In part two of my sit-down with Raptors head coach Jay Triano, we talk about strategy, rotations and the spectre of Chris Bosh's upcoming decision.
Tim Chisholm: So then moving on to a guy like Turkoglu, who has a tendency to disappear from games when he doesn't have the ball in his hands, is there an opportunity in Toronto to let him run the point guard spot like he would do in Orlando?
Jay Triano: Absolutely, yeah. There are a couple of things I'll give you right off the bat: one, if he rebounds the basketball then he brings it up like he did in Orlando, and Jose is excellent off of the ball so he'll know where to space. The other thing that they did is they would run what they called 'thumb-down, five-special', which is just a zipper to bring him up to the top and then it's a high screen-roll for him. Well, now we've got Jose on the side, they zipper him up and get him [Turkoglu] at the top, spread the floor, and he goes. The day that we made the deal I said to Micah [Nori, assistant coach, NBA scout] and our coaches "thumb-down, five special", we're adding that one, put that one in our playbook! And I like the way that we run it equally as well as the way Orlando did it. They'd just zipper him up, it's a high screen with Dwight [Howard] and then Dwight rolls. Well, we're gonna put CB in that and they lifted Rashard Lewis, so we're gonna lift Andrea, we'll put Jose in one corner and Belinelli in the other corner – who are they gonna help off of on the screen-roll? That's why we're just gonna roll CB down, with shooters all around him, and he's going to have a chance to go right to the basket. It plays to his strength, it plays to Hedo's strength as a playmaker, to Jose's by catching the ball and making a play.
Jose's probably going to have to get used to not having the ball in his hands as much, but I don't think that that's a problem.
TC: Along those lines, with so many new players coming in, how do you feel about players coming to you with plays that worked for them in other systems?
JT: I have no problem with that. They usually go to my assistants in the summertime. In fact, we ask them. We'll ask "what was your favourite play in Indiana?" They'll tell us and we'll go "oh yeah, that was difficult to guard" or "we always switched that, that was easy." We ask them what the best play is for them to get open.
I always have that card in my pocket. It's listed, it's motion offences if I feel like we're stagnating, I have plays for Chris, I have plays for Andrea, I had plays for Jermaine last year. I'd think that we'd need to get Jermaine going because he's not guarding anybody, so we'd run a couple of plays to see if we can get him into the game. So that card has all the different strategies of the game; "We're stagnant offensively, let's get into this. We need a basket, we need a post-up, we haven't gone inside in six straight plays". I have a series of post-up plays, screen-roll plays, everything. That card is just like a checklist throughout the game; "this isn't happening, let's go through it – boom – there's a play we can run". Those are plays that are in our playbooks, but we don't give them a call so other teams can't scout us.
TC: Is there a point where there is too much depth for a team?
TC: Do you feel that this team is straddling that line?
JT: No, I want that depth because the one thing you can never account for is injuries. If everyone stays healthy all of the time then we're going to have a little bit of a problem, but it's going to be a good problem. It's going to be a problem this year when we're going "which three guys do we put in suits tonight?" instead of "who the heck do we put into the game?" So it's kind of flipped this year.
We've got guys that we're trying to develop and make better, too. With a guy like Sonny Weems, he's a guy we're going to try and develop. It's not hard to put him in a suit, but a couple of injuries or some good play by him or some quick development by him and all of a sudden he's fighting for a spot.
TC: Bargnani says that one of the biggest reasons for his development last year was that you just let him play his game. Where's the line, though, between allowing a guy to play his way and developing him for the betterment of the team?
JT: Well, his issues were twofold. He was a guy that we wanted to have in the organization for a while, so we were going to have to find a way to develop him within the confines of the team. For a guy like Jermaine, we can't change our offences or rewrite plays for him because we knew that he was one or two years and gone. I have to wade around that to try and find that line [between player and team], and I think that last year we got caught up in that. I think with Jermaine, we got so caught up in trying to make him look good so we could trade him that it compromised the effectiveness of our team. Then we get rid of him and Bargnani starts to flourish, he's not looking over his shoulder anymore wondering when this guy is coming in, he knows he can make a couple of mistakes and he's going to stay on the floor so he can fight through it. But when we had Jermaine, all of a sudden I'm tempted to say "Jermaine, get him out" because he's messed up twice. I didn't have that luxury later on and that let Bargnani play through. It's tough though; you have to look at where guys are and what their future is in the organization.
TC: How do you keep a player that struggles during development focused, without letting him buy into the media pressures or fans reactions to his growth?
JT: Well, that's part of our balance every day. I mean, you've got to have coaches who are well liked by the players, positive guys. I mean, I'm going to give them s*** and they're going to feel like s*** about me because I'm not playing them, or I'm taking them out of games for making mistakes. That's when the assistant coaches have to be in their ear saying "c'mon, let's go, let's get some extra shots." Then they're going to give them "no, why bother, I'm not going to f***ing play, he's not going to play me." And that's when they have to go "no no, you're gonna get your shot sometime, you have to be ready when your shot comes." That's where with you and your assistant it becomes good cop, bad cop.
But that's the balance of coaching, and that's what makes the line so fine between NBA players and how you deal with them. I mean, you can't take away their scholarship and you can't bench a guy for five games because he makes too much money and the fans wanna see him play. So, it's finding ways to maximize everybody's play. That's why you need to have a good relationship with people. I have a good relationship with Chris, and I had a good one with Nash when I coached him. You've got to be able to say "I'm coming after you in practice today because you were horse s*** yesterday." You know, you just give them a little bit of warning. It's not something that you do every day so that makes them feel "oh s***, okay". I give it to everybody else, so I've got to give it to the best player, too. I think that's the benefit of relationships that you build up over time and I'm going to have to build a lot of new ones because we got a lot of new guys. But at least three guys know me.
TC: So how much of what you want to do next year have you figured out and how much of it is going into training camp with a blank slate?
JT: Well, I think I know a lot of them. I've watched Hedo enough that I know what he likes to do and I know where he likes to be on the floor. You don't run plays for Reggie, you just ask him to get the ball and throw it back out and do it again and that's what he thrives on, on that role. So I don't know if there's too much that will change. I mean, we're going to put our stuff in, then when you put your stuff in you see how they are going to react to your stuff and how they react with other guys on the floor, then you come up with ideas on the fly: "This might be good with both of these guys on the floor out there, they both like to drive-and-kick, what if we put in our weave play?"
We have our stuff that we want to put in, that we've thought about for each of these guys, but you know what? You start going on the canvas and you just go "this isn't the way we wanted this to go, let's make some adaptations to it and let's see if we can come back at it a different way."
TC: Was there any conscious effort to mirror certain roles from last year, with parallels like Pops and Evans, Belinelli and Kapono, Rasho and Voskuhl?
JT: I think that just happens because of positions in the league. Pops and Reggie, you know, we couldn't get Pops back because Reggie's that role as a rebounder. You know, Rasho's more of a veteran guy, just like Jake, you're right, but he's a guy that we've had here in the past. I just think that you want to have an anchor back there, the veteran guy, and I think it's more about position than it is about the personnel from last year and trying to match up against it.
TC: You have two long road trips to start the year, so is there any concern about the team having time to gel with so many games away from the ACC?
JT: I think, and I'm trying to look at the positive because you could say "oh, our schedule is tough at the beginning because there's a lot of away games," but I think the best way for teams to gel is to be on the road. Now, when you're finished practice and you're going out somewhere, your doing it with each other. You get to know guys a lot better because you're not going home and not seeing them again until the next day at practice.
I like the fact that our schedule is tough early because I think we're going to surprise people and people won't know what to expect from us. You can't take a report from last year and go "these are the Raptors," because there are only three of them that are. The different things we do with our personnel, that's going to make it tough, so we may surprise some teams early. That, and the road trips are going to be the time for us to bond and come together early.
TC: Given how strong you feel the five-man rotation behind the starters is, is there an opportunity for a guy outside that group, like a Quincy Douby, to earn his way into the rotation, or would that take an injury to happen?
JT: No, but when they start thinking like that, that's where they're gonna stay. Quincy's been working so hard that he thinks he's going to be our Eddie House-type off of the bench that gives us a boost when things aren't going well, and I like that. We're going to have our group that comes into the game that are going to be our energy guys, and hopefully those guys are going to play, but if those guys don't play that way in practice then their back-ups are going to be who plays. I've found in coaching that it's the quality of those guys, the ones who bust their ass every day in practice trying to get to that second string, that make your team, because now the second guys have to bust their ass to not lose their spot and in doing that they make our starters compete on a daily basis.
I joked with Chris this morning downstairs, I said "I don't know if you guys are going to be able to score against our second unit, that's where all of our good defensive players are."
He said, "who's gonna guard me?"
I said "Reggie's gonna lock you up."
He said "I'm gonna take him down low."
I said "He won't let you get low."
I mean, we just got into it. I can see the score at the end of ten-minute scrimmages being zero-zero because they're not going to be able to score and they're not going to let you score. That's what will define our team, how hard those guys push each other. I can't wait for it to get started.
TC: Was it intentional to build your coaching staff with one guard [Alvin Williams], one wing [Alex English] and one big [Marc Iavaroni]? Will those guys be primarily responsible for teaching those positions? How mutable is that?
JT: It wasn't planned that way, and I don't know if it would be that way all season because I think that they all have too much knowledge. I mean, Alvin, yes, I'll stick him with the guards because he's played the position, he knows it better than anybody. Marc, it's the same. Alex, he's scored so many points as a forward - these guys have more experience at teaching those guys one-on-one at those positions, but they shouldn't be afraid to talk to other guys. It wasn't done by design but I love the way it's played out.
TC: How much leeway do you give them as a head coach?
JT: That's a good question, because a lot of head coaches are "I'm the only voice," but I've never done it that way. As an assistant, when I knew I was going to have something to say in practice and a part of practice was going to be mine, or the scouting report was going to be mine, I worked so hard. I made sure I was prepared. You don't want to go in front of those players and be unprepared or disorganized or not know what you're talking about because players will pick up on it. Players are smarter than you think, and if you know about something as coaches, the players already knew it. If you insult them in any way by not being prepared or ready for something, they eat you up, and that's when you lose the respect of the player.
I give my staff a lot. As an assistant I loved it when I had responsibility, when I worked that hard, and I want my guys to feel the same. I want them to be dedicated to it and I feel that you are more dedicated to it when you have more input. I've always coached that way.
TC: People keep talking about Marc Iavaroni as a Tom Thibodeau [the Celtics' defensive guru] for the Raptors. Will he be tasked solely with designing the defense, or is it more collaborative than that?
JT: No, it's going to be collaborative. The good thing is that he, Micah, Alvin and I were all here when Kevin O'Neill was here [Marc actually worked with O'Neill in Memphis], and while it's not Kevin O'Neill's system, it is a system that he ran here and we've all seen it and we're all familiar with it. We agree as coaches that it's probably one of the better ones that we've seen. That's what the defensive schemes that we put together are going to be.
TC: What kind of defensive compensations do you have to make, especially with a starting line-up that is not strong defensively, to help keep the scores close before you shuffle in the defensive players on the second unit?
JT: Well, the one thing we are going to do this year is make our defense a system. It's not going to be about you and me, we're going to be very systematic, just like when we run an offense. There's not going to be a lot of questions or time to think about "what am I supposed to do on this?" We're going to keep it simple. We're going to have to make adjustments to it as we play in different games, but we're all on the same side about the scheme that we're going to play. And that will benefit our guys that maybe aren't excellent defenders because they'll know where their help is coming from and where to force their guy – we're going to keep it as simple as possible.
TC: Do you see your rotation as nebulous enough that if you're getting killed, say, by an athletic four that you'll put in Amir Johnson over Reggie Evans to try an matchup better?
JT: Absolutely. You read that as a coach. I don't go into a game saying, "you're going to be the sub no matter what." I'll go into a game and see a matchup that I don't like, I'll send Amir in to be the big that takes away Rasheed Wallace. Or, say Nick Collison is killing us on the glass, I'll say to Reggie, "get in there and keep him off the glass. Outrebound him, outwork him." You play matchups as much as you play your own system. It's not very scientific as to who's going to play, who's going to be on the floor; a lot of it is how well your guy plays and what they [the other team] do. If the Knicks come out and play three guards like they did late in the year, three guys that are six-feet tall, then we're going to have to put some smaller guys out there if we're not pounding them inside and beating them. We might have to get some smaller guys out there, like Douby, Jack and Jose at some point, so Douby gets thrown in the mix and maybe Patrick O'Bryant doesn't play for a few games because teams have gone small on us.
Every game is different. That's what makes it, as coaches, challenging and fun. We could go five games without playing Marco Belinelli, then you start thinking about how you have to get him into some games or else he's going to shut it down and he'll be lost for the year. Maybe you put him into a game where he shoots the ball well and he's right back into the rotation. It's tough.
TC: As a coach, is there ever a voice in the back of your mind that thinks you have to make this situation as accommodating as you can for Bosh to try and entice him to stay beyond this year?
JT: [pause] In the back of your mind maybe, but I think if you let it to come to the front of your mind, I think that's when you start losing what will really be the difference for him in the end, and that's this team being successful. If I do that, and he embarrasses himself or doesn't do well, and you're giving him all the shots, then it's not going to work. He's a good enough player that he's going to get rebounds and he's going to get buckets, but if you start to make changes to try and get him there you lose the rest of the team and that's when you start losing games. That's what's going to determine whether he stays or not, how successful this team is going to be. That's my opinion. I don't know, maybe he's already decided he wants to go somewhere, maybe he's already decided he wants to stay, but I think that he likes the way that this thing is going, with the group of players we've brought in and the future where it's going to be and we've just got to make that it goes that way.
TC: What's your baseline for success this year?
JT: I don't have a number, but we have to make the Playoffs. In my mind we have to. I'm too competitive. You have to make the Playoffs and then you have to make a run because so much can happen in the Playoffs, you get a bad matchup or whatever, but we've got to make the Playoffs and we've got to make a run.
TC: Well, thank you very much.
JT: Thank you, man.
I want to thank Jay for being so candid about this upcoming season, and Jim LaBumbard for arranging this interview. It's going to be a very interesting year for the Raptors, which tips off on October 28th against the Cleveland Cavaliers.