Jermaine O’Neal described Toronto’s Toronto’s 132-93 defeat to Denver as “embarrassing not only for us but for people who represent the Raptor organization, the city, the country.” With so much civic pride at stake, is it any surprise to learn Bryan Colangelo fired head coach Sam Mitchell earlier today, he of the 8-9 record this season and the 2007 Coach Of The Year Award stashed in the trophy case.? “Anyone asking why hasn’t been paying attention or has been letting their biases cloud their judgment,” muses RaptorBlog‘s Scott Carefoot. “The question is ‘Why now?’.”

When the Raptors regressed from 47-35 in ’06-07 to 41-41 in ’07-08, Colangelo’s resolve to bring in his own coach surely strengthened. Then, after the significant changes he made to the roster in the 2008 off-season, he said something that I recognized at the time as an ultimatum for Sam Mitchell. He said that he believed this was the Raptors’ strongest team on paper.

There was a sense that Mitchell was starting to lose the players and Tuesday’s Nuggets nightmare made that sense difficult to ignore. NBA coaches tend to have a four- or five-year lifespan before players start to tune them out, and Mitchell was in his fifth season as Raptors coach. If you’re not Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich or Jerry Sloan (Lawrence Frank might join this group), you’re not immune to the fickle opinions of fans and the local media ” not to mention the GMs that need to deflect blame to protect their own reputations.

No matter what you think of Sam Mitchell, it was time for him to go. My biggest regret about how this was handled is that I would have preferred Colangelo to fire him before the season so the Raptors could have been players in the Mike D’Antoni sweepstakes.