Raptors fire coach Carter

Tired of putting out bushfires, the Toronto Raptors fired Butch Carter on Tuesday. And saved the head coach from himself.

"I did not want out of Toronto," Carter said. "I wanted out of a bad situation."

Ironically, it was a situation of his own creation and one that he regrets. But not one he was willing to be specific about.

"Anything that is regretted should be kept professionally, in-house. It's not for discussion with you people," Carter told reporters at a media conference held at the Air Canada Centre.

Carter's willingness to openly discuss things is what got him into trouble in the first place.

A coach of considerable skill, his persistent penchant for controversy left much to be desired and eventually, left the Raptors with no choice but to dismiss him.

"I wish it had all gone differently," GM Glen Grunwald said at an earlier media gathering. "I wish Butch had done some things differently.

"His accomplishments in Toronto should not be discounted," he continued. "However, in the end, that success was clouded by off-court distractions that were disconcerting to our fans and our organization."

Distractions directly attributed to Carter, who became a lightning rod of controversy with his questionable actions and comments.

"We had some issues, we had some problems," Grunwald admitted. "Ultimately, we came to the conclusion it wasn't going to work."

Surprisingly, it was a conclusion that Carter concurred with -- and agreed to -- and why he will not be re-assigned within the organization.

"Whichever way they decide to go is fine with me," Carter said. "I don't want to be part of any second-guessing."

People have been second-guessing Carter and his candor for months now.

It began with Carter questioning his employer, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Limited, and its commitment to a basketball team in a hockey hotbed.

That, shortly after his bosses handed him a three-year contract extension.

Then came excerpts from a book he co-authored with his brother Cris, a star receiver for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

In one excerpt, Carter chastized Indiana's Bobby Knight, his former collegiate coach, for making a racial epithet during a locker room blowup.

The criticism drew a line between Carter and Grunwald, also a alumnus of Indiana and a staunch supporter of Knight.

Then, just prior to the playoffs, Carter filed a lawsuit against former Raptors' forward Marcus Camby for calling him a "liar".

Camby contended Carter told him and John Wallace that, "you two guys are going to be the foundation" of the Raptors franchise. Camby was later traded to the New York Knicks for Charles Oakley.

Though quick to backtrack and eventually drop the suit, Carter received widespread criticism for the disruption it caused his team on the eve of its first ever post-season appearance.

Even worse, it created an irreparable rift between the coach and team leaders who questioned the timing of the move and where his priorities lie.

The rift widened when Carter claimed the Raptors lacked leadership and that, rather than turn to the veterans, the younger players preferred to seek out his advice.

It was a statement that left the veterans seething and wondering what his problem was.

"I wasn't troubled," Carter said. "I could just see trouble coming for the group."

But no one saw what was coming next.

Carter caused yet another stir when he asked for Grunwald's title as GM, although not the GM's powers.

What amazed many was that he made the request to Raptors president Richard Peddie during his own season-end job evaluation -- with Grunwald present.

Carter claimed it would better his chances at enticing free-agents to Toronto.

Instead, it backfired and sullied the reputation of the Raptors.

People inside and outside the organization openly questioned the coach and why the team continued to retain him.

"They were willing to stand behind me, but that would not have been in the best interest of everything we had accumulated here," Carter said.

"We were mindful of what people were saying," Peddie said. "Did our credibility slip? Sure it did."

Particularly in the eyes of the players -- Antonio Davis, Oakley and Tracy McGrady, to name just three -- who wearied of Carter's constant antics.

And while the Raptors deny the players had any formal say in the coach's dismissal, their collective frustration was certainly a factor.

"It's a player's league," Peddie said. "We just didn't see the distractions ending, so it wasn't just the players."

It was the cumulative effect of the distractions, and it was devastating.

Tensions heightened between Carter and Grunwald, spurned veterans spoke out and even McGrady started to talk about leaving Toronto.

The multi-talented and much coveted guard, who becomes a free-agent on July 1, went so far as to cite Carter as one reason for not re-signing with the Raptors.

"Signing Tracy McGrady was no slam-dunk, regardless," Carter said.

That said, Carter's canning could be seen as a last-ditch effort to salvage the situation with McGrady. Whether it will remains to be seen.

"I'm hopeful that it will," Grunwald said. "We're trying to make the situation better, whether it's for Tracy McGrady or any other player."

Strangely, before the cloud of controversy blew in, things were never better in Toronto.

The Raptors were 73-92 (.442) under Carter, including 45-37 this past season as they clawed their way to third-place in the Central Division and the first playoff berth in franchise history.

A Christian, Carter was also seen as an honest and refreshing alternative to his predecessor, the often difficult Darrell Walker, who he replaced on Februrary 13, 1998.

But, as Peddie put it, "the pieces slipped back in the last eight weeks," prompting the Raptors to reconsider their future with Carter as head coach.

They elected to fire him and eat what remains of the contract extension he signed in December, rumoured to be $6 million.

"It was a decision we made after exploring all the other alternatives to try and improve the situation with our fans, in our locker-room, with our staff and around the league," Grunwald said. "It was a last-resort decision. Now we need someone else to take us to the next level."