'We apologize to the fans ...'

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

Larry Tanenbaum isn't prepared to pull the plug on Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and general manager Rob Babcock.

Not just yet, anyhow.

"It's embarrassing," the chairman of the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. admitted yesterday of Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but he very well could have been talking about the state of his beloved franchise.

"It's painful to see our team losing like this.

When asked what he thought of the Raptors being considered a "laughing stock" around the National Basketball Association, Tanenbaum was upset at the characterization but understanding of the sentiment.

"I guess if you look at those events that took place from the first draft with Hoffa (Rafael Araujo) through to the Vince Carter issue, if you're looking at those singular events, you can come out and say, "What are those guys doing?' You can absolutely do that," Tanenbaum said. "When you look at the whole picture I think you'll see it differently."

Tanenbaum, bless him, forever sees the sporting world through wide-eyed, ever-believing optimistic eyes. He believes in Babcock's three-year plan. He believes that the Raptors are planting seeds for future growth. He has been nothing but ridiculously successful in business yet clings ever happily to the notion that his sporting ventures will be equally dominant.

Only they haven't been, unless you're counting dollars instead of wins.

His baby, the Raptors, may well be the worst team in all of professional sports.

Who's worse? The Raptors have five wins, twenty losses and all this happening in a season in which Chris Bosh is becoming a star, rookie Charlie Villanueva is outplaying the first and second picks in the NBA draft and Spanish rookie Jose Calderon has brought some energy and vision to the team.

At least that's some individual progress, but if they're making progress and playing .200 basketball with a 1-12 home record in the home- happy NBA, we'd hate to see what happens when something goes wrong.

STRATEGIC PLAN

"The board has a strategic plan, and as you can appreciate, we look at the plan and can't adjust it in 24-game increments," Tanenbaum said. "It has to be judged over the long term. And I believe it's a good plan.

"It's painful to see our team losing like this. Believe me, we feel the pain. But what we're trying to do is build something for the future. Sure, it was an embarrassment (Sunday), but you can't (tear up the plan) because of a single game.

"Sometimes it's the growing pains that we're feeling, it's like the growing pains in rearing your children. You have to go through some rough periods but you know at the end they're going to be good kids."

First problem with the plan: It's being executed by Babcock. It's hard, after all that's gone wrong, to have any faith in his ability to build anything substantial.

Second and more immediate problem: Mitchell is coaching. Evidence is mounting that he isn't just over his head as a head coach, he's drowning. If the team can't play, that's one thing. If he can't get them to play, that's another matter entirely.

One or both have to go, the course of sport being the coach usually goes first. The longer Tanenbaum and the board hangs in with both Mitchell and Babcock, the better chance the three-year plan turns into a five-year plan, then into a seven-year plan.

"We're a quarter into our season," Tanenbaum said. "You have to look at the progress of our young players over a much longer period. What's the right time (to reassess the plan)?

"The answer to date is, we are sticking to the plan."

Only the plan keeps getting changed. Babcock was hired and had old man Wayne Embry as his advisor. Now Babcock answers to Embry.

SACRIFICE

Mitchell brought in his staff to coach the Raptors. Only some 20 games into this season, veteran college coach Gene Keady was added to that staff.

This is not how sound organizations operate in sport.

"We apologize to the fans and believe me, this is painful," Tanenbaum said. "But I think in the end everybody will be better off for the sacrifice.

"We have to give this time. If next year, we are in the same position, we clearly have to say no, this isn't working.

"But my belief is we can do it. If you want to judge our credibility, judge it at a time when we say we're going to deliver a winning franchise here. Right now, we're building and we need patience. We're asking for your patience."


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