The Last Word

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Raptors assistant coach Jim Todd, who has a future on the banquet circuit if he decides to hang up his whistle, believes his boss Sam Mitchell might have been carted off by the men with butterfly nets weeks ago if not for one saving grace.

"Sam can go to sleep standing up, I swear," Todd said yesterday.

"He doesn't even have to lean against anything."

Todd said Mitchell, who toiled for 13 years in the NBA, has perfected the ability to snatch cat naps whenever the opportunity presents itself -- on planes, in his office, talking with Rafael Araujo ...

"Players in the NBA condition themselves to do that," Todd said.

"And I think that has helped Sam."

Still, the question remains.

With his team 0-8 and the situation promising to get worse before it gets better, when is Mitchell going to snap? When is the second-year head coach, who supposedly called out Rafer Alston last season and grappled with Vince Carter when things were going relatively good, going to lose it and say or do something that might lead to a fine, or worse?

The smart money has Mitchell snapping next week during the team's four-game trip out west.

The signs are there. His ability to catch 50 winks aside, Mitchell is a walking zombie these days. The losing streak is keeping him up at night. After the team's embarrassingly one-sided loss to Detroit on Nov. 5, Mitchell pulled an all-nighter.

A couple of days later, after the Raps lost at home to Cleveland, Mitchell said he went home after the game, lay wide-awake in bed for a couple of hours, and then returned to his office at the Air Canada Centre at 4 in the morning.

You could hold a ski jumping event on the bags under his eyes.

After Tuesday night's loss in Philadelphia, the normally cool-handed Mitchell kept banging his back against the wall as he answered reporter's questions, as if in a trance.

Mitchell generally loves the give-and-take with the media, putting the ink-stained scribes in their place for wearing rumpled clothing or for asking dumb questions. He even has been known to put the occasional writer in a head lock or give someone a friendly punch in the arm.

But now, his patience has worn thin, and the fun side of Mitchell has gone into hibernation.

After Matt Bonner, who is one of his favourites, made a bone-head turnover on Sunday against the 76ers, Mitchell smashed his clipboard against the scorer's table.

If the Raptors don't get a victory soon, the man may need hospitalization.

"I can only imagine," said Bonner, when asked yesterday what kind of stress Mitchell is under. "With the amount of passion he has and how much he cares for the guys on the team, that just magnifies the stress he's going through."

The losing is bad enough, but it doesn't help when veteran players start to pitch the tent. Jalen Rose, the team's top scorer from last season, clearly wants out and it shows on the court. Rose seems more concerned about arguing bad calls than playing defence. Last week, Morris Peterson complained about not getting enough minutes, and Mitchell put him in the starting lineup. Peterson did not exactly put his money with his mouth is.

Mitchell made a name for himself in the NBA as a marginally talented player who worked harder than anyone and took losing as a personal affront. When you coach, you can't run on to the court and change the outcome of a game. It's lot tougher.

He can't force a player to care as much as he does.

All he can do is lay awake at night.


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