Minor tweaking

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:05 AM ET

Raptors centre Rafael Araujo deserves a better deal than the one he has right now.

In a perfect world, the big Brazilian would be playing in Fayetteville or some other NBDL team, developing his game, rather than being thrown to the wolves as a member of the Raptors day after day.

That isn't a knock on the organization. When it comes to developing young talent, the NBA system, if you can call it that, is archaic compared to the NHL and Major League Baseball.

Once an NBA team drafts a player, there's nowhere to send him for development, unless you want to cast him adrift as a free agent. Think how much better Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson has it over his Raptors counterpart Rob Babcock. The Leafs draft hot-shot defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo and send him down to St. John's for development. There's less pressure on the kid and the team can go about its merry way with a full roster of players who belong in the big leagues. Babcock would love nothing more than to be able to send his two young players, Araujo and Pape Sow, to the minor leagues for seasoning, without losing their rights.

But that's not the way it is in the NBA. You ship a player out, you lose him. So, instead of playing in the NBDL, Araujo remains in the Raptors pressure-cooker, trying to develop his game while fans and the media howl about how bad he is. As for Sow, well, he rarely plays at all and his development as a pro is basically nil.

Hopefully the NBA will be able to convince the Players Association that it is in the best interest of their clients to be able to set up a minor-league system in which teams can ship players down for seasoning while still under contract to the big clubs. Before such a deal becomes a reality, it has to be negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement. Whether that happens this year or down the road is uncertain. The NBAPA might go for it if certain concessions are met, such as: Only players with less than a certain amount of time served in the NBA can be sent down. And, there would be no cut in salary if a player is demoted.

Players like Araujo or Detroit's Darko Milicic initially might be against such a deal, but in the long-run, it would be better for everyone.

FANS WILL BE IN MOURNING

Raptors fans can't help but feel their noses are being rubbed in it every time Vince Carter picks up 30 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the New Jersey Nets.

Well, brace for something worse. The best team in the NBA right now is the Miami Heat and just imagine how it will feel if the Heat win the championship and the TV cameras show Alonzo Mourning parading around the court with the trophy over his head? Hey, that could very well happen. The Heat are 52-16 with a bullet.

Mourning, of course, refused to report to Canada when Toronto traded for him in the Carter deal. After collecting millions from the Raptors for not reporting, Mourning signed with Miami and is averaging 4.7 minutes, 2.10 rebounds and is shooting 43% from the field in seven games with the Heat.

IT'S A MAD, MAD WORLD

Steve Francis fell into a photographer after driving to the hoop in Seattle and then kicked him, earning him a three-game suspension from the NBA. The wildly talented and inconsistent Magic guard initially denied kicking the photog but later recalled the incident and explained that, as he tumbled, his momentum carried his legs into the photographer.

Part of the problem with pro sports is that coaches and officials are afraid to take a tough stand against their millionaire players. Said Magic interim head coach Chris Jent: "When (Francis) steps between the lines he becomes something that makes you great. But if that energy and spirit goes in the wrong direction it can hurt you." Wouldn't be refreshing if Jent said something like: "Steve Francis is a jerk and his selfishness hurt our team."

Of course, there's the other side. It's funny how some players are considered jerks by the media but when it comes to the fans, they're actually good guys. Case in point, Allen Iverson. A.I. is one of the few players in the league who, when handed a cup of water at the Air Canada Centre during the game, will actually turn to the ball boy, smile and say thank you. Small gestures like that are noticed.

EVEN NICE GUYS SNAP

- Canada's Steve Nash has been described as intense on the court but very likable and mild-mannered off. However, during a recent game in Memphis, Nash lost it after his Phoenix Suns allowed eight points in 45 seconds against the over-achieving Grizzlies. After he was kneed in the thigh accidentally, Nash screamed during a timeout, kicked a bench chair, threw a chair and then angrily addressed his teammates. The Suns then settled down and won 97-91. Leadership comes in many ways.

TRADES YOU DON'T MAKE

- Portland Trail Blazers forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim supposedly was on the Raptors' radar screen during those heady days prior to the NBA trade deadline. Perhaps it's better Abdur-Rahim never landed in T.O. He certainly would not have brought a winning tradition to the squad. The former Vancouver Grizzles player has the dubious distinction of suffering the most losses by any current player in the NBA -- 470 and counting in just over 680 games. Not exactly the kind of guy to teach younger players about winning.

THE SHAQ SHOW

- According to the Miami Herald, ESPN will carry a six-episode reality series about Heat centre Shaquille O'Neal. Cameras have followed Shaq at games and with his family the past few months.


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