Writing on wall for lame duck GM

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

They have a new working title for the inspirational Rob Babcock movie: Cheer Up, Things Can Always Get Worse.

Every day, in every way, things are getting darker and darker for the Raptors rookie general manager.

Monday, he looked like he would keep his job.

Today, not so good.

The day after Babcock's adviser, Wayne Embry, leapfrogged past Babcock on the company food chain, it was coach Sam Mitchell's turn to undermine the GM.

With his vehement support of Embry as his go-to guy in the front office, Mitchell accomplishes two things.

He further isolates Babcock and insinuates himself even more closely with CEO Richard Peddie.

Peddie, of course, will now depend on Embry to cross-examine and scrutinize Babcock's decisions.

No coincidence that Mitchell's thoughts were made public the day after Embry was promoted de facto over Babcock.

Mitchell sensed a power vacuum and moved to fill it.

When he asked for greater input into drafting players or signing free agents, Mitchell leached power and control from Babcock and his brother, Pete, the club's director of player personnel.

Mitchell has feuded with point guard Rafer Alston, Babcock's major off-season free-agent acquisition.

Mitchell has made a habit of obliquely pointing out the gaping holes in the Raptors' blueprint.

"Don't blame me," he has all but said for the club's lack of rebounding, laughable perimeter defence and hideous chemistry.

You can't blame Mitchell.

It is a lousy roster.

Any complaint he might want to air is legit. Babcock seems to be the only person in town who believes Rafael Araujo is progressing.

Before last night's game in Milwaukee, Araujo had played 84 minutes in April's seven games, averaging three points, three personal fouls and 1.5 rebounds. Makes you wonder what a regression would look like.

Likewise, Babcock thinks Alston is coming around.

Hard to make that point when Alston refused, as he did earlier this year, to put the ball in the hands of Jalen Rose, the team's most accomplished scorer. Alston, whose job, after all, is to orchestrate the offence, hasn't broken double figures in assists in a dozen games, but this is his first real turn as a regular.

Let's be kind and say he has at least earned a little more time before rendering a final judgment. It must be enormously tempting for Rob Babcock to quit.

He works for a CEO who has a hands-on, hands-off philosophy of management. He walked into a franchise with a ticked-off fan base and a ravenous media. The team's superstar was a cancer who, when he wasn't sleepwalking through games, was tipping off plays to opponents in his final games.

Embry's new job, meanwhile, includes tutoring the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board of directors. What a lovely way to position himself for the GM job.

If he has properly sussed out the basketball knowledge of the board, his first phrase should be "Gentlemen, this is a basketball." He is an authoritative, gentle man with a lifetime of basketball.

The board will love him.

Despite his 68 years, Embry looks an awful lot like the future general manager of the Raptors. Babcock knows he will get no help from his coach. If, after all, the board's goal is harmony between coach and GM, they might as well eat the remaining three years on Babcock's contract, chalk it up, once again, to experience, and get on with it.

Anything would be better than this.


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