Six years? Madness!
Stunning long-term pact will have Rafer skipping all the way to the bank
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
Rafer Alston was a devastated basketball orphan when the Raptors cut him loose a year ago.
But like a deadbeat dad intent on overhauling his image, the Raptors have made a grandiose gesture to buy back their child's love.
Paul Nadel, a spokesman for Alston's agent, Dan Fegan, confirmed yesterday the 6-foot-2 Alston has agreed to a six-year deal worth between $25 million and $30 million US. News of the Raptors' imminent signing of Alston, who turns 28 in two weeks, surfaced in an ESPN report.
"Nothing can be signed till (July 14), but yes, Rafer will be joining the Raptors," Nadel said. "He's thrilled about it."
Well, no wonder.
Alston, a flashy point guard who gained fame with the irritating nickname Skip To My Lou in the shoe-company-sponsored Streetball tour and TV series, undeniably is a nice little player and a good-natured fan favourite.
His performance last season with the Miami Heat turned heads, and by all accounts he's a more complete hoopster now than he was in the summer of 2003 when the Raptors chose not to try to re-sign him.
"Holding grudges is not his style," Nadel said of Alston, who played in 47 games for the Raptors during the 2002-03 season. "He loved his time in Toronto. The fans treated him great and he's excited to be going back."
But six years?
Whether you categorize this as boondoggle or bargain, it brings new meaning to the flexible term, "Rafer Madness."
This new pact will earn Alston more cash than he ever has earned before. It's a big-time raise. But while the money is not completely crazy by NBA standards, what caused the dropping of jaws yesterday was the long-term commitment.
League sources claimed the Raptors may have a team option on the sixth year. Still, some observers, particularly those in Miami, were stunned.
Then again, everyone knew the Raptors had to upgrade at point guard, since incumbent starter Alvin Williams doesn't look a day over 100, and backups Milt Palacio and Roger Mason, Jr., are best suited to being exactly that.
The Raptors also were interested in Troy Hudson, most recently of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Derek Fisher, most recently of the Los Angeles Lakers. But with Hudson leaning toward other options and Fisher being the longest of shots, new Raptors general manager Rob Babcock found an old face to solve an old problem.
Alston never has been shy about pushing the basketball, which is a crowd-pleasing style that drives most coaches insane. Both Babcock and coach Sam Mitchell want the Raptors to have an up-tempo approach, but all new management teams say that and very few deliver.
"The style of the league is not up-tempo right now," Babcock admitted recently. "When you try to run, the defences are really good.
"You have to be much more committed to running than you used to be. You still can do it. It's more fun for players and fans. But it's just harder to do."
So maybe this is a philosophical change for the Raptors, regardless of whether Alston ever has another opportunity to feed Vince Carter, the disgruntled Raptors star who has requested a trade through his agent. Generally, if the Raptors are determined to leave behind the 66-64 scores of the Kevin O'Neill era, that should be applauded.
But six years?
For a team whose financial flexibility has been blocked by long contracts -- Carter, Jerome Williams, Alvin Williams, Antonio Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jalen Rose, Butch Carter and Lenny Wilkens, to name a few -- the Alston agreement comes as something of a shock.
Hitting the jackpot with a long-term pact couldn't have happened to a nicer guy than Rafer Alston. Now it's up to him to earn it, right through to the final minute.