Raptors all over the panic button this troubled year

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

So this is what the Raptors have come to, picking through the recycle bins that other NBA teams have left by the curb. Jannero Pargo's in. Dion Glover's in. Vin Baker's available, but he's not available. Rod Strickland's on board? Better drop Pargo.

So we signed Pargo through to the end of the season rather than giving him a 10-day contract. Uh, well, we can't worry about that. Strickland is absolutely the answer to our problems, right up until the Los Angeles Clippers or the Golden State Warriors waive somebody next week.

KNICKS TONIGHT

And so it goes as the Raptors try to salvage a season that is in danger of plunging off the rails. Their home game tonight against the New York Knicks, marking the return of former Raptors coach and current Knicks boss Lenny Wilkens, looms as important in the post-season chase.

But then, the Raptors have played a lot of important games lately in which the circumstances did not make a noticeable difference.

And, as a result, panic has replaced planning.

This is not exclusively general manager Glen Grunwald's fault, or coach Kevin O'Neill's fault, or team president Richard Peddie's fault, or marquee player Vince Carter's fault.

And no, it isn't just about injuries. It's about everything -- philosophies, judging talent, judging character, coaching, players' attitudes, ownership, overall direction.

Above all, this is about desperation. The Raptors are dishevelled, folks, and there are widespread differences of opinion within the organization as to what should be done about it.

In no way is this meant to disrespect Strickland, who will become a Raptor today. If Toronto is where he wants to be at this awkward stage of his career, then the veteran point man can help.

But this just doesn't look good, does it? There are 21 games remaining in the season and the Raptors have made scanning the waiver wire a full-time job, with benefits and a company car.

Thus, it is impossible to sell the notion that the Raptors have a clearly defined long-range plan. They had something of a short-term plan this season, but it has been blown to smithereens, partially due to factors beyond their control and partially due to self-inflicted wounds.

When Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Chris Jefferies were sent to the Chicago Bulls for Jalen Rose, Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter on Dec. 1, the Raptors hierarchy figured its reconfigured roster would be good enough to secure a playoff berth.

And that presumably would be okay, especially coming off a 24-win campaign. The fans would be placated for a few months and the whole operation could be re-evaluated in the summer.

But there have been more potholes on the road to the post-season than there are on the Don Valley Parkway.

First, the Raptors' lack of bulk has proved to be debilitating rather than merely annoying, and Grunwald was unable to address it at the trade deadline. Second, the club has not responded to O'Neill the way management initially hoped.

After a passive loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, O'Neill's assessment that his team essentially lays an egg "every six or seven games" was jarring because of its accuracy.

NO FAVOURS

Everything is up in the air now. No one is 100% safe. Grunwald does not have a contract beyond this season and while the scuttlebutt continues to suggest he is going to get a new pact, his team currently is not doing him any favours.

O'Neill obviously would prefer not to go into the final year of his contract as a lame-duck coach, but arguably nothing has happened on the court to warrant an extension at this point.

The Eastern Conference is very forgiving, so all is not lost just yet. This actually still may work out for the Raptors.

But if it does, it will be more by accident than by design.


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