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Chisholm: Raptors need to evaluate coaching options

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Tim Chisholm
5/27/2011 12:14:00 PM
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With Bryan Colangelo locked-up for the next two-to-three years to run the organization, the Toronto Raptor's attention shifts to the head coaching chair, a position almost as controversial as Colangelo's has been over the last couple of seasons.

Currently that seat is occupied by Jay Triano, as it has been for the last two-and-a-half seasons. But with the team needing to exercise an option in his contract next month to keep him around, it would appear some serious due diligence is being done before handing him the keys to his third training camp with the Raptors.

Colangelo has been extremely supportive of Triano's efforts over the years. Even with his career .380 winning percentage as head coach, Triano looked like a safe bet to return to the sidelines to at least finish out his contract next season. However, despite Colangelo's new contract, Triano's option has still not been picked up.

While most saw it mostly as a formality, Colangelo spoke with atypical evasiveness when it came to Triano's future on a recent interview on The Score Radio. Here is a brief excerpt from that interview:

 "We really want to talk philosophically about [defense and offensive efficiency] and I think at the end of the day we know enough about each other that there's probably a good understanding," said Colangelo.  "But we really have to talk in earnest, and discuss this particular season. Talk about the progress that's been made with Jay at the helm and then decide whether or not he's the right guy going forward."

Colangelo then went on to say, "I'm going to defer until I've actually carried all of that out, and worked through some of those things with Jay, and at some point in the next few weeks we're gonna know if that's the direction we're going in."

Okay, so it's not exactly a controversial statement, but it certainly carries a lot less overt support than his season-ending press conference did. There Colangelo applauded Triano for the sacrifices he'd made by playing the young players and how every player, to a man, thought he did a great job as head coach.

This week, Colangelo made a point of explaining that he has questions that need to be addressed before he's willing to fully commit to Triano next season. Anyone who has watched Triano's teams can see that defence has been a major area of weakness. This year the team's offence wasn't strong enough to help counter that deficiency as it sometimes did in the past.

However, while certain philosophical areas need to be addressed, I do not believe that is all that is stalling the club's decision makers as it pertains to Triano's future.

On Wednesday the Los Angeles Lakers took a bold, and somewhat unexpected, step in hiring former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown to replace the legendary Phil Jackson. In so doing they eschewed Rick Adelman, most recently of the Houston Rockets, owner of a career .605 winning percentage.
In his 20 seasons as an NBA head coach Adelman has only missed the playoffs four times - though he had a record over .500 in the last two misses. He is someone the Raptors should be sure that they CANNOT acquire before moving ahead with Triano's option.

In all likelihood the Raptors do not have what it would take to lure Adelman to Toronto. At this point in his career he's probably not chomping at the bit to get into bed with a lottery-bound club, especially one without a single All-Star-caliber player on the roster.

He's never coached in a cold-climate city, he's never even coached in the Eastern Conference, and Toronto is nowhere near his offseason home in Portland. Even if the Raptors could pique his interest, it would probably cost them a small fortune to secure his services, and with MLSE up for sale, taking on that kind of salary may not be green-lit by the money guys upstairs.

However, the Raptors have to at least make sure. The organization has a history of hiring first-time head coaches to run their team, and more often than not that has meant losing seasons or quick playoff exits. While hiring on the cheap certainly makes it easier to fire someone, it also tends to lead to cheap results, something Raptor fans have historically been saddled with.

The one time the club splurged on a coach, bringing in the then winningest coach in NBA history Lenny Wilkens, the club had their greatest success on the court (that is until the roster was strip-mined and Wilkens was fired).

Adelman may not be a cure-all for the Raptors, but he would command respectability and accountability and would show players and fans alike that the team is serious about winning. At an organizational level that hasn't happened since the team went hard after Colangelo over five years ago. It's time to get some of that aggressiveness back.

Nothing is likely to come from this delay on Triano's option, of course. With another season fielding an extremely young roster on the horizon, splurging on a big-name coach probably doesn't make a lot of sense to the number-crunchers. This means Triano is virtually assured another year on the job.

Laying down a strong foundation is one of the most important factors in preparing a young team for future success, but the odds that Colangelo is going to be given the financial wherewithal to spend on a coach are not good.

Besides, it isn't like Triano is a bad coach.

I really believe that given a balanced roster that actually possesses a nice blend of old and young, with offensive AND defensive talents, Triano could extract some wins out of the Raptors. There are better options out there, but it isn't like you're going to battle with a buffoon with Triano on the sidelines.

He knows how to coach, his players like and respect him and the organization isn't going to crumble if he's kept on for another season. It's just that so few teams without a transcendent superstar can get by with an inexperienced coach for very long. Triano may be good enough for now, but eventually 'good enough' won't be good enough for the Toronto faithful.

Adelman is one of a rare breed of veteran coaches and guys like that aren't available very often. While getting him probably wouldn't happen, the team owes it to their fans to at least make sure it's because they can't get him here, not because they didn't try.

Jay Triano (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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