TORONTO – A decade ago, Sam Mitchell coached a young Toronto team built around one young blossoming star, a guy named Chris Bosh.
All these years later, he’s the interim coach of a Timberwolves team that has two, maybe even three.
Mitchell’s Raptors team won 47 games his third season there and he was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year. Two years later, he was fired after an 8-9 start. Bosh left for Miami as a free agent 18 months after that.
Now Mitchell is coaching Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, all three of whom appear headed toward NBA stardom.
Two or three is better than one, apparently.
“It’s a lot harder to build around one guy,” Mitchell said. “That’s the thing here with these guys: You recognize your talent and understand that’s a great situation to be in. Zach, Karl and Andrew, all three of those guys are talented but they all bring something different to the table. Not one of those guys is the same. They all are different, but the thing I like about our team is they all like each other. They’re good friends, and that translates when they play together. They help each other, they pull for each other.”
Mitchell said he can see those three young players change before his eyes.
“It’s just a different mentality they have now,” he said. “You can see them starting to grow and understand what it takes. They’re playing with a purpose now. They starting to understand all the things you have to do and the commitment it takes to be good.”
Birthday north of border
As the schedule would have it, Wiggins celebrated his 21st birthday Tuesday night back home in Toronto. He was just there for All-Star weekend less than two weeks ago, when he visited a community center gym that he and sponsor Adidas renovated in the suburb where he was raised. At least 100 of his family members and friends attended Wednesday’s game against the Raptors.
“I grew up over there,” said Wiggins, who busted a backboard on a dunk there when he was a ninth-grader. “That’s something that I’ve thought about, always giving back. That’s where I’m from.”
• LaVine returned to Air Canada Centre, where he won his second consecutive All Star slam-dunk title 11 days earlier. “Winning the second one was a lot harder,” he said, referring to his recent duel with Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.
• Tayshaun Prince started Wednesday’s game at small forward, drawing a defensive assignment against James Johnson while Wiggins took Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan. Mitchell has alternated starting Prince and LaVine the past four games.
• Bypassed twice by the Wolves in the 2009 draft, DeRozan is the Raptors’ career winningest player at 234 victories, now two more than Bosh and Morris Peterson. “And he’s not done yet,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “We don’t want to talk like he’s ready to call it quits.”