Raptors fire Mitchell

The Toronto Raptors fired coach Sam Mitchell on Wednesday, one day after a 39-point loss to the Denver Nuggets that the team’s management described as a “debacle.”

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo named longtime assistant coach Jay Triano interim coach and said Triano “in all likelihood” would stay in place for the remainder for the season. His first game will be Friday in Utah against the Jazz.

After strengthening their frontline in the summer with a trade for center Jermaine O’Neal, the Raptors had hoped to challenge the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division. Star forward Chris Bosh has responded with the best season of his career and point guard Jose Calderon is an All-Star candidate, but the Raptors have struggled to an 8-9 record. The team is currently on a three-game trip through the West that began with lopsided losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Nuggets.

“This team is a lot better than a 8-9 record,” Colangelo said on a conference call early Wednesday evening. “…We feel we were not getting the maximization of this roster we had hoped for.”

Colangelo called Tuesday’s loss in Denver a “debacle,” but said there were earlier signs that pointed toward the Raptors needing a change in direction, including the team’s Nov. 10 loss to the Boston Celtics in which it wasted a 15-point lead in the second half.

“That was a difficult game to swallow,” Colangelo said. “Obviously, [Tuesday’s] game was an absolute kick to the gut.

“You come to the point where you realize some of the things you want to see out there just aren’t taking place.”

The Raptors ranked near the bottom of the NBA in fast-break points entering Wednesday, and Colangelo and Triano both made it clear the team will look to run more in the future.

“I don’t think you can play the game of basketball without any transition activity,” Colangelo said. “That was a concern to all of us. There was talk about running, but I’m not sure that was something we really … practiced to the extent it where it showed on the court with any kind of regularity.”

Mitchell was 156-189 in four-plus seasons as the Raptors’ head coach. He was named Coach of the Year in 2007. The Raptors made the playoffs each of the past two seasons under Mitchell, but lost in the first round each time.

Colangelo praised Mitchell for his successes, as well as how he accepted the firing, but said it was clear the team needed a new voice.

“Are we getting the most out of this roster on any given night we take the basketball court?” Colangelo said. “That’s what we’re seeking to prove.”