Former Toronto Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell says he wasn’t allowed to coach Andrea Bargnani the way he would have liked to because the franchise felt Bargnani wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Mitchell believes this could be one reason why Bargnani hasn’t turned out to be the franchise player some thought he could become.
“I wasn’t allowed to coach Andrea the same way I was allowed to coach Jose (Calderon),” Mitchell told Tim & Sid on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday. “I was a hard ass on Jose; I was hard on him, but look at the type of player he turned out to be.
“I was not allowed to be that tough on Andrea because within the organization we felt he couldn’t take it. And my whole thing was if he can’t take it then we can’t build around him. And no one thought Jose could take it, and Jose did.”
Mitchell added that it was determined early in the process that he should go easy on Bargnani.
“I think because he was the No. 1 pick and a lot was invested in him, I just think people in the organization thought my coaching style would be too tough on Andrea.”
The 49-year-old contrasted the way the Raptors treated Bargnani to the way the Minnesota Timberwolves handled Kevin Garnett — a tall, skilled player drafted fifth overall in the 1995 NBA Draft — when the future MVP broke into the league.
Mitchell, who played with the Timberwolves from 1995-2002, said their coach Bill Blair was very hard on Garnett in his rookie year but he believes that made the 14-time all-star the player he eventually developed into.
“It’s not whether Andrea has talent, the question is Andrea needs to make up his mind and decide how great he wants to be,” Mitchell said. “Andrea needs to look in the mirror and decide does he really want to be a good player? Or does he just want to make his money and be one of the guys? It’s on him because the opportunity’s there.
“He just doesn’t seem like he has the passion for the game. It don’t seem like it’s important enough to him.”
The Italian’s play has been criticized by many throughout his career, especially this season, and some fans and analysts have suggested that he should never have been selected first overall by the Raptors in the 2006 NBA Draft.
Mitchell agrees to some extent, but said the Raptors ultimately made the best decision for them at the time.
“That was a tough draft. I believe in that draft if Brandon Roy didn’t have the knee issues he would have been the No. 1 pick, but the reason we passed on Brandon Roy is the reason you see now, his knees,” Mitchell explained.
“I’m not disappointed from the standpoint that we took Andrea, but I’m disappointed in that Andrea has yet to reach the potential he has because … Andrea has all-star type talent. He just hasn’t played up to it yet.
“I wouldn’t say Andrea has been a bust, I just think that year there wasn’t a defined No. 1 overall pick like LeBron (James) or Anthony Davis or John Wall or anybody like that.”
Mitchell became the Raptors coach in 2004 but was fired in 2008 and hasn’t been a head coach in the NBA since.
Bargnani has been hit with the injury bug this season — he hasn’t played since Dec. 10 — but in 21 games played the 27-year-old is averaging only 16 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.