Raps coach needs to deliver

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

It's now down to mere hours before the Raptors formally become Sam Mitchell's problem.

The Vince Carter mess, injury concerns, chemistry questions, the lack of a true centre, the search for a winning formula, keeping the fans entertained ... it's Mitchell, the rookie head coach, who will have to deal with all those things on a day-to-day basis.

New general manager Rob Babcock technically is in charge of the franchise, but it's Mitchell who will be with the players every day, dealing with their aches and pains and snits and snarls.

When a sports team changes its coach, it's kind of like a change in government. A lot of things get promised during the campaign to get hired, or elected. But once the new guy takes office, it's amazing how often he resorts to blaming the old guy.

Ontarians don't have to look far to find an appropriate example. Whether Sam Mitchell becomes another Dalton McGuinty remains to be seen.

Actually, it was former Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill who pretty much channeled McGuinty, the premier of Ontario.

McGuinty, you'll recall, said he wouldn't raise taxes, then he did exactly that once he gained power, claiming the previous regime had left the province in a much bigger financial mess than he had thought.

Well, critics said, McGuinty had no business making the no-tax promise in the first place, if he wasn't sure he could deliver.

When O'Neill was trying to get hired by the Raptors in the spring of 2003, he waxed poetically about how his fiery ways would ignite the existing roster, particularly Carter. Then almost immediately after taking over, O'Neill threw up his hands and said, "How can I possibly win with these clowns? They suck."

Well, critics said, O'Neill had no business making the promise that he could turn things around without major personnel changes in the first place, if he wasn't sure he could deliver.

Mitchell, on the other hand, is going out of his way not to promise anything tangible. Heck, if he's to be taken at his word, he isn't even thinking about anything too specifically.

When Mitchell met the media earlier this week, he was asked, "Are you concerned about the Vince Carter situation being a distraction?"

"I haven't even thought about it."

"What are your emotions heading into your first camp as a head coach?"

"I haven't even thought about it."

"Do you have any preconceived notions about who your five starters are going to be?"

"I haven't even thought about it."

"What colour is my shirt?"

"I haven't even thought about it."

Now, we're betting Mitchell actually has been thinking about these things -- and quite a lot, too -- shirt colours notwithstanding. How could he not be? The lone question of what to do with Carter, who both privately and publicly has asked to be traded, has dominated all Raptors discussions for six months.

By the way, we would be very surprised if Carter didn't show up for training camp on time --media day is on Monday, practices begin on Tuesday -- despite the fact he is listening to widely differing opinions as to how he should proceed. Ultimately, he's earning a lot of money that he probably does not want to relinquish.

But will Carter give his best effort once he gets here? Will he develop, say, a mysterious back injury? How will his teammates react to any mental or physical shenanigans?

That's when Mitchell will have to be at his best. Raptors fans only can hope he has the people skills of a veteran politician.

As long as he doesn't raise taxes.


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