Have fun cleaning this mess up
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
The game was simple on the Arizona driveway where Rob Babcock first learned to play.
There was a ball and a hoop and usually a brother or a friend to play one-on-one, and always he was enamoured by the silent beauty of the swish.
"I remember in school how the wrestlers would do their laps around the gym when we would practise, but they couldn't help themselves, they always had to pick up the ball, they couldn't resist taking that one last shot," Babcock said. "To me it has always been a magical thing, the ball going through the hoop."
After all these stops in all kinds of places, this is Rob Babcock's shot. The simplicity has been left behind on a driveway and in his youth. This is his mess now, this Raptors franchise run amok, his opportunity to turn an NBA punchline into something other than the sad joke it has become.
"As much as I want to be a GM, I would not want to go into a situation where I would not have a chance to succeed," said Babcock, the new Raptors basketball boss who twice before has interviewed for GM jobs he didn't get.
"I'm not too worried about image. We will do a very good job and develop a very good basketball team and the image will take care of itself."
All he has to do is learn how to juggle, while riding a unicycle, and singing at the same time. That's the kind of balancing act this job requires. There is an expansion draft and the college draft to prepare in a matter of days; free agency coming next month; a coach to hire; a scouting staff to fire; a team with too much payroll and too little talent; the constant Vince Carter issues; the constant Vince Carter mom issues.
Other than that, everything is just fine.
It is little wonder Babcock stopped at least once yesterday and asked: "What day is this?"
He wasn't kidding. He didn't know.
His son just graduated high school. His Minnesota Timberwolves just got eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. He accepted this position, waited for board approval, made contact with his Hall of Fame linemates, Wayne Embry and Alex English, put the beginnings of his staff together, and barely had a second to catch his breath. Yesterday was Toronto: Tomorrow he's in Chicago for pre-draft workouts and scouting meetings.
There is so much work to be done, so much building necessary: This is his journey and he is being asked to draw his own map along the way.
Rob Babcock is a basketball lifer and this is his big break. He hardly got here the easy way. He played at something called Grand Canyon College. He began his coaching career in high school in Mexico City of all places. He coached junior college. Some dream of winning the ACC: He coached in something called the ACCAC. Truth is, he loves coaching more than scouting, but that didn't get him here, that wasn't his ticket.
This was no easy ride for a young-looking 52-year-old, no fast track. There were the part-time scouting jobs with Detroit and Cleveland and San Diego and Indiana before getting a full-time gig in Denver. There were five seasons in Denver before heading to Minnesota for the past 12.
"I've felt confident I could run a team for seven, eight years now," Babcock said. "Certainly, I'm much more prepared now than I was then. I've learned a lot the last five years."
And the learning curve has just begun.
You want to cheer for Rob Babcock and hope he's the right answer because he's real and earnest and he has put in his time.
The ball is in his hands now and the obstacles are many. The sounds he wants to hear is the silent beauty of a swish. Too often we've grown accustomed to the Raptors' sound of a ball clanking loudly off the rim.
MEET THE TEAM ...
LAST JOB: Vice-president of player personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves (2003-04)
RESUME: Director of scouting for Denver Nuggets (1987-92)
- Scout for T-Wolves (1992-94)
- Director of player personnel for T-Wolves (1994-02)
- Played at Grand Canyon College, leading them to a second-place finish in the 1974 NAIA final regional rankings.
- Brother Pete is former NBA general manager and brother Dave is director of scouting for Milwaukee
Special Adviser to GM
LAST JOB: First African American NBA team president and chief operating officer with Cleveland Cavaliers (1994-2000)
RESUME: Player with Cincinnati Royals, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks (1958-69)
- Five-time NBA all-star
- First African American NBA GM with Milwaukee Bucks (1971-79)
- Vice-president and GM of Cavs (1985-92)
- GM of Cavs (1992-99)
- The Sporting News NBA executive of the year (1992 and 1998)
- Enshrined in Basketball Hall of Fame (1999)
DIRECTOR OF PLAYER
LAST JOB: Assistant coach of Philadelphia 76ers (2003-04)
RESUME: Player with Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks (1976-91)
- NBA's leading scorer in the 1980s and 11th leading career scorer
- Enshrined in Basketball Hall of Fame (1997)
- Director of player personnel and assistant coach of Atlanta Hawks (2002-03)
- Head coach of the NBDL's North Charleston Lowgators (2001-02)