Is bigger better for the Raptors?

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

The Raptors' car needs service. The question is whether the muffler must be replaced because it's falling off in chunks, or if there merely is a crack in the windshield and they can keep driving for a while. Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill would like to get bigger and tougher -- his team, not him personally.

"I'd like to get bigger and tougher, too," O'Neill said.

But do the Raptors consider themselves to be so acutely in need of a height infusion they would consider pursuing troubled ex-Houston Rocket Eddie Griffin?

The Rockets yesterday released the 21-year-old Griffin, who has been charged with felony assault following an incident in October.

The Raptors are rumoured to be one of the teams curious about the 6-foot-10 Griffin, a third-year pro who has not played this season.

"I'm not sure," Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald said last night when asked if his team has any interest in Griffin. "We would have to check it out."

Griffin will be waived but only teams with enough salary-cap room to take on his $2.3-million US contract can claim him. If Griffin passes waivers, he'll be a free agent.

Griffin allegedly punched a woman and fired a gun in her direction as she fled his house. While nothing has been proven, a player with that kind of baggage doesn't fit the squeaky-clean image Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., has cultivated. But Raptors president Richard Peddie said there is no blanket policy.

"I'd have to really listen to the advice I received from Glen and his staff, because I'm unfamiliar with the details of Eddie Griffin's situation," Peddie said yesterday. "I do believe people deserve another chance. And as I understand it, Eddie Griffin has gone through some counselling. But we would need to understand exactly what happened and how he is doing mentally and physically.

"The concept of bringing pride to the community is an important one in our organization. I believe athletes are role models. So there's a lot to weigh and every case is weighed individually."

The Raptors have played 10 games since they gave up size for scoring in the six-player trade with the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors have won six of those games, including a 105-99 overtime triumph over the visiting New York Knicks last night. Of the four games the Raptors lost, only one -- last Sunday at home against Miami -- truly was disappointing.

Yet there's an atmosphere of urgency regarding the Raptors' roster that may not be entirely warranted.

"We have a size need, there's no debating it," O'Neill said. "How soon we do something, you'd have to ask Glen. I'll coach whoever we have. It has hurt us, though, obviously."

COMFORTABLE

Has O'Neill made up his mind that the little-used big men employed by the Raptors, like Jerome Moiso, Mengke Bateer or Michael Bradley, have no help to offer?

"I'm not sure of that," O'Neill said. "At present I'm comfortable with the three guys we're playing (Chris Bosh, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter). But things change in this league and they change quickly. It's one of those things I hope changes. I hope there's some help there."

The Raptors might sign senior citizen Tyrone Hill. They might find a way to trade for one of the Knicks' excess big men, like Kurt Thomas (who O'Neill described as a "psycho," and he meant it as a compliment), Clarence Weatherspoon or Othella Harrington. Or they might be intrigued by Griffin, the No. 7 pick in the 2001 draft who has a huge up-side if his head is screwed on right.

But at 14-12, do the Raptors really need more change right now? Or would they be better to wait until closer to the trade deadline, when they'll know more about their reconfigured club and better scenarios may have presented themselves?

The Raptors are beating most of the teams they should beat. The car isn't running all that roughly.

Maybe they don't need roadside assistance just yet.


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