The Last WordA banged up Vince Carter can't let Lenny Wilkens have the satisfaction of facing the Raptors today with Carter in street clothes. Carter must dress.
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
If Vince Carter doesn't play today, Lenny Wilkens will be thinking to himself, "Hmmm, typical."
Wilkens, the new head coach of the New York Knicks, never would verbalize such an emotion. But since he chooses to believe the only reason he lost his job as coach of the Raptors was that so many players -- including Carter -- were injured for huge chunks of last season, Wilkens undoubtedly would experience an inner sense of vindication.
WANT TO DRESS
That's just one of the reasons why Carter, who is listed as day-to-day with a strained right quadriceps, should want to dress today when the Raptors visit the Knicks.
It's a holiday -- Martin Luther King Day -- in the United States, which explains the 1 p.m. tipoff at Madison Square Garden. So as far as Canadian hoops fans are concerned, if you're a working person with normal hours or a student who actually goes to class, you may miss this clash of the non-titans. But for those who are taking a sick day or are presently incarcerated, there are plenty of storylines, not only involving Carter and Wilkens, but also Knicks president Isiah Thomas, who was the first general manager in Raptors history.
Since Thomas hired Wilkens the Knicks are 2-0, having beaten the Seattle SuperSonics, who are in a free-fall, and the Chicago Bulls, who are 15 games below .500. But hey, the Knicks (18-24) aren't prize pigs themselves, so victories of any description are welcome in the Big Apple.
The Raptors (20-18) have continued their schizophrenia on their four-game trip, which wraps up today. They coughed up a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, registered a gutsy overtime win against the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday despite the fact Carter was hurt in the second quarter, then followed that up with a fatally flat effort in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.
Apparently the Raptors are better at adjusting on the fly when Carter goes down than they are at starting a game without him, as evidenced by their eight-point first quarter against the Hawks.
It's too bad for the Raptors that they aren't firing on all cylinders as they prepare to meet their former coach. Centre Chris Bosh looked rusty -- especially at the free-throw line, where he converted only two of nine attempts -- in his return to action Saturday after missing the previous four games with a right knee injury. Maybe Wilkens will borrow from the "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy today by initiating a "Bang-a-Bosh" philosophy, putting the kid at the line as often as possible if the game is close down the stretch.
Speaking of Bosh, when a 19-year-old rookie is your No. 1 inside presence and is being counted upon so completely, you can understand why Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald phoned unemployed NBA veteran Charles Oakley a few weeks ago. Sources indicated that Oakley, an ex-Raptor who yesterday was scheduled to attend the Carolina Panthers-Philadelphia Eagles NFL playoff game, has not called Grunwald back yet.
Oakley apparently has received and rejected repeated overtures this season from Jeff Van Gundy, who coached Oakley in New York and now is coaching the Houston Rockets.
However, Oak's first choice is to join a team that has a chance to win a title, rather than a team like the Raptors or Rockets that likely will have to upset somebody to advance past the first round of the playoffs. At this point, Oak is willing to wait a little longer to try to find the perfect situation, but he may fine-tune his criteria as time rolls on.
In any event, Oakley won't be a Raptor today. But it certainly would mean something important to the club if Carter is wearing purple and black, and we aren't talking about a snappy suit and tie.
Even if Carter isn't healthy enough to see any court time, he should not be in street clothes. That, after all, would provide Wilkens with some quiet satisfaction.
If Carter cares at all about optics, he'll be in uniform today.