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  All Quiet On The Raptors Front On Deadline Day


Feb. 24, 2010, 4:57 PM

The NBA trade deadline has passed without the Raptors’ involvement.

That leaves a 16-42 team whose supporters must look to the future.

But first, look toward the past.

Step into the time machine.

Reach up to the dial. Set it to April 26, 2009.

Now prepare for a boring evening because there is very little you could do to improve on the Raptors performance the night they landed DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan is an elite dunker. He has boosted his playing time from 21 to 36 minutes a night. He has all but doubled his points to 16 per game and has added an mid-range jump shot to his arsenal. His future seems limitless.

The Raptors are likely to enjoy a significantly better draft position than the one they used to draft DeRozan two seasons ago.

Toronto’s .276 winning percentage is 24th in the NBA. Washington, Sacramento, Minnesota, New Jersey and Toronto are within three points of each other and clumped well below Cleveland.

The Cavs have added Baron Davis. The Nets stunned the basketball world by acquiring Deron Williams and the Raptors added James Johnson. The race, as they say, is wide open with or without the potentially disruptive draft lottery. For what it’s worth, the Raptors sit sixth.

If they pull another DeRozan, the rebuilding program gains considerable traction.

Back to the time machine to take a second look at the land mines the club dodged on the way to DeRozan.

Draft night 2009 began with the Clippers selecting the amazingly talented Blake Griffin.

Memphis gambled that the gargantuan Hasheem Thabeet would find a game to match his frame. This season Thabeet has 1.1 points a game. The early returns are not kind.

At three, Oklahoma City picked James Harden. Nice beard but he hasn’t been better than DeRozan. Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans delivered a terrific rookie season but his game has come to earth this season.

Ricky Rubio? Still in Spain.

Jonny Flynn? A disappointing sixth choice for Minnesota.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry was a great pick at seven, but Jordan Hill has been a bust in Houston at number eight.

That leaves DeRozan at nine and after that the explosive Brandon Jennings , twice traded Terrence Williams and Charlotte guard Gerald Henderson, the owner of a less than gaudy seven points a night.

So of the eight players chosen ahead of DeRozan, only Griffin, Curry and, Evans have outplayed him and DeRozan is rapidly closing the gap.

The looming question, the only question for the Raptors, is can GM Bryan Colangelo and his scouting staff turn the trick again?

The Raptors will have plenty of choice even if some of the following players may return to school. Duke point guard Kyrie Irving has surged up the mock draft boards despite limited playing time due to injury. Exiled Turk Enes Kanter offers NBA-ready defence, Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger brings plenty of polish and explosive wingman Derrick Williams of Arizona comes with a ready-made NBA body. UConn’s talented point guard Kemba Walker brings exemplary leadership skills.

The countdown begins today at 119 days. It isn’t unfair to expect significant improvement through the Raptors remaining 24 games. Roots are being put down that should solidify the franchise for years to come.

But with DeRozan assuming his standing as one of the NBA’s brightest players, Andrea Bargnani tossing in 22 points a night and Ed Davis establishing himself as gifted rebounder, the Raptors are morphing into something very different from what you see now.




  Raptors Changed In Many Ways Without Bosh


Feb. 15, 2010, 4:47 PM

Reggie Evans says the Raptors without Chris Bosh are loaded with personality.

This is interesting. You know what they say about people with good personalities.

The Raptors are an ugly 15-40 and while Bosh will be castigated as a traitor (Sonny Weems’ words, not mine), it is impossible to argue that the Raptors weren’t a better team when he wore the colors.

He did so for seven years. So what are we talking about here?

Well, for one, personality, an element the always buoyant Evans has by the warehouse. “No disrespect to Chris, Chris don’t talk,” Evans said. “He would talk on the floor, but in the locker room he don’t talk.

“Personality is at an all-time high. Communication is at an all-time high,” he said.

True enough. There are the twins, Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan. Andrea Bargnani has lost the stone face, Evans said and the new guys, rookie Ed Davis and Leandro Barbosa are fun to be around. “From a basketball point of view we have been up and down but we like each other’s company,” he said. True on both counts.

The team Bosh will face Wednesday is a dramatically different one than the one he left in the summer. In his second season, DeRozan is asserting himself regularly. Davis has been just shy of a prodigy. Bargnani has scored 29, 29 and 27 points in his last three games and has upped his points by nearly five a night from last year. None likely reach these standards if Bosh is still a Raptor.

These are Bosh’s successors and while they may already be more verbal, they are a good distance from equaling him on the court. The trick will be to cultivate skill levels and exploit the leadership that Evans is so sure about.

The elements: should Bosh have left, did he, in the words of GM Bryan Colangelo check out at the all-star break, why did he use twitter so much, offer a terrific storyline.

“They feel like Bosh’s a traitor,” said Weems. “It would do a lot for our confidence if we get a win.”

Weems also promised to introduce some contact into the game, a tactic he noticed other teams using when Bosh played here.

“He doesn’t like to get bumped too much and that’s one thing I hope to do,” said Weems.

But the Raptors are light years removed from the Heat and a motivated Bosh could deliver a disappointed night for 20,000 Raptor fans. Trying to nudge Bosh out of the paint seems a poor idea if it were to bring LeBron James thundering through the lane.

Davis predicted Bosh will be booed and said that vitriol could help the home side.

“I know it’s real big to the city,” he said. “To get a win would be huge.”

Without Evans, who remains a game or two away from returning, the Raptors will be without the kind of physical presence who could jostle the 6-foot-11 Bosh. In truth, stopping the Big Three is only part of the formula. The Heat’s quiet strength is their ability to defend. Tenth in scoring, they are fifth in points allowed and 19-10 on the road.

Triano meanwhile wasn’t buying into the hype. He looked forward to the game for more routine reasons.

“It’s a chance to play a good team in our building,” said the Raptors’ coach. “The atmosphere will be great and we are ready for the challenge.”

It will be a challenge all right. By hating on their all-time leading scorer, Raptor fans are admitting what hurts most. They would be better with him than without him and that truth seems likely to be driven home Wednesday night.

But a less conspicuous truth will be borne out on many nights to come. Skill beats emerging talents and leadership. Skilled leaders beat everyone.




  Davis Stepping Up In Rookie Season For Raptors


Feb. 14, 2010, 4:11 PM

A couple of things you should know about Raptors rookie Ed Davis as everyone in town prepares for Wednesday’s game of the season against Miami.

Sunday marked his second consecutive night of bettering his career rebounding mark by one. At this pace, Davis will deliver a 41-rebound effort on the last game of the season, April 13.

Second, as he showed in facing Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers, Davis isn’t afraid of anyone.

“It’s one of the top teams we will face all season,” Davis said of the Heat. “It’s going to be a challenge. I just have to be ready.”

Hopefully as ready as he was against Los Angeles, a team that passed him over in favor of Al-Faroug Aminu at the eighth spot in this year's NBA draft. Davis targeted the Clippers and star big man Blake Griffin and turned in one of his best pieces of work. His 36-minute performance was necessitated by the return of Amir Johnson’s foul trouble. Included in his 14 boards were six offensive rebounds.

“He seems to be low energy” said Raptors coach Jay Triano, “until the ball is in the air. He has those long arms and he can go get the basketball.”'

It’s enough to make you wonder where Davis would be if a knee injury suffered in a pickup game not cost him his first NBA training camp and the opening 17 games of the regular season.

“I think if I had been able to play I would have been further along had I been able to have training camp,” he said.

How much better is of course conjecture. As it stands, Davis has managed 6.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in a meager 22.1 minutes per game. With Reggie Evans set to come back as soon as against the Bobcats on February 22nd, the Raptors most pressing need will pass from rebounding and Davis’ floor time will likely take a hit.

But for Davis, there is plenty of time. He played just two seasons at the University of North Carolina and entered the league at 21. This year is an apprenticeship.

Terry Davis, Ed’s dad, played a decade in the NBA. He and Ed’s mother Angela Jones have established a beachhead in Toronto. Ed’s job is to eat and run.

“They help make sure I eat well and get plenty of sleep,” he said. “You have to take care of your body, eat well and get your rest.”

Of his stats, Davis treasures the ones that speak to rebounds. “I don’t know how many double doubles I am capable off, but one thing I always try to do is finish every night with double figures in rebounds.

Praised by teammates for his willingness to listen and implement advice, Davis says he has an open door policy about the game with everyone he meets.

“There will always be people you meet who think they know it all,” he said. “Even if I know they are wrong, I’m still going to listen to them.”

As far the advancing, rampaging heat, Davis, a new generation Raptor star, sees no need to get caught in comparisons to the old one.

“It’s not an individual thing,” he said. “It’s a team thing.”

Spoken like a much older man.




  The Way Of The Dove

Feb. 3, 2010, 5:37 PM

Raptor fans:

I am here to introduce you The Way of The Dove.

It is the way to unlimited happiness and tranquility.

It will carry you through the Raptor season and into the bounty of all the campaigns to come.

You can thank me later or not at all. That is the way of the Way of the Dove. No one keeps track, least of all me. I am that enlightened.

There is only one fact word you need remember: accept.

Say it again.

Accept.

I think being a Raptors fan is a fine and noble thing. It does not impair enlightenment, far from it.

Keep the jerseys. Heck, buy more.

But stop looking at the standings. You know what they are going to say.

Stop counting the losses. They are going to win or lose, mostly lose without you.

Acknowledge a lean roster, rendered leaner still by injuries to Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa and Reggie Evans.

Acknowledge human failings, the inability of Andrea Bargnani to haul in double figures in rebounds over the last 25 games. Note instead, the three 10-plus rebound games turned in by Ed Davis in the same period.

Look past tired games, hours spent on runways, shooting percentages, Matt Bonner’s free throws, what Vince Carter is doing tonight, rebounds, plus-minus, salary caps, pending free agents, third jerseys and who is worse between the Cavs and Raptors. Do not waste a second thinking about Chris Bosh’s new condo.

All these things are beyond your control. They are irritants. Pay them the attention you would give to a fly on a dog.

Basketball is perfectly built for the Way of the Dove. Even in defeat, there are skeins of beautiful moments. You don’t have to suffer. You can keep watching, you should keep watching.

Accept.

The dove looks from a high perch.

It sees youths who will be men in Davis and DeRozan. It sees a player who manages 20 points a game in Bargnani but whose defence is and will probably always be substandard.

It sees Julian Wright playing 25 minutes against Indiana and Alexis Ajinca 10:30 against Minnesota. These events stand against the natural order of things.

Accept.

The dove doesn’t see any losing streaks as benchmarks for the next ones. He doesn’t count the faraway pedestrians he missed from above. Look at winning streaks the very same way.

Do not disengage. Watch as a child plays with block.

The Way of the Dove is not about patience. It is, instead, about acceptance.

Things are following the course that they will. There are very smart people whose most pressing duty is to right this season. This is not your concern.

This is what they came up with. It is, like everything, a process.

Don’t fret. Ever see worry lines on a dove?

And when things turn around…

Go nuts.

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