Basketball

Raptors fire O'Neill and staff

The Toronto Raptors made it official Friday, firing rookie head coach Kevin O'Neill.

Assistants Tony Brown, Bob Beyer, Jim Sann and Ron Oliver were also relieved of their duties, but Canadian-born Jay Triano was retained.

"This season fell well short of our expectations and, while the blame for that certainly does not rest on Kevin O'Neill and his staff alone, we felt that the team's lack of success on the court and the fact that we are committed to providing the general manager with every opportunity to succeed necessitated this change," Raptors interim GM Jack McCloskey said in a statement.

Toronto won its final two games to finish 33-49 under O'Neill, yet missed the playoffs for a second straight season.

O'Neill's firing comes one day after he openly questioned the organization's commitment to winning.

"The only thing I'll say about those comments is I'm all about winning, no matter where I am," O'Neill said Friday. "And I think the focus in any organization needs to be on winning.

"I'm not for everybody. I'm not a guy that walks down the hallway and is warm and fuzzy.

"If being dedicated to winning is abrasive, I'm abrasive."

McCloskey revealed O'Neill told him he had made a mistake by lashing out at the club.

"Kevin's remarks yesterday didn't go over too big with a lot of people," McCloskey acknowledged Friday. "He said, 'You know Jack, I screwed up yesterday.'"

O'Neill, 47, signed a two-year, $3.5-million US contract with Toronto last June 16 and posted a nine-game improvement over the previous season under Lenny Wilkens.

Management figured O'Neill's blunt, indeed abrasive, approach was what the Raptors needed to exorcise the country-club atmosphere created by Wilkens.

But O'Neill wound up miffing numerous players, especially Lamond Murray, lashing out at the front office over anonymous leaks and criticizing former GM Glen Grunwald for failing to tailor the roster to his needs.

"I'm not a very good word-softener guy," O'Neill conceded during Friday's farewell media conference.

"I'm not flexible about what I believe wins. I'm not.

"I'm not flexible about giving things out in this league such as playing time, shots, touches to people that don't deserve them. If that inflexibilty is a negative, then that's okay with me."

Despite rumours to the contrary, most players appreciated O'Neill's commitment to the cause.

"I don't have a problem with K.O., not at all," Raptors star Vince Carter said. "He wants to win.

"He's one of those guys who just eats, sleeps and breathes winning and tries to find a way for us to be successful."

"We got along good," Raptors rookie Chris Bosh said of O'Neill. "He told me he really liked how I worked and that I was going to be a good player.

"This is a young franchise," O'Neill concluded. "It's going to succeed in the NBA.

"(Chairman) Larry Tannenbaum is going to make sure of that. Has he ever lost at anything?

"They're going to have a really solid franchise here for a long time. They have all the makings of a great franchise."

with files from CP Online