Thursday, December 4, 2008

View from Above the Tunnel: Strategic Plan for the Rest of the Season, and a fond farewell to Sam.

After listening to Colangelo during his press conference to announce the firing of Sam Mitchell, I found some of his quotes to be especially telling of the decay that had transpired in the relationship between the GM and coach. I believe these words below give us some real insight into what has been transpiring in Raptorland lately. My analysis of the future of the Raptors follows the highlights of the press conference...

"This is not just an issue about Sam Mitchell failing as a head coach. This is a question about the team under achieving. This is about the roster underachieving, some injuries that have happened…but its about the failures that this team has had this season."

"Are the Raptors improving as a team? Is it just the coach? If it isn't the coach, then more dramatic roster changes must be made, but we need to figure out what the problem is."

"This is an attempt to stop the downward spiral of the team."

"I don't think you can play the game of basketball with success without any transition activity…as of last week, we were 29th in the league in fast break points."

"That was a concern to all of us. There was talk about running, but I'm not sure that was something we really … practiced to the extent where it showed on the court with any kind of regularity."

"We are not a basketball team without faults…but we have not lost faith in the players, but you're right, there is no more I going to lose some of my political clout with the organization, of course, but I am willing to wear that in order to move this team forward."

"We all felt (speaking about the organization, coaches included) that this is a roster that we could win with."

"Once again, we are off to a slow start, we are seeking solutions instead of looking ahead…the situation just warranted a change."

"Rather than blowing this thing up, our goal is to continue to improve, and look for ways to improve this team…but we are always looking for ways to improve our roster."

"I think it's safe to say that Sam had a very good run in Toronto…but there comes a time when the best way to improve a situation is to make a change at the top and make a change to the voice."

A lot of food for thought is dispersed amongst these lines. It is clear that Colangelo feels that the Raps need to alter their offensive strategy. He tried winning Mitchell's way, but now its time to change the gameplan. If the players still can't execute the game plan, then its time to start to dealing significant parts in the summer (specifically JO, and his $20 million expiring contract to teams that are obsessed with the "summer of LeBron." Wilson Chandler, David Lee, Chris Duhon would look pretty good in Raptor unis).

It is now time for the Raptor players to step up.

I think Jay Triano has to implement 2 key strategic intiatives.

1) Triano must implement an up-tempo offensive scheme that the Raptors were sorely lacking. While some of you may want to see the Raps revamp their somewhat stale half court offense, I would argue that their main sets are Mitchell legacies that are worth keeping. Triano should tweak some of the motion to get Kapono some open looks, but the main thrust should still be Chris and Jose in the high pick and roll. The MAIN problem that I had with Mitchell's offense was its refusal to turn the wings loose to fast break.

The benefits of pushing the tempo offensively have so many advantages. Joey and Moon are terrible ball handlers, and have no ability to drive, but if they are let loose on the wing, their athleticism up the court is hard to match. Say what you want, but both guys are great dunkers. (For an example of this phenomenon look up 2005 Shawn Marion (first year with Nash) and 2008 Marion, wasting away in Miami). I think the Raptors have a team that posses SFs that will be able to score in transition. Scoring in the half court will be as difficult as it is right now, BUT with CB4 we will win enough of those battles. We need to produce more easy buckets in Toronto.

Ultimately, I think Jay Triano will be an improvement over Sam Mitchell if he is able to turn up the volume on offense. I spoke about this strategy in an earlier post this year, and I maintain that the Raptors MUST be able to turn their rebounding and steals into transition buckets.

2) On defense, Jay Triano has 1 mission. Completely scarp Sam's help based defensive scheme, and install a simple man-on-man defensive philosophy. Schemes can only go so far on defense, at the end of the day, everyone on the Raptors need to be going all out on every play in their own end, and their sole mission should be to never allow their man to score. Pointing a guy at his opposite number and saying "stay with him no matter what" sets players free from worrying if they are in the right spot, and if they should be the helper. Switch and blitz screen rolls, get in the grill of shooters, make slashers pull up, just implement the scouting reports, and play defense like you're on an island. If Joey or Moon don't live up to these expectations, then nail their ass to the bench. The point is that Joey and Moon need to know that they don't need to worry about anything else defensively, and both of them MUST be held accountable. Whoever is dragging ass on defense, they don't get to play, period.

Here's the rotation that I think Triano should implement to pull off the 2 strategies I outlined above:

Starting Five:
1. Jose
2. AP
3. Joey
4. Bosh
5. JO
6. Andrea
7. Kapono
8. Hump
9. Ukic

I think Friday night is a toss up for the Raps. The Jazz are a tough team, but they have to be able to show that they are starting to make adjustments. Look, if the Raps fall flat on their faces, and they get torched trying to open the offense up, then so be it. The point is that BC believes that a team must be able to score in trasnsition to be successful in the L. Now, if this strategy is implemented, and the Raps still suck, then it will be time to consider taking an axe to the roster.

I want to applaud BC for taking a pro-active step and making a move on Sam. It shows that BC is not hamstrung by decisions in the past, and he is not afraid to take risks.

I want to share a personal story about meeting Sam Mitchell in an ice cream store once in Toronto. It was the day after the Raps have drafted Charlie V and Joey, and Stephen A mocked the Raps on camera. I went up to Smitch, and asked him if Danny Granger was injured. In fact, I pleaded with him to tell me that Granger was injured, and that was the reason that the Raps picked Joey instead. So, Sam stares at me, and goes "after a day like today, you're seriously asking me that?" in an extremely exasperated and annoyed tone. I have to say, I was genuinely scared that he might body slam me into the mint chocolate chip. Anyway, he told me I should wait and see about the kids, and that Stephen A Smith is an idiot. I loved Smitch after that, mainly because I respected him for taking the time away from his ice cream cone to address the question of an average fan. As much as I've been driving the "fire Sam Mitchell" bus lately, I was once one of his biggest fans. When they were on their way to winning 47 games, and Sam was on his way to COY, I figured that he had figured it out, and the sky was the limit. But Garbo's ankle exploding, and Al Horford decapitating TJ Ford changed all of that. Sam will land on his feet. A young team like the T-Wolves or Bobcats could use a guy like him. Sam helped Bosh and Jose get to where they are today, and as a part of the Raptor Truthers, I want to say a heart felt thanks to Sam Mitchell, all time leader in coaching victories in Raptors history.

Finally, why is Triano assumed to be a joke just because he was the coach of Team Canada. That team WON games at the Olympics and almost medaled. Why is it so hard to believe that Triano has some real basketball knowledge? Yeah, he had Steve Nash, but his next best player was like Rowen Barrett. I think we need to give Jay Triano a chance to prove himself. I think he is going to surprise us.

First game of the Jay Triano Era: Friday, December 5 on the road in Utah………


Anonymous said...

I must admit, I am sad to see SMitch go, but it was a change that was needed. SMitch unfairly took a lot of the blame for this team's struggles. Everyone deserves blame, SMitch, BC and especially the players. Honestly, this just isn't as talented a roster as people think. AP is a step slower and it shows. Moon falls for every head fake and why he takes 3's is beyond me. Joey just ins't consistent enough. And as for Andrea, he's actually improved leaps and bounds this year. Regardless of his offensive game, he puts up a great effort on the defensive end every night.

I actually agree with you on Jay. People shouldn't doubt him so carelessly. HOWEVER, this team just isn't talented enough to compete in the playoffs. This team is a 5th or 6th place team in the East at best.

I hope to GOD i'm wrong.

richie said...

I am really on the fence about this one. On the one hand I don't think he deserved it, yet at the same time I don't think he was ever going to get the raps out of the first round of the playoffs. Will Triano? Doubt it. Where is this team going?

My money is on the future being an offseason roster blowup.

Lets not confuse change for progress. The two are entirely different. I think this is change for the sake of it. This roster likely doesnt have what it takes to get it done.

However, let me steal the closing line of the former poster because I feel the same way he does:

"I hope to GOD i'm wrong."

eyebleaf said...

Sam was never BC's coach. That's a huge part of this.

Scott Carefoot over at made an interesting point: Colangelo's legacy in Toronto is tied to Bargnani, and Mitchell never really drew up plays FOR Bargnani specifically. I think Scott's right, and Triano will make Bargnani a more focal point in the offense.

I think the expectations on this team were too high to begin with. Even my own. The core - Bosh, Jose, and Andrea - is still young. Jose and Bosh have proved themselves, and I don't mind this year being about Andrea finding his game and becoming the star we need him to be.

We just have to be patient.

And I will miss Sam too. Dude was a rudey. Here's hoping he lands on his feet as well.

Billy Bee Absentee said...

RUN BABY RUN!!!!!! From a purely tactical stand point, I think a running basketball team has the abilty to cover up a lot of its roster blemishes. I think the new pholosphy is going to make everyone on the Raptors more better. At the end of the day, the Raps will never be a great half court team because we don't have a MJ/Kobe/LeBron type dominator in iso situations. I think people are talking about the Raptors' chances a little too high level. When you get grandular, you can see that while the roster is flawed, increasing the volume of shots will mask quite a few flaws.

Over/Under on number of Raptor fast break dunks tonight: 10

Fermat said...

I want the Raps to run and fast break as much as anyone, but I fear Bargnani will be puffing out pasta after 2 minutes, AP's dinosaur legs will slow them down, and JO might suffer another injury if he tries to sprint.

Thanks Sam for a good ride. I hope you help develop more Bosh's and Calederon's for another team while beating the shit out of the next Rafer Alston.

richie said...

Over under on fast break dunks? 10???

I will emphatically take the under.

Darien said...

Now rumours are starting to float around about Ettore Messino coming to toronto next season. Completely unfounded but whatever. Here's hoping Triano can keep it close in Utah.