Raptors players stand by Sam

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

The Raptors' Sam Mitchell has yet to really prove himself as an NBA head coach, but don't try telling that to his players.

Almost to a man, the players expressed enthusiasm about the team's hiring of Bryan Colangelo as Toronto's new president and general manager, but they also let it be known they want Mitchell to stick around.

A new GM often parachutes in his own coaching staff, though Colangelo suggested yesterday that he has no plans at this time to do that.

Still, Raptor veterans such as Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson wanted it on the record that they hope the new GM will grow to respect and admire Mitchell as much as they do, and, perhaps, sign him to a long-term contract in the near future.

"We have to talk to (Colangelo)," Bosh said yesterday, following a team practice at the Air Canada Centre. "And I'll make sure I express my (admiration) for the coaching staff we have now. All I can do is add my two cents, because at the end of the day he's going to be make his decision. But I think if we, as a group, express how happy we are with the coaching staff now, he might listen to us."

Colangelo undoubtedly will listen to Bosh, considered the future of the Raptors franchise and the one player the team dearly hopes to pen to a new long-term deal after this season.

Colangelo addressed the team before practice yesterday and conveyed the message that his door is always open to them. Swingman Morris Peterson is hoping Colangelo will listen when it comes to the players wanting Mitchell to stick around.

"I'll tell you this," Peterson said. "Ever since Sam has been here, I've seen him grow a lot as a coach, and he has done a lot for this team. He has developed guys like Chris Bosh, and has helped me get better. So it would be nice to see Coach stick around, because I think he deserves it. Coach is definitely moving in the right direction. Guys like him, guys like playing for him. I like playing for him. I've seen him come into his own as a head coach. Our (entire) coaching staff has worked hard, especially with us having a young team."

Mitchell insisted he is not worried about his future, nor has he asked for a new contract. But he did express gratitude toward his players yesterday for their support.

"It makes you feel good because I'm tough on my guys, but I love those guys and they know it," he said. "When we were 1-15, I wouldn't have taken another team in the NBA. I really felt that. We have a special group of guys.

"Those guys have gone through a lot. We've been criticized, we been (the butt of jokes), we had a guy score 81 points on us, we've had all these things happen to us, but yet we've hung to together as players and coaches and made ourselves respectable."


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