I don't call close games like this losses anymore. They're herewith known as Sam Mitchells.
Last night at the ACC, here's the situation: Up by six with two minutes to go, Raps go cold, fall behind by a point in the last ticks only to be seemingly rescued by a Chris Bosh offensive rebound and out to Morris Peterson for a three-pointer. Back up by 2 with 4.8 seconds to play.
|Sam Mitchell: Eminently expendable.|
Cleveland calls timeout, subs in two for a lineup of big Ilgauskas and four shooters, including of course the otherworldly LeBron James. Mitchell puts in Eric Williams -- definitely of this world, albeit circa 1998 or so, and a guy who Mitchell has almost entirely ignored since arriving here in the Vince Carter
hosing trade -- and takes out Charlie V, choosing not to take a delay of game warning, the sort of card routinely played to get a quick idea of what your opponent's running (Thanks to Will for pointing out my brain cramp here, on a rule that was changed in 2001 making this an automatic technical). What followed was familiar: LeBron gets the inbound, drives and draws second defender Mike James, kicks to corner and James' cover Damon Jones makes a wide-open game-winning three at the buzzer.
As new GM Bryan Colangelo takes stock of this piteous bunch, he's no doubt noting that they're at 6-14 in games decided by five points or less this season. They're 1-7 in overtime. Coaching has a lot to do with those numbers.
There have been moments where it seems the Raptors are able to take a coherent plan and execute at the end of games -- at Minnesota three weeks or so ago, they closed out the Timberwolves by getting the James-Blount mismatch they wanted and exploiting it to its fullest -- but for the most part (Examples: Dallas both times; at Portland; Nets when VC beat 'em at buzzer; San Antonio; etc.) they look overmatched and underprepared.
Sure, Mitchell doesn't have much of a bench, and with Jalen Rose gone the lack of depth is even more apparent. But situational decisions -- or the lack of them, at the end of games when it's either/or time and a coach really shows his moxy -- play a role too.
the delay a timeout at the end is a small thing, but it's the sort of move that shows you a coach is actively watching and looking for an edge: Subbing offence for defence, or using a timeout, or tinkering with the matchups, sending in a Pape Sow to disrupt a critical opponent's possession (a move that worked against Sacramento, but I haven't seen it since), say, or any of the other things that Mitchell almost never bothers with.
The accepted wisdom is that the coach will last another year, the final one on his contract. It's also accepted (mainly because Mitchell keeps telling us) that the players like him -- but we never get into practices, so no matter what you read or hear we really don't know the dynamics there, and the whole notion of likeability is overrated anyway.
If Colangelo is looking to aggressively build his own team this summer -- that's another question entirely -- he should be on the lookout for any proven coaching candidates. Mitchell hasn't done anything in Toronto to advance the rep that got him here: A good assistant coach.
Related: An NBA poll of players in which Mitchell is chosen by most as the worst coach in the league.