Breaking Bargnani

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell stopped talking to Andrea Bargnani after seeing the centre go through...

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell stopped talking to Andrea Bargnani after seeing the centre go through drills with half-hearted effort. SUN MEDIA/Greg Henkenhaf

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

An innocent comment that prompted Sam Mitchell to feel the need to justify his $4-million salary as coach of the Raptors revealed another side of Mitchell the coach yesterday.

In an era where a coach's, paycheque often is dwarfed by those being cashed by the same men he has been put in charge of and asked to mould into a team, Mitchell suggests his job is as much psychologist as it is about play calling and XS and OS.

"It ain't about the XS and OS, it's about the Jimmys and Joes," Mitchell said stealing a cliche from a different era. And for Mitchell that means getting inside the heads of his "Jimmy's and Joe's" and doing whatever it takes to get the best out of them.

How he does that depends on the individual but Mitchell used the development of Andrea Bargnani as an example yesterday.

It's no secret that Bargnani has struggled throughout his sophomore year to repeat the productivity he showed as a rookie. The past month has been particularly trying for the young Italian who was inserted in the starting rotation nine games ago and continues to look lost. In the past 16 games, nine of those as a starter, Bargnani is averaging just over 20 minutes, with 6.6 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Part of the problem is that Bargnani is learning a new position and is being asked to do more than he did last year when all he was asked to do was score for the most part.

But while Mitchell and his coaching staff have endeavoured to help Bargnani through this transition, their efforts have not always been met by an appreciative Bargnani in Mitchell's opinion. Mitchell has seen Bargnani go through the one-on-one drills that would help him make the transition with a half-hearted effort.

Mitchell said Bargnani needed to be broken of that and his weapon of choice was a cold shoulder that stayed frosty for the past three weeks.

Not a conversation, not a hello, nothing was exchanged between coach and player for the better part of the past month. Bargnani needed to be shown the error of his ways and Mitchell was determined to get that message across.

Not surprisingly, Bargnani's play regressed over that period and slowly but surely he became more receptive to the idea of being a willing student.

Whereas in the past Bargnani would be pulled by a coach down to a free basket for some extra tutelage at the end of practice, now it is Bargnani grabbing the coach and asking for extra work.

And while Bargnani's statistical production remains down, Mitchell views this type of progress as every bit as important and pulled his young centre aside yesterday for the first time in 21 days to tell him as much. The normally stoic Bargnani even cracked a smile according to Mitchell.

What Bargnani is going through is nothing any of the other Raptors haven't experienced at one time or another. As Mitchell points out, all of these guys have been the best player somewhere at one time or another and often have to be "broken" before they'll accept the guidance being offered them.

Bargnani remains a work in progress but in Mitchell's mind the Raps first overall pick of two years ago has turned a major corner.


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