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  Thu, September 25, 2003


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Reason to sweat
Coach O'Neill has his hands full with A.D.

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

The Antonio Davis saga has been victimless so far.

The Raptors organization wilfully pursued Davis and signed him to that long-term, big-bucks pact two summers ago. If the Raptors now would like to trade Davis but the enormity of that contract is making it difficult, they have no one to blame but themselves.

And Davis signed the contract willingly. The Raptors were the only team prepared to pay him that much money. Davis could have signed for less cash elsewhere. The Raptors did not hold a gun to his head. So now if he's unhappy in Toronto but the enormity of his contract is trapping him here, then he, too, has no one to blame but himself.

So Davis is not a victim and Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald is not a victim. But as training camp approaches, there is a potential innocent victim on the horizon.

His name is Kevin O'Neill.

The Raptors' new coach does not need this. He has enough to worry about without the prospect of his team's second-best player hopping on the first bus south. O'Neill simply was hired to do a job, but if that hiring caused additional friction between Davis and the Raptors hierarchy, you can't blame O'Neill for that, can you?

Now, you shouldn't worry about the other Raptors players being distracted by the tension surrounding Davis. It's usually laughable when the notion of athletes being distracted even is raised. If you think the players might get distracted, you're assuming they live in the same world as the rest of us. They don't.

Especially early in a season, pro basketball players get locked into a daily routine of practice, PlayStation, nightclub. They don't care about the big picture. They care about their own performance and their minutes. As long as they get paid, they don't lose sleep over the contractual or situational stylings of their teammates.

This is not to say they're insensitive, but they've been conditioned through their athletic lives to just keep shooting baskets. Case in point, Raptors guard Vince Carter made a telling comment the other day when asked about Davis.

"We've been through this before with Alvin Williams a couple of years ago," Carter said with a shrug, "and we did a good job of not making it a distraction."

We assume Carter was referring to the time when Williams was traded to the Boston Celtics, who then rescinded the deal and shipped Williams back to Toronto. The funny thing is, that situation really has no similarity to the Davis situation now. But interestingly, in Carter's mind they're the same thing. Just block it out, man.

Unfortunately, O'Neill and his staff are at far greater risk of being distracted by Davis.

It's not that the coaches are mentally weaker than the players. Hardly. If O'Neill could block this out, he would. But he can't, because he has to formulate a game plan and a team philosophy and it would be nice if he knew whether Davis was going to be around for the long haul. And on top of that, if Davis does stick around, just how open is he going to be to a completely new approach?

"I think everything is kind of headed in the right direction, but you don't know much about your team until you get out there," O'Neill said. "Any time you go into a season, there's the unknown of putting a team together and seeing how far it's going to go. It's important that we get ourselves an identity. That's something we need to establish early."

But establishing that identity will be tough -- or at least tougher -- if the Davis situation remains cloudy.

No matter what Davis says or does, nobody can get inside his head. Only he knows what his level of despair is. Does he personally want to leave? Does his family want him to get out? At almost 35 years old, would he rather play for a contender? Is he bitter because he believes his chosen candidate to coach the Raptors, Sam Mitchell, was given only token consideration? Is it all of those or none of those?

Grunwald and Bill Duffy, who represents Davis, both are in China right now to observe a tournament, so maybe they'll chat about these issues while sampling the local cuisine. But Grunwald isn't due back in Toronto till the middle of next week, so for now we have to assume Davis will be on hand for training camp.

Raptors fans finally got what they wanted in the form of a coaching change. Now they only can hope the Davis situation does not limit the new coach's ability to do his job.

This isn't Kevin O'Neill's fault. But it is his problem.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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