Get Mutombo? Stop dreamingRaps should shy away from centre
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronro Sun
Proceed with caution, Raptors. Dikembe Mutombo could be another Hakeem Olajuwon.
We can understand why Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill would be infatuated by the 7-foot-2 Mutombo. Coaches should be concerned about now, not the future. So if O'Neill's defensive system could benefit from an imposing shot-blocker, and Mutombo's arrival might win the team an extra game or two this season, why wouldn't O'Neill be interested?
But Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald should remember the failed Olajuwon experiment. And if Grunwald, who has only a year left on his own contract, talks himself into temporary amnesia, then someone in the Raptors' ownership may have to step in and provide some sober second thought.
Not that Mutombo automatically will become a Raptor because the team decides it wants him. Mutombo, who the Raptors tried to acquire through trades in recent months, is set to become a free agent after it was announced this weekend that the New Jersey Nets are going to buy out his contract.
There will be a number of clubs lined up for Mutombo's services, including the Raptors, the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Indiana Pacers and the Dallas Mavericks. It says something about the dearth of centres in the NBA that a player who is 37 years old (allegedly) and is being cast aside by a team with championship aspirations is a hot commodity.
Mutombo likely would prefer to join a contender, and if that were his only concern, the Raptors would be eliminated. But he does have family connections in Toronto.
His presence here would be good news for the local media. Mutombo is a great quote. Not as caustic or ludicrous as Charles Oakley, but great just the same.
The fans would love Mutombo, too. He's a character.
But is signing Mutombo the best thing for the long-term health of the Raptors?
Having seen Mutombo at close range during the NBA final last spring, one was left with two lingering impressions.
First, he was very self-absorbed. On off-days when he met with the media, all he could talk about was his own frustrations over lack of minutes and his cloudy future with the Nets. It's true the media was leading him down the path by asking questions relating to his personal situation, but rest assured, you didn't have to be Barbara Walters to get Mutombo to talk about himself.
Second, he appeared incapable of impacting a game for more than five minutes, after which he would disappear in a fog of huffing and puffing. Maybe he wasn't in the best condition because he hadn't been playing very much. But an ability to contribute only in bursts is typical of players who have reached Mutombo's advanced years.
It's worth noting that some Raptors observers are wondering if Antonio Davis is too old for this edition of the team, and he's two and a half years younger than Mutombo.
During an interview last week, Davis was asked about shouldering the load at centre again for the Raptors this season. He glanced around the practice facility at the Air Canada Centre, shook his head and said, "Well, I don't think I'm going to be shouldering it alone. We've got, like, 20 big guys. Somebody should be able to help."
Davis' point was that every year the Raptors' roster undergoes an overhaul, which drives him crazy. But his observation is significant in another way when considering the addition of Mutombo. Why do the Raptors have all these young, big guys around if they're not going to play them?
Granted, none of them is a true centre. But the last true centre the Raptors pursued was Olajuwon, and that should have left a sour taste in their mouths.
Olajuwon is remembered as the Moby Dick of bad signings. To be fair to the Raptors, the Dream did not live up to his end of the bargain, showing up for his first training camp out of shape and with a startlingly selfish attitude.
That said, the Raptors could have found out Olajuwon was likely to be out of shape and selfish simply by speaking to anyone in the metropolitan Houston area before signing him. Yes, Hakeem stole his money, but the Raptors did not do their homework.
Olajuwon bristled at playing a limited role. Recent history suggests Mutombo would react similarly.
Be careful, Raptors. Exercise due diligence with regard to Mutombo. Don't just fall in love with a name.