Babcock gets blindsided

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

Rob Babcock finally could sit back and marvel at the ruthlessness of it all.

Here he was, at his farewell news conference, writing his own eulogy after 19 months at the helm of the Raptors basketball operation.

He admired the way he was fired with the same kind of detached amusement a dying man would find in the inlay of a knife plunged into his heart.

Yesterday morning, Babcock sauntered into the office of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., CEO Richard Peddie, intent on ironing out some routine details about the scouting staff. Babcock had asked for the meeting. Peddie let the engagement stand, watched him walk in and then delivered the killshot on Babcock's career.

"I scheduled my own firing," Babcock said yesterday. He was half-amused, half- amazed.

The elimination of Rob Babcock, in the works for a week and a half, was delivered with such brutal cunning, he didn't even have time to raise his arms. There had been no rumors. No death watch.

"I had no idea this was coming," he said.

Rob Babcock probably never will be a great GM for the same reason he didn't anticipate his own firing. He believes it, all the stuff about team and working co-operatively and everyone getting along. He doesn't know how to forge alliances. He has no instincts to guide him as he backstabs a rival. Because of this deficiency, there are many fields closed to him. Politics comes to mind. The Raptors do, too. Nothing has changed since he was hired.

"I'm not sure why the Raptors would feel the need to re-hire Glen Grunwald," one team executive said when word of Babcock's hiring leaked out in the summer of 2004. "That's nothing personal against Glen, who I quite like. But if the Raptors, for some reason, found Glen wanting, they've replaced him with someone quite similar. They're both nice guys with mid-range credentials."

The truth about Rob Babcock is that he was a rookie GM who got the job because the Raptors wanted cheap.

Cheap means inexperienced. To hear Peddie tell it, it was shocking -- shocking, how inexperienced a second-year GM can be.

It took the efforts of no fewer than four people, two of whom Babcock himself hired and one more whose trade request he granted, to send Babcock back to Minnesota as a failure who couldn't make it in what will probably be his only try at the big job.

The architect of Babcock's firing was coach Sam Mitchell. It was Babcock who hired Mitchell, an old Minnesota colleague, even though Mitchell had only two seasons as an assistant under his belt.

That didn't stop Mitchell from undermining Babcock from the beginning. Mitchell often lamented his team's lack of talent and let his silences speak for who was to blame. The two became embroiled in a war of wills when Babcock brought back Pape Sow from the development league, even though Mitchell didn't want him on the team. Babcock and Mitchell sometimes barely spoke.

Babcock conceded yesterday there had been problems and refused to say whether he would have wanted Mitchell, a favourite of ownership, back.

"Sam and I had philosophical differences and almost every coach and GM in the league do," he said.

But when Peddie went to throw the switch, the person he called was Embry, another Babcock hire.

Embry, plucked by Babcock out of a semi-retirement in Cleveland, quickly has become a mentor and champion for Mitchell. At a news conference yesterday, Embry was asked if he agreed with the decision.

"Sitting here today, to be honest, which is the only way I know to be," Embry said. "Yes."

Even the unlamented Vince Carter had a hand in Babcock's firing. Had he been something other than the complete dog he was in his final weeks here, the Raptors might have garnered some value. Instead, Babcock was forced to deal Carter to New Jersey for fringe players and draft choices.

It will go down as one of the most cold-hearted firings ever, a baseball bat to the skull of a poor sap who came in for a scouting meeting.

The Raptors were right to do it. A guy like Babcock had no business working here.


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