|Mitchell's status in doubt but future looks bright for Raptors|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 05 May 2007 10:39|
The Raptors ended four seasons of futility by tying the franchise-record for wins (47), capturing the team's first Atlantic Division title and earning home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
``This was supposed to be a rebuilding year and it was, but we found a way to win and rebuild at the same time,'' all-star forward Chris Bosh said.
Top draft pick Andrea Bargnani finished second in rookie of the year voting while Sam Mitchell was voted NBA coach of the year for bringing together nine new players and posting a 20-win improvement over the previous season. The Raptors lost to the New Jersey Nets in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
``What this organization did this year is nothing short of remarkable, given where we were a year ago,'' general manager Bryan Colangelo said.
Colangelo said working out a new deal for Mitchell, whose contract expires June 30, is the ``first thing on the agenda.''
``It's safe to say that we have every intention to try to get Sam back as coach,'' Colangelo said Saturday. ``That's what he deserves, that's what this franchise deserves. He's the right coach for this team. That determination has been made. Whether we're the right franchise for Sam is something I can't answer.''
Mitchell, rumored to be a target of both Charlotte and Indiana, said he'd like to remain in Toronto.
``This is definitely a top priority for me, if it can be worked out, because of the relationship I have with people in the front office people, the support staff who work with me and, last but not least, the players,'' Mitchell said. ``I love those guys. They're an unbelievable group to coach.''
Mitchell kept his job despite a 2-8 start by stressing teamwork and ball-movement to his young, international roster.
``Obviously we have a lot of trust in Sam,'' guard Anthony Parker said. ``We've been in the foxholes together. I feel very comfortable with him as the head coach and I'd love to have him back.''
Guard Morris Peterson said Mitchell did a ``great job'' in recovering from the shaky start.
``This is a very unique team,'' Peterson said. ``I haven't been on a team where guys care about each so much other, respect each other so much.''
Even if Mitchell does not return, Bosh expects the Raptors to improve next season.
``It would be different, but life goes on and we have to remember that,'' Bosh said. ``We can't take a step back no matter what happens because this is the league and we have expectations for next year. We're going to have to meet them and exceed them.''
Like Bosh, Colangelo doesn't want his team to be complacent. He urged the Raptors not to forget how it felt to be eliminated from the playoffs in a one-point loss.
``Taste bitterness, don't taste sweetness from the success of a 47-win season,'' Colangelo said. ``That's not good enough. It's never good enough.''
Toronto's future rests on the development of Bosh and Bargnani, who missed the last month of the season after an emergency appendectomy but started the final two playoff games, averaging 17.5 points.
``He has all the tools and the potential to be a great player in this league,'' Bosh said of Bargnani. ``The more he asserts himself, the more he gets better and the more I do the same, it's going to be scary. When you look at the potential of this team, I think it's looking really good for the next couple of years.''
The Raptors will likely stick with the point-guard tandem of T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon and have valuable role players in Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Joey Graham and Kris Humphries.
``Growing together and having a nucleus is very important,'' Bosh said.
Finding ways to support that nucleus could be a challenge for Colangelo this offseason.
``We don't have a draft pick this year but we've go to get better somehow,'' Colangelo said. ``We've talked about adding something with the mid-level exception, we talked about adding something with the biannual exception. We've looked about possible trades and different things we might do. We've got a lot of work to do.''
Peterson, one of four free agents, saw his points and minutes drop by almost half in a year that Colangelo called ``disappointing.'' But the longest-serving Raptor, a first-round pick in the 2000 draft, redeemed himself with a strong playoff showing. Peterson acknowledged a ``special bond'' with Toronto but was evasive when asked whether he'd like to return.
``That's definitely an opportunity that's realistic,'' Peterson said.
Veteran guard Darrick Martin and forwards Uros Slokar and Pape Sow are also free agents.
Whatever the offseason holds, Bosh is already eager to get back to work.
``I'm really looking forward to next year because we have a chance to be one of the best teams in the East,'' Bosh said. ``The sky is the limit because it's so wide open now. Anybody can beat anybody. If we come together and get serious, take care of our business in the summer and work on getting better individually, good things can really happen next year.''