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  Tue, March 16, 2004


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Woeful Raptors being left behind

By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

One moment in time seemed to change everything.

Vince Carter, up in the air, throwing up a series-winning jump shot that didn't win a series. And it almost has been as though time has stopped or been in reverse for the Raptors since that playoff afternoon in Philadelphia.

The notion that Carter could be a champion and a leader.

The idea that the Raptors were next on the contenders list.

The thinking -- it was even there for ownership when this NBA season began -- that this was a team capable of 45 wins or more, capable of challenging in the Eastern Conference, capable of being anything but the disaster it has, in fact, been.

For three long seasons after the clang of a missed Philadelphia jump shot the Raptors have changed coaches and players and philosophies and uniform colours but what they can't seem to get past is an atmosphere of confusion and disappointment and a string of bad luck and bad decisions.

Two years ago, they might have won a playoff series but only if Chris Childs had bothered to know the score of the game he was playing in.

Last year, between Lenny Wilkens' shrugging and Vince Carter limping and Antonio Davis hoping for another place to play, they just got worse and worse.

The great conspirator, Kevin O'Neill, was hired to change all that. He was a screamer, a demanding maniac some said, a defensive mind who would bring responsibility to a team which long ago had given up on the concept.

He has done some good work and he has done some undoing of his own reputation, all at the same time.

His not-so-quiet questioning of his roster or the talent supplied him by general manager Glen Grunwald has made him the perfect Raptors coach. In a twisted way, he fits the mould of the those who came before him.

Isiah Thomas almost punched out Brendan Malone before he slid a pink slip under his hotel door room and before he insisted upon having his coach sign a confidentiality clause upon his firing.

The next coach, Darrell Walker, was best known for his take on Tracy McGrady.

"Three years from now, he'll be out of the league. He doesn't have what it takes to play in the NBA."

After that, Butch Carter was hired. He got the best and the most out of Vince Carter, which makes Butch unique because no one else has found a way to turn on the passion that seems there only when the moment finds itself.

Carter could coach Carter -- he just couldn't coach himself, and no longer does he have anything to do with the NBA.

From Carter they went to Lenny Wilkens, who was about as interesting as Robert Archibald in a slam dunk competition. The team played to the beat of its coach -- and played flat and passionless and disinterested most of the time.

The Raptors could have taken on Wilkens' personality had he had any.

And so began the Kevin O'Neill era, which may be brief.

In the Eastern Conference this season, all you have to do is show up half the time and you make the playoffs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were well below the Raptors before they drafted LeBron James, made some astute trades and hired Paul Silas to coach. The Milwaukee Bucks had traded most of their roster away when they hired Terry Porter, a hot commodity, to coach.

The Raptors hired O'Neill, who if he had his choice would slow down Chopin's Minute Waltz and make it 90 seconds.

It is one thing that the Raptors have a CEO without a contract, but they also have a general manager in a lame-duck position and a coach who may or may not be on his last legs, and a forward who wants to move to management. Other than that, everything's fine.

What's worse is that this once up-and-coming franchise, the one-time next-up contender, has morphed over three seasons into one of those NBA teams we used to laugh at.

They are the Clippers, the Warriors, the Nuggets before Carmelo Anthony. We used to laugh around here at the struggling Grizzlies. but when last we checked Memphis had 13 more wins than the Raptors and was two games behind the Lakers.

Since the beginning of January, the Raptors have won 11 games and lost 26. The once-pathetic Cavaliers are 21-13 over the same period of time, and it's not all LeBron James.

The worst nightmare of this franchise has somehow come true.

The Raptors have been surpassed by the pathetic.









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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