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  Thu, January 29, 2004


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The Last Word
Not even Kevin O'Neill's reputation as a no-nonsense, get-in-your-face kind of coach has been enough to ensure the Raptors work hard night in and night out.

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

When the Raptors hired Kevin O'Neill they thought they were getting the Incredible Hulk.

O'Neill had a reputation as a pulsating ball of intensity, a half-crazed animal who would scare his players into giving maximum effort or he would slit their throats just for the demented pleasure of watching them die.

Okay, maybe we're exaggerating slightly.

But certainly one had the impression that from the moment he was hired, the legendarily passive Raptors always would play hard.

But the Raptors already have had their share of stinkers in terms of effort this season, notwithstanding their reasonably hard-fought 94-84 victory at the Air Canada Centre last night against a Philadelphia 76ers team that was missing Allen Iverson. With the win, the Raptors improved to 21-22 and snapped a worrisome five-game losing streak.

"When teams decide to come out of things, they usually do," O'Neill said.

So why did the Raptors play hard enough to win last night after not playing remotely hard enough even to compete in an embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday?

With the Raptors having exhibited so much inconsistency, the public knives have been out for star player Vince Carter and general manager Glen Grunwald, who made a presentation to the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., board of directors at a regularly scheduled meeting yesterday.

There were rumours the board had discussed a contract extension for Grunwald, although that was denied by Richard Peddie, the company's president and CEO. Peddie did say, however, that the two of them have discussed it and the issue will be resolved before the end of the season.

Reading between the lines, that sounds good for Grunwald. Regardless, the coach should not get a free pass when it comes to the schizophrenic performance of this team, even though O'Neill has been on the job for only half a season.

Now, maybe O'Neill has been holding back from blasting his players -- or at least holding back from telling the media what he really thinks of some of them -- for fear of alienating them. Or maybe O'Neill is yelling and no one is listening.

A third possibility, of course, is O'Neill has reached the conclusion that NBA players really can't be motivated by anyone but themselves.

"We're all professionals and anybody above you can say whatever they want, but if you decide you're not going to do the job, you won't," O'Neill said. "You make a decision how you're going to do your job. 'Do I do it 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, or do I take the night off tonight?' I think that goes for every profession, world-wide."

Well, maybe not pilots. Or surgeons. We hope, anyway.

But the point is worth considering. Is an NBA coach ultimately at the mercy of his players' effort?

"I think you're right on about that," O'Neill said. "I think that's true. But I have tried really hard not to overreact to any of our tough games or tough situations, because I understand some of our limitations in terms of depth and front-court strength."

Maybe in the NBA it's irrelevant if a coach has exceptional or subpar motivational skills. Maybe it's exclusively about X's and O's in the pros, or respect. The only hammer a coach has at his disposal is playing time, but few teams truly are deep enough to follow through on threats to bench stars, or even above-average players.

"I've said this before, but everything in the NBA is okay," O'Neill said of the atmosphere around the league. "The popcorn is okay, the hotdogs are okay, we're in Chicago tonight, that's okay ... it's kind of like, you have to erase that 'it's okay' attitude and become really tough and hard-nosed."

The question is whether a coach, no matter how much he screams, can influence that.

"We have a lot of nice guys on our team, a lot of good guys who are good human beings," O'Neill said. "But we don't understand urgency all the time. Sometimes we ease into games, ease into a second half, and it's a learned thing."

So what we're left with, perhaps, is an oxymoron: A learned thing that can't be taught, even by the Incredible Hulk.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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