Coach has different view

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell has a different perspective on what his team is capable of doing this...

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell has a different perspective on what his team is capable of doing this season. (Toronto Sun File/Dave Thomas)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

As Sam Mitchell walked through the Air Canada Centre yesterday, one of the Maple Leafs invited him on to the ice for a workout.

The Raptors head coach politely declined to strap on the blades, but he was wearing his rose-coloured glasses later in the day when asked about the prospects of his own team this season.

Mitchell firmly believes, despite all of the gloom and doom predictions by various NBA pundits who predict that the Raptors are heading for the Atlantic Division basement, that his club can make it to the playoffs this year.

And one of the reasons for that, the coach said in an interview with the Toronto Sun, is that he has a full season as an NBA coach under his belt.

"There are things I will do differently this year," Mitchell said, with a touch of defiance. "I know the players now and I know which players need a kick in the pants and which need a hug."

As for all the dire predictions, Mitchell expects his veterans to step up and the rookies to play well.

"I feel confident we can shock some people," he said. "That has to be our attitude and mentality."

The Raptors, who missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year last season, were rife with dissension -- Vince Carter whined about wanting to be traded, Eric Williams was unhappy in Toronto, Rafer Alston melted down from time to time ... but as far as Mitchell is concerned, everybody starts this season with a clean slate, reminding his questioner that the Bible preaches forgiveness.

"If God can forgive, I certainly should be able to," he said. "We've got some issues, but we've got to get it right. What happened last year is in the past. You learn from your mistakes and move on."

There were times last year when the Raptors jelled and demonstrated great potential, in wins over NBA powers Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. Mitchell insists the team is closer to respectability than people realize. The coach also is fairly comfortable with this roster, despite the fact that the Raptors are younger and without the scoring of Donyell Marshall.

"I really think (rookies) Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, in time, will be excellent NBAers. I'm hoping these guys bring a youthful enthusiasm to our team. Right now, their minds are empty of NBA knowledge, but we have to put them in the right frame of mind. And I expect Jalen (Rose), Chris (Bosh), Mo Pete (Morris Peterson) and Eric Williams to step up and be a good example.

"I feel confident Chris can take it to another level," Mitchell said. "I feel Jalen can be a better shooter and provide better leadership. I spoke to Jalen this summer and he knows how close we are.


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