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  Sat, March 27, 2004


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Fact, fiction and O'Neill
Fact: The Raptors kill coaches; Fact: O'Neill is on the hot seat
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN

What is it with the Raptors and coaches? Why do they never seem to know what they're getting before they get it? One can't help but reference a scene from the famous mock-umentary movie This is Spinal Tap, which chronicles a fictitious heavy-metal rock band. The group's drummers keep dying in increasingly bizarre fashion, so the current drummer is asked if he has any fears for his life.

"When I did join, they kind of took me aside and said, 'Well, Mick, it's like this,' " the philosophical drummer says. "It did kind of freak me out a bit. But it can't always happen to everyone, can it?

The drummer then concludes hopefully that the "law of averages" suggests he will survive.

The law of averages also suggests the Raptors should have found a coach by now who could keep his mental health and avoid a messy death, in the professional rather than physical sense. But in nine tumultuous seasons, the Raptors have tried five times but have not stumbled across a coach who simultaneously makes the team better, pleases the higher-ups and simply coaches his players rather than forming a shadow government in a bid for control of the franchise (you know, kind of like Prime Minister Paul Martin).

Why are the Raptors always surprised when their coaches come exactly as advertised?

Regardless of what Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill has or hasn't done, he now finds himself on the hot seat amid allegations that his coaching style is too rigid, his players can't stand him and his off-the-court behaviour has embarrassed the organization's upper echelon.

The storm clouds have been gathering all season. O'Neill and Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald barely have been on speaking terms for the past several months. But interestingly, this latest wave of criticism probably will create some sympathy for O'Neill. Everyone loves a victim, alleged or otherwise.

As for the theory that Raptors marquee player Vince Carter will ask for a trade if O'Neill returns next season, the truth is more simple: Carter may ask for a trade anyway, regardless of who the coach is. He's frustrated with the entire Toronto franchise. Conversely, the franchise is frustrated with Carter, too, so there may be a solution there that benefits both camps.

Carter's future notwithstanding, the Raptors know they'll look bad if they have to fire O'Neill after only one season. One way they may seek to limit the damage would be to hand the head-coaching reins to assistant Jay Triano, in the hope the media would get caught up in a wave of pro-Canadian propaganda rather than questioning why this team has to change coaches yet again.

There honestly is nothing about the way Kevin O'Neill has coached the Raptors, or the way he has conducted himself off the court, that should shock anyone. O'Neill is who he is. He has not changed one bit from the guy he was with the Detroit Pistons last season, for better or worse. So if the Raptors are acting surprised now, they either didn't do their homework before hiring him or they listened to the wrong people.

O'Neill has strengths and weaknesses, as does everyone. If the Raptors have decided they can't live with O'Neill's weaknesses, it's their choice. But if that's the case, you have to wonder just what the heck went into that supposedly exhaustive screening process last spring.

Why can't the Raptors find a coach with whom they're comfortable? Is it really that hard?

Meanwhile, just like a Spinal Tap drummer, yet another Raptors coach appears headed for an explosive demise.

Given the Raptors' track record, it's only fair that when they hire their next coach, someone should take that newcomer aside and say, "Hey, it's like this."

And the wide-eyed new coach likely will reply, "Well, it can't always happen to everyone, can it?"









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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