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  Sun, October 26, 2003


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It's still fan interference
Being popular hurts Raptors

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

The Raptors will hold an open practice today at the Air Canada Centre as long as the floor doesn't get wet.

Sarcasm aside, there isn't likely to be a repeat of what happened on Thursday in St. John's, Nfld., when condensation on the court forced the cancellation of an NBA exhibition game between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Raptors thought they had agreed to play a game near the Atlantic Ocean, not in it.

Anyway, what we have today in the form of an open practice (doors open at noon, forced fun begins at 1 p.m.) amounts to yet another distraction for the Raptors as they try to prepare for their regular-season opener against the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday. With that in mind, Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill will take some wise measures today.

"We're practising beforehand," O'Neill said.

So there will be a real practice in private followed by a fake practice in public, driving home the fact that the term "open practice" is a misnomer. "Free exhibition" is more appropriate, but fans undoubtedly will be grateful simply to watch the colour and movement, given what happened to the soggy saps in St. John's.

There sure is a lot that goes on with the Raptors that has nothing to do with basketball, isn't there?

True, the odd open practice, neutral-site pre-season game or non-NBA opponent doesn't seem like a drastic imposition. But it is not in the organization's best interests if O'Neill or any of his players feel their preparation time is being squeezed, because that plants the seed for excuses down the road.

This isn't something that happens maliciously, or even consciously. But there's no denying the Raptors locker room has been the excuse capital of Ontario over the past two years, barely edging out Queen's Park.

O'Neill could have used the would-be game in St. John's to fine-tune some problem areas and try a few new things.

"But we worked on a lot of them in practice (yesterday)," O'Neill said. "We'll be fine. We'll get our stuff done.

"It was a setback in terms of game experience, especially for a guy like (rookie) Chris Bosh. The more minutes he can play, the better it is for him. Any time he loses game time, be it due to foul trouble, wet floors or whatever, it kind of sets him back a little bit."

Raptors guard Vince Carter said that while he personally didn't mind having an extra day of rest, he felt sorry for the frustrated Maritimers.

"I know how important it was to the fans in Newfoundland," Carter said. "We apologize for it. If we could have played it, of course we would have. But it was a risky situation for both teams. So we just called it a day, and I think that was the best call."

Coincidentally, the day before the St. John's fiasco, O'Neill bluntly stated he was wary of neutral-site games because of all the little things that can go wrong. Yesterday he resisted the urge to say 'I told you so,' but his views on the matter are more deeply entrenched.

"It's a minor point, but besides (the wet floor), the backboards (in St. John's) were the old-style backboards, with more glass down below the rim," O'Neill said. "It's like, if I tried to put on a hockey game, I wouldn't do a very good job of it. I mean, I don't know much about doing it, so it's hard to match those things."

The marketing types at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., perhaps should rethink what it means to give the fans what they want. What fans want most of all is a winning team, so the simple approach is the most effective approach:

- The best way for the Raptors to secure and expand their fan base is not to suck.

- The best way not to suck is to be ready to play.

- The best way to be ready to play is to have as much unfettered preparation time as possible.

In the meantime, if you're planning to attend the open practice today, pack a beach towel or a fistful of napkins, just in case there's a flash flood.









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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