Colangelo's conundrum

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

It is inevitable, of course, that every time the Raptors stumble, Sam Mitchell's name will come up. And not in a good way.

Mitchell's status was always going to be an issue this year, ever since Bryan Colangelo decided not to pull the plug on the coach he inherited when he became the boss of all things basketball in Toronto last spring.

Now, the worst -- well, not quite the worst, but it's not good -- has happened for Mitchell. His team has limped out of the gate at 2-7 and it's hard not to believe he's in Colangelo's crosshairs.

LOSING STREAK

The Raptors are losers of five in a row, including four on this road trip, with only tonight's game in Salt Lake City against the red-hot Utah Jazz remaining before they come home to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Gulp.

Including tonight's difficult test, the Raps play eight games in the next 13 days and unless something gets turned around in a hurry, the clamour for change will become a deafening roar.

So, the next two weeks will tell a great deal about Mitchell's fate. It also will tell us much about Colangelo, who could have dismissed Mitchell last year, but chose to give him another chance.

The easy thing for Colangelo to do, the knee-jerk thing, would have been to wipe the slate clean and send Mitchell down the road as soon as he was hired last February.

But when all his late-season fact-finding was done, Colangelo took a different route. He decided Mitchell had been saddled with what he called a "dysfunctional" team and that he deserved to stay on and get a fair chance under better circumstances.

Unfortunately, that did not include a contract extension for Mitchell, who is working on the final season of a three-year deal.

Now because his team is not responding as hoped, we may find out exactly what Colangelo meant when he said last spring that Mitchell "deserves the opportunity to succeed or fail with the group we're going to put on the floor (this) year."

There's also a valid argument to be made that the circumstances Mitchell faces today are not much better than they were at the end of last season, when he rallied his broken team to 26-40 record after starting the season 1-15.

On his 15-man roster are no less than eight players with two or less years of NBA experience, including four rookies. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a coach starting his career under more difficult circumstances than Mitchell has since he joined the team as a rookie head coach in 2004-05. Even the schedule seems against him, what with the heavy front-loading of games against contending teams.

Two years ago, Mitchell walked right into the Vince Carter fiasco and the bad things just haven't stopped happening ever since. That said, Mitchell has made some positive strides as a coach since those early days when his abrupt, abrasive nature trod on a lot of toes, both in the locker room and the front office. Now his rough edges are less apparent and his players profess to be in his corner.

Still, the wins don't come.

WHAT'S THE PLAN?

When Colangelo left Arizona, part of the agreement was that he wouldn't be allowed to hire any Suns' personnel for a year.

There has been plenty of talk since Colangelo arrived that Suns' assistant Marc Iavaroni is his first choice and that he might bide his time with Mitchell until the end of the year.

But Iavaroni recently has signed a two-year extension with Phoenix and, given Colangelo's icy relationship with Phoenix owner Robert Sarver, there's no guarantee that Sarver would consent to let Iavaroni out of his contract, even to become a head coach here.

But that's putting the cart before the horse. The real issue right now is whether Mitchell can get this train-wreck of a start to the season cleaned up in time to save himself.

Nobody but Colangelo knows how close or how far away that day might be.

For what it's worth, it would seem only fair to give Mitchell at least until January to get things turned around. But fairness may not enter into the equation.

If Colangelo thinks this group of players should be good enough to make the playoffs, then he might not be able to wait that long.

Until then, right or wrong, fair or unfair, Mitchell simply must live with the cards he's been dealt and hope he can somehow turn them into a winning hand.


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