Why the Raptors have shown interest in Spurs' Mitch Johnson

Amit Mann is joined by Jeff Garcia of Locked on Spurs to detail what he's learned about Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon and Spurs assistant Mitch Johnson. Both are reportedly being considered for the Toronto Raptors' vacant head coaching position. Listen to the full podcast on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed.

Video Transcript

JEFF GARCIA: --Mitch now, and my personal opinion-- you know, who am I to say that he's not ready for a head coaching gig? You know, if he feels he's ready, he's ready. But personally, I think another season with Popovich would do him well. He's the first assistant right now.

I think another season in a rebuild, again, lends to your point about the Raptors lacking that player focus. I mean, you can't get more player-focused than what happened to San Antonio last year, when it was pretty much just about getting your Keldon Johnson, your Devin Vassells, your Jeremy Sochans up to speed. So he was a big part of a player development-- really, that's what was--

All last season was for the Spurs was just one big training camp. That's really what it was. And you just hope that Wemby comes, or Scoot, right? And that's for "Locked On Spurs" because I'm going to first take this. Maybe it doesn't happen.

But so-- so he's coming off a rebuild. He's been in a rebuild situation, not to say the Raptors are in a rebuild. Maybe they're maybe fine tuning mode, maybe that's what it is.

So here's a guy-- and we're forgetting this, too, it's not just Popovich that he was learning from since his time in San Antonio. He got an extra boost in coaching experience slash I guess passing on some tricks of the trade from Brett Brown. Brett Brown was also on the Spurs bench as an assistant coach.

So he's learning from Pop. He's learning from Brett. He's in a situation where he can learn as a coach too because the Spurs threw up their hands last year and just decided to pull in the tank.

So here we are. I get why he's been on the radar for two teams now, Atlanta and Toronto. I am going to be surprised if he gets a gig this early.

But at the same time, I wouldn't because it's almost like drafting a kid out of high school. Like, you're you're drafting on potential. That's what it feels like-- you're drafting a coach on potential, and he has it.

But personally, I would love to see him back at least one more year before he gets into that level of a head coaching job because he's super young. He's a very young guy.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, 36 years old, right? He's been with the Spurs since 2016. He won a Summer League title, right?

JEFF GARCIA: I think with Becky Hammon, so--

AMIT MANN: Yeah, gotcha. OK, but he was part of that-- OK, I got you. I mean, the family aspect you mentioned, I think that is something that the Raptors are-- we talk about the culture.

And again, Masai Ujiri, he wants to restore the culture of the Raptors. And this season, for a variety of reasons, some we know, others we don't, things did not-- the culture wasn't there. And they want to regain that.

What might be working against Mitch is that some of the other coaches they're interested in, they're coming from programs that are winning right now.


AMIT MANN: And right now, the Spurs aren't winning-- on purpose, mind you. But the Raptors, I think they want to win next season. And what winning means-- they want to be in the playoffs, right?

I don't think they're thinking that they're going to be able to contend for a title. But I mean, as Masai says, you don't know what happens during the offseason, who becomes available, and things of that nature.

But at the moment, they want to win games. That is a priority for them. And Mitch not having that NBA experience as a high-level coach, not even a first assistant as-- on a winning team could be a problem for him. But I don't doubt that he's one of the up-and-coming coaches, right? In three, four years, he could be ready.

JEFF GARCIA: Yeah, I think so, too. I think he will be ready eventually.


JEFF GARCIA: Maybe a little too much too soon for him. Look, he's still young. Might as well cut your teeth in San Antonio before Popovich decides to hang up his clipboard. So I mean, soak it in while you-- while you can, if you're Mitch.

And look, if Toronto does offer him-- first, I think I would be a little surprised if that happens. I would be very surprised if--


JEFF GARCIA: --Toronto says, hey, Mitch, you want the gig? I'd be like, huh? And I'd be-- I wouldn't be surprised if Becky got it because I think that's just kind of a no-brainer. But if you're looking at just Mitch, I think, man, you know what? I love you, Mitch, but one more season of experience would do you well.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. And sometimes, a team is doing this because they just want to get to know the person. You know, it's like everyone went to France to meet Wembanyama, right, just because you want them to know you. You want them to-- when they see you in the hallway, you want to know who they are, and vice versa. You don't know what comes down the road.

And as we're talking about, he is someone that's going to be on the radar of a lot of NBA franchises. And he's the first assistant right now. And Popovich is going to retire at some point. I think he's-- he's indicated he's going to be back next season, right?

JEFF GARCIA: Yeah, I mean, all signs are pointing to that, that he'll be back, yeah.

AMIT MANN: But at some point, he is going to leave, and--

JEFF GARCIA: It's going to happen sooner than later, so-- we know that, yeah.

AMIT MANN: For Mitch, like, it's kind of right there, assuming that the Spurs are interested and all that kind of stuff. But probably within their coaching tree, within their Spurs tree, they would want someone who's within their system. So--

JEFF GARCIA: And another good thing too, is that he's very good with the media, very well with them.

AMIT MANN: That's important.

JEFF GARCIA: Yeah, he doesn't-- I know Pop does it more of a joke now. But he's not very berating. He'll answer your questions very-- he's not a boisterous guy, you know, yelling in your face kind of guy. He'll answer questions.

Like for example, you just ask me-- oh, whatever-- Keldon Johnson's play, his response would be something like, yeah, you know, Keldon, he's getting better. And we just hope we put him in the right-- I mean, very monotone, very even-keeled.

So you know, again, he's not at the head seat, though. So maybe that changes everything, but-- with that stress of being an NBA coach.


JEFF GARCIA: But I-- I've talked to him numerous times at press conferences. Never had an issue with him.

AMIT MANN: So you're saying he won't call out players--

JEFF GARCIA: Yeah, yeah.

AMIT MANN: --to the media?

JEFF GARCIA: Maybe behind the scenes, he will, or maybe he'll pull some of Pop's tricks that Pop does. I mean, Pop went back to OG Pop right before the All-Star Break last season, where he called out the entire team for playing horrific defense. So maybe Mitch can do-- will do something like that. Who knows?