Talking a good game
Raps' new coach apparently has a way with words, a big change from Kevin O'Neill
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
Sam Mitchell talks to players. He talks to management. He talks to referees. He talks to himself. He talks to imaginary friends. He talks to trees. He talks to animals.
Apparently, Mitchell is a regular Chatty Cathy, just yakkety-yakking all the time. That's the impression one received yesterday when Mitchell was named the Raptors' new coach.
Over and over, Mitchell's communication skills were lauded. The only way there could have been more talk about talk is if the Raptors had hired Dr. Phil.
Then again -- coming off a season of coach Kevin O'Neill, whose communication skills amounted to bellowing, "That's some bull----," -- maybe the Raptors need someone who is as much counsellor as coach.
This is not to suggest Mitchell, 40, is a touchy-feely pushover. He simply believes in honesty and positive reinforcement, rather than icy-cold stares.
"All players understand, you can't play 12 guys on a nightly basis," Mitchell said. "But the difference is, how do you communicate that to them?
"If a guy's not playing, you still have to encourage him. I'm going to talk to guys and make them understand they still have to work, because in 82 games, everyone on that roster is going to get a chance to play. Very rarely are you so lucky that your top nine guys don't suffer any injuries."
Interestingly, communication with the players at the end of the bench was one of O'Neill's biggest weaknesses.
"I'm going to deal with it the way I wanted to be dealt with," said Mitchell, who was an NBA player for 13 seasons. "When I wasn't playing (as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves) -- and I understood why, because I was behind Kevin Garnett -- it helped me that the coach at times would come by and pat me on the rear end."
Hopefully Mitchell enjoyed the encouragement more than the actual pat on the rear end, but we understand the point he's trying to make.
Mitchell has been given what is being termed a three-year contract, but Raptors general manager Rob Babcock was vague yesterday when asked if the third year of Mitchell's deal was guaranteed.
"I can't go into the details of the thing, but it's a three-year deal," Babcock said. In other words, the third year is not completely guaranteed.
Therefore, Mitchell's contract, which will pay him between $1.5 million and $2 million US annually, is very similar to the one O'Neill signed. That doesn't mean, however, that Mitchell will adopt O'Neill's philosophy and immediately start lobbying for an extension.
Mitchell's shelf life as coach may wind up being tied to the relationship he can build with marquee player Vince Carter. That's assuming, of course, the club has not already decided to adhere to the trade request that was passed along through Carter's agent.
"Vince is an unbelievable talent," Mitchell said. "What I know of Vince is from playing against him, being around him. He's a great guy. No one can fault Vince for the type of person he is. The other stuff, I'm looking forward to sitting down and talking to Vince, and giving Vince a chance to talk.
"I'm not the type of person who's going to come in and tell Vince or anyone else what they need to do, or what they need to be.
"But we're going to set up some guidelines, we're going to have a style of play, and we're going to have things we require players to do."
So under Mitchell, Carter allegedly will understand exactly where he stands, as will everyone from Chris Bosh and Jalen Rose to Pape Sow and the guy who waters the plants at the Air Canada Centre.
Knowing how frugal the Raptors' bean-counters are, it's a good thing talk is cheap.