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Old 12-08-2008, 01:36 AM   #1
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Default ESPN found Raptors' new Head Coach for next year?

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The current economic crisis is a global one, as the Russians could tell you. Perennial powerhouse CSKA Moscow recently shut down its women's team, which some European hoops experts we know well see as a clear sign that legendary men's coach Ettore Messina (at right) will be leaving CSKA at season's end as part of the club's financial cutbacks.

If Messina indeed becomes a coaching free agent this summer, that'll only make it tougher for Raptors president and GM Bryan Colangelo to resist hiring the Italian as the first European-born head coach in the NBA. Messina is super close with Raptors assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini and counts Colangelo as one of his biggest fans.

Back in October, when CSKA was in Toronto to face the Raptors for an exhibition game, Colangelo was asked whether a foreign-born coach who speaks English as his second language could really land one of the NBA's 30 head-coaching jobs. Colangelo told our man Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star, "It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's when it's going to happen."

Colangelo, remember, didn't have a job opening when Mike D'Antoni and the Suns parted suddenly in May because of the four-year contract Colangelo felt he had to give Sam Mitchell after Mitchell won Coach of the Year honors in 2006-07. It'll be fascinating to see what happens now with Messina given that he's believed to be Colangelo's other favorite coach.

The obstacles to such a hire, though, are obvious and numerous. Messina is enormously respected in the coaching biz worldwide for his X's-and-O's acumen, but there are undoubtedly hundreds of NBA players who've never heard of him. There would inevitably be loud questions about how NBA players would respond to Messina's firm hand -- far firmer than you generally see over here -- even with Toronto ranking as the NBA's most Europe-like setting, both in terms of the city and the roster.

So it would be sensationally bold from Colangelo, even for a GM as aggressive as he is, to take that gamble, when at the same time he has made no secret of the fact that the organization's No. 1 goal over the next 18 months is keeping hold of 2010 free-agent supreme Chris Bosh.

Obstacle No. 2: As Colangelo also conceded in October, any NBA coach has to "understand the sensibilities of the North American athlete," and that's something Messina could do only if he came to the NBA as an assistant first. Yet for the likes of overseas coaching legends such as Messina and Dynamo Moscow's David Blatt -- the American/Israeli from Princeton who ranks with Messina as Europe's best -- taking an assistant's job over here can't be especially appealing, from a financial or prestige standpoint.

Another wrinkle here is that you shouldn't underestimate Jay Triano's ability to keep this job full-time, especially if Colangelo ultimately decides in the summer that it's too soon to make history with Messina. Triano is a certifiable Canadian legend -- as a player and a coach -- who has spent six-plus seasons as a Raptors assistant after memorably guiding the red and white to within one victory of the medal round in the 2000 Summer Games in Australia. The only recognizable names on that overachieving team were former Nets and 76ers center Todd McCulloch and a struggling young point guard out of Dallas named Steve Nash.

"Players love Jay," Nash said this week, welcoming the opportunity to talk about something other than the Suns' gloomy start and clearly moved by Triano's promotion. "He's a fantastic coach. They're going to find out that he has a great feel and understanding of the game and is a lot of fun to play for."
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