And so begins Bryan Colangelo’s search for his very own Tom Thibodeau.
Details were hard to come by after the announcement late Wednesday afternoon that Jay Triano – the first Canadian head coach in the NBA – would not be returning to the bench as coach with the Toronto Raptors.
The move was considered a surprise, although the club had a contract option worth a reported $2-million (all currency U.S.) that had to be exercised by June 30. With a potential NBA work stoppage looming, it couldn’t be a liability the Raptors were eager to have on the books.
Given Triano compiled an 87-142 record in more than 2 1/2 seasons since taking over from Sam Mitchell and coached teams that finished last in the NBA in defensive efficiency the past two seasons, he was also an easy target. Colangelo, his own perilous pursuit of a two-year contract extension only recently concluded, finally sat down with his coach and decided the Raptors could benefit with a voice different than that belonging to the Niagara Falls, Ont., native and former Canadian national team star.
“He fared well in a lot of areas, but at the end of the day in terms of a gut feel for where this needs to go and how we need to get there and how quickly we want to get there in terms of accelerating the process, Jay and I had a chance to sit down in earnest once my contract situation was resolved …[and] we decided it was time to change the voice, to change the leader at the helm,” Colangelo said on a conference call with reporters.
Those close to Colangelo said Triano, who was unavailable for comment, had a sense the move was coming in the past two weeks and another insider said the sentiment to make a coaching change had been “maturing” over the course of the season in which a young, injury-plagued Raptors team finished 22-60. His relationship with Colangelo was considered good and he’s been retained by the Raptors as a consultant.
Colangelo was vague in detailing exactly why the change was made, but in outlining his search for a successor Triano’s perceived shortcomings stood out.
“Most of the candidates I will focus on will have a great deal of experience,” he said. “This young team that is obviously developing well under Jay needs to see someone with a pedigree or a résumé – someone who has achieved success.”
As one NBA insider put it: “You know when a guy walks in the room and he just has command and presence and attention of the group? Not that Jay didn’t have that, but that’s what they’re looking for going forward.”
Colangelo dismissed Raptors veteran assistant P.J. Carlesimo as a potential solution, even though he’s the only member of the coaching staff under contract for 2011-12.
In making the case for a coach that could “drill down” on defensive principles, Colangelo is no doubt looking at the success the Chicago Bulls had this season after hiring Thibodeau, who earned NBA coach of the year recognition. After moulding the Boston Celtics into one of the best defensive teams in recent memory as an assistant, Thibodeau showed the impact a coach can have at the defensive end when the Bulls improved to first from 10th in defensive efficiency year over year and won an NBA-best 62 games before losing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference final.
Two names that will doubtless move to the top of the Raptors list are Jeff Van Gundy and Lawrence Frank who, like Thibodeau, are disciples of the defence-first philosophy espoused by Heat president Pat Riley, who gave Van Gundy (currently a broadcaster with ESPN) his start and who in turn had Thibodeau on staff. Frank is best known for his work as head coach of the New Jersey Nets, while Van Gundy made his mark as coach of the New York Knicks.
Asked about Frank, one Raptors insider acknowledged that the current Boston Celtics assistant coach was the type of candidate the team would be looking at. “He’s coached in what, three all-star games [an honour going to the coach of the team with the best record in each conference at the all-star break] and been to the finals twice? And now he’s got a year under Doc? That’s about right.”
And while there may have been a time when Van Gundy might have been considered too expensive, that the Los Angeles Lakers were able to sign former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown for an average of $4-million season may have tipped the market in the Raptors' favour.
Regardless Colangelo, never known for his patience and with just two years to go on his own contract, sounded like a man looking to move quickly and see results just as fast.
The search for a new head coach, he said, begins “immediately.”