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  Tue, June 29, 2004


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Unlucky Raptors gambling again
GM Babcock may have hit the jackpot by naming inexperienced Mitchell his new coach
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

After going from a whisper to a scream with their past two head coaches, the Raptors are hoping they have found a man with a normal voice, both literally and figuratively.

Have the Raptors finally identified a coach as good as Butch Carter who, unlike Carter, also can keep his personal life and professional ambitions in reasonable check?

As first reported in The Saturday Sun, Sam Mitchell is the Raptors' new head coach. A media conference to announce the hiring of Mitchell will be held late this morning.

Mitchell is expected to sign a three-year contract with the Raptors (the third year may be a team option) that will pay him between $1.5 million and $2 million US annually.

Since the news of Mitchell's hiring broke on Saturday, the reaction among Raptors fans has been split.

The hardcore basketball types recognize that Mitchell, 40, is a bright up-and-comer, notwithstanding the question of whether he's ready to take over a team of his own.

Understandably, however, casual fans have expressed disappointment that after the Raptors chose a low-profile general manager in Rob Babcock, the club opted for a low-profile coach. The team of Babcock and Mitchell lacks the star power of, say, Julius Erving and Phil Jackson.

The usual pattern is to go from one extreme to the other when it comes to the demeanours of coaches.

The players are too stressed out? Hire a soft-spoken coach. Enter Lenny Wilkens in 2000.

The players are too laid-back? Hire a paint-peeling coach. Enter Kevin O'Neill in 2003.

But in Mitchell, the Raptors may have found a middle-ground guy who can last for a while.

Arguably, the best coach the Raptors ever had was Carter. Before his explosive departure, Carter found the middle ground between praise and prodding that led to the most productive years of Vince Carter's career.

Presuming the Raptors have not already decided to adhere to the trade request delivered by Vince Carter's agent, one of Mitchell's first jobs will be to reach out to Carter, to see if there's a spark of encouragement between them.

Meanwhile, the Raptors confirmed yesterday that scouts Craig Neal, Walker Russell and Randy Wilkens have been fired. Neal and Russell had been with the club in a variety of significant roles for many years.

It's interesting that Babcock decided to jettison Neal and Russell, but chose to keep long-time front-office employees Jim Kelly and Bob Zuffelato, as well as shorter-term scouts Norm Goodman and Steve Young. Kelly and Zuffelato, in particular, were close advisors to former general manager Glen Grunwald, who was fired on April 1.

So to call what has gone on in the front office a house-cleaning is not really accurate, since the only people of consequence who have been shipped out are Grunwald, Neal and Russell. Numerically, the basketball side of the operation is a tad top-heavy, with Pete Babcock (who has not yet been hired officially), Wayne Embry, Alex English, Jack McCloskey, Kelly and Zuffelato all available at a moment's notice to bend Rob Babcock's ear.

Still, the most important relationship will be the one between Rob Babcock and Mitchell. They'll have to work together respectfully, with none of the unmanly slap-fighting that sullied the Grunwald-O'Neill era.

First up for the Raptors' rookie regime is the NBA's free-agent negotiation period, which begins Thursday.

According to league sources, the Raptors have some interest in veteran point guards Troy Hudson of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Is the Babcock-Mitchell combination truly a new direction for the Raptors, or just a decorated version of the old one? The fans will be able to tell the difference quickly.

After going from a whisper to a scream, the Raptors desperately need to do their talking on the basketball court.









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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