When the Toronto Raptors hired Alex McKechnie earlier this week, it barely raised an eyebrow among Raptors fans. If it did, it was probably understandably cynical Raptors fans laughing at the new “Director of Sports Science” title that seemed so very MLSE-ish.
What you need to know about McKechnie is that he seems to be an incredibly respected man among NBA circles, based on some of the reports, articles and blogs that have been written in the few days since his hire. He is known as a “training guru” and spent eight years as the Lakers’ Athletic Performance Coordinator (I wonder if he received two rings for L.A.’s title runs in 2009 and 2010).
According to a release on the Raptors website on Thursday, McKechnie “will oversee all athletic training, rehabilitation and strength and conditioning.” We don’t know, and won’t know for some time, what kind of effect, if any, McKechnie will have on the Raptors’ on-court performance. If he’s as good as advertised, McKechnie could have the same impact the Suns’ incredible training staff is believed to have on their team, as RaptorBlog facebook fan page member Steve Birnie recently pointed out in a page discussion.
While we could attempt to discuss the merits of a quality training staff and McKechnie’s hire all day, what I really wanted to discuss today was the trend the Raptors have set this summer, and how their new “Director of Sports Science” falls into that trend.
With a lockout now in effect and no NBA basketball on the horizon, it’s impossible to improve your team through player acquisitions and transactions. We’ll all have to live with the fact that Jonas Valanciunas might have been the last addition to the Raptors’ roster we’ll have until next year’s draft, and judging by Jonas-mania, we’re all cool with that.
But what Bryan Colangelo and the suits at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment seem to have realized this summer is that you can improve your basketball team without improving your basketball team. Catch my drift?
Look at the model franchises in the NBA and in all sports. When you think of teams like the Spurs, Red Wings or Patriots, you think of solid organizations from top-to-bottom. Teams that were built the right way over time, with an impressive array of talent in the front office and on the sidelines. It takes more than just world class talent on the basketball court to become a perennial contender.
Look at what the Raptors have done this summer, aside from the draft. They have re-signed Bryan Colangelo, hired a new coach whose philosophy is everything this team hasn’t been for the last decade, revamped the entire coaching staff and hired a well-respected athletic trainer in McKechnie.
And of course, the Raptors are still reportedly interested in adding a new member to the front office who could possibly take over Bryan Colangelo’s General Manager duties. Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier this month that three names had emerged as frontrunners for the Raptors’ General Manager position: 76ers GM Ed Stefanski, former Hornets GM Jeff Bower and Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey.
In other words, the Raptors aren’t just looking for some young buck to play yes-man for Bryan Colangelo – they’re actually looking for another very experienced NBA executive to add to their growing pool of basketball knowledge.
For years, most fans and media alike have assumed that Colangelo is a hands on control-freak with his basketball teams. The assumption was that he didn’t like giving too much control to the coach, and he wanted complete autonomy in his role as team-builder.
We’ll never know for sure whether these assumptions were fact-based or how much has been based purely on perception. But regardless, for the first time since his arrival in Toronto, Colangelo seems committed to shaking things up and bringing in new faces and fresh voices from somewhere outside of the roster, and as a Raptors supporter, that has to be refreshing.
Like many of the topics we’ve discussed so far this summer, and like many we will discuss over the course of the lockout, so much is speculative based on both the uncertainties of professional sports and the uncertainties of the current NBA labour situation.
But as I said in my post on the Raptors finally building through the draft, for a franchise that has achieved very little and failed more than it has succeeded in 16 years, doing things differently can’t hurt. Doing the opposite worked for George Costanza for a while – here’s hoping it can work for the Raptors.
At the end of the day, two heads, or in the case of the Raptors this summer, a plethora of basketball heads, is better than one.
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Lastly, don’t forget that we’re counting down the Top 30 Raptors in Franchise History each week over the course of 30 weeks. Scott Carefoot started the countdown with Mike James this past week and I’ll be revealing no. 29 this Wednesday. Who could it be?