Toronto Raptors: Sam Mitchell Era Comes Full Circle Amidst His Return


Toronto Raptors: Sam Mitchell Era Comes Full Circle Amidst His Return

For the first time since 2007, Sam Mitchell will head coach an NBA game.

How fitting will it be that the game will take place in Toronto?

That’s right, the 2006-2007 NBA Coach of the Year will be making his head coaching debut in place of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders, who will not be at tonight’s game at the Air Canada Center due to personal reasons, according to the Minnesota Timberwolves Twitter page yesterday.

Mitchell had a 156-189 record as coach of the Raptors, and led the team to their first ever division title in 2007 during the same year he won Coach of the Year.

Sam Mitchell winning NBA coach of the year back in 2007. (April 24, 2007 – Source: Dave Abel/Getty Images Sport)

The very next year he was fired 17 games into the season, to the surprise of almost all media and fans, causing a small backlash towards management. Many in the public and the press boxes never felt Mitchell got a fair shake, pointing out that the Raptors 8-9 start to the season wasn’t ideal, but it was hardly worth handing him his walking papers, leading many to believe there was deeper turmoil between the often outspoken Mitchell and then Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo.

Other rumors surfaced, and were later confirmed by Mitchell in 2013, that both he and highly touted draft pick, Andrea Bagrnani, would clash at times. With hindsight 20/20, it seems Colangelo made a call to Bargnani over Mitchell.

It would turn out to stall the growth of the franchise and allow an over rated injury risk to linger around longer than he ever should have been, due to his No. 1 overall pick status. Meanwhile, letting go of arguably the best coach the Toronto Raptors had ever seen up until that point.

Much like Sam Mitchell was to him, Kevin Garnett must now use the last moments of his career to show the way to Minnesota’s young, budding stars. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell still managed to keep a high public profile in Toronto however, making the rounds on various TV and radio shows throughout the market for years after leaving the Raptors.

As time went on though, the game he loved so much called him back and the “itch” took a hold. He eventually took up an assistant coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the old stomping grounds of his playing days, where he was tasked at the tail end of his career with helping to develop a young Kevin Garnett back in 1997.

Now he’s back, except Garnett is now the wise old veteran on the club, and Mitchell is coach. The timing and team he’s coaching tonight couldn’t be a more perfect fit for the moment in Toronto. Luckily, during his media time after shoot around today, almost none of the focus was on Mitchell’s departure from the club all those years ago.

As a matter of fact, it was all on the future, in the form of 20-year-old Canadian superstar and possible NBA Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, who will be making his first ever start in Toronto tonight.

Mitchell was very candid when asked about how Wiggins has been able to handle the scrutiny and expectations. “Very well, he puts it in a box at seven, then goes out and plays,” said Mitchell. “He’s lived up to the hype and allowed kids (in Canada) to dream about the possibility of playing in the NBA at a high level.”

Mar 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) looks on during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center. The Timberwolves won 121-113. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

When Wiggins’ name is being called as the lights go dark and the starting lineups are being announced at the ACC, and with Sam Mitchell looking on from the visitors bench for the old club he played and mentored Garnett on, they take on a Toronto Raptors squad looking to claim their second straight Atlantic division title.

It’s a winning precedent Mitchell helped establish in this city, and I can’t think of a fuller circle moment for both organizations, than right now tonight.

Tip-off is at seven, go enjoy history.