That's a Rap for Mitchell

Sam Mitchell exits the Raptors with a 156-189 record and 2007 NBA coach of the year honours. (Sun...

Sam Mitchell exits the Raptors with a 156-189 record and 2007 NBA coach of the year honours. (Sun Media/Stan Behal)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

DENVER -- The Maple Leafs had a losing culture, the Raptors wanted to stop one from taking root.

Firing coach Sam Mitchell and promoting Canadian Jay Triano won't solve all their inconsistencies, but general manager Bryan Colangelo deemed it the first step to making a good team start playing to potential. Squirming through last year's fast playoff exit, this autumn's stumbling 8-9 start -- with blown leads, a weak defence and over-reliance on Chris Bosh -- Colangelo pulled the trigger on Mitchell here yesterday after the white flag went up in Tuesday's "debacle," a 39-point loss to the Nuggets.

"We weren't getting the maximum from our roster, it was time to change," Colangelo said in canning Mitchell with almost three years to run on his contract, including a guaranteed $4-million US this year and next. "This wasn't all about Sam's failings as a coach. We are not a team without flaws. I'm wearing (8-9) like Sam's wearing it.

"We haven't lost confidence in the roster. But our players have been down the past couple of weeks, they've lost that swagger (from a 3-0 start). Now there are no more excuses with regards to Sam Mitchell as coach."

He exits with a 156-189 record and 2007 NBA coach of the year honours.

"I don't want to get into what's fair or not fair," Mitchell told TSN before flying back to Toronto last night. "I learned a long time ago that the world's not fair and life isn't always fair. I had a great run and have nothing but respect for the people at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

"It's a disappointment that I wasn't going to get a chance to finish what I started, but I feel like I accomplished a lot of good things. I think the players that played for me all got better."

Niagara Falls native Triano filled in one game as head coach for Mitchell, but debuts tomorrow in Salt Lake City as the first Canadian to be a full-time NBA coach, likely through the end of 2008-09, until bigger names can enter the race.

"At our coaches' meeting this morning, Sam said something like this might happen," Triano said. "He said, 'I hope one of you in this room (Triano, Alex English and Mike Evans) get the job'. He was at ease with that and thanked all of us."

Triano has plenty of ideas from his six-year travels around the world and the NBA and things he learned from mentors such as Canadian national team legend Jack Donohue. He plans to try to implement some right away.

"There will be tweaks here and there until we get comfortable," he said. "The roster is what it is, we've got talent. We are one of the bigger teams in the East inside with Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal. We have to showcase those two."

Triano also wants Bosh's court time to be reduced to avoid burnout.

"If we're going to play high intensity basketball, Chris won't play as much," he said.

The Raptors didn't look too bad in losing the first game on this trip to the league-leading Lakers, but offered no resistance to the Nuggets in the fifth-worst loss in team history. Colangelo also pointed to the 16-point lead the Raps blew in Boston and New Jersey's overtime comeback which he said contributed to a bad game against the Celtics two days later. He acknowledged Mitchell had injury woes with keystones O'Neal and Jose Calderon, but that other teams found ways to win without their stars.

"You come to the point where the things you want to see aren't taking place," Colangelo said.

He added that other clubs have been sniffing around, feeling him out on a blockbuster trade as another way of shaking up the Raptors.

"The opposition senses blood and I'm as guilty as anyone at doing that," the GM said. "There is significant interest in our roster. I don't want to blow it up, I want to improve and stay under the cap as all 30 teams do."


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