Friday, November 6, 2009

The Man With the Plan

A few years back when our fair Raptors hit that 47 win mark for the second time in franchise history, the previous summer was a lot like the one we just had. A complete gutting of the team, rebuilt around a few key guys (the first time Bosh and Calderon, the second ditto plus Bargnani), and despite an influx of new talent, the team was able to gel together quickly enough to really go on a tear throughout the whole season.

That was also the year that Sam Mitchell won his Coach of the Year award, supposedly for being the facilitator of this lightning-quick camaraderie. For weeks we heard praise lauded on him from all corners saying what he lacked as an X’s and O’s guy he made up for by being a “Jimmy’s and Joe’s” kind of guy, in that he knew how to deal with players on a personal level, hence the swift cohesion.

But us real fans – we knew better. When analysts were awarding him with the top coaching prize, we knew none had watched the games themselves and just assumed that it must have been Smitch that made these guys work together. When in reality, they came together more through good attitudes and level heads then anything else. It’s like when you play a game of pick-up ball, sometimes you just grab a vibe with the people you’re with and you’re able to run with it with fantastic results. Well that’s what the Raptors did that season. Sam Mitchell was way too busy picking apart his new European rookie’s confidence and giving TJ Ford full body massages in the back to really give a shit about working Juan Dixon into the team make-up. He did an able job overall sure, but the hard part was clearly being done by the players themselves.

This became extremely evident when the Raptors started falling apart almost as fast as they came together. There was no clear leader banding them together, so that intangible wave they were riding in 2007 simply disappeared. And since Sam Mitchell wasn’t getting through to neither Jimmy or Joe (and the fact that he was probably more apt to use a playbook as toilet paper then actually bust one out during a timeout) he got the boot.

When Jay Triano stepped in and the team tanked to levels we hadn’t seen since the dark days of Mike James, the gen pop of Raptors fans seethed with anger towards him. And when Colangelo offered him the job full-time, people thought BC was off his rocker.

But if these first five games have been any indication of his skills, it’s quite possible that Triano may end up being the best coach Toronto has ever had.

It really did start last year during that stinkapalooza ’09. The games were borderline unbearable to watch. However – while they may have been losing left, right and centre - JT was planting a seed, which is that defense needed to be a defining characteristic of this team. It needed to become part of the Raptor identity.

When this team was rebuilt, Colangelo brought in all sorts of offensive firepower, but it was pointed out many times that each new player (short of Antoine Wright) was severely lacking in the defense department. Triano and his staff did not care. They had one point and one point alone that they want to smack these players with day in and day out: Defense, Defense, Defense. And as training camp went, and pre-season went, we all started to hear very similar quotes from the players. Despite the fact that every analyst was saying their defense couldn’t stop a roving beach ball (myself included), they all still talked about it like it was their new religion.

And while there have been a few ups and down to start, these last couple of games against Detroit and New Orleans respectively have shown that on the defensive end, they mean business. Against New Orleans alone, they held Chris Paul’s team to only 14 in the third and 90 points overall. After the game Turkoglu said, “"It really started on defense... We've been great offensively since they built the team, but we were helping each other on defense tonight."

What that means is that we’ve got a guy who knows his X’s and O’s as well as his Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Triano actually has a solid long term strategic game plan for his team, and it seems they’re all getting it mentally and are trying very hard to make it happen physically.

Someone like a Jerry Sloan or Phil Jackson commanded respect from having a deep knowledge of the game, and for always having a plan for their team. I don’t buy that coaches have been rendered ineffective ever since players started getting mega-contracts. I think it’s more that a lot of coaches resort to rinky-dink high school tactics and speeches that have no place at this level. Turkoglu just got himself a brand-new long term contract. If there’s anyone who can tune out a coach if he wants it’s him, yet it’s clear he’s drinking Triano’s Kool-Aid.

When we lost the game against the Grizzlies, there was a sense that the players had somehow “let down” their coach, not that Triano had blown it (like we so often felt with Sammy). It felt that he had given them specific orders, and it was their fault for not following through with them.

If that had been Sam at the helm he would have just said “Well sometimes the shots fall, and sometimes they don’t” and gone off golfing with Jason Kapono. Not here. You could feel that Triano was pissed off at his team – that he knew they were capable of better. And he was determined to bring that out in them.

Triano gives off an aura that the fans can see and the players are responding to. They know who the general is on the team, and they are doing what they can to follow the battle plan he’s laid out for them. And if that is what’s really happening here, then we’re about to be treated to some amazing basketball. A real fan knows the difference between watching the D’Antoni Suns and the Dunleavy Clippers. When a talented coach has the full control and respect of his team, and the team has all the assets they need to execute his plan, then that’s when the real fun can begin.

Going into a game like last night’s against a superstar like Chris Paul, Sam Mitchell would have been bound to give us a useful nugget like, “Obviously we know Chris is going to get the ball, so we’re going to have to try and stop him. It’s not rocket science fellas!”

Instead we have a coach that actually said in regards to guarding Chris Paul, “We've got Plans A, B and C ready and hopefully we don't have to use all three of them.”

And whichever one he used… it worked.

I’d put my chips on the man with the plan.

And so far it looks like the Raptors have too.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article but your comment about Dunleavy is wrong.

    The problems with the Clippers were

    1. The GM - Elgin Baylor an incompetent affirmative action GM

    2. Their affirmative action trainer who year after year isn't capable of doing the right things to minimize injuries. Just like this year when Griffin went down. All the evidence points to the fact that there were major warnings that something serious in terms of an injury was gong to befall him.

    Even before the injury it was known that he was was playing in the preseason with pain in his knee, but the trainer said soilder on and so Griffin did right to the injured list.

    Dunleavy has never had a full deck in Los Angeles to work with because of those two incompetent affirmative action employees, one of whom is thankfully now gone. Dunleavy has made some very good personnel moves since he took over as GM. Its too bad he can't also become their head trainer as well as head coach.