Ball in O'Neill's courtCoach must make GM Grunwald's changes pay off
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
Glen Grunwald has done his job. Now it's Kevin O'Neill's turn.
With a huge trade set to be finalized today, the bulk of the pressure within the Raptors organization has shifted from the general manager to the coach, at least temporarily.
Grunwald, the beleaguered GM who is in the final season of his contract, has acquired Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter from the Chicago Bulls for Antonio Davis, Jerome (Junk Yard Dog) Williams and Chris Jefferies. This after Grunwald was sold on the concept that the Raptors' lineup as previously constituted was not talented enough offensively to compete consistently in the NBA.
O'Neill was one of the main proponents of that line of thinking, through both word (his pleas to Grunwald and Raptors president Richard Peddie) and deed (his indictment of certain elements of the roster as evidenced by his rotation). The board of directors at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., obviously was distressed, too, since a team that has scored fewer than 70 points five times in 16 games is unlikely to develop into a hot commodity at the box office. That the board agreed to part with a fan favourite like Williams speaks to the level of concern.
Exit Davis (who wanted to go), Williams (who wanted to stay) and Jefferies (a throw-in). Enter Rose (a high-maintenance gunner), Marshall (more finesse than brawn) and Baxter (an intriguing prospect). Hello scoring punch, goodbye rebounding.
Now it's up to O'Neill, a noted defensive specialist whose offensive vision is on trial, to make it work.
The general assumption is Grunwald probably is not done dealing. The Raptors are short on tall right now, so look for Morris Peterson to be shopped aggressively. But for the time being, the roster is what it is, and O'Neill's first task will be to settle upon a starting lineup and a second unit that can combine to maximize his club's strengths and minimize its weaknesses.
O'Neill does not like having more than nine players in his rotation. Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Rose and Marshall are shoo-ins to play significant minutes. Partially by O'Neill's choice and partially due to a lack of viable options, Michael Curry, Alvin Williams, Lamond Murray and Peterson will see the court, too.
That's eight guys, leaving room for one more, presumably either Mengke Bateer or Jerome Moiso, neither of whom are favourites of O'Neill. This is assuming, of course, that O'Neill sees the light and limits frenetic point guard Milt Palacio to spot duty.
So who do you start?
The only two players who are guaranteed to be included in the starting five are Carter and Rose, but Marshall is a good bet, too. The rookie Bosh still may be best suited to coming off the bench, but given the current circumstances, his permanent promotion is likely.
Unless O'Neill wants to bite the bullet and start either Mengke or Moiso, the candidates for the final starting spot are Williams, Murray, Curry and Peterson. The personal vote here would be for Williams, since he has been coming on lately and responds when he feels wanted.
But there's a strong chance O'Neill will opt for Curry, whose lack of offence won't be quite so glaring with Carter, Rose, Marshall and Bosh on the court together.
No one is expecting a miracle right away. The size-challenged Raptors are entering an adjustment period, beginning tomorrow night in Philadelphia against the 76ers, that could be equal parts confusing and chaotic.
But O'Neill has to be up to the task.
If we drift into the new calendar year and this team still can't score, fingers will start pointing at the coach.