Basketball

Raptors not focused on winning: O'Neill

Kevin O'Neill is going out with guns ablazin'.

O'Neill, expected to lose his job as head coach of the Toronto Raptors, told reporters Thursday that the players lacked focus this season and that the organization was too lenient.

"There needs to be a singular focus on winning and winning only," said O'Neill, who reportedly will be fired or bought out imminently.

"I can just tell you right now, the focus is not on winning here, all the way through the organization, all the time."

Needless to say, O'Neill's comments did not sit well with his superiors.

"I like Kevin, but I disagree with him on that point," Raptors interim general manager Jack McCloskey responded. "If he feels that's a problem, he should straighten that out.

"He's in charge of the dressing room."

"We expect our coach to be professional and conduct himself in a professional manner," Raptors president Richard Peddie said. "And I'm disappointed in his remarks."

O'Neill, 47, signed a two-year, $3.5-million US contract with Toronto last June 16 and posted a 33-49 record, 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.

"We didn't have all the entities pulling in the same direction at the same time – management, coaches and players," said Raptors guard Jalen Rose.

"And when you don't have that, it leads to the situation we're in now."

What angered O'Neill most, however, was the constant disruptions and distractions that kept the players from concentrating on basketball.

"There's too many people around the players, there's too many latchers-on," O'Neill observed. "There's too many distractions from winning, too many personal agendas, too many vendettas.

"There's just too much of that that detracts from winning."

"I think it did affect us," figured Raptors forward Donyell Marshall. "There were a lot of times, when we were on off-days or on a plane ride or on a bus, and we were talking about the new GM and new coach instead of focusing on what we had to do to make the playoffs."

According to O'Neill, some Raptors executives and employees grew so enamoured with the team that they became a real nuisance.

"You're not part of an NBA franchise to hang out with players, to get autographs, to get your picture taken, to be seen with the players, to be hanging out," he said. "In general, there is too much access to players.

"And it needs to be run much more business-like."

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.

"And just to have somebody like that believe in me, that was a real plus for me."

with files from CP Online