The New Jersey Nets are in town Friday at the ACC (full game preview here), but more importantly, it marks the return of Samuel E. Mitchell Jr., to the Toronto sidelines.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over two years since Surly Sam was last in town, but as he heads to his seat on the Nets’ bench tonight as an assistant to head coach Avery Johnson, here’s hoping the T.O. faithful give the man the warm welcome he certainly deserves.
There’s a depressing good argument to be had over who is the best head coach in franchise history (Lenny? Butch? Sam?), but there’s no question Sam is at the top of these Raptor coaches “Most” lists.
Most loquacious (if you don’t know it, look it up).
Most expensive wardrobe.
Most calories burned on the sidelines during a game.
Most times calling out a player in the media.
Most wins: 156.
Mitchell’s cranky, early morning appearances on the FAN590 in Toronto were must-hear radio.
“You guys woke me up at 6:30 in the morning to ask me that question?” was a standard reply. “I’m going back to sleep.”
And as you can see below in this eye-rolling media scrum before a 2007 playoff game against the Nets, he loved nothing more than bullying around the T.O. media.
Steve Buffery — one of Mitchell’s favourite media targets — has this must read in Friday’s Toronto Sun on Mitchell’s homecoming.
Buffery writes: Near the end of one season, the Raptors were playing a road game and I interrupted his pre-game planning to ask a question (apparently a dumb one).
“Stumpy,” he drawled. “I’ve had enough of your bullshit. I’m giving you a choice. I’m going into that locker room right now and I’m going to tell the players that you’re gay or you’re in the Klu Klux Klan. Pick one or the other.
Now you might assume that, having been on the receiving end of that exchange, Buffery might not be Mitchell’s biggest fan, but far from it.
Like us fans, he loved Mitchell’s frank talk and sarcastic sense of humour and recognized that beneath all that bravado was a hard-working man who genuinely cared about his players.
As for his coaching skills?
It was a miracle he survived his first two seasons following disappointing 27 and 33 win campaigns that included several public spats with players — most notably, Rafer Alston — and our favourite, a blind-side hit to the confused head of the talented, yet lazy Jerome Moiso back in 2004:
“It’s not really fair to this team for him to sit there and take up air. The frustrating thing for me, I look at Jerome Moiso sitting out there, and he can go out and help us. And I’m asking him when. But it’s hard to put him in the game over guys who come to practice and work hard every day and he sits around feeling sorry for himself.”
The early Mitchell era was a dark time for the franchise, but as bad as they were on the court, we were always willing to cut him some slack because he was never dull and we never doubted his commitment to building a winner and getting the most out of his players.
It’s not unlike our appreciation over the years for the likes of Reggie Evans, Jerome Williams and Matt Bonner. T.O. fans have always recognized and appreciated passion and work ethic — two traits Mitchell has in spades.
So when Bryan Colangelo went on his European shopping spree in the summer of ’06 signing Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa, drafting Andrea Bargnani and trading for Rasho Nesterovic, it was great to see Sam finally get the chance to coach some talent and competitors.
The results were the only division championship in franchise history and NBA Coach of the Year honours.
We still think BC pulled the plug on Sam too quick two seasons ago (they were 8-9 at the time), but we’re pretty confident he’ll get the chance someday soon to berate NBA beat reporters again as a head coach.
In the meantime, here’s hoping the fans show Sam some much-deserved love Friday and the Toronto Sun has the good sense to send “Stumpy” down in search of a few good quotes.