To clear things up before this blog post takes off, let me clarify a few things.
This will not be one of those idiotic posts in which the writer hints that he or she could do a better job running or coaching a team than the people in charge. Also, while I have criticized Jay Triano on multiple occasions, I do not “hope” he gets fired or wish failure for his career.
To be honest, I want Jay Triano to succeed in Toronto. I think it would be an amazing story for the NBA, the Raptors organization and Canadian basketball to have him survive these team struggles and ultimately lead the franchise into never before seen glory days.
The question, though, is does Jay Triano deserve to be given the chance to lead this franchise into what could be a promising future? Given what has transpired over the last couple of years, it’s growing increasingly difficult to answer that question with a yes.
After serving as a Raptors assistant under three different head coaches, Triano was promoted to interim head coach in the middle of the 2008-2009 season. That season will go down as one of the most disappointing in franchise history (along with 2001-02 and 2009-10), but Triano was spared much criticism because many felt he wasn’t given enough time with a new team, and an overrated team at that. The fact, though, is that Triano took over 17 games into that season, and had 65 games to get it right. The Raptors went 25-40 during that time, and missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.
When Sam Mitchell was fired in December of 2008, the Raptors were 8-9; one game under .500 in a season where the East’s eighth seed eventually went to a 39-win team and the sixth seed to a team that finished with a .500 record.
To many people’s surprise, Triano was retained after that debacle and given the reins as the team’s new, full time head coach. Bryan Colangelo then dismantled the roster Triano had failed with, and assembled the deepest, most talented roster the Raptors have had under Colangelo’s watch. They had the talent to squeak into the playoffs in an off-year, and the legitimate ability to contend for a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference.
With an actual training camp to work with this time, Triano stressed defence and a better work ethic.
And yet in 2009-2010, the Raptors were one of the worst defensive teams in recent NBA memory, they stumbled down the stretch to a 40-42 record and ultimately missed the playoffs by one game.
Triano was facing “strike two” in his short NBA head coaching career, but still, his supporters brought forward tangible excuses: Hedo Turkoglu never reached even a tenth of his capabilities in Toronto and Chris Bosh was injured during the team’s late season plunge.
Others could point out that Triano probably didn’t utilize Turkoglu correctly, and regardless of Bosh’s absence, Triano’s team failed to show up, for all intents and purposes, in the biggest game of the season: game no. 80 against the Bulls, with the playoffs very much on the line.
Had Bryan Colangelo decided that the Jay Triano experiment would come to an end after that disastrous season (which ultimately culminated in Chris Bosh skipping town), it would have been easy to understand and nearly impossible to argue against. However, once again, Triano was given another chance, only this time to coach a young roster with little-to-no expectations in 2010-2011.
As he did the year before in training camp, Triano talked about an improved defensive system. But this year there was a twist; with no star on the roster in Year 1 post-Bosh, Triano claimed that every single Raptor would have to earn his playing time. There would be no special treatment for anyone, or so we were led to believe.
This season may be Triano’s worst yet.
The Raptors are 13-33, already fading in a pathetic East playoff race and mired in a nasty nine-game losing streak. Sure, there are valid excuses for Triano again this season. The team is low on talent, incredibly young and inexperienced and currently ravaged by injuries.
So maybe the win-loss total shouldn’t be on Jay’s shoulders, but what about other facets of the game?
For the second season in a row, Toronto is the league’s worst defensive team (based on defensive efficiency) and that laughable defence has become an NBA punch-line.
There have been more than a few questionable decisions in relation to rotation management, with players like Sonny Weems playing their way out of the rotation in everyone’s eyes except Triano’s. Not to mention, the Raptors have been atrocious, for the most part, in play-calling out of late timeouts. As I’ve stated before, either Triano can’t draw up a competent late-game play, or his players aren’t listening to what he wants done. Either scenario reveals a coaching problem.
A good professional level coach, in any sport, should either be an “X’s and O’s” wizard or one hell of a motivator. A great coach is both (Think Jackson, Popovich, etc). Sam Mitchell had his strength, and everyone knew it wasn’t X’s and O’s. The motivational fire worked well for Smitch for a couple of years, but once it became apparent that Mitchell had lost his influence over the players, and it was clear he had nothing else, he was fired.
Triano was supposed to be the X’s and O’s guy, but he has seldom shown that in two-plus years. And it’s painfully clear that he is not the motivational type, either.
So, what does Jay bring to the equation?
His supporters point to the emergence of Andrea Bargnani, the effort Jay was getting out of this year’s team and the recent development of DeMar DeRozan. In the case of Bargnani, I doubt Triano did anything magical for Il Mago. He simply gave him more floor time and let him play through his barrage of mistakes. In fact, you could now argue that Triano doesn’t know how to limit Andrea’s minutes, even when it’s deserved. As for the “effort” argument, if you’ve watched the Raptors lately, then you know that the effort has been far from consistent for over a month. Yes, they’re young and banged up, but that does not, ever, excuse a lack of effort.
So then we’re left with DeRozan’s development. I’ll hand it to Jay. He’s handled DeMar the right way through a season-and-a-half, but what happens when the Raptors get some bodies back, and Triano can punish DeMar for his sub-par defence? Will he take a firm stance with DeRozan, or will he let the youngster get away with a lack of focus on the defensive end?
You sort through all of this and truly wonder what has kept Triano firmly entrenched as the Raptors bench boss. Perhaps Bryan Colangelo really does see Jay as “his guy,” and is going to stick with him through thick and thin. Who knows, with Colangelo’s contract up after this season, maybe it’s Bryan who is on his way out of town and currently stuck in lame-duck mode, though I highly doubt that’s the case.
We’ve heard for years that Triano is well respected throughout the league, has a great “basketball mind” and was always seen as a very good assistant coach. He’s clearly a great international coach as well, or he wouldn’t have found his way onto Team U.S.A.’s bench recently.
But has any evidence been produced through parts of three seasons to suggest he is a capable NBA head coach?
Some say Triano should be retained for the long-term for stability’s sake, as the Raptors have been known to be quick-triggered with coaches. But is it worth keeping what looks like the wrong guy in charge just to appear “stable?” Isn’t that as foolish as firing a coach you believe in just for the sake of change?
Again, I think it would be great if years from now, whenever it is that the Raptors take a step towards becoming an elite NBA franchise, Jay Triano is still at the helm. But in looking at things honestly, one would be hard-pressed to find a reason why Triano deserves that opportunity.
It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the truth hurts.