Future in Triano's hands

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The ball is in Jay Triano's court.

Run with it, and Canada's first NBA head coach will be given a second opportunity to prove himself on the game's biggest stage.

If he turns it over, Triano is likely to remain a member of the Raptors family, but his role won't be as significant.

But that's life in the NBA's uncertain coaching universe.

When the Raptors gather today for their first full-scale practice following the all-star break -- the team had scheduled an informal gathering last night -- it is up to Triano to figure out a way to incorporate the team's newest pieces in Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.

Banks generally has been viewed as a throw-in piece from the blockbuster deal with Miami last week, but he is a piece Triano must nonetheless use given the financial tag attached to Banks.

Marion gives the Raptors a true starting small forward on a frontcourt that is better balanced. Marion also can slide over at power forward in certain matchups.

How much progress these retooled Raptors make will depend on Triano.

Ever since he took over from Sam Mitchell in early December, Triano has been coaching on the fly, trying to develop winning habits amid a losing culture and a style of play at both ends of the floor with pieces that weren't compatible.

His record notwithstanding, Triano has shown that he can coach.

He now must show whether he deserves to have the interim label removed for next season.

With the league trade deadline two days away, there always is the potential for general manager Bryan Colangelo to move additional pieces to address an obvious need for a big.

Word is the Oklahoma City Thunder is more than willing to part with Chris Wilcox or Joe Smith, frontcourt players who would be welcome in Toronto, among other destinations.

Whether Colangelo has the assets to acquire such a player is open to debate.

There is no debating the fact Triano will be in a better position to win games if he can look down his bench and see a big not named Jake Voskuhl, Nathan Jawai or Kris Humphries.

But even if a big isn't on the horizon, Triano's task is to get the Raptors to push the ball more and use less of his bench.

In the rest of the season, the Raptors have to go for broke.

Not that it means anything to a team that sits at 21-34 and in second-last place in the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors' schedule is very favourable.

There are 27 games remaining, including 16 at home, beginning with a visit tomorrow by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There are two sets of back-to-backs and 11 games will be played against teams that are ahead of the Raptors for the eighth and final playoff spot, including four against the New York Knicks.

Every team the Raptors trail in the standings -- Milwaukee, New Jersey, New York, Charlotte and Indiana -- has issues. Some are looking to dump payroll in the next few days.

The Raptors have their own issues, namely nagging ailments to Chris Bosh (knee) and Jose Calderon (hamstring) and an incomplete roster, but the team's starting five at least provides hope.

If Triano somehow can summon his players to play with urgency for the balance of the season, the Raptors will make the playoffs.

As strange as it sounds, the post-season is a possibility.

The payoff is a first-round meeting with either Boston or Cleveland in what likely will be a quick series.

But at least the season would be salvaged.

By extension, Triano's job for next season would be all but assured.

Colangelo made the move to dump Mitchell because players, namely Andrea Bargnani, weren't improving.

There also was this feeling that Mitchell was less inclined to do what Colangelo wanted.

There is no friction between Colangelo and Triano because the two are on the same page.

Colangelo has said that it's Triano's job to lose.

Triano now can validate himself as a coach and has 27 games to show it.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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