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  Mon, December 1, 2003


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The Last Word
Raptors fans have been clamoring for a trade to boost scoring for some time. Dwindling attendance at the ACC seems to have brought the message home.

By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

So, why now?

Why did Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald pull the trigger on what will be the defining move of the season?

After all, the Raptors subjected their fans to three years of Lenny Wilkens operating long past his best-before date.

It's not like Grunwald has an itchy trigger finger. He hasn't made a trade of real consequence since the 2001 draft day deals that brought Chris Childs, Jerome Williams and Eric Montross to Toronto.

With few exceptions, Grunwald has been willing to stay the course. He refused to deal Tracy McGrady, despite abundant evidence that McGrady had no plans to remain in Toronto once free agency kicked in.

Grunwald was ready to stick with then-coach Butch Carter through Carter's ridiculous lawsuit against Marcus Camby and his incendiary remarks about a league-wide conspiracy to get Vince Carter playing in a U.S. city. Only when Carter tried to steal his job, did Grunwald act.

He kept Charles Oakley for three years despite Oakley's constant stream of criticism and his habit of punching opposing players during shootarounds.

So why, with the season only a month old, did Grunwald send the disgruntled Antonio Davis, the delightful Williams and Chris Jefferies, who has not yet earned an adjective, to the Bulls for a noble workman in Donyell Marshall, a widebodied work in progress in Lonny Baxter and the enigmatic talent known to the NBA world as Jalen Rose.

DEAL HAPPENED

On the surface, the deal happened because Davis had relinquished the last strands of leadership he had once so assiduously coveted. The return of Vince Carter to superstar form and Davis' own fatigue made that status impossible.

Davis will play well in Chicago, better than he ever would in Toronto, but not quite as well as when he played his best in the 2002 playoffs. He is 35, never a first-tier player and a reluctant centre who could not find satisfaction in a Pharaoh's wages and an appreciative public.

From a public relations angle, the deal works. Williams was a tough loss but his future with coach Kevin O'Neill wasn't rosy.

Rose, meanwhile, possesses a highly polished public persona. He wins awards from journalists for accessibility. He does not blow off reporters but, be warned, fast point guards blow by Jalen Rose.

This was a deal dictated by the basketball fans of Toronto and those few scattered in the neighbouring pastures.

The numbers that matter are the following: Halloween night, Raps at home to Washington, 14,183 spectators; Nov. 9, Raps at home to Denver, 16,888 spectators; Nov. 23, Raps at home to Milwaukee, 17,702 spectators. The Air Canada Centre holds 19,800 for basketball.

Those are respectable numbers in most cities, but not in Toronto.

Despite their dreadful play in the 2002-03 season, and Carter losing half the season to injury, the Raptors did not draw fewer than 17,382 for any game last year. They sold out five of their first seven home dates.

This season, the Raps have sold out just two of their seven home games. Twice they have drawn fewer fans than at any time last year. The gate is down about 1,300 fans a night from an average of 18,964 last season.

Look, the notion that Rose -- a shoot-first, guard-last player -- could be recast as the spirited point guard the Raps so desperately need is about as chancy as they come.

Who knows? Rose might find in Carter the player he needs to bloat the perception of his ball distribution skills into justification for another contract. Probably not, but it's possible.

But the Raps were motivated by a widening dissatisfaction from the paying fan.

And in a town where the Maple Leafs rule the sporting consciousness as if by divine decree, it's nice to see a team in touch with its public.









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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