Is Sam the man next year?

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

The Raptors bid farewell to each other yesterday, less than 24 hours after being bounced from the playoffs by the New Jersey Nets.

They also bid farewell to reason, at least the way people in the real world would comprehend the meaning of the word.

General manager Bryan Colangelo wants Sam Mitchell back as head coach.

Mitchell -- the NBA coach of the year after leading the Raptors to a 20-win improvement -- wants to return.

The players say they want him to return.

But guess what? There is a good chance he won't return.

Basically, you need a program to figure out why -- despite all the good words and positive thinking expressed during the team's exit interviews yesterday -- Mitchell is not signed past this current season, and why he may bid adieu to T.O. when his current contract expires on June 30.

It comes down to this: Despite a public wish that Mitchell is his No. 1 choice, Colangelo has to wait and see what the coach wants in terms of a new deal. Reportedly, the third-year head coach is looking for three or four years at around $3.5 million US to $4 million per season, although Mitchell won't confirm any of that, saying that, money-wise, all he wants is to be "fairly compensated."

A deal in that range, for that length of time, would not be outrageous for a coach of Mitchell's new-found stature.

"(But) it's not going to be one thing that will override another thing," Mitchell said yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "Just the overall environment. Where are you going to be happy? You have to be happy."

Mitchell admitted that, if he chose to go elsewhere, perhaps to Charlotte, Indiana or any other organization that supposedly has expressed interest in his services, he would be walking away from a great situation in terms of where this young Raptors team may be going in the future.

"But sometimes, those decisions are made for you," he said. "(Staying in Toronto) is a top priority for me, if it can be worked out. I love those guys (the players). They are just an unbelievable group to coach."

Colangelo said that, first thing tomorrow, he will talk with Mitchell's agent, Lonnie Cooper, to began preliminary discussions on a new deal. Because Mitchell is under contract until June 30, no other team can jump into the negotiations unless Colangelo gives them permission, which wouldn't make a lot of sense unless he is convinced that Mitchell wants to go elsewhere.

In any event, Colangelo said Mitchell's status with the Raptors will be worked out, one way or the other, by June 30. If he stays, great. If not, the GM has to move on to Plan B or C.

"This isn't just about Sam Mitchell," he said. "I have three assistant coaches in there wondering what their (status) is. I've got four free agents wondering what their situation is. We don't have a draft pick this year, we've got to get better," the GM said. "There are a lot of things to work on."

When all is said and done, it will probably come down to money and to the length of the contract. And the bottom line is, if the two sides are close, and Mitchell doesn't harbour a secret desire to return to Indiana, where he played for three years, or to Charlotte, where he would be closer to his family in Atlanta, he'll stay put.

But if he does decide to move on -- and this was perhaps the most profound thought to come out of yesterday's media conference -- the team will to continue to move forward, with or without him, or so says Chris Bosh.

"We have to pick up where we left off, no matter what happens," Bosh said. "I don't think it will be a step back (if Mitchell departs). Of course, it would be different, but life goes on and we have to remember that. We have expectations for next year, so we're going to have to meet them and exceed them. Coaches change all the time and players change all the time and if one part is missing, that doesn't mean you go down. You always have to improve."

Bosh is in a unique position as the club's franchise player. He is the heart and soul of the team and, without question, any move Colangelo makes will only happen after he has consulted the laid-back Texan. Not to say that Bosh will make the ultimate decision. But his input will matter.

"(But) I don't think there is much to say. I mean, of course, I'd like (Mitchell) back," Bosh said. "Yada, yada, yada, you know."


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