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December 4, 2008

Third Coaching Change: Mitchell Canned

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:19 am

Tred lightly, NBA head coaches. A bad start to the season for the league’s coaching fraternity got worse Wednesday when the Toronto Raptors fired Sam Mitchell after four-plus seasons at the helm.

The inevitable reaction in more than a few quarters will likely be along the lines of “How could the Raptors fire their coach when they’re only a game below .500?” That record might be more than a little misleading, however, because of the way Toronto has lost–capped by last night’s humbling 132-93 loss at Denver. In games decided by double-figures, the Raptors are 3-6, with no wins larger than 11 points. Toronto’s point differential is a decidedly unimpressive -3.9, ranking the Raptors 24th in the league.

The Raptors’ early-season problems have been fairly predictable. The team’s depth is now a question mark, particularly up front and behind point guard Jose Calderon. While Jermaine O’Neal is no longer a major offensive factor, Toronto has relied on him defensively, and its Defensive Rating has suffered when O’Neal has been on the bench. Meanwhile, European imports Will Solomon and Roko Ukic have both struggled alternating backing up Calderon.

Interim head coach Jay Triano won’tĀ eliminate those issues. Still, the Raptors are too talented–especially with Chris Bosh playing MVP-caliber basketball–to be getting run out of the gym on a semi-regular basis. Something wasn’t right.

It seems likely that Bryan Colangelo was also less willing to give Mitchell extra rope because the coach had never been an ideal fit for the executive’s philosophy. Mitchell’s job was presumed to be on the line in 2006-07, when he ended up winning Coach of the Year honors. Ultimately, that barely bought Mitchell another season. He’ll surely resurface elsewhere before too longĀ in what could be a better situation for him.

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