Coaching is complicated

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

If it only were about basketball, and basketball plays, and basketball knowledge, Sam Mitchell believes his job would be much easier.

But the Raptors rookie head coach said yesterday the biggest revelation in his first year running the bench has been how little of it has to do with X's and O's.

Rather, it's about psychology.

And Mitchell went so far as to suggest the NBA would be a far better place if every general manager had to spend some time in the trenches as a head coach.

"That's why I'm glad Kevin McHale is coaching," Mitchell said, referring to the Minnesota Timberwolves general manager who took over as coach on an interim basis earlier this season. "The next coach the Timberwolves get, that's going to be a great job. You know why? Because they're going to have a GM who understands, who has sat on that bench and knows X's and O's are the last thing you have to worry about.

"Now, if all of them (GMs) actually sat on that bench and coached, maybe they would wait a while before they want to fire guys so quickly. They would think twice if they understand what a guy is dealing with on a night-to-night basis, instead of saying, 'Oh, why didn't he do this?' Okay, you go down there and do it."

Just to be perfectly clear, Mitchell was not openly campaigning for the T-Wolves job. He merely was using Minnesota as an example because it so perfectly illustrated his point. Plus, he is very familiar with the Minnesota situation, having spent the bulk of his playing career there.

That said, there are plenty of GMs in the NBA who never coached in the league, including Mitchell's boss, Raptors rookie general manager Rob Babcock.

Mitchell didn't limit his invitation to GMs, though.

"You know what would be great? If everybody who thinks they know everything about basketball could coach," said Mitchell, presumably widening his net to include fans and media. "Because what they're going to find out is, there's more to it than X's and O's. That's the least of your problems.

"It's dealing with different people. You can't play this guy with that guy, because that guy does this and this guy can't react to it. What if your team takes two or three bad shots in a row? Who can handle that? Who can't? If all I had to worry about was X's and O's, it wouldn't be that hard."

Has Mitchell been surprised by what the job entails?

"Yeah, because when you're a player, you don't worry about anything -- you just play," Mitchell said. "But as a coach, you have to worry about all those things."

When a reporter used the term "people skills" to try to sum up what Mitchell was getting at, he balked.

"It ain't people skills, no," Mitchell said. "It has got nothing to do with people skills. It's psychology.

"People skills is knowing how to talk to somebody. But what if you have somebody who doesn't talk? What people skills are you going to use then? What people skills are you going to have when this guy has a hard time playing with that guy? You still need them both, so now you have to limit the minutes they play together, and mix and match to maximize what they do.

"That's what blows my mind. You have all these people who are inexperienced saying, 'Oh, just throw them out there.' It doesn't work that way."

Mitchell, who is less than three years removed from his playing days, has had his share of ups and downs this season. His Raptors were nine games below .500 heading into their game in Boston against the Celtics last night, but it's worth noting that none of the roster moves Babcock has made have offered Mitchell any immediate assistance.

Many observers still believe Mitchell has the potential to develop into a top-flight NBA coach, his public growing pains notwithstanding. At the very least, he knows a lot more about the job today than he did six months ago, and it's not exactly what he thought it would be.

Now, if only all those GMs grabbed a seat on the bench for a spell, then real progress could be made.


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