GM goes with the coach he knows

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Would another NBA team have hired Jay Triano as head coach?

Privately, away from the cameras and microphones, Bryan Colangelo answered the question with candour.

"Honestly, no," he said. "Probably not."

And then he began to explain how he decided on Triano to coach the Raptors, the process that got him there, and why he believes that the first coach he has promoted to the job since taking over as president and general manager more than three years ago is the right choice.

It has nothing to do with Triano being Canadian. It has nothing to do with any kind of nepotism or flag-waving. "It's not about pleasing the masses," Colangelo said. "It's about winning. Winning will please the masses."

When the Raptors' season ended, Colangelo started to compile a list. He wrote down the name of every available NBA head coach. Then he wrote down every name of assistant coaches he thought could advance to the head coaching job. And then he started moving people around. The better he knew them, the more he trusted his instincts.

"I had all these names on a board," Colangelo said. "All these people on a list. Where do you put them? And then you start looking around the league to see who is successful, and how did they get successful."

And then he started comparing. One coach or the other. This assistant or that assistant. This fired guy or that fired guy. And he kept coming back to Triano.

"There were two big factors," Colangelo said.

"One, having a close relationship with Steve Nash helped. Steve spoke so highly about him that Jay was on my radar before I ever came to Toronto. That's No. 1.

"Number two, now that I've been with him, there's an intimacy here when you get to work with someone. My history has been, I don't think I've ever gone outside of the web to hire a coach. To me, people who share your organizational values, people who have that special basketball acumen, people who have the right philosophies, with respect to the way you want to play, if it's all right there, why go outside and try and recreate something?

"And after all the evaluating and analysis we did, it always came back to Jay."

Triano's record in his first Raptors season was 25 wins, 40 losses. That isn't necessarily optimistic, especially considered he took over from a coach who was fired at 8-9. Then there are these numbers: Under Triano, the Raptors had a 7-26 record against playoff teams, three of those wins coming against the 41-41 Chicago Bulls. They finished the season winning nine of their final 13 games, playing eight teams that didn't make the playoffs, still losing in that stretch to the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks.

But somehow, enough happened to convince Colangelo to stake his reputation on Triano. He believes in Triano, just as he once believed in Phoenix that Mike D'Antoni, with his interim record of 21-40, could work as coach for the Suns.

There is a history of interim coaches with lousy records turning out all right in the NBA. The late Chuck Daly was 9-32 in his first stint as an interim coach. Flip Saunders was 20-42 in his first chance running a team.

Then there's Lawrence Frank. "Do you think many people would have hired Lawrence Frank, who worked his way up from the video room, but he was hired (in New Jersey) and he's done a great job?" Colangelo said. "Coaches have to start somewhere. Whether's it's Erik Spoelstra (in Miami) or Frank, who worked his way up, somebody had to believe in them.

"This is the right move for us, the right time. And as far as other candidates, I've been asked the question. When you have the right candidate, why wait? Why look elsewhere?"

It's impossible to dislike Jay Triano, impossible to cheer against him. He bled Canadian red as an Olympic athlete and an Olympic coach. He's one of us. But there's a long road between like and victory, so much still to be proven for Colangelo's coach of choice.


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