Babcock: Mitchell's job not on line

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

Raptors general manager Rob Babcock has no plans to fire head coach Sam Mitchell, not in the immediate days ahead nor at the end of the season.

As the Raptors fall deeper out of playoff contention, there have been increased reports along the NBA grapevine that Mitchell could be on the verge of being fired -- joining the ranks of other dismissed head coaches this season, including Maurice Cheeks, Flip Saunders and Jeff Bzdelik.

But Babcock told the Toronto Sun yesterday that he is satisfied with the job the personable and sometimes emotional Mitchell has done in his first year as a head coach -- stressing that his vote of confidence is the real thing and not a "kiss of death" vote of confidence.

"He's a work-in-progress rookie coach, which we understood when we hired," said Babcock, who also is in his first year as an NBA general manager.

"We elected to go with someone who has talent and the potential to be an excellent head coach in this league. But we understand there's a learning curve.

"Sam's progressing, he has a very intelligent basketball mind and he knows the game very well."

The Raptors have struggled to a 25-34 record this season after last night's win in New Orleans and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third year in a row. But Babcock knew coming in that it would be a tall order for this squad to quality for the post-season, especially with all of the controversies and distractions surrounding the team, particularly the Vince Carter trade requests earlier in the season.

"Keep in mind, it's a tough, tough situation for a rookie coach to come into this team with all the issues which existed from the beginning," he said. "Right away, your best player wants to be traded and that's a difficult thing for an experienced coach to deal with, never mind a rookie coach."

Babcock has had to act as a peace-maker between Mitchell and a couple of player this season, particularly point guard Rafer Alston who has had his run-ins with Mitchell and had to be disciplined for marching out of a practice. The two waged a war of words which Babcock had to smooth over.

Mitchell also has allies on his coaching staff. One of his assistants, who doesn't want to be named, told the Sun that he "loves" working with Mitchell, adding that the staff is one of the best he's ever worked with (Alex English, Jim Todd and Jay Triano are Mitchell's assistants).

Babcock has been under increased criticism for the Carter trade and for drafting centre Rafael Araujo in the first round.


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