OAKLAND -- In an attempt to reverse a disturbing trend, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell will ask the NBA's ironman and the team's longest-serving player to come off the bench.
Mitchell made a bold move yesterday, replacing struggling Raptors mainstay Morris Peterson with explosive newcomer Fred Jones in a slumping starting lineup with four games remaining in a challenging West Coast swing.
The Raptors (2-4) have been outscored by double digits in the opening quarters of the past two games -- a road loss against the Sacramento Kings and a home defeat against the Atlanta Hawks, and something had to give. Peterson, who has played in an NBA-leading 367 consecutive games and is the Raptors' career leader in games played, has not played up to expectations at either end of the court. Jones was the team's best player in a 7-1 pre-season and a spark off the bench recently.
"I just think it's necessary maybe to give us a little jump start," Mitchell said as his team prepared for a game tonight against the Golden State Warriors. "I don't think it would be right to go into detail why. I don't like doing that about a player. I'd rather leave it at that."
Mitchell was going out of his way not to say a negative word about Peterson, who has been a coach's favourite in the past and has embraced Toronto. But Peterson has been out of sorts this season, shooting just 40.3% from the field (down from 43.6% last year) and averaging 14.5 points (16.8 last year) while also not looking as sharp as usual on defence.
In the Raptors' most recent win, last Wednesday over the Philadelphia 76ers, an unhappy-looking Peterson was glued to the bench for Toronto's fourth-quarter surge. Needless to say, it hasn't been the start to the season Peterson had envisioned in a contract year. Peterson didn't talk to reporters after practice and Jones certainly felt some sympathy for his teammate.
"You don't want to see your teammates suffer," Jones said.
"But hopefully the coaching staff sees something that's going to make that person not in the lineup play better."
Perhaps it will do just that as Peterson will be the clear No. 1 offensive force on the second unit, assuming he puts everything into the new role and plays to his capabilities.
Jones, meanwhile, has shot 48.1% this season while averaging 11.3 points.
With starting swingman Anthony Parker emerging as a reliable defender, Jones can defend a less dangerous offensive player.
"I think the coaching staff is putting me there to keep that same mindset of coming off the bench, (where) you have to be aggressive," Jones said. "As a starter, you kind of let the game come to you a little bit. Coming off the bench, you have to go for it right away."
The Raptors haven't made many trips to the foul line early and Jones sees that as one of his primary functions.
As for Mitchell, he never has been shy about going with the hot hand, even if it means reducing a regular's minutes.
This is just the latest example.
"It goes back to the old saying if guys earn it, they deserve it," Mitchell said. "(Jones) earned it coming out of training camp."