Raptors let it rip
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN
The overhaul of the Raptors' front office and coaching staff almost is complete. Is the roster next?
Bizarrely, it's a lot more difficult to blow up a dressing room than a boardroom, what with guaranteed player contracts, salary-cap restraints and possible voodoo curses.
But when you want to wash away the guys in suits, you just get out your hose and let 'er rip. Gone is former general manager Glen Grunwald, replaced by Rob Babcock. And gone is former coach Kevin O'Neill, to be replaced this week by Sam Mitchell, according to league sources.
As reported in The Saturday Sun, it appears the Raptors have settled upon Mitchell, 40, as their new head coach. As the story made its way through NBA circles yesterday, it was met with fairly unanimous approval, since Mitchell is seen as one of the hot up-and-comers in the coaching ranks.
Barring a last-minute change of heart, or an insane demand from Mitchell -- like, say, a bridge to the island airport or two Maple Leafs season tickets, whichever is more expensive -- an announcement could be made as early as Tuesday.
Early yesterday morning, Babcock returned a phone message that had been left by the Sun late Friday night. Babcock did not confirm or deny that he and his advisors have decided to hire Mitchell, maintaining the position that when there's something to announce, it will be announced.
"Sorry, I can't help you," Babcock said in the return message. "We don't have a coach yet. I can't comment."
The Associated Press reported that Mitchell yesterday still was doing his job as the lead assistant coach with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, evaluating players at an open tryout session with the rest of the coaching staff. A Bobcats spokesman would say only that the Raptors had been granted permission to speak with Mitchell, and that the Bobcats were aware Mitchell was a finalist for the Toronto job.
Two other candidates who made the Raptors' short list were Detroit Pistons assistant coach Mike Woodson and Seattle SuperSonics associate coach Dwane Casey. According to NBA sources, both Woodson and Casey were anticipating phone calls from Babcock this weekend, to provide either good or bad news.
Babcock is not in Toronto this weekend, but he said he'll be back at his Air Canada Centre office on Tuesday morning. Perhaps the next couple of days will be spent working out a pact with Mitchell, who knows Babcock from their days together with the Minnesota Timberwolves, when Mitchell was a player and Babcock worked in the front office.
There's always a possibility a snag could complicate negotiations, but assuming things go smoothly, Mitchell could be piecing together his Raptors coaching staff by the end of the week. Babcock has said repeatedly he wants a coach in place by July 1, which is Thursday.
Mitchell likely will inherit Jay Triano as an assistant coach. Triano, the Canadian national team coach, was a Raptors assistant under both Lenny Wilkens and O'Neill.
It also is expected Alex English will have a role on the bench. English was hired as the Raptors' director of player personnel on the same day Babcock and Wayne Embry, the special adviser to the GM, came on board.
Mitchell likely will be allowed to bring along either one or two of his own assistants. A logical candidate is Jim Todd, who worked alongside Mitchell when both were assistant coaches with the Milwaukee Bucks.
So the expansion draft is over. The entry draft is over. A coach has been found. Next up for Babcock will be small items such as, oh, free agency and the fate of Vince Carter.
The Raptors look more and more different with each passing day. Given recent performance, that's a good thing.