness in getting back resulting in way too many easy hoops. Even in half-court sets the Jazz dismantled the Raps.
From an offensive standpoint the Jazz are like a finely tuned engine. Each player knows exactly what they need to do in any given situation and the players can substitute for each other almost seamlessly. They recognize situations and take quick advantage.
There were a couple on nice blocks by the Raps big’s last night but even when the Raptors managed to swat a shot a Jazz player would be there to recover the ball and get an easy hoop, in most cases as a result of bad rotations. Anyone over 6’11" last night wearing a Raptors jersey was visibly frustrated with the lack of defensive help they were getting from everyone else. The rotations were just brutal.
Outside of the blocks it was actually a pretty forgettable evening for Bosh, Bargnani and O’Neal.
With the team running there were fewer set plays run for CB4 and to be completely honest he was outplayed by Paul Millsap whose strength and hustle helped neutralize the Raps best player. Millsap was only three assists shy of a triple double.
For Bargnani it was a brutal night from the floor and showed no conscious when shooting the rock.
O’Neal is just hard to watch right now. Unless he is completely healthy he won’t be able to contribute like he so badly wants to, in particular if the tempo is going to quicken. Nineteen minutes of PT just isn’t enough time for him to have a big impact on the game and the knee/ankle/leg issues have to be wearing on him. It’s an interesting dilemma that Triano has on his hands. Do you run to allow guys like Ukic and Graham to be more successful at the expense of your $21 million dollar investment?
While on the topic of the Raptors big’s it was interesting to listen to the Colangelo interview in the first quarter. BC left no bones about the fact that he was looking at a variety of transactions and was "looking for a big". Given the deficiencies this team has at other positions I was pretty surprised that this would be the first order of business. This team is desperate for help on the wing. The athleticism is there but the commitment to defense is no-where to be found. Acquiring a big would possibly allow JO some time to rest but the big issues are not in the front-court.
If there is one guy I want the Raps to use as trade bait it is Jamario Moon. He is not playing well enough to garner anything more than garbage minutes, in particular with the emergence of Joe Graham. Graham continues to provide the Raps some much needed toughness and it is hard not to love his desire to attack the rim and willingness to mix it up. He really is taking advantage of the minutes provided to him. He looks to be a steady contributor off the bench.
There is no denying this was a tough start for Triano. Utah is a great team even without Boozer and you can’t expect the results to change all that much, even if there had been time for 10 practices. I actually don’t think things will change much at all.
Triano has been on Mitchell’s staff for 4 years. Don’t you think if Triano had a way or suggestion to make this team better Sam would have listened? Is Triano’s promotion to interim head coach suddenly going to allow him to see things in a different light? Other than Triano’s willingness to let the guys play the style that BC envisions on the offensive end I am hard pressed to believe that he is going to help this team defensively. Frankly I don’t think BC is going to be any happier with the results brought about by this coaching change. At the end of the day he’ll come to realize that some of the players on this roster just are not good enough or healthy enough, no matter what the style of play.
One thing to look forward to is a home game.
Fortunately the Raps could pack their bags last night and look forward to the confines of the ACC. The problem is their next opponent is a Trailblazers team that is playing fantastic basketball as of late. Outside of the lesson the Celtics gave them last night Portland has been one of the hottest teams in the league. This brings us to our three keys:
1. Don’t Get Blown Out – If the Raps can’t at least be competitive at home alarm bells should and will sound. It’s important to leave the past 7 days behind them. It’s been a soap opera as of late in Raptor land and being, at a minimum, competitive will help to quiet the noise. Fans will be hoping that Triano can secure his first W and none would be better than against one of the best teams in the West.
2. Play SOME Defense – The Raps defense as of late is no laughing matter but it has been a comedy of errors. I couldn’t help but think the Raps should only send four guys down the court on offense to be sure they could be set defensively when the ball comes back the other way. The problem he is that CB4 can’t do it all. No matter how much he yells and directs the players around him if they don’t perform it is all for not. The trickle down effect from the lack of results is that CB4, like many of us would in a similar situation, is likely going to feel his efforts are being wasted and will slowly begin to lose interest. We have seen the Raps play defense on a few occasions this season, in particular against the Hawks last Friday. They just need to do it on a regular basis.
3. Don’t Back Down – If you watched the Boston-Portland game you saw a Blazers team that despite being outplayed would not back down from the overly aggressive Celtics. Brandon Roy was talking it up with Paul Pierce and no-one on the Blazers squad was willing to shy away from the Champions. The Blazers are both talented and tough. The Raps have to come into this game with a bunker down mentality and demonstrate to the fans that teams simply can’t walk into the ACC on a Sunday afternoon and get an easy W.
As Jack Armstrong continues to say, it’s on the players now and everyone is watching.