Sam sings praises

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

MILWAUKEE -- Raptors coach Sam Mitchell yesterday revealed there was one man in the team's front office who kept him sane this season.

Surprisingly, it was not general manager Rob Babcock, but the club's new senior adviser, Wayne Embry.

"Wayne to me has been a godsend," Mitchell said, following his club's shootaround at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

"I talk to Wayne when I wake up in the morning and before I go to bed. Wayne and I probably speak three to four times a day."

Which begs the question: Are Mitchell and Babcock operating on the same wavelength? It seems unusual that a front office official, not the GM, acted as the coach's sounding board during the season.

Embry was promoted to senior adviser from his post as adviser to the GM on Monday in a move many believe undercuts Babcock's authority.

The fact Mitchell now admits that Embry was his main man all season seems to alienate Babcock even further.

Indeed, Mitchell had nothing but high praise for Embry and his first assistant Jim Todd yesterday when asked what his mood is now that the team's disappointing season is coming to a close.

The Raptors played last night in Milwaukee and finish the season tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Air Canada Centre -- missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year.

"I'm as close to Wayne and J.T. as any two people in my profession can be," Mitchell said. "The main thing is having people around who you trust so when they do give you advice, you understand it's from people who have your best interests at heart."

Mitchell also said he would like a say this summer in the draft and recruiting potential free agents.

"How much weight it carries, who knows?" he said. "But I'm going to say what I think."

Last year, the Raptors drafted rookie washout Rafael Araujo in the first round (eighth overall) to help fill a need in the frontcourt.

This year, Mitchell believes the organization should take the best player available, no matter what position.

"(Charlotte GM) Bernie Bickerstaff had a saying in our draft room. If you've got three people at one position who are very good, you can trade to get someone you need. But if you don't have anything to trade, then you have no bargaining chips."

A shot at Babcock?

You be the judge.

To his credit, Babcock said yesterday he would welcome Mitchell's input in all personnel decisions.

MORE THAN MONEY

Mitchell said the organization should not nickel-and-dime in terms of pursuing free agents. The club has only so much cap room, but the coach said it's not always the salary offer that impresses players.

"If we're going to do it (get free agents), you have to do it the right way," he said. "What made Chauncey Billups sign with the Detroit Pistons?

"At 12:01 a.m. (on July 1, the day free agents can be signed), Rick Carlisle and Joe Dumars knocked on his door in Denver, they flew out there on the owner's plane. That stuff means a lot to people.

"Sending somebody a letter or calling them when there are 10 other teams calling him is not going to do any good."


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