Bosh is Raptors' franchise

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The Raptors can't make the same mistake with Chris Bosh that they made with Tracy McGrady.

Looking at the long-term fate of the franchise, it's Bosh's happiness -- even more than Vince Carter's happiness -- that the Raptors have to worry about.

The Raptors are destined to be Bosh's team, provided he sticks around long enough for it to happen.

Now, before anyone starts panicking, the 20-year-old Bosh is under contract for two more seasons with a team option for a third. And the spindly but strong 6-foot-10 sophomore has not given any indication he is eyeing foreign horizons.

But Bosh is a good player, folks, with the potential to be a great player. He's serious, hard-nosed and hates to lose. Of course, everyone says they hate to lose, but it's one thing to say it and another thing to feel it in your gut.

At some point in the next two years -- and the sooner the better -- the Raptors have to give Bosh hope. Not fake hope, but real hope. And that hope has to encompass both the capacity to grow individually and the prospects for team success.

Otherwise, watch out. While the Raptors, their fans and the media are busy fretting over Carter, Bosh quietly could make up his mind that he has to get the heck out of here.

Which takes us back to McGrady.

Those who recall the McGrady situation and say, "The Raptors chose to let McGrady go," or, "The Raptors chose Carter over McGrady," don't have clear memories.

McGrady joined the Raptors just in time for the 1997-98 season, the most disastrous the team has had. The wide-eyed teenager basically was left on his own as the franchise fell apart.

Then in McGrady's second season, Carter arrived and the sporting public went ga-ga. McGrady, still a greenhorn but with a boat-load of untapped talent, quietly stewed.

Sadly, the Raptors didn't notice. Or if they did, they didn't think McGrady was important enough to pay it any heed.

The rules regarding rookie contracts in the NBA were different back then. McGrady had signed a two-year deal, and the team exercised its option for a third season. But after that second year, the Raptors had an exclusive window in which to negotiate a long-term extension with McGrady.

We will never forget the day in the summer of 1999 when McGrady revealed, almost casually in a phone conversation, that he was not interested in even discussing a long-term deal with the Raptors. He said he was going to play out his third season in Toronto and see what happened.

When Glen Grunwald, the team's general manager at the time, was informed, his shocked silence spoke volumes.

In hindsight, McGrady already had made up his mind to leave. Then-Raptors coach Butch Carter still didn't start McGrady for the first half of his third season, which likely only solidified McGrady's resolve. In the summer of 2000, despite a strong push by both the Raptors and their fans to convince McGrady to stay -- remember those "Come Back T-Mac" signs? -- he joined his home-town Orlando Magic.

So technically the Raptors didn't choose to let McGrady go, and technically they didn't choose Carter over McGrady. The Raptors wanted to keep McGrady, too, but by the time they got around to letting him know that, through both word and deed, it was far too late.

The lesson here?

The Raptors can't just concentrate on Carter's feelings and forget about Bosh. On the open market, a versatile big man like Bosh is pure gold. NBA teams will be lining up to sign him if the Raptors don't give him a tangible reason to stay.

This is a crucial season for the Raptors in terms of direction. Carter's future is a huge issue, but so is Bosh's future.

The Raptors can't forget that, lest they get caught with their pants down again and eventually have to re-live the McGrady nightmare.


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