Sam Mitchell spent five years coaching the Toronto Raptors. (Getty Images)The timing for a turnaround couldn’t have worked out more perfectly for Toronto Raptors fans who’ve been criticizing Andrea Bargnani ever since the organization drafted him in 2006.
With the Raptors season spiralling out of control and the team searching for victories, the seven-foot Italian succumbed to an elbow injury in a 92-74 loss to the Portland Trailblazers back in December doing, ironically, what Raptors fans have criticized him for not doing enough – driving to the basket.
Bargnani left the game and hasn’t played since. That was about three weeks ago and the loss that night dropped the Raptors record to 4-18. While it would be unfair to say the team’s turnaround was instant – the Raptors did lose two nights later to the Brooklyn Nets – the team that showed up at home to play Brooklyn looked nothing like the one that was blown out by Portland.
And two nights after the loss to Brooklyn the Raptors began a five-game win streak with a victory over the Dallas Mavericks and yes, all five wins came with Bargnani watching from the sidelines. Wednesday night the Raptors picked up their eighth victory in nine games with a 102-79 pounding of the Trail Blazers. Andrea is still watching.
So with the Raptors rolling and beginning to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture without Bargnani, the opportunity for those who haven’t had the chance to get their shot in on the former first overall pick has arisen. That includes his former coach Sam Mitchell.
Mitchell coached the Raptors for five seasons between 2004-2009 and watched Bargnani grow from a rookie into one of the team’s top offensive threats. On Wednesday, Mitchell appeared on Tim and Sid and The FAN 590 and told the two radio hosts that Bargnani was perhaps a little bit harder to handle than some of the other players he coached while with the Raptors.
"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."
This isn’t the first time the former Raptors coach has given his opinion on Bargnani either. In November he appeared on the same Toronto radio station and said Bargnani just needed to play through his struggles.
There’s no denying that he can add an offensive flare to any lineup in the NBA, but with the Raptors beginning to find consistent success without Bargnani it’s worth wondering not only the type of minutes he’ll get once he’s ready to return to the court, but how much longer he’ll be wearing a Raptors uniform.