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  Sat, October 30, 2004


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Luck better be on Raps' side
By KEN FIDLIN, TORONTO SUN

Coach Paul Silas has suggested it's time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to put up or shut up. That would seem like a challenge that's long overdue. In 34 years of existence, they have never been to the NBA final and, by the way, this is a record you can't lay at Lenny Wilkens' door.

Wilkens was the Cavs' coach for six seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the team actually enjoyed its greatest success. In four of his six seasons, Cleveland finished above .500 and twice won 57 games.

Now, though, with LeBron James as the centrepiece, the Cavs have a chance to become a playoff team for a long, long time. Straight out of high school, James was everything he promised to be and then some last season on his way to becoming the NBA's rookie of the year. He averaged nearly 21 points, 5.5 rebounds and six assists per game and, largely because of his presence, the Cavs won 35 games, 18 more than the year previous.

Having spent some time in Denver last spring with his good friend, Carmelo Anthony, during the NBA playoffs, James is now hungry for a chance to play beyond 82 games.

"I want to make the playoffs," he said. "That's my goal."

The Cavaliers come to mind, not just because they were in town last night to face the Raptors, but because it occurs that it's also time for the Toronto franchise to put up or shut up. Indeed, it has never been more important for them.

In 10 seasons, the Raptors have fumbled and stumbled, raised expectations, then dashed them. At a time in their maturation when they should be staking their claim as a contender, they are still trying to figure it all out. Given their problems, it's difficult to see them making the playoffs in the East

This year, their uncertain prospects are particularly unfortunate, given the fact they have a one-time opportunity to dominate the Toronto sports scene. Nobody is going to pretend the Raptors and Maple Leafs are equal partners in the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment stable. The Leafs, for all their inability to win a championship, have this town locked up. The basketball team is always going to play second fiddle to the hockey clowns.

But this year, there are no Maple Leafs and it's unlikely they'll be back to work any time this winter and possibly next year, as well.

Toronto is the only city on the continent where the NBA and NHL co-exist in which the NHL is the dominant franchise. In many American towns, the NHL lockout isn't even on the radar.

That's why the Raptors' situation is unique. In their first decade, they have cultivated a hard-core following of fans who have shown themselves to be loyal in the extreme. But they have not been able to crack the hockey-or-nothing crowd.

This winter, they have their chance but they're ill-equipped to win over many new fans from the idle hockey crowd. Their one true superstar, Vince Carter, doesn't even want to be here. What a great draw that is.

As usual, teams will be able to smother the Raps by smothering Carter. Jalen Rose is a legitimate second option on offence but he can't carry it. There are some capable supporting players, and Chris Bosh is going to be terrific in time, but there is no one who is going to be a consistent threat.

More than that, the Raps are destined to get killed on the boards again this year, having not yet addressed their lack of an experienced centre. Rafael Araujo may one day be the solution but he's not there yet. Nobody else has stepped up to fill the role and, how time flies, opening night is just four days away.

So, this is the team the Raptors will go to war with in a year when they could make some inroads in this lucrative market. Not very promising.

For most of their existence, that label -- "not very promising" -- could have described the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, with the charismatic James leading the way, there is hope.

It only took them 34 years. Now there's a goal the Raps might be able to handle: NBA final or bust ... in 2030.







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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