Make no mistake, it is a sign that in a big city, an NBA head coach can be fired without as much as a shrug of resignation. The Toronto Raptors didn't lead the NBA in much last season but they did lead and continue to lead it in one area: MEH - as in meh.
Jay Triano of Niagara Falls, Ont., gets moved away from the sharp objects and explosive devices into a "consultant" role and there is nary a nationalist tear shed. Nice guy, probably a really good assistant coach - all the right people say all the right things about him in that role - but he couldn't lead what should have been a decent Raptors team to the playoffs in 2009-10 and failed miserably this past season in teaching a bad team to do the one thing with which he was charged: play a little defence every now and then. His ability to do so apparently was the reason Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo replaced Mr. Defence Schme-fence himself, Sam Mitchell, with Triano in the first place.
True, the 2009-10 club included Chris Bosh, who had stars (and sun) in his eyes and was busy orchestrating his departure even when he wasn't recovering from a broken face, and a distracted, bored Hedo Turkoglu. This past season's club did not have one starter who could 100-per-cent fill a starter's role on a decent NBA team - DeMar DeRozan, maybe, and on the few nights in which he feels so motivated, Andrea Bargnani. Add a back-court that was a decade behind the rest of the league, and the Raptors were a mismatch-in-waiting every night.
So there is not much Triano could do with the team that Colangelo handed him, and that's exactly what he did. It doesn't matter that the players liked Triano, as Colangelo said in his year-end news conference. Bad teams that like their coach aren't anybody's idea of a dream scenario.
Indeed, there is only one element of Triano's departure that elicited as much as a raised eyebrow in Toronto. Colangelo was on record as saying before he was given his non-vote of confidence by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment that even if he was not asked back, he would recommend to his successor that Triano receive consideration for the head coach's job. So, it would be okay for a successor to keep Triano but not okay for Colangelo to do so?
Paul Jones, the radio voice of the Raptors, made a telling and accurate statement on Thursday when he suggested that while Triano's replacement must be a coach who can take the team to the next stage, that stage did not necessarily include contending for a championship. There's a ton of work to do with this group. They still can't even see the cusp, let alone get to it, and thanks to a lousy bit of luck in the draft lottery, they will miss out on one of the two players who might be difference makers. They'll be settling for the second-best point guard - way second best - or another big international player.
Colangelo has a new contract that runs for two years with a club option for a third, and anybody who says the GM expected he'd get less than three to five years guaranteed is fibbing. So how'd you like to hitch your wagon to this team? The GM might not be around after two years, and the majority shareholder in the club (Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan) is cashing out. Frankly, the biggest selling point for the type of name coach for whom Colangelo is searching is that if said candidate plays his cards right, he might end up as the GM. Nice trick: "Come coach my team, and if you're good enough, you might be able to replace me."