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  Sat, December 13, 2003


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Raps a fun-lovin' crew
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN

Most athletes, professional or amateur, old or young, want to have fun, fun, fun till someone takes their freedom away. A strong case can be made that players who are having fun will play better. But that may be a circular argument, since players who are playing well are bound to be having fun.

The key to long-term success, supposedly, is to strike the appropriate balance between fun and responsibility. Style of play often is at the heart of the matter.

"No, that's not overrated," said Raptors guard Alvin Williams, whose club experienced an immediate stylistic overhaul following the big trade with the Chicago Bulls.

"We definitely have a different structure now. We have more freedom. We may be a little more talented, but we still had talent before. It was just a different type of talent. We have different personnel and (coach Kevin O'Neill) has changed it up a little bit, so I think it's a good coaching job."

It was like a breath of fresh air when the Raptors put away the Washington Generals' playbook and started aspiring to be a junior version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

In the role of Curly Neal, Vince Carter. In the role of Meadowlark Lemon, Jalen Rose. In the role of Geese Ausbie, Chris Bosh. And playing himself, former Raptor and part-time Globetrotter Oliver Miller.

It seems like a bizarre parallel to draw, considering that earlier this season the Raptors' best offensive play was the one where they threw pails of confetti over their own heads.

The Raptors were a respectable 8-8 when they sent Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Chris Jefferies to the Bulls for Rose, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter. But at no point during those first 16 games did the Raptors appear to be having any fun at all, even during the wins.

"Any time there's a trade the personality of your team changes simply because of the personalities of the people in the trade," O'Neill said. "That's not a negative or a positive in my mind."

Well, with all due respect to O'Neill, attitudinally the change has been positive. Rightly or wrongly, the defensive-minded O'Neill was not comfortable granting his club much offensive freedom before the deal. He has said repeatedly since then that the more skilled a team is, the less structure it needs, and he claims he merely has responded accordingly.

Whatever the reason, players like Williams and Morris Peterson don't feel as if they are square pegs being shoved into round holes anymore. They don't dread coming to the gym.

They actually arehaving fun again.

"We're all human beings, we're all kids at heart, so I think it's very important there's a strong element of fun involved," Peterson said. "But we also have to realize this is our job. It's a fine line between those two."

Like any team, the Raptors have weaknesses and opponents are going to start exploiting them. That process began last night when the Raptors visited the Boston Celtics, the first club to see the Raptors twice since their paradigm shift.

DECISIONS

"I don't know how much teams are going to change how they defend us as time goes on," O'Neill said. "We're going to be simple on offence for as long as we have guys like Jalen and Vince. It will come down to guys on other teams making individual defensive plays and team decisions on whether to double-team or not. People are going to have to make decisions at some point and that's what we want.

"There are going to be nights when we're not going to play our best offensive basketball."

But win or lose, at least the Raptors now seem to be comfortable in their own skin.

And it's much more fun to watch athletes who are having fun themselves.









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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