Lack of size remains centre of attention
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN
Maybe the Raptors could fill their gaping hole at centre by having Roger Mason, Jr., sit atop Milt Palacio's shoulders. "That's not a bad concept," Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald said before his club's 78-68 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last night.
"Milt has an injured wrist, too, so he could use his lower body to contribute. But we might want to test that out in practice before we unveil it in a game."
Mason is 6-foot-5 and Palacio is 6-foot-3, so with the former on the latter's shoulders, we're talking about a 12-foot-plus presence that would weigh about 415 pounds. Bulk like that brings to mind football rather than basketball, which perhaps explains why Mason showed up for the game last night wearing a No. 17 Doug Williams retro Washington Redskins jersey, with matching toque.
In any event, Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill showed incredible discipline by choosing not to deploy the Mason-Palacio secret weapon on what turned out to be a very frustrating night for the home side.
The Raptors were missing usual starting centre Chris Bosh -- a 6-foot-10, 19-year-old rookie who really isn't a centre at all but has been playing there by default -- because of a sprained right knee. O'Neill inserted 6-foot-8 Lonny Baxter at centre, but neither Baxter (one rebound in 28 minutes) nor power forward Donyell Marshall (two points in 30 minutes) matched the Clippers' Chris Wilcox (17 points on 8-for-10 shooting and eight rebounds) and Elton Brand (19 points and 14 rebounds).
"Just because Chris Bosh is hurt, healthy guys can't play with energy and play hard?" O'Neill asked.
Bosh's absence hardly was the only reason the puzzlingly flat Raptors lost, but it prompted thought about just how long it has been since the Raptors had a true, low-post-friendly, count-on-everyday centre. Like, can you say never?
"Come on, we've had some centres through the years," Grunwald protested, although his tone revealed mock incredulity. "What about the Big O, Oliver Miller? We had Zan Tabak. We had the still-beloved Acie Earl. And Sharone Wright, too -- just when he started to play well, he got hurt.
"But I know what you're getting at," Grunwald conceded.
Centres don't grow on trees, although it's preferable if they've grown like trees. Widespread strength at certain positions is a cyclical thing, although Grunwald cited another factor.
"This is just my opinion," Grunwald cautioned, "but I think it has something to do with the fact the NBA has expanded rather significantly. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, and even into the 1980s, there were fewer teams and the talented big men weren't spread quite so thin.
"I think it's as much that as anything. And enough time has passed that most teams have gotten away from the concept of playing with a traditional centre."
With Bosh still listed as day-to-day, Grunwald may sign a journeyman big man to a 10-day contract. That could help short-term, but long-term what can the Raptors do? Teams that have quality big men aren't anxious to trade them. The only big-picture answer may be to take a chance on another seven-footer -- allegedly flawed or not -- in the draft.
"Maybe that's what you have to do," Grunwald said. "Someone like Zydrunas Ilgauskas (of the Cleveland Cavaliers) was drafted fairly late in the first round (20th in 1996). That's the kind of thing we were hoping for when we took Aleks Radojevic (No. 12 in 1999). And Jamaal Magloire (of the New Orleans Hornets) was drafted late, too (19th in 2000). We would have taken him at No. 21 had he still been there (the Raptors wound up with Morris Peterson).
"Perhaps you need to take a gamble. There are a couple of guys in this year's draft who might turn out to be okay."
That was of little comfort to the Raptors last night. If Bosh isn't ready for the game tomorrow against the Portland Trail Blazers, someone had best start sewing Mason's and Palacio's jerseys together.