Archive for January, 2006

The A-Train departs Toronto

In what is possibly a bigger blockbuster deal than the 7 player trade between the Boston Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wayne Embry achieved the impossible by moving Aaron ‘A-Train’ Williams to New Orleans for two second-round draft picks.

Aaron was arguably the most disinterested player on the Raptors roster, waiting for his contract year to end so he could walk elsewhere. Toronto will receive Miami’s 2006 pick as well as New Orleans’ 2009 pick. Reports also indicate that the Raptors will receive a 3.375 million trade exception due to New Orleans being under the cap.

Fantastic trade.

We was Robbed.

I will probably anger some of you with what I am about to say about the Rob Babcock firing, but in times of high emotions and sports politics, it’s imperative that we stay grounded and look at the facts.

Richard Peddie’s sleight of hand could have had David Copperfield smiling. At a time when Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment was facing it’s darkest hour with it’s two storied franchises crawling through the mud, storm clouds were brewing. Someone’s head was about to roll and in order to secure his own well-being at MLSE, Richard Peddie fired a body before the heat came into his kitchen.

Sure, Rob Babcock was hardly a capable GM in today’s NBA climate, but it is entirely arguable that he was learning from his mistakes. Recall that when Babcock was brought onboard, his two absolute priorities were to secure both a center and a point guard for the team. So what did he do? He went and drafted what he thought was the best center in the draft, and he signed Rafer Alston to a long-term contract. Granted, in hind sight both moves were as poor decisions as Britney Spears giving Kevin Federline her bank card, but he followed the mandate of the club. Rob also had what was touted as a stellar front office at his side, so the entire Raptors management has to take blame for those initial blunders.

In comparison, John Ferguson Jr. has absolutely no business as the GM of the Maple Leafs and MLSE is still parading him up and down Main St. The Leafs currently sit at 8 straight losses, and I can guarantee you that they can go to 15 and Ferguson Jr. will still be munching donuts from high atop the ACC.

If we can garner one positive out of this debacle, it’s the fact that Pete Babcock was let go as the team’s director of NBA player personnel. If you know anything about Pete, you’ll remember that as the Atlanta Hawk’s former GM, he spent 13 years pretending to build through the draft and taking the Hawks no where in the league. When Pete came to the Raptors, he made it his responsibility to follow his brother everywhere and yap into his ear about how to run the team. Starting to see the parallels between where the Raptors were heading and the Atlanta Hawks franchise? The firing of Pete Babcock was without a doubt the best move the team has made all season.

I would love to see Wayne Embry take a shot at remaining GM for the next season. I’d also like to see Jack Armstrong hired as the team president. If the Raptors are able to secure these two moves, the future will be very bright for this franchise.

Vince puts the ME in team

They were still replacing singed basketball nets at the Staples Center when the Newark Star-Ledger tracked down Vince Carter and asked him to reflect on Kobe’s 81 point performance. With an indifferent shrug and forced smile from the side of his mouth, Vinsanity said this:

“The only bad thing about it is that younger kids, whose minds are easily warped, are going to think, ‘Ohhh! I am going to go out there and do it instead of (honoring) the team concept first.’”

Team concept?!? Oh, now you gone and done it.

This is from the same guy who pulled up a proverbial lounge chair everytime he stepped foot onto the hardwood. The same teammate who tipped the other team on upcoming plays. The same player who yanked his credibility from the single thread it was still dangling from and virtually stomped it out after admitting he wasn’t giving 100% to the organization.

In case you didn’t know, JYD (Jerome Williams) is now a member of the front office with the Raptors brass and even he remarked about how he completely lost all respect for Vince Carter after he screwed the team while everyone else was fighting to win. The dog pound heartily woofs in agreement.

Allow me to add to your amusement. Last season Kobe Bryant managed to lead the league in attempted shots per game with 20.1 shots per game. Guess who was second in the league with 20.0 shots per game? No, it wasn’t Mike James, but good guess. He wears number 15 and his name rhymes with rinse water.

Vince Carter is preaching to the NBA massive about team concept. Am I living in a bad episode of the Twilight Zone where all the bullies at school turn into Zen monks and denounce the merit of lunch money? Neither Vince or Kobe know anything about team play.

Can you imagine playing a doubles tennis match against Vince and Kobe? They’d be virtually straddling the net battling each other for the volley. As far as I’m concerned, you could tie Vince, Kobe, and T-Mac’s legs together and enter them into a potato sack race against a load of bricks and they’d still find a way to lose.

The only way Vince or Kobe will be able to bring a championship to their team is to play with their teams. Until then, they can score 50, 80, or a 100 points a game and it wouldn’t count for anything.

Hating lineups I was never in

Was anyone in media land paying attention when the Toronto Raptors lost to the Denver Nuggets Monday night in the aftermath of what will forever be known as 81? It’s like realizing you’ve ripped your favorite trousers after being thrown out of the club and having your girlfriend stay inside with the bouncer who tossed you. Don’t let all the basketball chatter this week distract you from the fact that we went 1 for 5 on the road. Somewhere lost within this horrendous West coast swing, we must resolve to dig deep and find answers.

When the Raptors announced that Rafael Araujo would be sidelined due to a shoulder injury, I was the first to kick my shoes off in a fit of joy. Face it, 90% of basketball sports fans in Toronto were dodging shoes that day and rejoicing in their socks. Sam Mitchell quickly shoved Matt Bonner into the starting lineup and informed the assistant coaches that Pape Sow didn’t have to ride in the washroom of the team bus anymore. And in light of Jalen’s rekindling of sorts, the announcer at the ACC found it necessary to remove the taped recording of the starting lineup and actually read it live.

The mistake Sam made in recent days was forgetting about the one true constant that governs all in the cosmos. Sam overlooked balance.

You can’t sustain an ecosystem with an abundance of predators and not enough prey. You can’t win a chess game with only back row pieces and no pawns. You can’t have wings without beer. It’s this premise that explains why the Raptors have been losing.

God knows I love Jalen Rose, but inking both him and Bonner in the starting lineup is like beginning a boxing match with nothing but hook shots. You can not stack your starting line and have your rookies hit cleanup. Watching Calderon, Villanueva, and Graham on the floor at the same time is like watching 3 dudes lingerie shopping. Confusion, embarassment, and a lot of sweating.

Our roster has always left much to be desired, but it was much more effective pre-shoekickingdays. The attack was better balanced, and our defense wasn’t being exposed like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe. As much as I love Jalen, I’d like to see him settle back into the 2nd unit. Jalen is effective coming off any line, provided he’s given good minutes and freedom to run his game.

Putting him back on the secondary line would also establish some sorely needed roles on this team. At times there seems to be confusion as to who the go-to guy is, who’s rebounding, and who’s doing the dirty work. The coaching staff needs to spend time establishing jobs and assigning players to strictly focus on them. Bosh, go inside strong. Mo Pete, drain those 3’s from your office. Hoffa, foul and look bewildered. James, PASS THE BALL. D-Mart, finish that burger.

Rafer might have been right. Maybe our coaching staff doesn’t prepare the team for games. Maybe we need more structure and more preparation. But whatever was working prior to the road trip out West should be revisited. The Raptors have to finish the month of January off strong, because the last thing the management needs is the team to sink into a funk again and have the media on their back. Or, it might just be the case of having Hoffa coming back and shouldering that coveted responsibility.

DNP-CD

DNP-CD. Five letters you never want to see beside your name if you’re in the NBA. Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision. For Joey Graham, he got slapped with one last night against Denver.

So let’s see, did he deserve it? Sam has said that other players have had it too, but really, those guys don’t fit into Raptor plans. Joey does or they wouldn’t have drafted him. Given, sometimes Joey looks confused out there, “guarding” guys like VC used to, guarding them as they head back down the court AFTER scoring. But has he really been that bad as to deserve a DNP-CD? No.

Here’s the thing Sam, Joey’s a rookie. Rookies are going to make mistakes. Rookies are going to get schooled a bit. Rookies are going to look lost. That’s what they do. They’re rookies. The ones who don’t compete for Rookie of the Year. By benching Joey Graham, Sam is doing nothing but breaking Joey’s confidence. Some may think that this is tough love, that the Raps need some of that and to a point, they do, but Joey doesn’t. He needs to have things explained to him, needs to have his mistakes pointed out and then he needs to be shown how not to make them again. As a coach, you can only do so much, which is where some mentorship comes in. If the Raps are looking to D-Mart to do this with Joey, they’re sadly mistaken. This is where Eric Williams (who got some minutes last night) or Aaron Williams (the uniform wrinkler…that’s all he does, wrinkle uniforms) can help out. They’re not studs, but they understand some of the finer points of the game.

So Sam, take it easy on Joey. Hoffa has been brutal forever and he’s a STARTER…in the NBA! Joey has a bad couple of weeks and he’s a DNP-CD? Really? Come on.

Forget Kobe’s 81, Who wants to be THE ONE?

81 points. What can I possibly say about Kobe’s 81 points that isn’t going to be said in the hundreds of papers and sites across North America? Wait a sec, they’re probably going to talk about this in Europe too, so me having anything unique to say about the situation just isn’t going to happen. They had an 18 point lead, they played soft, Kobe was hot, Raptors lose. Pretty simple. Or is it?
Okay, let me precursor this by saying that by no means do I condone thuggery or violence in the NBA. The last thing you want to see is somebody get hurt, especially a star. SO, after saying that, on with the rest of my thoughts.

Kobe needed to be put flat on his butt last night. Somebody had to step up and knock him down hard, even if it was flagrant. You cannot let somebody dance around your team like that, taking shots however they please while you stand in awe. Let’s take the clock back to the Detroit Piston Bad Boys days. Do you for one second, think that Bill Laimbeer would have let Kobe walk down the middle and throw down a dunk on his way to 81 points? Bill would have said, “Not on my watch” and knocked Kobe in the front row, no bones about it. He wouldn’t have tried to hurt him, but he definitely would have made Kobe think every time he got the ball, “Hmm…maybe I should settle for a jump shot”.

Okay, so you’re saying, hey, Kobe hit a bunch of jump shots too. Right. But if you are able to take an element of his game away (or at least reduce it), guarding against the jump shot becomes that much easier. Remember how easy Wince Carter was to guard when he decided he wasn’t going to dunk anymore? Given, he also decided he wasn’t going to try anymore, break a sweat anymore, play with heart anym…wait a sec, he never played with heart, but the point is, once you check one point of a guy’s game, the rest is that much easier to guard.

This was a chance for somebody to turn into a national pariah. Can you imagine the heat somebody would have received for clubbing Kobe? It would have been on all of the highlights and Don Cherry probably would have invited the guy to be on Coach’s Corner. To compare the situation to another sport, remember back when Ronnie Lott was with the 49ers? He was the most feared hitter in the league. If you were playing San Fran, you had to know where he was at all times. On the few plays opposing teams would run across the middle of the field, the result was one of three things: 1) Gator arms, where the guy didn’t fully extend because he knew he was going to get smoked, 2) He actually caught it and got smoked, 3) He cut the route off short. It was all about having a presence.

Maybe the Raptors need Charles Oakley as an assistant. Can you imagine walking back to the bench and having Oak looking back at you after Kobe just dunked over you? He would tell you that you can embarrass yourself with an unnecessary behind the back pass, you can take terrible shots that don’t hit anything, you can even walk down the court, but there would be no way in hell he would let you have somebody score so easily on you. He would kill a man on the court before letting him score 81 points.

So again, I’m not about thuggery, but there comes a point where you have to lay down the law. You have to stand up when you’re being embarrassed. You have to say that it isn’t going to happen while you’re on the floor. It’s called heart. It’s called Laimbeer. It’s called Oakley. The Raptors need some.

Hoffa out

Somewhere far beyond the reach of Keon Clark and into the celestial heavens that blanket the sky, God intercepted a message from Earth. The message itself was far more than just a wish, for upon closer inspection it unfolded into a veritable petition of prayers from an exasperated but otherwise excited group of individuals who followed a basketball team known as the Toronto Raptors. Glad to fulfil these pleas and not wanting to stray from popular belief lest all chaos broke loose on Earth, God decided to work in strange and mysterious ways.

And so Pape was called up from the D League, and Hoffa injured his shoulder.

Hoffa’s injury has really been nagging him for a few weeks, and it was only today that he thought it was high time to have it diagnosed before it became a full blown catastrophe. Initial reports indicate he’ll be sitting out for at least a few games, pending the outcome of a second MRI.

In all likelihood, Matt Bonner will start in place of Hoffa tonight, but fans are hoping to catch a glimpse of Pape Sow tonight. Count me as one of them. You can call the D League anything you want, but the fact is that it’s still a league of fantastic ball players that would run circles around any team you put together at the YMCA. So for Pape to walk into that league after threading cob webs on the Raptors bench and lead the league in rebounds as well as establish himself as the 3rd highest scorer, there is no shame in feeling a little bit optimistic.

Tonight’s game should be a scoring showcase, as neither team will be interested in playing any defence. I would love for Pape to come into the game and throw down a monster dunk - a play that I have branded as a “Pape Smear.” At the very least, even if Pape stands there and looks silly, he’ll be able to do it at twice the speed of Araujo.

At any rate, if Sam Mitchell can not find any time in the next few games to play Pape for a good chunk of minutes, I will officially not mention him by name for the rest of the season. We are not talented enough to be worrying about playing time for our players. Expect the Raptors to win tonight.

Pape Sow’s the weasel

Whether or not it’s a good thing, I have returned from a short hiatus during which the Toronto Raptors blew out the New York Knicks and then lay face down in the closet when Utah and Chicago came knocking.

Firstly, I wanted to introduce RF’s newest writer and my partner in all crimes punishable by death, Jay. If you’re tired of listening to my misguided assays (yes, that is a real word), you can listen to his voice of reason bring some much needed basketball knowledge to this site. Don’t think that I can’t hear that collective sigh of relief out there.

I’m utterly astounded that before Pape Sow could even park himself back on the Raptors bench, Sam Mitchell publicly came out and denounced his value to the team. Because that is essentially what the team is saying when they’re refusing to allocate any playing time for him. Apparently the Raptors have a plethora of great players and not enough minutes to go around, and god forbid we cut Hoffa’s playing time for a kid who did everything Hoffa was drafted to do.

When will enough be enough? When will the Raptors contingent accept the fact that Hoffa was a project that failed worse than my grade 10 french. Despite what anyone on the coaching staff or management will tell you, the stats don’t lie. Rafael’s stats are, get this… WORSE this year than last, except for just one category.

He gets whistled on fundamental fouls that a baboon would be able to understand. He doesn’t score. He doesn’t rebound. He’s assisted the other team in scoring baskets on us. He got beat by Nate Robinson in a jump ball. What more could possibly happen for the team to want to dump him like yesterday’s lunch?

I made a promise to be good to Hoffa this year, but gosh darn it if he’s not making it extremely difficult for me to keep my mouth shut. The last time I saw Hoffa make a nifty play was when he was back in college. No wonder he loves playing against the Jazz in Utah - that’s the only place that actually recognizes him as a basketball player from his time at BYU.

Enough, enough. Pape Sow should get some minutes, because he earned them.

On a final note, the Raptors really need to pick up intensity. If I wanted 48 minutes of lethargy, I’d have sex with my girlfriend. I have to go make a new home for myself on the couch now.

Off day thoughts

It’s an off day for the team, who are preparing for their matchup against the surging New York Knicks, so I thought I’d talk about a few things on my mind.

Darrick Martin - The Raptors decided that he was valuable enough to keep around, so they guaranteed his contract for the remainder of this season. I’m not a big fan of D-Mart and aside from two key 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter of the Hawks game, I haven’t seen anything that would warrant another body advertising gatorade on the bench. Perhaps the Raptors found it beneficial to keep him for the intangible reasons, one of which apparently is his fluency in Spanish and his ability to help Jose Calderon adjust to NBA ball better. I don’t know how much translators go for these days, but with his salary I’m sure we could hire enough for everyone in Jose’s family. Put me on the record as saying this signing was a poor decision.

Mike James - I’ve been on this guy all month and everything I’ve said about him has now been beaten to death in the media. I’m just concerned that in a contract year, Mike is more interested in showcasing himself for this summer’s signing rather than playing smart ball for the betterment of the club. He’s taken some very questionable shots and has taken it upon himself to carry the team in the clutch when there are better shooting options available. Despite what he and what most of us want, the purpose of this basketball year is to improve the rookies, not to win games at any cost. That’s not my philosophy - it’s management’s. And if you’re not playing within the system, sooner or later you become a burden. Thanks for the hustle, but I’ll be glad when when you’re gone, Mike.

Mo Pete - If I could pick an MVP for the team this year, it’s gotta be Mo. Peterson is probably having the best season of his career, especially turning around his play on the road after abysmal road production last year. He was never one that really made a difference whether he was on the court or not, but his ejection from the New Jersey game really highlighted the departure of team defense and passion when he’s not in uniform.

The upcoming New York game - It’s going to be a battle of the rookies as Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, and David Lee showcase their skills against Charlie Villanueva, Jose Calderon, and Joey Graham. At this point in the season, I’d have to give the advantage to the Knicks.

Chris Bosh - For the love of God, if you haven’t already voted for the All Star game, give this kid a nod.

The last straw

In spite of the Raptors recent winning tendencies, the game versus the Charlotte Bobcats was boring enough to make me put off my ramblings until the night after.

To go so far as to pre-empt yesterday’s match by heralding it as a sure-win instead of a must-win is a testament to how lousy Toronto sports fans are. Granted, Charlotte was coming off a double overtime win the previous night and playing without Brevin Knight and Emeka Okafor, but seriously… Toronto fans need to stop pretending they know anything about sports.

If New York sports aficionados are known for the New York Minute, then I’d like to propose the Toronto Tick. I’ve never seen a city more schizophrenic. You ever go drinking with a group of strangers and meet that one girl who, in an inebriated state, can howl at the lamest joke one minute and then burst into tears the next? She’s definitely a born and bred Toronto sports fan.

I mean, come on people. The Toronto Raptors are 12 and 24. During post-game interviews, one reporter asked Sam Mitchell if he was disappointed that the Raptors played down to the Bobcats. Sam answered:

“We’ve got 12 wins. How are we going to play down to anyone? I would look like a knucklehead to stand here and say that. This is sports and no one is supposed to win. You’ve got to give the effort and the execution and do the things necessary to win.”

It’s the people who don’t give a rat’s behind about a team until they start stringing together victories that ask these kind of stupid questions. You see, bandwagoners aren’t interested in wasting time understanding the game- they’re more interested in joining any winning cause that will give them a false sense of belonging and overshadow their miserable existences.

If you don’t know anything about the game, then don’t make uneducated comments. Don’t go into the office the next day and say, “Gee, the Raps didn’t beat Charlotte by 30 points. They sucked.” Or ask about when playoff tickets are going on sale because you heard the word mentioned on the radio. Or ask how many ’slam dunks’ the team got.

Take some time to learn about the squad and about the game. Show that you’re in this for real, and not just because we’re winning more games. And above all, stick with it - through thick and thin. Be a fan.

Because the way I see it right now, there are more bandwagons parked outside the ACC than taxi cabs, and they’re doing Toronto sports a great disservice.

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