The Toronto Raptors are really unturning every stone in their quest to find the next great coach that can lead this team, as their initial candidates’ list featured former head coaches looking for a second chance like Kenny Atkinson, trendy names like Becky Hammon, and unknowns like Darko Rakajovic.
Also included on that list was Mitch Johnson, who has spent the last few seasons as a Gregg Popovich assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. While the Spurs haven’t done much winning in the last few years, taking someone who studied under Popovich is never a bad idea.
Johnson was the one who coached the team when both Popovich and Brett Brown were unable to earlier this season, which is a sign that he is held in high regard. The Raptors aren’t the only team in the league that thinks Johnson has the ability to lead their franchise.
Before the Atlanta Hawks replaced Nate McMillan with former Jazz coach Quin Snyder, Johnson was considered a frontrunner for the job. Given his player development background, the 36-year-old’s best years of coaching might be in the windshield rather than the rear-view mirror.
Will the Toronto Raptors hire Mitch Johnson?
Johnson is yet another potential Raptors hire with a G League background, as he was in charge of the Austin Spurs for three seasons, where he played an instrumental role in turning Dejounte Murray into a star. Johnson has spent the last four seasons on the Spurs bench.
Johnson would be another attempt to pluck an assistant from the Popovich coaching tree. While Hammon may be the preferred candidate from that system, her recent comments make it sound like she has no interest whatsoever in leaving the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.
Johnson would also be another gamble on internal development, as his best traits as a coach stem from his history of working with young players and getting the best out of them. If the Raptors don’t hire him and he spends one more year in San Antonio, he could end up as a potential Popovich successor.
Johnson may be the most unproven of the initial candidates on Toronto’s list due to his relative lack of experience, but he’s generally performed well in whatever role the Spurs have asked of him. Will that be enough to sway Ujiri into hiring him as the Nick Nurse successor?