New Era or New Dilemma for the Raptors?

By Michelle Mayers
Updated: February 16, 2005

In Toronto, there are as many questions off the court as there are on it.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – A wise individual once coined the saying “united we stand, divided we fall”. It was a powerful truism then, and it remains the same today. The Toronto Raptors’ 106 – 91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre on February 11th inspired yet another level of frustration for Toronto fans and players alike, while simultaneously validating growing speculation regarding the divisions between the members of this team, which are apparently causing them to fall down.

When it’s not point guard Rafer Alston and head coach Sam Mitchell waging a war of words (and rumored fisticuffs), seemingly on a daily basis, it’s Vince Carter’s mother stirring up controversy all the way from New Jersey. According to Michelle Carter, Mitchell allegedly had a fight in the training room with her son prior to his trade in December of last year. She also claims this confrontation resulted in the coach being slammed onto a massage table. Consequently, now the buzz is that Sam fights with his players.

Coach Mitchell vehemently denies any such altercation occurred. “This is Toronto, and if Vince Carter and I were actually fighting in the training room, I would think, ‘cause you guys find out everything else, you would have found that out 5 months ago when we were in there joking”.

Sam maintains that what transpired was nothing more than a joke. A joke he routinely makes with his players – teasing them about being old and in need of massage. This is what Mitchell claims he said to Vince while he (Mitchell) was receiving a massage, after which Carter jumped on him in joking response. To be perfectly honest, the entire allegation seems rather calculated and somewhat convoluted, but despite this writer’s impressions, the situation has clearly compounded the ever-growing laundry list of internal distractions plaguing this club.

The players have said little about this issue, as the only Dino present in the massage room with Mitchell and Carter that day was Alvin Williams. Chris Bosh, Jalen Rose and Rafer Alston were questioned about the alleged incident, but they didn’t seem overly concerned about the matter. Their greatest concern was the lack of success the team’s been having of late, as they have lost their last four games.

Prior to the recent four-game skid, way back in December, Sam Mitchell made a very controversial, yet courageous coaching decision, in an attempt to find the best offensive/defensive balance for his team. His decision to bring Jalen Rose off the bench as the 6th man, and to start newly acquired Eric Williams was met with great resentment and resistance from the 10-year veteran Rose. But you know what? The numbers speak for themselves. With Rose coming off the bench and Williams starting, Toronto won eight of 12 games. Since Jalen has now been reinstated in the starting five, the Raptors have lost six out of eight games.

Statistically, the Dinos’ opponents’ shooting percentages have increased as well with Rose as a starter. The Raptors were successful in holding 8 of their 12 opponents to under 100 points with Eric Williams starting. Conversely, since adding Rose back to the starting lineup, seven of their last eight contests have resulted in their opponents scoring over 100 points. What’s more, Eric Williams, who incidentally is the Raptors best defensive player, has joined the band of disgruntled Dino’s, claiming he wants to be traded.

Since his initial statement, Eric Williams seems to have reconsidered his position somewhat, but has no intention of retracting what he said. “ I’m disappointed with the ups and downs…it’s not about being professional, sometimes you express where you’re at, at the time. Maybe I could have approached them before making a statement, but maybe they could have approached me and told me what was going on”. Eric made this statement after two consecutive ‘DNP’s without explanation. On this night, Eric once again did not start and played a total of eight minutes.

Not only has this recent turn of events made the Vince Carter trade engineered by General Manager Rob Babcock appear inutile, this writer believes it has completely disrupted the rebuilding process and compromised the stability that this franchise so greatly needs.

“I think so many nights, not only are we giving up size, we’re giving up athleticism”, remarked Sam Mitchell. Admittedly, this was the main fear associated with the Carter trade in the first place. Despite the fact that the former Toronto star was not demonstrating the maturity or providing the effort required to lead his teammates, the chief concern was that in his absence, the Raptors would be left with limited talent and lack of depth, in an already depleted pool of resources. While you could certainly make arguments that would support this view, I believe it equally vital to acknowledge that this team has managed to regroup valiantly at times, amidst all the changes and transition.

With this in mind, I believe the solution for this drama is – if something is working, don’t mess with it! If it’s not broke, don’t fix it! Jalen Rose was competing fiercely coming off the bench, injecting the kind of intensity the team needed at the appropriate time. So if he wanted to whine and complain about not getting the start, they should have just let him instead of giving into him. He would have eventually realized that his crying was immature, and that he in fact is a greater asset to his team in that capacity. After all, it’s about the team isn’t it? C’mon, Jalen, take one for the team! Suck it up for the team!

Only time will reveal how Mitchell and his coaching staff intend to rebuild this team. One thing is sure though, amidst all the confusion is a young man with tremendous potential and talent, a humble yet driven player, possessing a champion spirit. To that end, this writer advises the powers that be to get it going, and get it right, before Toronto botches up an opportunity to secure a long term commitment with CB4, a.k.a. Chris Bosh.

That’s all boys and girls….. I’m out!

Edited / Karl James Kabasele