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Forget about the bad Raps
New general manager and coach have tough task of erasing painful memories of the past two seasons from minds of fans

If only life were more like the movies. Whenever a hackneyed Hollywood screenwriter gets lazy, the main character conveniently develops amnesia. The storyline suddenly is free of the messy past and all things are new, at least superficially.

It would make things a lot easier for the Raptors marketing staff if every basketball fan in Toronto could develop amnesia with regard to the past two seasons. Hey, maybe the Raptors could borrow those cool flashy gizmos from the Men in Black movies and bleach out everyone's memories.

With the Raptors' annual media day set for tomorrow, leading into the first day of training camp on Tuesday at Brock University in St. Catharines, this is being sold as a new era for the club, if the advertising is to be believed.

Is it?

Well, not all the monsters --aliens, if you will -- from the old era have been slain.

Yes, there is a new general manager and a new coach. But neither Rob Babcock nor Sam Mitchell ever will take a shot or grab a rebound.

"I know this is a difficult job, but everybody has difficult jobs," Mitchell said last week. "I knew it wasn't perfect, or I wouldn't be here. If things had gone exactly the way they were supposed to go, Rob and I wouldn't be here."

To be blunt, the Raptors' roster has undergone very few changes from last spring, when the club missed the playoffs for the second season in a row. The players the Raptors already have simply will have to play better if the team is to win more than last season's total of 33 games.

Speaking of players the Raptors still have and trades that didn't happen, Vince Carter remains a Raptor, but he doesn't want to be. The team's marquee player has asked to be traded, both publicly and privately, but sources have indicated he plans to show up at training camp on time and in a decent frame of mind.

That last bit is significant, because if Carter wants to be a fly in the ointment, he can be. The Raptors brass still is holding out hope that once Carter becomes acquainted with the new regime, he'll rethink his assertion that the franchise is directionless.

Guard Jalen Rose and forward Donyell Marshall have their obvious strengths, but they're both a year older. Rose is 31, as is Marshall. While it would be going too far to say their best years are behind them, their value lies in what they can produce over the next three years or so, rather than as part of a rebuilding plan over a half-decade or more.

The Raptors still don't have an everyday centre. How many years in a row have we been forced to say that?

They drafted 6-foot-11 Rafael Araujo and signed Loren Woods, a 7-foot-1 journeyman, but neither is expected to make Miami Heat centre Shaquille O'Neal back down in the paint. That said, a lot will be expected of Araujo, a 24-year-old Brazilian bruiser who spent the full four seasons in college.

On the distinctly positive side, impressive Raptors forward Chris Bosh has a few more pounds on him and a full season of NBA experience under his belt. But he still likely will have to spend some time playing centre, and even though he held up fairly well physically last season, it would be rolling the dice to ask him to patrol the middle regularly again.

A couple of rookie forwards, Matt Bonner and Pape Sow, have been signed to make-good deals -- in other words, they have to make the team. Some members of the Raptors hierarchy have shockingly high hopes for Bonner, but it's up in the air as to whether he can provide any immediate aid.

The Raptors hope they have solved their point-guard dilemma with the long-term signing of Rafer Alston, who is entering his second stint in Toronto. With veteran Alvin Williams battling through injuries to virtually every molecule in his body, the fearful foursome of Williams, Alston, Milt Palacio and Roger Mason Jr., collectively will have to make its point.

Morris Peterson has been re-signed, to the surprise of many, including Peterson. Not that Mo-Pete isn't a valuable commodity and a nice guy, but when the New Orleans Hornets signed him to a lucrative three-year offer sheet, it wasn't expected the cost-conscious Raptors would match it. But match it they did.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if small forward Lamond Murray and power forward Jerome Moiso can work their way out of the doghouse that was built especially for them by former Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill. The good news for Murray and Moiso is that Mitchell has promised to have an open mind.

The Raptors haven't played a game since last April 14 in Milwaukee, but they've been in the news almost constantly since then, for a variety of predominantly unattractive reasons.

A protracted GM search, the firing of a verbally explosive coach, the hunt for a new coach, a disgruntled superstar and a subsequent trade demand have dominated headlines.

But now, with the focus switching back to actual basketball, are the Raptors in any shape to benefit from the void created by the NHL lockout?

"I don't want to win over fans at the expense of hockey," Mitchell said. "If we're doing our thing well, they'll come out because they want to see basketball."

That's all fine and good, but whatever you do, don't think about the past two years.

You probably want to avoid any permanent amnesia, but if you see Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones coming toward you, it's best just to keep your eyes wide open and let them do their thing.

---

KISS 'EM GOODBYE

- An unusual number of big-name NBA players switched teams during this past off-season. Here's a quick rundown of the most notable trades and signings including Shaquille O'Neal:

Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat

Kobe Bryant re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tracy McGrady was traded to the Houston Rockets.

Rasheed Wallace re-signed with the Detroit Pistons.

Dikembe Mutombo was traded to the Houston Rockets.

Keynon Martin was traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Marcus Camby re-signed with the Denver Nuggets.

Antawn Jamison was traded to the Washington Wizards.

Jerry Stackhouse was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.

Jason Terry was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.

Steve Nash signed with the Phoenix Suns.

Antoine Walker was traded to the Atlanta Hawks.

Nick Van Exel was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Vlade Divac signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Corliss Williamson was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Derrick Coleman was traded to the Detroit Pistons.

Antonio McDyess signed with the Detroit Pistons.

Jerome Williams was traded to the New York Knicks.

Todd MacCulloch retired from the Philadlphia 76ers.

Gary Payton was traded to the Boston Celtics.

Steve Francis was traded to the Orlando Magic.

Vin Baker re-signed with the New York Knicks.

Kevin Willis signed with the Atlanta Hawks.

Rick Fox announced his retirement.

Carlos Boozer signed with the Utah Jazz.

Mehmet Okur signed with the Utah Jazz.

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TORONTO RAPTORS' CONTRACT KILLERS

Each NBA team is allowed to keep up to 15 players -- 12 on the active roster and three on the injured list. The Raptors currently have 13 players under guaranteed contract for the season:

Player Years left on contract*

Rafer Alston 5

Vince Carter 4

Alvin Williams 4

Morris Peterson 3

Jalen Rose 3

Rafael Araujo 3

Chris Bosh 2

Lamond Murray 2

Donyell Marshall 1

Jerome Moiso 1

Milt Palacio 1

Roger Mason Jr. 1

Loren Woods 1

Matt Bonner** 1

Pape Sow** 1

* -- Does not include team options for extensions.

** -- Non-guaranteed deals.







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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