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  Fri, February 27, 2004


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Grace period is over
Dissatisfied Raptors fans getting on not-so-new coach O'Neill's case

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

In a phone conversation late Wednesday night, a friend and Raptors fan mused, "I thought these games were the ones Kevin O'Neill was supposed to help us win."

By "these games," the fan was referring to the Raptors' 76-74 loss to the sub-mediocre Washington Wizards. And if the mood inside the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday was any indication, there were many others who felt the same way.

Now, as always, things must be qualified to reflect the Raptors' injury situation. They were missing three starters -- Vince Carter, Jalen Rose and Alvin Williams -- and they have a seriously size-challenged roster to begin with. No one expects O'Neill to be a miracle man.

But there definitely was a testy atmosphere in the building, most noticeably late in the second quarter (the Raptors scored only 28 first-half points) and late in the fourth quarter (the Raptors' final two offensive possessions were, well, interesting, to put it kindly).

Sometimes sports organizations make the mistake of thinking fans are stupid and Canadian basketball fans in particular are dismissed as unknowledgeable, but they're not. And dissatisfied fans have obvious ways of casting their votes.

BOO-BIRDS

There were a lot of empty seats in the building on Wednesday, despite an announced crowd of 17,291. And the leather-lunged boo-birds who did show up weren't shy about voicing their displeasure.

"Please, Kevin, make some substitutions."

"Come on, coach, try Lamond Murray again."

"Let 'em run a little, Kevin. This is boring."

"Why is (Jannero) Pargo running your offence?"

Now, yours truly always has believed a coach has the right to play whoever he wants to play. The fans and media don't get to watch practices or shootarounds, so coaches have exclusive information when it comes to each player's strengths, weaknesses and habits. It's the coach's call.

But given that, the only thing available for judgment is the team's performance. And even O'Neill has admitted this team has developed a disturbing pattern of giving away games in the final few possessions, even when its best players were healthy.

Carter and general manager Glen Grunwald are the traditional whipping-boys for this franchise, and there's ample fuel if you choose to pursue either front. But O'Neill is no victim here. He's one of only 29 men in the world to hold an NBA head-coaching position and by society's standards he is very well paid.

When asked on Wednesday if it felt weird to see a protege of his, Lawrence Frank, enjoying such success coaching the New Jersey Nets, O'Neill responded, "None of those guys (other coaches) is having as much fun as me. I've never looked at someone else and said, 'I wish I were him.' When I took this job I knew it wouldn't be easy, otherwise someone else still would have been doing it."

But speaking of not being easy, the game Wednesday was not easy to watch. The Raptors' final two offensive possessions -- an out-of-control drive by Roger Mason Jr., followed by a desperation three-point hurl by Pargo, who was playing at crunch time despite having been with the team only two days -- weren't the only things that went awry, but they served as lightning rods. With their audible groans as they left the arena, the fans seemed to be saying, "Kevin, we know you're facing some huge obstacles, but we expect you to come up with something better than that."

The Raptors' roster wasn't strong enough, or stable enough, to provide O'Neill with a true honeymoon period earlier this season. But now, apparently, his grace period with the paying customers is at an end, too.

The fans are irked with a lot of people in this organization, from top to bottom, and O'Neill -- now more than two-thirds of the way through his rookie campaign -- is a part of it, not an outside observer. His immunity has run out.









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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