Playoffs not priority

There have been too many moments of frustration this season for Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, as he...

There have been too many moments of frustration this season for Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, as he takes a break from practice yesterday. (Toronto Sun/Michael Peake)

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

Making the playoffs this season is not the be-all and end-all for Raptors coach Sam Mitchell.

If sacrificing the opportunity for short-term success is required to instil discipline on this struggling team, so be it.

In the wake of a two-game suspension to volatile Raptors point guard Rafer Alston "for conduct detrimental to the team," Mitchell said he'll continue penalizing his players if they do not buy into the program.

"(General manager) Rob (Babcock) and I are in the first year of trying to change this team around," Mitchell said yesterday at practice. "Do I want to make the playoffs? Yes. That's my goal ... But we also have to get the players to have the frame of mind and mentality that we're going to need to move forward to win a championship.

"There are two things you can do. You can go and try to be a team that finishes seventh and eighth in the next five years and go home in the first round or you can try to build a team to win a championship. That's what we're trying to do.

"Just being seventh and eighth is not going to be good enough. I'm not going to bend in what I believe to finish eighth. That's not going to do us any good. If we're going to get it right, let's get it right now."

The team slapped Alston with the suspension before a 123-105 loss Sunday against the Phoenix Suns at the Air Canada Centre. He'll also miss a game tomorrow in Indiana against the Pacers before returning to the team Thursday. Alston walked out of the practice gym Saturday after a disagreement with Mitchell, leading to the suspension. Mitchell also hasn't been happy with Alston's recent play -- too many shots and not enough passing.

Babcock, who signed Alston to a six-year, $29-million US contract in the off-season, is not ready to give up on the street-ball legend.

"I've spoken to Rafer and we have a good relationship," Babcock said. "We have complete faith in Rafer. I love the guy. He's a great guy and he's learning."

Mitchell, who also received a two-game suspension during his college playing days at Mercer, said he sees a little of himself in the passionate Alston.

"I do have a soft spot for Rafer and I do understand how he feels," Mitchell said. "You can feel that way, but you can't respond the way he responded."

Alston, Mitchell said, has to learn to control his emotions.

"If he can't, he's going to have a hard time playing for anybody," Mitchell said. "It's just going to be tough."

It all comes back to accepting Mitchell and Babcock's plan.

"Rob and my philosophy is you can't start to win on the court until you have the right people with the right frame of mind working together and doing the things that need to be done," Mitchell said. "We make no special exceptions for anyone. Regardless of how much we like you and regardless for how much of a soft spot we have for all our guys, when you're not toeing the line, things happen."


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